Honesty in Recovery

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Honesty in Recovery

By Simon and Lianne

Topic at a glance:

  • The connection between dishonesty and denial

  • What is honesty and why is it so crucial for recovery?

  • The benefits of being honest


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Why is Honesty a fundamental foundation of recovery from addiction? Dishonesty can easily lead to relapse. Recovering addicts tend to take honesty to an extreme level, unlike most people. There is a good reason for this – dishonesty is closely related to denial. Denial is the mental defence mechanism that protects the addiction. The disease of addiction hijacks our brain and our defences normally used for survival. Our reward center in the brain makes us feel good when we do things that support our survival but addiction corrupts this system, and the addiction becomes our priority. Some addicts believe that the addiction helped them cope through tough times. They believe it helped them survive in a perverted way. However, then the addiction crossed a line and started to kill them.

Addiction is a fatal condition, so a rigorous recovery is necessary to survive. Complete and total honesty protects us from slipping back into denial. Firstly we have to admit to ourselves we are addicts and take responsibility for it. That means that we need to stop blaming or justifying.

Watch this inspiring TEDx talk “Honest liars – the psychology of self-deception” by Cortney Warren

The first step to recovery is being honest with ourselves about our addiction – that is why we say rehab at Hope is an honest program.

“Dishonesty, lying and stealing was a way of life – I thought I did it to survive and that’s how I justified it. But my biggest lie was to myself “I will never amount to anything” It kept my self-esteem at rock bottom and my addiction the only option. Now I accept my reality and don’t try to change it or avoid consequences by cheating. The truth will set an addict free, as they say in recovery.”

Addicts often have control issues – so lying and manipulating could go on in their recoveries. Using drugs and alcohol is controlling how we feel – therefore it is a form of control. In order to resolve these dangerous control issues, we hand it over and practice faith. Lying or manipulating to get results is not letting go of control.

Dishonesty is a lack of acceptance – we are manipulating reality. By accepting this dishonesty, we fuel our addiction. Challenging our denial and dishonesty and undertaking the big task of changing our belief system is not the easy route but it’s the crucial first step on the road to recovery.

“Honesty has given me far greater gifts than any of my dishonesty in life.”

Secrets keep you sick. It could be that some of us have held on to “damaging secrets” due to shame or fear of vulnerability. However, these hidden parts of us may be driving our addiction. Self-medication is a common trigger or reason for addiction.

Honesty is essential for a healthy sustainable recovery. It challenges our addict denial system. Some of the other reasons for our emphasis on honesty here at Hope Rehab include:

  • Karma – everything comes back to you

  • One small lie usually leads to more and more lies

  • Dishonesty leads to guilt and guilt is a relapse trigger

  • The truth is enough – you are enough

  • Believing in oneself – self-esteem improves

  • Not perpetuating denial – addiction hides in denial

  • Being assertive – others can sense a lie

  • The stress of lying

The psychologist Richard Lazarus talked about positive denial as a defence mechanism that helps to manage pain, anxiety and stress, e.g., being optimistic even when faced with a life-threatening disease or grief. The disease of addiction has corrupted this defence and now uses it to protect the addiction – not the addict. There is conscious denial, lying, hiding and many other unconscious denial types. Like the rest of the brain, the addict’s mental defences have been hijacked.

You might tell yourself: “It’s my life.” or “I am only hurting myself.” or “Everybody is doing it.” or “I can’t cope without it.” However, actually you’re only justifying your addiction with these verbal lies. You might also lie to hide the addiction from loved ones and colleagues. The non-verbal lies of cheating, stealing and manipulating sustain your addiction though. The skill of deception and manipulation protects the addiction, deceiving yourself and others of its severity.

In recovery, we require rigorous honesty to admit the extent of our addiction. We accept honesty. We also accept and surrender to the idea that our way has not worked for us – this promotes ego deflation. Surrender means moving over to the winning side.

The decision, to be honest, is just the beginning. It can be scary but also liberating to let go of denial and the dishonest behaviour that comes with addiction. Committing to rigorous honesty is a challenge, but the rewards make it worth the effort. It will take time to earn respect and trust of people we may have hurt in our addiction, but through the consistency of working a recovery program, and meeting commitments, we can begin to rebuild and build stronger relationships.

“It will take time to earn the respect and trust of people.”

Have you ever been asked “How are you?” by a loved one and brushed it off with “I’m fine” even though you’re feeling really low? That simple deception might serve to protect your addiction. It also builds a barrier that prevents you from receiving help and support. A healthier way to deal with feeling low is to honestly state our true feelings and reach out to others. Everyone has good days and bad days. Everyone struggles at times. It’s ok not to be ok. Admitting that – not only to yourself but also to your loved ones might very well safe your life.

A common sign of relapse – before using – is a slip back into the old dishonesty. Letting negative emotions build and not talking about them with loved ones or at meetings. By not honestly expressing how we feel or not talking about our struggles we play a dangerous game. It’s an effective coping strategy that kept the addict in addiction. Honesty is an integral part of recovery and relapse prevention.

It is vital for self-esteem to be accepted for who you really are. One of the most important aspects of living a healthy life is your ability to share your true self with the world around you. With rigorous honesty in recovery, we get to know and love our authentic selves. We are only as sick as our secrets.

“No legacy is so rich as honesty.” — Shakespeare 

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