Last week, we went to an AA meeting and because there was a newcomer in the room, the topic was the first step. I love first step meetings. They help keep everything fresh for me. Those of us who have been in recovery for a while need to be reminded where we came from and why we don’t want to go back there. It’s also an opportunity for us to offer our experience, strength, and hope to other alcoholics.
At the meeting, as we all shared our stories of what it was like, what happened, and what it’s like now, one of the themes that kept coming up was honesty and how important it is to a successful recovery. We’re told in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that recovery “demands rigorous honesty,” which is a practice that is sorely lacking during active addiction.
Lying is a way of life for most addicts. It was for me. I lied about my drinking to try and minimize its severity. I lied to try and keep up appearances, to avoid rejection, and to tamp down my guilt and shame. But we don’t just lie to others, we also lie to ourselves. For a long time, I lied to myself about my alcoholism and my drunken behavior because it was a reality that was just too painful to face. Lying, just like drinking, was a coping mechanism that I used to be able to deal with my life. At the time, I just didn’t know any other way to cope.
Then, when the pain of drinking got to be worse than the pain of trying to change and get sober, I learned that I had to be rigorously honest if I wanted true recovery. And I did want recovery. However, I didn’t want to be rigorously honest, to myself or anyone else. I knew when I went to treatment for the first time in 2011 that I would have to talk about things that I didn’t want to if I wanted to get better. So, I did share a lot in my group and individual therapy sessions and my 12-step work. But looking back, I wasn’t rigorously honest. I spoke about the things that I wanted to and held back the rest. I was completely honest about the things I chose to share, but by not sharing those darker things, the things that caused the guilt and shame that I would drink over, I was really setting myself up for failure.
And, guess what? I did fail. I relapsed and went back to treatment at the end of 2012. I was finally ready to lay all my cards on the table and be honest about the things that I had still been keeping a secret. I poured everything out to my therapist and got the help that I needed to begin working through it. I think that was the real beginning of recovery for me. It was the time that I was “willing to go to any lengths” to get and stay sober, as the Big Book says.
It isn’t just while getting sober that rigorous honesty is important, it’s important in staying sober as well. It requires that we are honest in all our affairs – and that means things big and small. Lying, even small lies, can keep us trapped in old behaviors. Being truthful, to others and ourselves, helps us stay the path. That means being honest about thoughts and feelings even when it would be easier to lie.
In recovery, I sometimes find myself sidestepping the truth when it comes to talking about how I feel or what’s going on in my head. Especially when it’s something that I don’t even want to think about myself. I’m better about it than I used to be, but I’m definitely still a work in progress. Fortunately, my husband can read me like a book, and he’s good at getting me to talk about things honestly and openly. Being honest and open with him requires me to be honest and open with myself first. And that self-awareness helps keep me from spinning out, which I know can lead me back to drinking.
Without honesty, I know there is no recovery (or maybe only the white-knuckling, dry drunk type of recovery that is in no way fulfilling) for me. It isn’t always easy, but through rigorous honesty, I get to continue progressing in my recovery, and I’m trustworthy enough to help others with theirs. That is what true recovery is, and while rigorous honesty is just one part of it, it’s an important one.
So, the next time you’re about to tell a little white lie, or you’re denying the way you truly feel about something, to yourself or others, stop and think about it first. Consider the consequences. If you’re in recovery yourself, then you know how quickly lies can snowball. Is your little white lie worth the consequences? Is it worth putting your recovery at risk?
It isn’t for me.
I’m so glad that we went to that meeting last week, and that the discussion was about the first step and rigorous honesty. It was a reminder that I need to hear and think about over and over again. I’m going to keep on doing my best to stay self-aware, practice rigorous honesty with myself and others, and keep growing in my recovery.