“Everybody at AA meetings keeps talking about the importance of honesty in all our relationships. Boy, I don’t know where to begin. It’s been so long since I told the truth.”
Dishonesty becomes a way of life for most alcoholics/addicts. They lie to themselves and they lie to others. About feelings. About substance abuse. About money. About where they’ve been and what they’ve done. Partly it’s a way of protecting their drinking or drug abuse, and partly it’s because their minds are so addled and emotions so muddled they can’t really discern the difference between truth and fiction.
As you’ve discovered, the tendency to be untruthful doesn’t just disappear when you swear off booze and drugs. Dishonesty is a longstanding practice that has to be unlearned. And the fear that the consequences of telling the truth (to an employer, for example, or a spouse or even friends) will be disastrous has to be overcome. Neither of these challenges is easily met. But you can’t have a good recovery without meeting them.
You probably slipped into your dishonest ways in active addiction gradually. You will probably only learn to become honest gradually. But remembering the following will help speed and ease the process:
-The first person you have to start telling the truth is yourself. If you don’t level with yourself, you cant level with anyone else. You took the first steps in the right direction when you admitted you had a chemical dependency problem and wrote a life story and/or made a searching personal inventory. Being honest with yourself means acknowledging your good qualities as well as the not-so-good ones. That may be harder than you think. You may be so used to beating up on yourself that you’ve come to believe you have no good character traits.
-No one can be perfectly honest all the time. Honesty is the absence of intention to deceive- but sometimes we deceive ourselves or others about our feelings or intentions without realizing that it’s out of a desire to please. We can forgive ourselves for that. But we can also learn to be smarter about evaluating ourselves, others, and situations so we can avoid unintentional deception in the future.
-Honesty to the point of hurting others is as wrong as direct lying. “Brutal honesty” is more brutal than honest, and the motivation is often more to hurt than to tell the truth.
-Telling the truth seems harder at first, especially when you aren’t used to it, but in the long run it is easier. You don’t have to keep tabs on what story you told to whom. You are released from worrying about being “caught” and from the guilt of knowingly misleading someone.
-The fear of telling the truth about oneself is almost always unfounded. Most people will appreciate hearing the truth. The few who do not probably have problems of their own that they aren’t facing. You may be uncomfortable with a negative reaction to the truth, but that’s better than not knowing how the other person feels, or assuming their reaction will be worse than it is.
-When you lie to others, you lose their trust, but you also lose their help. And without the trust and help of others the world is a very lonely place.
-At first others may not be ready to accept your word as gospel. Accepting that you are dishonest is as much habit to them as being dishonest is to you. It will take long term honesty in your relationships before it is accepted as the norm.
-A successful recovery is impossible without honesty. Since lying is one the trappings of alcoholism/addiction, continuing to make it a way of life is very likely to lead you right back to the well.
If staying honest continues to be uncomfortable in spite of trying what is recommended above, you may want to re-examine your behaviour. Alcoholics tend to live lives glued together with deceit. Often they continue living that way into early recovery. Are you? Do you still have a lot to hide? Your goal should be live the kind of life that would leave you feeling at ease even plastered across the front page of your local newspaper.