Truth-Telling and Addiction

“Honesty is harder than sobriety.” I love that insightful quote from Brad Hambrick. Addictions require deception. In order to maintain an addiction you have to become skilled at lying, representing yourself and your life differently. You have to become adept at hiding so that others don’t interfere and so that life can still be managed and addictions still enjoyed. Of all the struggles that addicts have to overcome learning to tell the truth may just be the most difficult. Practicing truth-telling, then, becomes an important part of recovery.

The Role of Deception

Deception allows an addicted individual to maintain their habit. Exposure will require those who love them to intervene, to take steps to help, to confront and issue consequence. Secrecy, hiding, manipulation, and outright lying become necessary, then, if an addict hopes to keep up the habit. No one can know.

Tommy was an alcoholic. Pretty much everyone knew it, but he had developed a series of lies that kept people from being able to confront him. He missed his son’s ballgame because he had to “work late.” He said those hurtful things to his wife because he was “tired from working late.” He drank a “little bit” but that was just to take the edge off of the long day. If she had any compassion she wouldn’t have picked that fight with him when he got home. These were the sort of distractions that Tommy could throw around to keep people from talking about his alcohol consumption. He was just good enough at it that others, despite knowing he had a problem, could never find the avenue to confront him.

Self-deception is, of course, the biggest form of lying in which the addict participates. He convinces himself, particularly, that he is in control. This isn’t that big a deal. Other people are being dramatic, and blowing this thing out of proportion. After all, they can stop whenever they want. Wendy regularly used the excuse that her doctor had prescribed her these pills. They were medically necessary. She, of course, was taking more than she was prescribed, that was a non-issue since she had a script that proved her need. Self-deception is a common, indeed a necessary preservation tactic. It’s not that the addict doesn’t know that there is some level of a problem, but the deception is a form of denial that allows them to keep engaging in the habit without guilt or responsibility to change.

Deception, while common enough, will always keep people stuck in sin. Until an addicted individual is ready to take personal responsibility for their desires, attitudes, and actions they will remain stuck. Honesty must occur, but honesty is hard to cultivate

The Hardship of Honesty

Honesty is hard for several reasons, but often deception arises from a place of fear. We don’t tell the truth because we are afraid of the consequences, we are afraid of change, we are afraid of letting go of something that brings us comfort. Learning to tell the truth, then, will require confronting our fears.

Addicted individuals have often turned to substances abuse because they do not have good life management skills. When you don’t know how to manage your emotions, resolve conflict, develop relationships, or work hard, then drugs and alcohol provide an escape. They become the means by which a person “resolves” problems. Using substances to avoid addressing problems, however, simply compounds the problems. The consequences begin to mount up. If Bill drank to avoid dealing with his wife, his drinking often meant that he dealt with his wife in destructive ways. If Sarah used to escape her failures, using only prompted more failures. The consequences are real and honesty is going to require us to deal with these consequences.

At other times deception allows us prevent us from disappointment. Change is hard, and overcoming a substance abuse problem is notoriously hard. Many addicted individuals have tried, in small or sometimes great ways, to break the habit. Yet, every time they have relapsed. There is something unbelievably discouraging about trying and yet not actually changing. Sometimes the fear of disappointment is so great because we fear we simply can’t change, that we are just too broken to ever quit drugs and alcohol. So, rather than be disappointed yet again, rather than face the supposed reality of brokenness, some individuals simply don’t try. Deception allows them to avoid hopelessness.

Finally, honesty is hard because addiction is pleasurable. The longer you indulge in a substance abuse pattern the more your addiction dominates your life. Addicts have let go of so many other healthy outlets of fun, pleasure, and joy in order to engage in drug use or alcohol consumption. Often, they have let go of  friends, hobbies, and social outings. Furthermore, substance abuse changes our experience of the more commonplace fun in which they used to engage. The high they get from using makes all other pleasure seem mundane. Being honest about an addiction means letting go of “the only good thing in my life.” It’s scary to let go of the only thing that makes us feel good. That’s how Derek felt when I first began meeting with him. “If I give this up, I am giving up the only good thing I have left.” He was scared.

Practicing Honesty

Understanding these dynamics about honesty and deception allows us to begin to point beyond addictive habits to hope. God gives grace to help us face our consequences (2 Cor. 4:8-10), He gives us promises to guarantee our eventual change (Phil. 1:6), and He ensures that joy is possible as we grow in His Spirit (Gal. 5:22). But honesty is still hard and is going to require cultivation. Just as addictions formulate over time, so too can honesty become a habit as we practice it over time.

Lying can become its own “addictive” habit. Addicted individuals may find that they are so used to lying that they do it even when it serves no immediate advantage to them or their addiction. Lying just becomes part of their routine. Honesty, then, is going to have to be practiced too. They will need to learn to tell the truth with regularity.

Jesus taught His disciples, and us by extension, that the “truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Cultivating such honesty means, however, that we must begin to evaluate what we say according to Biblical standards. The following three questions can help to serve as a grid for evaluating our statements:

  1. Is it true? In other words, is it factual?
  2. Is it the whole truth? Are you trying to leave anything out or are you declaring the full reality?
  3. Is it nothing but the truth? Are you embellishing or adding to the facts?

We can use these questions and begin evaluating general statements we make about events. Practice it. Pick one thing that happened to you in the last 24 to 48 hours (it can be anything). Share what happened, and how it made you feel, filtering the event through these three questions.

Discuss this exercise with a friend. How did this exercise make you feel? Was any part of it challenging? Did you struggle to answer any of the three questions? Were you tempted to be deceitful in any of the three questions? How will practicing this exercise help you to be more truthful?

Do this again and again. Start with the more routine aspects of. your life, describing them honestly. Cultivate the habit of truth-telling. Eventually, however, (and sooner rather than later) you want to increase the gravity of the events you describe. Progressively select to describe events that are more important, events that you would be more likely to lie about. Keep practicing.

Addiction and deception go hand in hand, but you can learn to tell the truth about yourself and your problems. By practicing truth-telling you are already beginning to change. By continuing to do it you are continuing to grow. Truth telling won’t solve all your problems, in fact, it may mean that you have to deal with more problems initially. Eventually, however, the truth will empower you to fight against sin and to get the help you need to do that. Those who lie and deceive will stay stuck, but the truth will set you free!

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