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 particular 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. In order 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 in order to keep abusing their favorite chemicals. The evidence of the destruction caused by their addiction is usually plain for everyone else to see, but the addict is able to hide from this truth. It is only when the evidence of the destructiveness of their behavior 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 a number of 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 fulfill 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 take action 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 the 12 Steps require that people are rigorously 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 behavior. It gives people the opportunity to look back on their day to look for any examples of dishonest behavior. 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.