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March 15, 2019

The Value of Transparency and Honesty

If you’ve struggled with a chemical addiction, or are close to someone who does, you’ve probably heard or asked questions similar to the following:

  • “Have you been drinking/smoking again?”
  • “Is that PCP I smell on your clothes?”
  • “What’s this I hear about you getting cited for DUI?”
  • “Come on, what are you really sick with?”

If the person with the chemical addiction is in denial, the chances of an honest answer are slim. But sometimes it’s partly the question-asker’s fault. If you’re clearly ready to bawl someone out, they’ll go to extra lengths to avoid a scene. And if your tone and demeanor say, “Please tell me you’re not on drugs,” you’ve become an enabler by encouraging your loved one to lie. “I wouldn’t want to hurt her” is the most effective rationalization there is.

Whether dealing with someone else’s addiction or owning up to your own, honestly admitting its existence is the first step. But there are other aspects of honesty important in recovery.

BEING TRANSPARENT WITH TREATMENT PROVIDERS

Checking into addiction detox involves many potentially embarrassing questions:

  • “How long have you been using?”
  • “What physical symptoms do you have?”
  • “How much do you consume at a time?”
  • “Is there any history of addiction in your family?”
  • “Have you done anything illegal?”

Answer the questions honestly even if it hurts. Treatment providers need detailed information to provide the most effective (and safest) detox for each individual client. And remember, it’s all confidential.

BEING TRANSPARENT WITH THERAPISTS

If pre-detox questions seem painfully personal, post-detox therapy can feel like surgery without anesthetic. Few people really want to face up to painful memories or admit that their favorite survival/success habits do more harm than good. Although it may be tempting to just get clean and get out, if you’re unwilling to look at what drove you to drugs and how you can replace bad habits with better ones, you’ll be a major candidate for relapse. Let your therapist help you clean out emotional toxins: it’s the best way to make an effective fresh start.

BEING TRANSPARENT WITH LOVED ONES

While few people are really inclined (or able) to deceive a doctor or therapist, just about everyone with addiction disorder lies regularly to friends and family. The truth is, family members are rarely fooled for long. Whether they express their disbelief openly, or take the easy way out by pretending everything’s all right, they soon learn to doubt everything the addicted person says. Even after detox, it takes months of consistent honesty on both sides—including honest acknowledgment of doubt, anger, fear, and other negative emotions—to rebuild a solid relationship. Usually, family therapy is needed to help restore healthy communication.

BEING TRANSPARENT WITH OTHER PEOPLE

Dishonesty in addiction reaches beyond one’s intimate circle. Once long-term recovery begins, the question of what employers/coworkers/acquaintances need to know looms large.

  • Do you have to tell your neighbor you were the one who smashed into his car while driving drunk, or is it all right to pay the repair bill anonymously?
  • What do you say when coworkers ask why you don’t come to happy hour anymore?
  • Should you tell a new friend you can’t come to his party because you have an AA meeting? Or that you don’t attend parties these days because you’re afraid alcohol will be served?

You don’t have to broadcast the details of your problem (unless you want to become an addiction-recovery spokesperson): it’s perfectly acceptable to say a simple “No thank you,” or “I’m afraid I already have plans” or “I can’t drink alcohol.” As for making amends to someone who didn’t know you were responsible: if this is someone you see regularly, it’s better to come clean than to live with a cloud of “what if they find out” hanging over your relationship.

BEING TRANSPARENT WITH YOURSELF

Ultimately, you can’t be honest with others unless you’re first honest with yourself. As Step 4 of the famous 12 Steps says, “make a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself” and own up to your weaknesses.

  • If you have an out-of-control addiction (or even just a developing one), admit it to yourself so you can get help.
  • If there are situations that tempt you to relapse, admit it to yourself so you can avoid those situations.
  • If you’re afraid to face up to a loved one’s addiction, admit it to yourself so you can decide what to do besides fretting.

And don’t worry that if you look at yourself, you’ll just confirm your suspicions that you’re a born loser. That’s the biggest lie of all. Take off the rose-colored glasses and the dark-colored ones, and your better vision will show you that beneath your faults is a unique, valuable “real self” that you and the world deserve to know!

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