In active addiction, dishonesty is almost necessary to keep our addiction going. We lie about the fact that we use, when we use, where we are going, how we are spending our money, and the list goes on. But, the necessity to become honest when recovering from addiction is about much more than simply telling the truth when someone asks us if we are clean and we are.
Here are a few reasons why honesty is imperative in recovery from addiction.
I’ve heard far too many stories from addicts and alcoholics at the podium, who have said that they were raised in families where dishonesty ruled the day. Some people were molested and were disbelieved or told not to tell anyone. Some were abused and felt trapped and unable to tell the truth and seek help. Whatever the reason, if your family of origin has required you to keep secrets for most of your life, breaking the cycle of dishonesty is difficult. It goes against the grain of what we’ve been taught. As difficult as it is to bring those secrets to light, it is absolutely necessary to achieve healthy sobriety.
Tackling this problem seems overwhelming at first. I say this from first-hand experience. I carried secrets with me for forty years. I did NOT want to give them up or talk about them. I felt shame, embarrassment, and, isolated by my secrets. It wasn’t until I got a sponsor, and worked an honest fourth and fifth step that I learned that my experiences were not unique. In fact, my story mirrors millions of other stories of recovering addicts. The honesty I shared about the things I’d carried alone for decades, freed me, showed me I was not alone, and lifted a weight I was so used to carrying that I didn’t feel the enormity of it until it was gone – and I felt something close to weightlessness for the first time in my life.
The phrase that “our secrets keep us sick” is no joke. Secrets can kill us by isolating us, by fueling our need to use and bury them down deeper, by refusing to face them and heal from them. If you are holding secrets, I implore you to be honest about them. You deserve the freedom that comes from sharing who you are. You deserve to understand the underlying reasons that propelled you to escape through chemicals. Like vampires, secrets wither and die when exposed to light.
It was not easy for me to share my first fifth step, and tell another person about the secrets I’d carried, and the secrets I’d been demanded to carry. It felt unnatural, and I was terrified. But, another phrase to remember is this: “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” To my amazement, my sponsor didn’t judge me for my secrets. What’s more, she had carried many of the exact same secrets that I had. The feeling of aloneness evaporated, and was replaced by something I’d never known before – being loved for exactly who I am.
So, this is mission critical. In active addiction, we manipulate people, we steal, we don’t show up to work, we miss family functions, we lose jobs, we break the law. We lose self-respect, but more than that, we lose our integrity. If you’ve been to any AA or NA meetings or are in residential treatment, you’ve heard a new addict get angry or cry because their family is not excited when they get their first 30-day chip. That’s a hard truth to swallow, but 30 days is nothing to our loved ones, friends, and coworkers who have heard us promise to get clean before only to be disappointed because we didn’t keep the promise.
When I had less than thirty days clean, I called my father. I said, “Daddy, I swear to you that I’m done using.” I thought he’d say, “Great, I’m so proud of you.” Instead he said, “I don’t want to hear it Just DO IT.” I’d promised to stay sober about a million times before and never did. How was he to know that I was serious this time? I had failed to be honest for so long that nothing I said rang true. That’s a hard pill to swallow, but there is a simple solution to the problem. Match your actions to your words long enough to regain the reputation of being an honest person. Do what you say you are going to do long enough that you become known for having integrity. Not only will this help your self-esteem, it will eventually teach the people who have lost trust in you that your words can be relied upon.
Please be patient with this goal. Building a reputation of being honest takes time. I don’t remember exactly when I was able to tell my father the truth, and have him automatically believe me, but it happened. I made a commitment to stay clean and kept it. I made a promise to be honest, and was. I got a job and never once showed up late or missed a deadline.
One day, I realized that I had integrity, and WOW. I’d gone to the bank for my job to cash a petty cash check. On the way back from the bank, I counted the money in my car, and realized the bank teller had given me two extra hundred dollar bills. I think I went forward through one light before I made a U-turn, and went back to the bank. I was broke at the time. I needed an extra $200. But, for the first time in my life, I just knew that my integrity was worth more than any amount of money. When I returned the money to the teller, she said something that shook me to my core. “Thank you so much. Had you not returned that money, it would have been deducted from my paycheck.” I drove back to work. I was still financially broke, but I had the biggest smile on my face ever – because I realized I’d been honest long enough to literally buy back my integrity.
There is no better feeling than doing the right thing for the right reasons, and building a reputation based on honesty. And, it’s not just because it protects our self-esteem. It’s also because lying creates another secret. And staying sober with dishonest secrets is much harder than keeping secrets when you are using. A simple lie can begin the snowflake that turns into the snowball that precipitates relapse.
Addiction often leads us to commit crimes, and get arrested. How many people do you know who have spent time in jail for driving under the influence, distributing drugs, shoplifting, and stealing in order to keep their addiction going? You may well be one of those people. Here’s a personal story.
I never used to wear a seat belt. Twenty years ago, I got a ticket for not wearing one. I didn’t pay the fine. I didn’t go to court. And, one day, I was driving, and got pulled over again for not wearing a seat belt. The officer pulled my license, and found that I had a hold for not appearing in court over a seat belt fine. He handcuffed me, put me in the back of a police car, towed my car, took me to the station, and put me in a single person jail cell. I was only in that cell for a few hours because I was able to bail myself out. But, I will never forget the feeling of hearing the door lock behind me, or the feeling of claustrophobia. I’ll never forget what having my freedom removed – even for just a few hours – felt like.
For years afterwards, I was terrified when I saw a police car. One day, when I’d been sober for several years, blue lights and a siren flashed behind me. I gave the officer my information, and sat in my car shaking as he ran my information. I was still not used to the fact that people don’t get arrested when they aren’t breaking the law. Twenty painful minutes later, the cop came back, handed me my license and insurance information, and a citation for a traffic violation. I drove off, paid that ticket three days later, and learned that my freedom is contingent upon my honest behavior. I can’t be arrested for not paying a ticket, if I pay the ticket. If I don’t break the law, I’m FREE. If I am sober, I’m FREE. And, most importantly:
IF I’M HONEST, I’M FREE.
Do you want your life back? Would you like to experience self-esteem, get the people you love to begin to trust you again, and experience the freedom of honesty?
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