Honesty is a Moral Characteristic
Honesty is one of the most respected of all moral characteristics. If it becomes known that a respected individual has behaved dishonestly, it can cause devastating harm to their reputation. Some types of dishonesty are more acceptable than others. Most people tell fibs or white lies from time to time – there is even therapeutic fibbing. Other people would claim that all types of dishonesty are bad.
Those people who are trying to rebuild their life after an addiction need to pay attention to honesty. They need to not only be truthful with other people, but more importantly with themselves. Failure to establish honesty as a personal quality may mean that the individual will be more at risk of relapse. It could also mean that they live a life in recovery that is not fulfilling – it could lead to dry drunk syndrome.
Dishonesty in Addiction
Those who become addicted to alcohol or drugs will usually live a life that involves plenty of dishonesty. This is because substance abuse is going to bring them in conflict with many people. To avoid such conflicts the addict needs to lie. So, when their boss wants to know why they are not at work they might claim that they’ve picked up some type of stomach bug. The life of an addict tends to involve telling one lie after another, and more lies to cover previous lies. The most damaging of all will be the lies that the addict tells themselves.
All addicts rely on self-deception and denial to keep abusing their favourite chemicals. The evidence of the destruction caused by their addiction is usually plain for everyone else to see, but the addict can hide from this truth. It is only when the evidence of the destructiveness of their behaviour becomes too overwhelming to ignore that most will develop a willingness to change. Honesty is what finally leads people into recovery, and it is this that then keeps them there.
Reasons for Dishonesty in Recovery
There are several reasons why people in recovery will behave dishonestly including:
They fear the consequences of their actions and so lie to protect themselves from these consequences.
Lying is a habit. The more people do it the more they are likely to do it in the future. It is easy to slip into the habit of lying until dishonestly just becomes an almost automatic response.
Dishonesty can produce desirable outcomes both socially and economically.
There is therefore the temptation to use this as a tool to fulfil desires. The problem is that the long-term consequences of dishonesty are usually negative.
Addicts tend to lie without even realizing it. This is because they are so self-deluded that they are unable to see the truth. Even those who give up alcohol and drugs can still become self-deluded again in the future.
Some lies may be said to protect other people and so may be considered relatively harmless. For example, if a friend pays for an expensive new haircut it might be hurtful to say that they don’t look very attractive. Another example of dishonesty that would be considered acceptable is telling children that Santa Clause is coming.
The Dangers of Dishonesty in Recovery
Dishonesty in recovery is dangerous because:
It is a common relapse trigger. It means that the individual is returning to old ineffective coping strategies for dealing with life.
The most common reason why people relapse after a period of sobriety is that they become stuck in recovery. This often happens because they have stopped being honest with themselves and other people. They feel unwilling to face a challenge on the path before them so they try to hide from it in denial. No further progress can occur until the individual can clearly acknowledge what the problem is and be willing to act to remedy the situation.
If friends and family find out about this dishonesty it can destroy any progress that has been made in rebuilding relationships.
Programs such as Smart Recovery and the 12 Steps require that people are honest. If the individual begins to behave dishonestly it will mean that they will unable to benefit from this program.
Dishonesty can lead to feelings of guilt afterwards. The individual who is dealing with too much guilt in recovery can find it hard to discover real happiness.
It was the failure of the individual to be honest with themselves that kept them trapped in addiction. If they allow self-deception to once again take hold of their life, then they are likely to question the value of sobriety and the need to refrain from alcohol and drugs.
Honesty allows for healing of the individual and those close to them. If people continue to be dishonest then it means that this healing will not take place.
If people are attending any type of therapy, then it is vital that they are truthful during these sessions. If there is no honesty there can be little benefit from such treatment.
How to Increase Honesty in Recovery
Honesty is a key element of any successful life away from addiction. It is therefore important that people develop this moral characteristic. Here are a few ways to increase honesty in their recovery:
The key to breaking away from dishonesty is to admit when it has occurred as soon as possible afterwards. Those who are in a Twelve Step fellowship will be asked to do this as part of step 10; continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted to it. It can be hard to own up to dishonesty, but it makes it harder to be dishonest in the future.
Developing honesty is like building up muscles; the more people do it the more honest they become.
Keeping a journal is a useful way to track behaviour. It gives people the opportunity to look back on their day to look for any examples of dishonest behaviour. Journaling also reduces the risk of becoming caught up in self-delusion because things appear clearer when they are written down on paper.
If people do not value honesty, then they will not put much effort into living a life that is built upon it. Therefore, it is vital that the individual has a clear understanding of the importance of honesty, and the dangers of dishonesty in recovery.
It is usual for people to play down the significance of certain lies – they can justify the telling of white lies. While there are times when telling, a lie might be the less of two evils it is not a good idea to view any type of dishonesty in recovery as acceptable. Ideally the individual should be aiming for complete honesty; although they are unlikely to ever achieve this.
Honesty Vs Addiction
“My words were lies. I even believed the lies myself. When I felt guilty, I lied. When I was afraid, I lied. When I was angry or I felt cornered, I lied. If I was having a good day, I lied.”
So often as family and friends, we are lied to and manipulated by our addicted loved one – usually someone who was once honest and thoughtful and considerate. It’s devastating to lose that trust that comes with a close relationship between parent and child, partners, spouses, grandparents and grandchildren.
Even when you are armed with the truth, and the evidence to support it, when addiction is involved, there is a good chance that you’ll still be surrounded by lies. Dishonesty is a symptom of the addiction.
This is because without lies, addiction cannot live; and without the truth – recovery cannot survive.
The “Feel Good”
A big part of human nature stems from the desire to feel good. For different people, that “feel good” can evolve from different things: Adventure, purpose, affection, security, and appreciation are all examples of things we strive to meet, to live satisfied lives. These basic human needs become our foundation for our lives, our personalities, and our actions.
For people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, the “feel good” isn’t typically derived from the normal basic human needs. For people who are addicted to substances, things like a caring family, close friends, vacations, and job promotions aren’t going to bring joy and happiness. Instead, it’s only drugs or alcohol.
Defending the Addiction
Mental defence mechanisms, the way we behave or think to “defend” ourselves, are a part of the human mind. We think and do things to distance ourselves from unpleasant feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. John M. Grohol, Psy. D explains that some of the most common defence mechanisms include:
Projection (misattributing a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto another person who doesn’t have those thoughts, feelings or impulses)
Displacement (taking out thoughts, feelings and impulses on a person or object that isn’t the cause of those thoughts, feelings or impulses.)
When a person is addicted to alcohol or drugs, they physically, mentally and emotionally depend on their drug of choice. Addiction causes real chemical changes in the brain to directly affect the user’s conscious and unconscious behaviour. When the thing that makes, them feel good (or keeps them from going through painful withdrawal) is threatened, the addicted person’s mental defence mechanisms will kick in.
Defending the addiction to himself or others, your loved one will deny and justify his behaviour – and fully believe the lies. He will lie to anyone who may threaten his heroin use – and she will lie to anyone who may question her alcohol use. That includes him or herself.
The Common Lies
“I need to use cocaine to continue to be successful.”
“I need to drink to be social.”
“Everyone drinks and uses drugs – so I should, too.”
“If you knew my childhood, you would take pills, too.”
“I had a hard day, I deserve to drink.”
“I had a great day, I should celebrate with a drink.”
“I don’t really use or drink as much as other people.”
“I’ve never gotten a DUI.”
“I have a job; alcoholics don’t have jobs.”
“I take my kids to school every day, addicts don’t do that.”
“I could stop if I wanted to.”
“I’m not hurting anyone but me.”
The list could go on and on.
Ending the Lies
It’s important to recognize that your loved one isn’t being dishonest because he or she is a bad person or has moral failures. Lies are a symptom of addiction – as well as one of the biggest contributors to our anger and frustrations we feel with them.
There isn’t a light switch to flip on honesty in addiction – but there are things that loved one can do to bring truth to the table:
Realise That Lies Aren’t a Personal Attack on You.
Any time I find out I was lied to – I’m furious. I feel like it’s a personal attack on my intelligence: that the person who lied to me thinks I’m dumb enough to believe it. However, with addiction, your loved one isn’t lying to you because he or she thinks your dumb – they’re lying because they are sick with a disease that lies to them.
Don’t Accept the Lies.
Your loved one’s dishonesty is keeping him or her trapped in addiction – and it’s keeping you sick, too. Don’t look the other way when you’re lied to – letting them know the truth can help them face the consequences of their actions. Refusing to accept the lies means refusing to enable or “rescue”. Refusing to accept the lies means getting help for yourself through a therapist or meetings for friends and family. Refusing to accept the lies can take your loved one another step closer to accepting the help he or she needs.
Drop the Excuses.
If you’re covering for an addicted loved one, you’re also caught up in the disease of addiction. Lies on top of lies won’t help anyone.
Encourage A Supportive Environment.
Threats and power struggles are commonplace in homes dealing with addiction. Instead of resorting to arguments, create a supportive environment that promotes honesty.
The truth is, with addiction comes lies. These lies are only a distraction from the real problem – the addiction, and the underlying issues of the addiction. Don’t let dishonesty get in the way of helping your loved one find his or her path to addiction recovery. After all, with truth comes healing.