For any addict or alcoholic who has successfully overcome their addiction and is living a new life in recovery, it is pretty easy for them to look back and realize that honesty was a critical component of their recovery.
But for the newcomer who is just leaving the world of addiction and alcoholism, this is not so obvious. We have been well served by deceiving ourselves or others during our active addiction, so it is not always super obvious why being honest is so important for success in addiction treatment.
Let’s take a deeper look at why being honest is so important for early recovery.
The act of surrender and overcoming denial requires intense honesty
Just getting started in recovery requires a brutal dose of honesty that many people will never even get the courage to muster up.
It is a complete and total blow to the ego to admit to oneself: “My life is out of control and I cannot figure out a good way to live any more.”
This requires brutal honesty to make this admission.
But it is actually much more than just an admission. If all it took were an admission, many addicts and alcoholics would have a much easier time of getting into recovery and changing their lives for the better.
Instead, this level of honesty requires more than admitting something…..it requires full acceptance. We are talking about a deep level of acceptance to your most inner-most self, that part deep down where it is just your bare soul with no protective armor on at all, and you accept fully that you are an addict or alcoholic. This is much different than getting into an argument with a family member and simply admitting that you have a problem.
The admission is a surface-level thing. So what? You admit that there is a problem. You admitted it to someone else, probably just to shut them up, too! But this is meaningless compared to the sort of self honesty that is needed to actually make the leap into recovery.
No, in order to get started on the path of recovery from addiction, you have to actually get honest deep down with your innermost self. This is where the real action happens, this is where you can actually change your life in a meaningful way, this is where you must finally surrender and decide to ask for help on how to live a normal life.
Surrender is about smashing your own ego and telling it that it does NOT know the best way to live. Surrender is about accepting the fact that you do not know how to be happy in life, and that your best efforts at being happy involved drinking or drugging yourself into a miserable state of existence.
Think about this for a moment: you have been trying your best over the last few years to be happy. Your method for achieving this was to use drugs or alcohol. You have come to the point where you realize that it is not working, and that you are not happy.
It is at this point that you must tell your own ego: you are wrong. You are wrong, you do NOT know how to make yourself happy, and it is time that this mind and this body try something else. We are going to ask for help, we are going to ask for advice and direction, and we are going to follow that new direction and see if it does not make us happy for once. Because, my dear ego, what you have been doing is NOT working. We are hooked on drugs or alcohol and we are completely miserable and we are only happy for a tiny fraction of the time any more. In the beginning it was fun, but now our addiction makes us miserable 99 percent of the time.
Yes, this is a conversation that you have with yourself. It is your “higher self” talking to your ego, or to your addiction (if you prefer).
Having this conversation and the resulting realization is NOT easy. If it were, anyone could get clean and sober very easily and without much damage to their ego.
But the reality is that most people have to “hit bottom” and really beat themselves up quite a bit before they are able to have this internal realization.
It demands an intense amount of honesty, because our ego is so careful to protect itself. It will never admit that it is wrong, or that it is stupid, or that it needs other people to tell it how to live in order to be happy.
But if you are miserable in addiction, then this is exactly what needs to happen: You must admit that you were wrong, that your way of living in addiction was a failure, and that you do not know how to be happy in life. Admit this fully, with brutal honesty, and then ask for help. Take new direction. You kill your ego and start from scratch, ask others for advice, and start building a new life in recovery where you can actually be happy again. This is the process of true surrender. You have to get honest enough with yourself so that you can finally kill your ego and start building a new life. Not easy by any means. But many have done it. Everyone who is in recovery has done it, to an extent.
Asking for help requires brutal honesty with ourselves
Almost nobody likes to ask for help. We see it as a sign of weakness, and no one wants to admit to being weak. So we tend to avoid this if we can. Most people would rather fumble around and look foolish than to suck up their pride and ask for direction.
In order to get to the point where we become willing to ask for help, we have to get really honest with ourselves. We have to admit to ourselves that we do not know the best way to live, that we do not know how to produce our own happiness anymore, and that our method of living is flawed.
This is the essences of early recovery: have someone else tell you how to live for a while. Let them dictate what you do, how you spend your time, what you put into your body, and so on. This is a crushing blow to the ego, to admit that we cannot make these simple choices for ourselves.
But this is recovery in action, this is how it works. We have spun out of control due to our addiction and the solution is to take direction from others. In order to do this, we have to come to grips with the fact that we cannot make healthy decisions for ourselves any more. This is the point of surrender, when we can achieve this level of internal honesty.
In essence, we are saying to the world: “I don’t know how to live any more. Please show me.”
Admitting this and accepting it on a deep level requires gut wrenching honesty, and many addicts and alcoholics will never be able to muster that courage. Instead they will die from their disease, never taking that leap of faith into recovery based on this admission and acceptance of their own flaws.
If you are truly out of control then you need to ask for help in order to change your life. You have proven to yourself through the madness of your own addiction that you alone do not have the power to fix your own problem. Left to your own devices, you continue to abuse drugs and alcohol and self medicate until you lose control. This pattern keeps happening over and over again, and you are trapped in a cycle that you cannot escape from without enlisting outside help.
Honesty is accepting the fact that you cannot conquer your addiction alone. You need help. Once you get honest with yourself and face this fact, you can move forward and start to change. Until you face this reality, you will stay trapped in addiction.
Honest self assessment is the cornerstone of personal growth in early recovery
Let’s assume now that you have made the leap of faith that it takes to give a new life a chance to take hold in recovery. You got honest with yourself about your state of misery in addiction and you were able to ask for help and start taking some direction. Based on those actions you are now living a life in early recovery, slowly starting to heal from your addiction and learning new ways to live and deal with reality.
Part of the recovery process is about growth and change. This has to be the case, because those who do not grow and change in recovery always relapse. Some people call this lack of change “complacency.” You may find at some point that recovery gets easier, and that you do not have to work very hard in order to stay clean and sober. Many would argue that this is an illusion, and such a “slacker” is in imminent danger of relapse. Those who stop growing and learning in recovery are one step away from taking their drug of choice, even if they do not realize it.
Recovery is a process of personal growth. On the flip side, active addiction is really about regression–you are slowly becoming an animal, someone who exists only to function and take your drug of choice and simply exist in isolation. The two paths of addiction and recovery are really polar opposites, and they can both be framed in terms of personal growth.
This becomes even more evident when we frame our personal growth in recovery in terms of healthy decisions.
For example, in recovery, you might make the following decisions based on better overall health for yourself:
* Attend 12 step meetings.
* Quit smoking.
* Seek spirituality.
All of those things are health oriented. Some are physical health, others are mental, spiritual, social health, and so on. But they are all positive steps in improving your overall health.
In active addiction, we are mostly damaging our health, including our physical, spiritual, mental health, and so on.
The reason that honesty is so important for long term recovery has to do, therefore, with self assessment.
You have to know exactly part of your life is lacking in order to try to fix it.
For example, I had a friend in recovery once who was ignoring his physical health, even though he was paying close attention to his social health with meetings and staying “plugged into the program.” His health declined so much that it eventually overtook everything and cost him his life. Honest self assessment would attempt to fix this, and cause the recovering alcoholic to examine their life and their health closely enough to take action in such cases.
Another friend in recovery was paying close attention to his physical health, but he was letting his spiritual health go completely by the wayside. Again, the outcome of this was not good. The solution? Rigorous honesty, the kind that leads to close self assessment and allows you to take corrective action.
It is only by looking closely at our overall life in recovery that we can continue to grow and to change. Trouble areas are the things that we need to take an active role in so that we can fix it. Denial is the act of ignoring these trouble spots in our life. The only way to pierce that denial is by getting seriously honest with ourselves.
Many addicts and alcoholics who relapse in long term recovery do not do so after a traumatic event….instead, they slide into this easy state of “dishonesty” and denial and they simply stop analyzing their shortcomings and attempting to fix them. Things snowball eventually and the disease overtakes them again, simply due to a lack of action in terms of personal growth. They say “you are either working on recovery or you are working on a relapse.” No one can “stand still” in their recovery program; if you are, then you are actually regressing toward relapse. The only way to move forward and make progress in recovery is to keep assessing and improving your life, continuously.
Recovery is the state of constantly reinventing yourself, over and over again. It can be tireless unless you find real joy in the process. Doing this successfully requires you to be honest with yourself, so that you can make changes in your life that really matter. Making hollow changes about trivial things is not going to give you the boost that you need to maintain sobriety in the long run. Instead, you have to take a long hard look at your life (over and over again!) and keep pushing yourself to make the tough changes that result in real progress.
Deceit of any kind is a trap that leads us back to our drug of choice
The ultimate lie in recovery is about relapse. The worst lie that we can tell ourselves is whatever we tell ourselves in order to justify a relapse:
“I can get away with just one time.”
“Maybe it will be different this time.”
“I can probably control it better this time since I have gone so long without it.”
“Surely I will not be as bad with it as I used to be.”
“I have gained so much self discipline in recovery that I will be able to control it better this time.”
These are the biggest lies we could ever tell ourselves. The justification to return to active addiction.
While these may seem like preposterous lies right now, they will not seem so out of line if we build up to them.
What does that mean?
It is simply a warning to remind you that each lie gets easier to tell yourself. So any amount of self deception can be risky in recovery.
Once you tell yourself one lie about something fairly trivial, it becomes easier to tell yourself another, slightly bigger lie. Self deception is working for you again, why not run with it, right?
Therefore, secrets in general are like poison in recovery. Secrets and getting high or drunk go really well together. No secret can really live if you expose it and share it with someone else.
And what is the ultimate secret in recovery?
That you have been thinking about using or drinking. That is the ultimate secret.
And that is where honesty comes in.
It takes guts to admit to another person in recovery that you have been having thoughts of using or drinking.
It is incredibly important to not let this secret live in darkness. Never, never keep your urges or thoughts of using a secret. Talk about them, no matter what. This is the most important “honesty trick” in long term recovery.
Always be honest about your triggers and urges. Always share them with others who are in recovery.
If you share these thoughts, they lose power over you. Nearly all of their power is gone, instantly.
If you keep the thoughts inside, the secret thoughts of using can only grow stronger.
Communicate them honestly, and you are set free immediately.
Just another example of the power of honesty in recovery.