The disease of addiction thrives on lies and self-deception. The only way to get and stay clean is by learning how to be honest. Yep, us addicts have to learn how to do this.
When I was getting high I told myself, “This is the last one” thousands of times over the years. Sometimes I’d even throw away my paraphernalia to prove that I meant it. By morning (or even earlier) I’d be wading through rain-filled dumpsters searching for my old trash bags or laying out money on new syringes and cursing myself for being stupid enough to believe my own bullshit. This game was old. All I got from it was more self-hatred to use over. I’d become silent on the subject of stopping years ago – friends will only listen to bullshit for so long – so this dialogue was my own inner torture chamber. At some point my head said “This is the last time” and I quit falling for it. Repeatedly disappointing myself was more painful than accepting I’d never stop using no matter how horrible I felt.
In 1988 something miraculous happened that changed my life. While trying to get into rehab, a friend called and basically told me to come over for free drugs. This was in the middle of my withdrawal so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I have no idea how I was able to be honest with myself but I knew if I gave myself “one last time” it meant I was still playing the “getting clean” mind-game. The only way things would be different was if I did something different. I told my friend “Thanks but no thanks.”
The saying “You are only as sick as your secrets” doesn’t just mean that we need to reveal all our sneaky devious deeds in a relapse-prevention way. It means, in order to get clean and stay clean, we have to practice honesty with others so we can learn how to become honest with ourselves– and let’s face it – we have suffered the most from our lies. Trusting our own thinking is our greatest downfall and it is foolish to assume a major transformation in our ability to perceive reality and the truth happens simply by putting down the drugs. It comes from the work we do after.
This is why it is absolutely necessary to have at least one person we are willing to expose ourselves to fully – not just the questionable decisions we make, or the sneaky shit we are able to get away with but the very stories we tell ourselves in way of rationalizing or justifying these behaviors. It’s worth the risk to find that one person – whether it is a therapist or a sponsor or a friend. The only way we can begin to have an honest relationship with ourselves is to learn it by practicing honesty with another person. This can begin before putting the drugs down.
Here is how I approached this:
Before I got clean, when I’d feel uncomfortable or too exposed, judged, or if my behaviors caused too much drama, I’d move onto a new crowd or a new city. Sometimes this happened without me ever questioning how I lost touch with old friends. It was just the way I was carving out my path. Seemed perfectly natural. I embarked on my adventure into recovery using this model to give me courage. I was willing to be completely honest because I knew if it became unbearable, I could dump my new friends and find others. This gave me the courage to give it my best shot. The funny thing is that I am still very close to the original core group of recovery friends I made 23 years ago. In fact, honesty gave these relationships a level of intimacy I had never known prior.
Recently I was helping my oldest friend in the world get clean. Over the years, she would ask for help. She wanted directions on how to do it but reserved space to include her own ideas she still believed were valid and trustworthy. She was unable to see or accept that for years she had been trying to get clean this way and it never worked. Occasionally she could hear this argument and say, “This time I will try doing it your way.” She began to lower her methadone intake by 10 mg every couple weeks. I knew she was having trouble sleeping but it took several weeks before she admitted she was using wine to sleep at night (followed by a list of logical-sounding reasons why she couldn’t do her job if she was exhausted). I warned her that when she had her first days off of methadone she would be craving her nightcap. She promised she would stop when she began counting clean days.
By day 6 she said “I should have listened to you about the wine. The cravings are coming back and I am feeling worse today than I did on day one.” It took several email exchanges before she told me the truth. She had continued drinking wine before bed throughout those first 6 days clean and now she was thinking of nothing other than having a drink and taking the leftover methadone she had sitting on her dresser. “What leftover methadone? You shouldn’t have had wine or methadone in your house when you started counting day one.” It took 6 days of lying about her clean time until she was able to tell me the truth – and it was only because she was deep in the obsession of using again.
For two months she had suffered levels of withdrawal coming off methadone and if she picked up again, it would have all been in vain. On day 6 she told me the truth – or at least that is how it appeared. She overdosed and died on the 7th day. Even her confession about the wine and methadone was only a partial truth. She never revealed that she had Oxycontin in the house. Maybe that is what she meant by the “methadone on my dresser” that she kept thinking about all day. She tried to tell on herself but was incapable of going all the way. I will never know what other secrets she had held onto. I firmly believe that if she had been capable of telling me the truth, she would have. She wanted so badly to be in recovery again and my heart is broken that she will never have another opportunity to do things differently.
The disease wants us to protect our secrets. Even clean it will tell us that we deserve the right to some privacy so we will withhold information and not recognize this as secret-keeping behavior. If you want to get clean or you want to stay clean for the long haul, share your secrets with someone – even if you aren’t ready to change the behaviors connected to them. Honesty is the first step. It will save your life.