Yesterday we looked at how to overcome failure and relapse in recovery. We also saw that keeping relapse a secret from others is one of the worst possible choices you could ever make. Today we want to look more closely at how secrets and lies can jeopardize our sobriety and cause us to relapse against our wishes.
Secrets and getting high go very well together. Therefore one of the basic strategies of our new life is that we want to stay open with other people and try very hard not to keep any secrets. If we have secrets then it opens the door for our addiction to sneak back into our life.
The burden of a secret is obsessive thinking
The problem with having a secret is that it does more than just open the door for addiction. It actually forces you to want to self medicate, because the secret itself can sort of drive you crazy. This is obsession. Because you have this secret, your brain keeps playing on it over and over again.
You may have noticed that after you share a secret with someone else, it loses much of its power over you. After you have shared it with just one other person, it no longer drives you so crazy and obsesses your thoughts constantly like it did in the past. You can reduce the power of the secret by sharing it with someone else.
Perhaps the most dangerous secret that you can have that is not an immediate relapse are simply thoughts of using drugs and alcohol. If you are having an unusual amount of cravings lately then it is important to talk with someone else about this. If you keep it bottled up inside then you have to fight the cravings all by yourself without any help at all. This is the point at which we would say that addiction is more powerful than the individual, but a group effort is strong enough to overcome it.
Therefore if you are having thoughts of using drugs or alcohol during your recovery then your best course of action is to tell someone else. This is the one secret that you must not keep to yourself or it could end up killing you (or at least driving you to relapse).
The reason that you want to share your cravings with someone else is that:
* You will cut the power of those cravings in half almost instantly by sharing them with others. If you keep them to yourself then the cravings will remain at full strength and you will have to resist them entirely by yourself.
* You will learn that you are not alone in your cravings, because other people will explain that they have had them before too, and that they will pass. This is the part where you get assurance that you are not crazy and that this is perfectly normal. Without this assurance it is much harder to remain clean and sober.
* You will get ideas and motivation to take positive action. The other person will undoubtedly urge you to get help, seek more counsel, or take positive action that will further reduce the cravings.
If you have thoughts of using drugs or alcohol and you keep them to yourself then they will just fester and grow until you are basically overwhelmed with it all. The only way to stop this process and reduce the power of the craving is to talk to someone else about it. Therefore you must not keep secrets, especially if they involve cravings or thoughts of using drugs or alcohol!
How one little lie can compound into a relapse
If you tell a lie during your recovery then it can easily lead to relapse over time. The reason for this is due to the way that the lie will multiply and build up on you psychologically.
Maybe you tell a “little white lie” to your significant other in order to spare their feelings about something. Before you know it you may have to tell an additional lie in order to cover up the first one. It is either tell more lies, or admit that you lied to begin with. So you are faced with a choice at some point that has no good answer. You can either fess up and look like a fool, or you can keep lying further and risk being exposed.
If you choose to try to save face and start telling new lies to cover up the original lie, then that is when you really start to take the chance of relapse. The reason that this can drive you to relapse is due to the insane amount of mental stress and emotional turmoil that this creates inside of you. There is one sure way to medicate that emotional turmoil away and that is to use your drug of choice.
If you tell a lie then the best course of action is to fess up as soon as possible in the process. The longer you delay the harder it will be to finally come clean and tell the truth. Meanwhile, if you delay telling the truth, the lie will just fester and eat away at your emotionally. People do not realize how draining it can be to have this sort of thing on their conscious. You are not hurting the other party when you tell a lie, you are hurting yourself by creating this monstrous mental burden. You carry the lie with you so long as it remains a secret and it constantly wears on you in the most negative way. The only way to get relief from such a lie is to either come clean with it or to self medicate and relapse. Those are not very good options so the best strategy is to avoid new lies at all costs!
A clean slate means you can relax totally and be honest with everyone
When I finally got into recovery I decided to try something different. I had been lying and keeping secrets for a long time in my addiction and I was frankly quite sick of doing so. It was tiresome and exhausting to keep trying to put up a false charade for other people (who probably saw through it all anyway). So what I decided to do was to just be honest with everyone, all the time. No more lies and no more secrets.
This was a unique way of living and I was not used to it at first. Secrets started to become sort of like putting your hand in a hot flame, my mind would instantly recoil at the thought of carrying around secret information that might harm other people if I withheld it. So I developed this sensitivity to it, I did not want to lie to anyone and I did not want to keep secrets from people that might end up harming them. I was hyper aware of not falling into this old trap. My goal was to never lie again and not to hold any harmful secrets at all in my recovery.
The experiment worked really well. I found that after a few months of living this way that I no longer had the mental stress and the emotional burden of having any of these little lies on my conscious. I was no longer sneaking around in my life and doing things behind people’s backs. It was a very freeing way to live because in my addiction I was so used to doing the opposite.
It is amazing how much mental energy it takes to maintain just one simple lie, or one little secret. You have to make a persistent mental effort in order to do so, and it takes away from your other mental and emotional energy. Most people do not really realize how this can draw away from their mental reserves and negatively affect their life. But if you are putting out the energy to just maintain one simple lie then it starts to use up a whole bunch of your mental cycles, every single day, over and over again. It is like trying to carry water in a bucket that has a few leaky holes. Each hole is another secret or lie that you have to mentally maintain and manage so that others do not find out. If you clean your conscious and live without these lies then it is like plugging up those holes in the bucket, making your life that much easier. You no longer have to mentally juggle your lies and keep straight what you have told everyone. You can simply be honest with everyone and use your mental and emotional energy for other things.
They actually did a real life study at one point that proved how you have a limited amount of willpower in which to use at any given time. What they did was to offer some food choices to some study participants who were all trying to make healthy food choices in their lives at the time (trying to watch their weight). The choices was between a piece of fruit or a sugary dessert. Then they separated the study participants and they had one group of people memorize a very short number (like 3 digits long) and the other group they had memorize a longer number that was 7 digits long, like a new random phone number.
What they found was that the group who had the greater mental burden of memorizing the longer number was far more likely to choose the sugary dessert. So the study was able to prove that people only have a limited amount of willpower and mental energy, and that they all sort of draw from the same pool in your mind, so to speak.
This is a very significant finding and it just goes to show how you want to manage your life in recovery.
Now some people will object at this point and say “now wait a minute…..I am in the program of AA and we do not rely on willpower at all to stop drinking. We know that willpower is not strong enough and therefore it does not work. So we use another method other than willpower to sustain our recovery. Therefore this study has no bearing on my recovery because I do not rely on willpower.”
False. The study is still relevant for everyone in recovery and it is still an important finding for you to consider.
Even if you are “not relying on willpower” directly to stop drinking, you are still using your will in order to take action in some way that leads to sobriety. Even surrendering your will is an act of will. You cannot completely remove willpower from the equation.
What happens when the newcomer in AA declares that they will attend 90 meetings in the next 90 days? Do they just automatically show up to those 90 meetings because they decided to no longer rely on willpower? Does abandoning willpower make it easy to follow through and take consistent action every single day?
Obviously there is still a strong element of willpower when it comes to recovery, no matter how you manage you program. Even if you “turn your will over to a higher power” in order to remain sober, this still requires a strong commitment and daily action on your part.
People who attempt to manage their sobriety using step three of AA (turning their will and their life over the care of God) still have to make a daily effort to follow through on that decision. Such people talk about how they “took their will back” and did something that they should not have done. Therefore they are in a constant struggle to keep “turning their will over.” This is a battle of wills. Their will to do the right thing versus the little devil that sits on their shoulder and convinces them to lie, to keep secrets, to screw up their life.
What I am getting at here is the reserve pool concept that was proved in the study. The people who were stressed out mentally did not have as much willpower left in their “reserve pool” with which to draw from and make the stronger and healthier choice. This is important information and you need to use it and remember it for your recovery.
You only have a limited amount of willpower when it comes to resisting evil. This is not just some theory, this is not just some fancy idea of some Internet writer, this is a proven fact based on a real study. You only have a certain amount of willpower from which to draw from.
So this should lead you to a strong conclusion: don’t waste your willpower on things that do not deserve it. Do not engage in petty lies or secrets in your life because they will distract you mentally and drain your willpower pool. Having to mentally manage a white lie or allowing yourself to become emotionally drained over something has a definite negative consequence, and it puts you in greater danger of relapse.
In the past you may have suspected that this was the case, but you could never be sure that there was a direct relationship between the idea that you were mentally managing a white lie and the fact that this might make it harder to stay clean and sober. Now there is direct evidence an a proven study that shows how this is the case. You do not have to wonder any more if there is a connection between your emotional exhaustion and the propensity to relapse. The relationship is established and proven as fact. You only have so much willpower to draw from, so if you are using it in other areas of your life then you are taking away from your strength in the battle against relapse.
Why we actually relapse and what is happening in the critical moments
What actually happens in the moment of relapse?
Most people do not realize that relapse happens (sometimes) long before you pick up the drug or drink.
Relapse is a mental shift, and it is basically what happens when that mental pool of willpower has finally ran out entirely. Your mind realizes that it just has nothing left when it comes to that pool of resources, and it says “screw it.”
This is what relapse really is. Your thought process is basically this:
“You know what? Screw it!”
That is the moment of relapse. When you finally give up and stop forcing yourself to care about taking positive action, that is the moment of relapse. You are so overwhelmed emotionally and mentally that you can no longer force yourself to care about making positive choices for the future. You know that negative consequences will exist but you just don’t care anymore. The reason for this is because you are beyond caring.
Every single person who has relapsed in this world has reached this moment, this point of no return. It is the moment where their pool of willpower is finally drained entirely and they say “screw it, I’m just going to use or drink.”
They are surrendering to their addiction again. Instead of surrendering to recovery, they surrender back to their addiction. This is how relapse happens.
So you should be able to see clearly that your emotional state and your mental pool of willpower is very important at this moment. If everything in your life is coming up peachy keen then it is highly unlikely that you will relapse like this. Circumstances matter, as does your reaction to those circumstances. And one of the most important variables has to do with your mental and emotional state, and how stressed you have been lately.
Remember the study and realize that you have a limited amount of willpower to deal with. You cannot just keep dealing with infinite amounts of stress in your life and expect to keep fighting off relapse.
Therefore your first battle each day should be against alcoholism and drug addiction. Preventing relapse is your first order of business. In order to be strong for that, serenity should be maintained if you can manage to do so. Of course keeping the peace has a cost as well in some situations, and things are going to get crazy at times. This is why you must make healthy choices for yourself and protect yourself emotionally.
And a big part of this is not putting any extra emotional burdens on yourself. Keeping secrets is not helpful. Telling a small lie can be devastating. Those things are just more mental and emotional baggage that you have to juggle in order to maintain your serenity (which will be slowly slipping away). This is how conditions can ripen for relapse to happen if you are not vigilant at being honest with others.
Living an honest life in order to avoid relapse
Stay honest with yourself and with others in order to avoid relapse. This is the best way to keep a strong reserve of willpower in your reserves. If you have to mentally manage things that you have told to various people then this will directly take away from your ability to stay clean and sober.
So just make a deal with yourself that you are going to try this 100 percent honesty thing for a while. Make a pact with yourself: no more secrets and no more white lies. Ever.
Our addiction was built on secrets and lies but it is time to learn a new way of life
For most of us our addiction was built on secrets and lies. It was the only way that we knew to keep going and try not to hurt our loved ones so badly.
It is time to try a new approach in recovery. Be honest and you can keep your “willpower reserves” at full strength in order to help you prevent relapse.