The reason honesty is so crucial in recovery is because denial is such a heavy force in addiction. Denial could be described as a mental trick, a blind spot. It prevents us from seeing what we are doing to ourselves and to others. Denial exacerbates the cycle of addiction and keeps an individual imprisoned despite the many warning signs that recovering addicts later admit to. Denial creates the need to justify our behavior and leads to hiding the truth from ourselves and from others. It distracts us from the compulsion of addiction and the illness that is only getting worse.
The Role of Denial
Denial comes in many forms perhaps because the mind uses all forms of tactics to be able to avoid seeing what needs to be seen. Denial can happen in the following ways:
- Avoidance – I will talk about anything but my problems.
- Minimizing – My problems are not that bad.
- Rationalizing – My problems exist for this or that reason and because of that I don’t have to deal with them.
- Blaming – My problems are not my fault.
- Comparing – Others have worse problems than I do and so I don’t have to deal with problems of my own.
- Manipulating – I will admit to my problems if you solve them for me.
- Fear – Being afraid of my problems gives me a reason to avoid them.
- Hopelessness – Nothing works so I don’t have to try.
Honesty Is Healing
For all these reasons, rigorous honesty is essential to achieve sober living. Honesty can counter the tendency to deny that there is a problem, to ignore the illnesses of the mind, and to avoid the truth. Honesty is the treatment for denial, which leads to the healing experience of acceptance – acceptance that there is a problem, acceptance that we need help, and acceptance of the truth.
One primary way that honesty is healing is that it reconnects us to ourselves. It builds a bridge between the parts of ourselves as well as a bridge between others and ourselves. In addition to countering denial, the connections that honesty creates are also healing. Dishonesty, on the other hand, creates a disconnection from ourselves and from others, especially from those who might be able to provide addiction help.
For instance, an honest talk with someone can provide the opportunity to finally speak the truth, to share what you might not have ever shared, and to let go of the experiences that might have been driving the addiction. Although it’s often a process to get to this point, doing so can be entirely freeing.
One woman who used drinking and alcohol as a means for coping with her life admits that it was a process for her. The four years prior to going to her first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was filled with different signs that indicated perhaps she was drinking too much. Once her therapist asked her whether her drinking was working for her. Another time a friend asked about her drinking and she ignored his gesture to help. And yet another time, she saw a flyer in a bathroom that discussed the need to take responsibility for one’s life. And it was then that she realized that she wasn’t taking responsibility; she was using alcohol to manage her life the best she could. Those moments and others helped to break through her denial. Finally, at the end of those four years, she sought out drug addiction treatment. She went through alcohol detox and participated in a three-month program at an alcohol treatment center.
Denial can be a thick wall hiding the need to get drug treatment. Denial can stand in the way between who we are now and who we could be. It keeps us imprisoned. Yet, through honesty with oneself and with others, sobriety is possible. It’s not only possible; it’s a reality that has yet to be experienced.