When my daughter was younger, she’d love to watch Veggie Tales. I had a copy of one of her favorite VT videos. The title: Larry Boy and Fib from Outer space.
The premise of the story line focused on dishonesty vs. honesty. Each time Jr. Asparagus told a lie, Fib grew larger and larger. At the end, Fib became quite big and caused trouble for Jr. Asparagus. It was only when Jr. Asparagus realized he needed to tell the truth. Each time he spoke the truth, Fib decreased in size. A simple message for children. Yet, a fundamental principle truth for people in recovery.
In Sobriety Demystified: Getting Clean and Sober with NLP and CBT, author Byron A. Lewis, M.A. writes:
…This clearly demonstrates a primary curative aspect of the Twelve steps program: the focus is not on the problem, but rather on the solution. …intrinsic to this step is a primary principle of Twelve Step programs known as rigorous honesty.
What Lewis is referring to is the hard line truth: all individuals suffering from substance use disorder come to a place of admitting to the fullest extent the nature of their problems. In line with the First Step, Lewis remarks how it is the start of the process.
Power of Honesty and Admission of Powerlessness
A person becomes powerless because substance use becomes a pervasive, chronic, and progressive disease of brain reward and motivation. Lewis comments on how ongoing suffer’s of substance use tend to foster a tendency toward ignoring consequences of compulsory behavior. Instead, the individual believes they are capable of handling problems associated with their continued use.
While they may trust in their own confidence of managing problems, despite continued use, there is repeated failure in moderating, limiting, or controlling their actual use. Instead, problems become exacerbate. Continued use despite negative consequences.
As a moderately seasoned counselor, I provide the following information to my patients:
- Inability to manage when substances are consumed
- Inability to manage amount of substance use being consumed
- Inability to manage behaviors associated with being impaired/under the influence
- Inability to manage any withdrawal symptoms being experienced because of increased substance use
In Alcoholic’s Anonymous, one may even hear someone say, “I just can’t stop at just one drink”. That is because they are verbalizing the reality of their own inability to control how much, how often, and how they may behave once they take that initial drink.
It is this moment of clarity of being honest with self, a person may be able to start laying the foundation for a true recovery based program.
Power of Honesty and an unmanageable life
Not only has an individual become powerless over their substance use, their own lives have become unmanageable. This recognition is a second layer of the foundation. Another rigorous honest approach is the acknowledgement of the pervasive impact it has had on the individual sufferer.
Noah Levine writes this:
For the addict in the midst of addiction, life is often a downward spiral that ends in incarceration, institutionalization, violence, loss, and death. Some may continue to function in seemingly normal ways – working, parenting, and participating in society – but an internal death occurs, a numbness arises, and they start to disconnect from themselves and from others. A wall of denial and suppression, too high and too thick to scale or break through, keeps others out and keeps the addicts in, trapped by [their] own defenses, prisoner to [their] own addiction (Refuge Recovery – Addiction Creates Suffering, pp 3-4).
Levine continues with these points on how suffering manifests in an individual:
- Stress created by craving for more
- Never having enough to feel satisfied
- Stealing to support continued substance use
- Lying to hide ongoing substance use
- Ashamed and Guilty of one’s behaviors
- Feeling (belief) of unworthiness
- Living in constant fear the consequences of one’s actions
- Intense emotions of anger and resentment
- Hurting other people and self
- Intense hatred toward self and others
- Jealousy and envious of others
- Feeling victimized and/or inferior toward others
- Selfish due to being needy and greedy
- Lack of confidence toward genuine sense of happiness and wellness
- Anguish and misery of being enslaved by continues substance use
The nature of unnecessary suffering (as Levine remarks in his book) is a battle between our desire for happiness verses our need for survival. In active substance use, it is merely about survival from one moment to the next. A person’s life is hyper focused on seeking out, obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol and/or drugs.
Levine makes this statement on how one’s recovery is fundamentally founded on the principle of honesty:
This is a process that cannot be skipped or half-assed. The foundation of our recovery is a complete admission and acceptance of the suffering that we have caused and experienced due to addiction.
Levine continues how this rigorous honesty needs to happen in order to do away with any shred of denial, minimization, justification, or rationalization. It is a principle truth that requires a radical honest approach toward healing. This radical honest approach encompasses two truths:
- Come a complete and total understanding of the reality of our own suffering and negative impact substance use has had on our lives.
- Accept the reality and truth that it is because of our continued substance use that is the causation for our own suffering.
Through our admission and acknowledgement, and by embracing the reality, that because of ongoing substance use, one has become powerless and life had become unmanageable.
Power and nature of honesty leads toward freedom
Embracing the reality of our suffering. Admission to our sense of powerlessness and inability to manage life is the precursory means to establish an abstinent based recovery program. An individual begins to experience freedom by striving toward physical sobriety. Once physical sobriety is achieved, an individual begins the honest and rigorous work toward emotional sobriety.
Physical sobriety is the ability to establish and sustain a life without alcohol and/or drugs. It is the ability to manage and cope those symptoms of withdrawals. Maintaining daily empowerment to implement alternative ways to manage cravings that may lead back toward substance use. It is the ability to regain the power of volition of making daily decisions not to drink or use.
Emotional sobriety is more rigorous in bringing an individual face to face with their own inner turmoil. Learning how to manage intense emotions. Becoming empowered to move toward healthier relationships, financial stability, regain a peace of mind, finding meaning and purpose, rediscovery of core values and beliefs, and practicing a healthy lifestyle. It is a process of transformation and restoration of our true sense of identity.
The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
~ Genesis 4:6-7, ESV ~
Through emotional sobriety, a person regains the ability to manage their own emotions. This does not mean we fake it til we make it, or, force ourselves to think positively all the time. It means we are honest with ourselves when it comes to the nature of our own emotions: Positive or Negative. If we are not managing our emotions, our emotions are managing us and we end up not doing well. We fall short because we return back to our old behaviors.
Summary of thought
Like Jr. Asparagus, a person suffering substance use creates a life that is dishonest. It becomes a rather large beast in our lives. The only way we are to bring ourselves back to a right way of living is by a radical and rigorous honest approach. The more we engage in being honest with self, the smaller and insignificant our own suffering becomes.
And, while it does not free ourselves from the consequences of our substance use. It empowers us to face those consequences in order to regain mastery over our own lives.