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Honesty and Recovery

Dr. David Fawcett

Active addicts have a serious problem with being honest. The essential fuel for any addiction is lying. There are lies about getting one’s drug, sexually acting out, using substances, hiding consequences, and even planning the next relapse. Addicts become so good at lying that after a period of time they end up deceiving not just others but themselves, resulting in confusion about who they really are and what they really believe.

By its very nature, lying traps addicts in their addiction. The more they lie, the less they like themselves, and that in turn creates uncomfortable feelings from which they want to escape. This fuels the addiction cycle, leading to more dishonesty and more addictive behavior.

Dishonesty takes a toll even when addicts are active in recovery. When recovering addicts are completely honest, there is no place for the addiction to hide. When recovering addicts lie, they open the door to relapse. With complete honesty, a full recovery is both attainable and likely. Without complete honesty, not so much.

Here are some thoughts about honesty and its role in recovery:

Complete honesty is required for recovery.

Because lying destroys relationships both with oneself and others, it is important that addicts become 100% honest with the people who comprise their recovery support system. This includes family, doctors, therapists, sponsors, and other people in their 12-step recovery groups. Sustained recovery will be elusive if an addict can’t be completely honest with his or her support network. Addicts find it easy to compartmentalize various segments of their lives, so it is extremely important that they have at least one person, and preferably more than one, who knows everything about them.

Being honest can be difficult in early recovery.

Addicts spend so much time rationalizing, justifying, manipulating, and deceiving themselves and others that honesty will at first not be intuitive. It is important for addicts to practice telling the truth in order to make it easier. In my role as a therapist, I often notice that a client new to therapy will disclose his or her addictive behavior in drip-by-drip fashion. During the first session, the client will admit to certain amounts and types of behavior. Then, in subsequent sessions, the full truth begins to emerge. Every addict needs people in his or her life who will look for and point out inconsistencies in what the addict says and does. And addicts must be willing to accept this feedback as they learn to become honest.

Honesty means being honest about yourself, not other people.

People often think, especially in early recovery, that 12-step programs mandate ‘brutal honesty’ with other people, meaning addicts should freely share their feelings about other people’s character defects with those other people. That is not what honesty in recovery is about. Honesty in recovery is about shining a light on your own truth, including what you may find disturbing about yourself. Focusing on others deflects the addict’s attention away from where it is needed most: on himself or herself.

Disclosure about addiction should be done, but only with caution.  

For addicts, disclosure means revealing to others that they have a problem with drugs, alcohol, or a behavior. For sex addicts, disclosure also has a more formalized meaning: It is a process where the addict reveals to his or her partner the extent and nature of his or her addictive sexual behaviors.

Sometimes people in early recovery disclose too much to too many people and later regret it. Usually, blurting out their new recovery status to everyone around them is a way of managing their anxiety about disclosure. It is always wise to get a 12-step sponsor and ask his/her advice about disclosure.

With sex addiction, it is best to wait at least 90 days before making full disclosure to a betrayed partner. During this time, the addict prepares a disclosure document in collaboration with his or her therapist. Eventually, that document is shared with the betrayed partner in a formal therapy setting. Both parties should have their own therapist at that session.

With any disclosure, it is important for addicts to use good judgment to avoid creating even more emotional pain for themselves and others. Sex addiction disclosure to a betrayed partner should never be undertaken without therapeutic guidance and supervision. In such cases, formal disclosure is the addict’s one opportunity to set a healing path for the relationship, so it’s important to not botch it.

In all cases, honesty is the foundation for a strong recovery. Honesty allows addicts to fully connect with others, which is an essential element of both ongoing sobriety and fully enjoying the rewards of recovery.

If you find that you are struggling with secrets and lies related to an active sex, porn, or paired substance/sex addiction, Seeking Integrity can help. For starters, we offer Residential Rehab for addicted men. We also offer low-cost online workgroups. Workgroups you may want to consider include Sex Addiction 101 and Out of the Doghouse.