Honesty is very important in addiction recovery because of the power of dishonesty with others and delusion of self. These are major mechanisms for perpetuating the disease. The major weapon for fighting delusion is honesty.

Need in Addiction

Especially with addiction, dishonesty fuels delusion and promotes dysfunctional behavior and relationships. Honesty, with self and others, is a cornerstone of recovery.

Like most things, honesty may appear to be black and white, but it isn’t. We can place ourselves roughly on a scale from pathological liar to brutally honest. Also, we may fall at different places on the scale in our business lives, our personal lives, or in particular situa- tions.

Pathological lying This is a level of dishonesty that is truly crazy. Pathological liars weave fantastic stories about who they are and what they have done. It is symptomatic of a genuine character disorder, if not a psychosis.

Fraud and theft In the extreme, fraud and theft also suggest character disorders, but on the near end, they may be more related to the addictive behaviors. Many addicts find themselves involved in these situations, largely due to their addiction. .

Minor cheating A more common level of dishonesty is cheating. Examples include:

  • Adultery or infidelity in relationships
  • “Borrowing” that never gets returned
  • Copying books, movies, or computer software we have not paid for
  • Lying or “fudging” on an income tax return
  • Stealing supplies from an employer

Cash register This is a level of honesty where you would not “take money from the register.” Here you have an idea of things that are theft or cheating, and would avoid doing anything that is clearly dishonest.

Guarded truth At this level, what you say is usually true, but you might not feel any requirement to correct misinterpretations by others. Dishonesty is by omission rather than by commission. Asked the right questions you might tell the truth. Politicians are notorious for this level of honesty.

Essentially honest Then we move into an area where honesty is the norm, although you may make exceptions for good reasons. You might not worry too much about “little white lies,” especially if they don’t seem to be told for your personal gain, and don’t hurt anyone.

If you are engaged in addictive behavior, it is very difficult to be this honest.

Rigorously honest The Big Book talks about rigorous honesty. This does not mean perfect honesty, but it is striving in that direction. If someone does rigorous exercise, they work up a sweat. Rigorous honesty implies that you make a conscientious effort to be honest with yourself and others in all your affairs.

Brutally honest It is possible for an addict to overdo almost anything. Meeting someone and saying, “You sure are ugly,” may be honest, but it may totally ignore any sensitivity to the other person’s feelings about something over which they may have no control. There is a hidden dishonesty in brutal honesty, having to do with motives.

With any of these levels of honesty, you may need to make a value judgment about what is brutal and what is rigorous. Again, the program suggests progress, not perfection.

Somehow, children and older people, especially those who are “characters,” can get away with a lot more brutality in their honesty than most others. We seem to make allowances for them, and there is not as much sting to what they say.

Dealing with Consequences

People often experience consequences of dishonesty, even if they are not “caught.” If you decide to lie, you immediately double or triple what you have to remember; you have to try to remember the truth so you can use the information, and you must also remember the lie, so you won’t accidentally get caught in it. And often, the same lie won’t do for everyone. So you may have to remember the truth, lie ‘W’ and whom you told it to, lie “B” and whom you told it to, and so on. You may wind up expending more energy and paying more consequences than if you had just told the truth. Honesty makes living, and recovery, easier.

Taking Risks

Sometimes people tell the truth, and do in fact get into trouble. Usually the trouble is not nearly as bad as they imagined it would be, but even if it is, they have the freedom of not having to dread the possibility that someone might find out, and they can feel good about their honesty and integrity. Honesty often gets lots of support from others.

Honesty, see also: Acceptance, Amends, Behavior, Beliefs, Character defects, Control, Defenses, Delusion, Forgiveness, Half-measures, Higher Power, Humility, Integrity & values, Judgment, Obsession, Relationships, Responsibility, Step One, Step Four, Step Five, Stinking thinking, Trust.

Updated 9 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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