“There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.” – The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
“We are a company of Christian men. We are also… natural liars who are now finding freedom in the truth.” – Suggested meeting format of the Samson Society
A friend of mine who has been sponsoring guys for years in 12-step recovery gives the same speech to every new sponsee. “Before we get started,” he says, “I want you to understand that I am under no illusions about your honesty. I do not expect that everything you tell me today will be true, because your behavior shows that you have been lying to yourself and others for a very long time. All I ask is that you do your best to tell me as much of the truth today as you can, and when sometime in the future you need to change your story or add to it, there will be no penalty for doing so.”
I believe my friend’s approach is eminently wise. After all, lying is the lifeblood of addiction, so it is only realistic to assume that, until an addict has gained traction in recovery, he will find it very difficult to face and disclose the unvarnished truth about himself.
We May Lie for Different Reasons
In his book The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, Ian Cron makes the point that we tend to evade the truth for different reasons—most of them unconscious—depending on our personality type. For example:
- A Perfectionist will be tempted to deny even the slightest mistake because, in his mind, his value depends entirely on doing everything absolutely right.
- A Performer will be tempted to cover up a slip because he believes failure is fatal; his only value lies in being perceived as an unqualified success, a star.
- A Challenger will be tempted to conceal a slip for fear of being seen as weak and vulnerable and losing crucial control in a relationship.
- A Peacemaker will avoid admitting a slip for fear that the resulting conflict will cost him his life-giving connection with a person or group.
How Far Will We Take the Lie?
Once we’ve started lying, it’s hard to stop. David Hampton, my co-host on the Positive Sobriety Podcast, made me laugh the other day when he told how, as a ten-year-old, he faked an appendicitis one Sunday morning because he didn’t want to go to church. When his parents called a doctor, he doubled down on his story, and he continued to stick to it all the way through hospitalization and surgery. With dedication like that, it’s no wonder that David went on to build a successful career as a functional alcoholic.
I remember lying effortlessly to my parents during my adolescent years. My father’s reaction, whenever he caught me in a lie, was to apply his belt to my backside with extra vigor, but that strategy didn’t turn me into a truth-teller. When I ran the calculations myself, the penalties for sin were so high and the risks of being caught in a lie were so low that the math clearly favored lying. This was especially true when my transgressions turned sexual.
When I finally started facing my addiction in my forties, a fellowship of recovering addicts who were “walking in the light” invited me to join them. I found it very hard to keep up, however, because I couldn’t stop lying. Maybe I wasn’t fabricating outright falsehoods, but I was not telling the whole truth either. Why? Because I liked these guys and needed them to like me. I was afraid of losing my place in the hierarchy, and I was terrified of being lectured and pilloried for my inevitable failures.
Over time, however, I became aware that the dynamics of this fellowship were different from those of the shame-based accountability groups I had known in the past. In this fellowship, the hierarchy I imagined didn’t really exist. Among these pilgrims, sobriety was supported but not enforced. Relapse was met with sympathy rather than censure. “Setting the record straight” about oneself was honored as an act of courage, and no one was ever ejected from the group.
After twenty years in recovery, I still find it difficult to be truthful at times. Hard realities make me nervous, and I sometimes flinch, but I am no longer in the habit of lying. Honesty is not a moral accomplishment on my part, but merely a testament to the transformational power of grace. I am basically an honest man today because I have found a community of men who can handle the truth, no matter how ugly it may be.