First Segment - Principle 6 - Honesty
So this Principle of Honesty goes together with Step 6 which is “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” For all you atheists and agnostics out there Step 6 can also be “Be entirely ready to acknowledge our abiding strength and release our personal shortcomings.”
WHEN OUR ADDICTION was the center of our world, we lived a double (or triple or quadruple) life. We said one thing and did another. We told different people different stories. We told ourselves contradictory stories. And we tried to keep track of it all. But of course we couldn’t. No one could. And eventually our world of lies and contradictions imploded. In contrast, honesty is plain, simple, and clean. Plain because it rarely requires elaboration. Simple because we don’t have to keep track of multiple versions. Clean because we don’t harm others with it or have to make amends for it.
- What was your experience in addiction with lying, keeping everything hidden? Were you caught or did you come clean? In recovery how well did you take to being honest? Was it an easy transition? Did you struggle?
Honesty With Others
We all know the importance of telling the truth. As we practice the Principle of honesty, we also learn the importance of living the truth. The baobab tree, which grows in Africa and Australia, is often called the upside-down tree because its branches mirror its roots. What you see at the top of its trunk is much like what grows underground. As our recovery deepens, we become more and more like a baobab tree. What we do closely mirrors what we say. We don’t keep secrets. What others see is what they get.
Most of the time, what we say sounds more honorable than what we actually do. But sometimes it’s what we say that needs to change. For example, maybe you tell people “I hate exercise,” when in fact you take long, brisk walks five times a week. In that case, please reflect on why you give people that false message. Do you see yourself as lazy or undisciplined or physically unfit? Do you mentally compare yourself to your sister the weightlifter? Did you hate exercise years ago but never adjusted your talk to keep up with your walk?
- Do you think what you say needs to change? Do you find yourself saying one thing but doing another?
Honesty With Yourself
Our recovery requires us to be equally honest with ourselves. As John Bradshaw observes, “Because lying to ourselves (denial) is the core of all addictions, the various Twelve Step groups stress living in a rigorously honest way” (“Some Thoughts on Rigorous Honesty,” in the recovery magazine The Meadowlark, fall 2005).
When our self-talk doesn’t match our actions, the issue almost always involves values—believing in one thing but doing another. We believe in the value of volunteering in our community, yet we spend little time doing it. We value silent retreats, but never go on one. We tell ourselves that we deserve to be happy, but rarely do any of the simple things that bring us joy.
- Are you honest with yourself? Do you find your self-talk doesn’t match your actions? Is this something you struggle with or have struggled with in recovery?
Embracing Your Shadow
Being honest with ourselves also involves embracing our shadow—Carl Jung’s term for the parts of ourselves that we try to deny or ignore.
In her online column “The Therapist Within,” psychologist Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar described our shadow as “the darker side. The less socially acceptable one … the bits you’d rather disown. Or deny. The stuff that might unconsciously drive you in directions that your more public self could feel embarrassed about, shocked over, or even ashamed of. The secret self….”
Everyone has a shadow. It’s part of being human. However, each of us has to make a decision about our shadow. We can reach out to it, get to know it, accept it, and learn to work with it—or we can make it our enemy and try to keep it at bay. When we embrace our shadow, it becomes our ally, and it profoundly strengthens our sanity and our recovery. When we treat it as an enemy, however, it forces its way into our life, demanding that it be heard, often creating sabotage or chaos. In a moment of exhaustion or frustration, we suddenly burst out in an embarrassing, over-the-top, out-of-control reaction. If we continue to deny or ignore our shadow, eventually it will start to run our life, and we won’t even realize it.
- In recovery does your shadow still make appearances? Do you want to hide it? Do you struggle to hide it?
One common reaction to our shadow is to unconsciously project it onto others. Lydia discovers that her teenage son has been looking at pornography online. Furious, she screams at him and takes away his computer for a week, but soon begins visiting some X-rated sites herself. Roger controls his diet very carefully, eating only healthy food. He often wonders aloud why, since people know that sugar is bad for them, they don’t just stop eating it. Then, on a beach vacation, he passes a store selling cotton candy and saltwater taffy—his childhood favorites—and binges on both.
- When you see someone who has defects of character you either had or have, does it impact your opinion of them?
When we do a Sixth Step, we become ready to have God remove all our defects of character. As we practice the Sixth Principle, we go deeper; we become ready to let go of our defenses against our own shadow. We understand that this is a necessary part of our healing and recovery, and we know that many treasures await us as we explore this hidden territory.
Exploring and embracing your shadow isn’t a one-time activity, like pulling a tooth or tearing down a fence. It’s an evolving process that, once begun, will continue throughout your life.
In practicing Principle Six, you’ll begin to get to know your shadow. As you practice the remaining six Principles, you and your shadow will steadily become friends and allies.
- Have you begun the process of getting to know your shadow? Have you got to the point where you are becoming friends and allies with your shadow?
The Strengths In Your Shadow
Your shadow includes all those parts of you that you hide, avoid, or repress. Not all of these are weaknesses or drawbacks. Some may be strengths. Others can become strengths if you allow your inner observer to carefully manage them and redirect how you express them.
- Which of your own shadow impulses and desires can become strengths or sources of satisfaction? What can you do to guide them so that they are expressed in a healthy way?
When Strengths Are Also Liabilities
Sometimes our strengths can also be liabilities—especially if we rely on them too heavily or use them in situations where they simply can’t work.
- What are some of your own skills and talents that have served you well but that have also caused problems when you relied on them too much, or used them in inappropriate contexts?
What Honesty Isn’t
None of the Twelve Principles exists in isolation. Honesty that doesn’t work in tandem with responsibility or acceptance or awareness can be as harmful as a lie.
Which would you say to your boss: “I have some concerns and questions about your plan” or “Your plan is stupid and doomed to fail”? Which would you say to your partner: “Hon, I think your green sweater will go better with those pants” or “Wow, you have no fashion sense at all, do you”? All four of these statements are honest, but only two demonstrate awareness and acceptance (or any of the other Twelve Principles).
In Twelve Step life, honesty involves much more than just telling the truth. It also includes keeping confidences (but not secrets), respecting and supporting anonymity, maintaining a climate of safety, and not creating harm or unnecessary conflict. We’ve all known Twelve Steppers who, early in their recoveries, became self-righteous or even brutal. They would often hurt others with their “honesty”:
“I’m just telling you the truth. It’s for your own good.”
“I’m not going to enable that kind of behavior.”
“Wake up and smell the coffee, Bubba! You’re a flaming codependent.”
“Lady, you need to see a therapist ASAP.”
These folks may have also gossiped or criticized group members behind their backs. They hadn’t yet developed an ethical understanding of what honesty really means. They didn’t see that it is part of a larger network of values.
- In your own efforts to practice the Principle of honesty, have there been times when you have practiced honesty without practicing integrity as well? What is your opinion of brutal honesty or as some also disguise it “tough love” or “old school thinking”?
Second Segment - Topic of the Week
This was the topic of Monday’s Georgia meeting and I thought it would be a good one to get stuck into a bit more in depth.
- Now that I am no longer a figment of my addiction, who am I? Am I still defined by my addiction in recovery? “My name’s ___ and I am a(n) ___”? Do I fit into the fellowship? Is that the only place I fit or has recovery given me the courage to spread my wings? Can addiction and recovery be part of my life without being the focus of my life?
Third Segment - “Ego tells us that our defenses will make us feel secure, yet all that results in increased feelings of isolation and Fear. It is impossible to feel secure while we are building high walls behind which we hide. Safety and security are by-products of peace of mind. In laying down our defenses and adopting an attitude of Acceptance, our world changes.” Healing the Addictive Mind by Lee Jampolsky
If we subscribe to the idea that the addict’s brain is wired differently from the normie’s brain, we will jump to rash conclusions on a regular basis. Egotism is over-compensation. Behind the bravado and sense of entitlement we Fear that we are worthless. We feel aShamed deep down inside. Because we suspect we are unworthy, we feel vulnerable to attack. We protect ourselves by building defenses—humor, pride, delusion and isolation to name a few. If we don’t have bricks for a wall, a smokescreen will make a fine hiding place. If that doesn’t work, there is always perpetual motion to help us steer clear of being discovered or unmasked.
Acceptance is life minus the struggle; we accept ourselves and the world, faults and all. Hey—let’s not forget that we label ourselves and the world as flawed, which might be just how we see it. What if we remove the walls and reveal to others that we feel inadequate and unsure? Healing the Addictive Mind contends that, by making peace with our Imperfection, we feel good enough, which is more spiritually sound than acting perfect. We won’t feel threatened by our vulnerability.
In fact, we are candid about it. Saying “I am imperfect and I accept this about me” is more empowering and takes less energy than hiding or overcompensating. Longtime members remember that being a Power of example is about how we deal with Misfortune and Imperfection. It isn’t about being flawless and all-knowing.
- Am I aware of when I am putting up walls or barriers? If I can’t stop doing it entirely, am I at least taking inventory of what triggers my flight, freeze or fight instincts?