being honest in recovery

Honesty in Recovery: Why and how to practice honesty in sobriety

07-27-2023Recovery Tools

Recovery from alcohol and drug use is a complex and challenging journey that requires commitment, perseverance, and self-reflection. While there are various factors that contribute to successful recovery, one element that stands out is the importance of honesty.

Honesty in recovery is one of the most basic and useful tools for staying sober, but it’s often easier said than done. Especially in the first 30 days, it can be extremely scary to be honest about what we’ve done and where we’ve been.

It’s common for newcomers to wonder just what honesty has to do with staying sober, and if it’s so important – then what do we need to be honest about, and with whom?

What does honesty have to do with staying sober?

When we emerge from substance use, most of us feel as if the last few months or years have been a blur. Our lives have gotten progressively worse; consequences have piled up, and we wonder if we’ll ever have fun or feel joy without drugs.

Simply the fact that we’re in a program at all, whether paid or free is an indication that things have gotten off track in our lives.

However, if drug use was the problem, it should make sense that ceasing drug use would fix the problem, right?

Many times, this isn’t the case.

It’s commonly observed by newcomers (especially young people in recovery) who get sober that they actually feel worse after they sober up. This is especially true after the rush of the first week or two begins to wear off. Why is this?

We believe that it’s the cumulative effect of our decisions.

Regardless of any underlying mental health considerations and other circumstances in our lives, we’ve never met an individual in early sobriety that hadn’t made decisions that eat away at their conscience after they sober up.

This cuts to the core of why honesty and recovery must go hand-in-hand.

A problem shared is a problem halved

We have a saying in recovery: “a problem shared is a problem halved.”

We’ve all got guilt and shame when we sober up. People we regret lying to, things we regret stealing, decisions we wish we hadn’t made. Conversations we should have had, but didn’t. Every recovering person relates to this.

Substance use disorders grow in the dark. It’s one of the reasons that fellowship and connection is such a big part of recovery. Though it often feels insurmountable, almost every person who takes the risk of being honest with a 12-step sponsor or respected peer in recovery instantly understands what we mean by “a problem shared is a problem halved.”

Emotional relief, a feeling of mutual understanding, and mental clarity on issues that seemed impossibly complex: these are the kinds of emotional rewards we can expect by walking through our fear of being honest.

An open secret in recovery – this is true in long-term recovery just as much as it was during our first 90-in-90!

Honesty with others leads to honesty with ourselves

Though we usually aren’t aware of this when we sober up, the biggest people we’ve lied to have been ourselves. We’ve told ourselves, among other things, that:

  • Our substance abuse only hurts ourselves, nobody else

  • The reason we get high is because the world doesn’t treat us right

  • Drugs and alcohol improve our lives, make us better socially, or improve our odds of being successful

  • If we wanted to stop getting high, we would

As we can see here, dishonesty in recovery is simply a continuation of a coping mechanism for (badly) dealing with fear!

By practicing honesty about our real thoughts on these issues with our sponsors and other members of whatever support groups we’re a part of, we can begin, in a safe environment, to see the truth about ourselves.

This brings up one of the basic principles in recovery: honesty with others allows us to be honest with ourselves.

Walking through the fear of being honest in recovery

Often, being honest in sobriety is actually very scary. In fact, it’s fear (aka "false evidence appearing real!") that has often led us to be dishonest in the first place.

Think about it – what would happen if we just told the truth?

Would we lose anything? Would we be treated differently? Would others look at us the same?

In early recovery, these are often the propositions we feel we’re faced with. However, they often end up being F.E.A.R: false events appearing real!

Typically, the reality of being honest is far better than whatever we’ve told ourselves. The people in our lives want the best for us. They often already know many of the things we haven’t told them, simply because they love us and they know us well.

Most folks are willing to work through whatever trust has been broken, if it means we’re going to get healthy and sober in the process!

Which brings us to our next point:

What honesty in recovery does NOT mean

One of the common blunders during the early recovery process is that once we discover the emotional freedom that comes with being honest, we begin to tell everybody in our lives all the things we’ve done and “jump the gun” on trying to make things right.

We would encourage all newcomers in recovery to consult with their 12-step sponsors before going and “getting honest” with everyone in their lives. This is for a few reasons:

  1. Often times we haven’t yet actually changed the behavior that led to the dishonesty in the first place

  2. If we’re “getting honest” simply to make ourselves feel better, then we’re missing the point and doing it for selfish reasons

The trouble with this is that often we end up disclosing information to a family member or close friend that we really should have spent more time thinking about before discussing. It’s not hard to see how this could easily cause problems.

While there are exceptions to everything in recovery, we would remind newcomers at this point that the steps are in order for a reason.

“Cleaning house,” is the process of writing our inventory, humbly admitting to God / ourselves / another human being, then working to allow God to change our defects of character, then getting honest with others and making amends.

Though we understand the motivation, it’s frequent for things to backfire in unexpected ways when newcomers “go rogue” and start doing these steps out of order.

Honesty and recovery go hand-in-hand

If you’re in your first 90 days of sobriety and you’ve got some secret feelings of guilt, shame, or regret, it’s time to work on being honesty in sobriety. Pick up the 500-lb phone and call your sponsor! It can sometimes be a tough task (we’ve been there), but it’s worth it!

If you’re looking for a support group to begin your recovery journey, get in touch with the FullCircle Program office nearest to you (we have no-cost support groups across the country).

God bless and remember … you got this!