Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2004 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
Rigorous Honesty: From False Pride to Authentic Self-Respect
By Kingsley Gallup
While in our disease, we may have prided ourselves on many things - perhaps even our "honesty." In recovery, however, we come to see the truth about ourselves - namely, that when we pride ourselves on something, it is likely something for which we wish we could take credit, something we wish we could claim as our own... but something that is not truly us. We discover in our lives the toxic presence of false pride. In our adapted ego state (the modified ego state in which our addictions flourish), we prided ourselves on being everything to everyone... all the time. This was our badge of honor. We were chameleons, forever flexible. At all times adaptable. And we believed it is precisely this malleability that makes us good people - people who deserve to be proud.
In recovery, we discover just the opposite to be true. While in our addictions, we had been indubitably dishonest. Our malleability had been intrinsically deceitful. (Would it seem logical to pride ourselves on that?)
We now find that our pride had been nothing but a mask... a false front. It was simply another brand of denial. It was a facade of self respect. Pride was our pretense. It hid our shame.
Now, this is not to say we were in no ways honest while in our disease. But let's face it: When it came to the critical points, the truly consequential details of our lives - like who we were and what we wanted and needed - the inherent dishonesty of our disease reared its head. And we paid the dearest price. Simply stated:
- Every time we said "yes" when we meant "no"... we were being dishonest
- Every time we failed to assert a boundary... we were being dishonest
- Every time we opted to continue in an unhealthy relationship, a relationship with no prospect of a healthy future... we were being dishonest
- Every time we stood by as unkindnesses were being perpetrated, saying nothing in disagreement so as not to rock the boat... we were being dishonest
- Every time we allowed another person to direct our actions... we were being dishonest
- Every time we permitted resentments to fester in our hearts, rather than risk speaking up and stating our truth... we were being dishonest
- Every time we said we were okay - to ourselves or to others - when in reality we were anything but... we were being dishonest.
The deceitfulness of our codependence - and our resulting addictions - may indeed bring us embarrassment and shame. Even so, we must not allow ourselves to remain stuck in this place of indignity and dishonor. (We have been there far too long!) In order to heal, let us instead find in this shame a motivation to change.
As we learn in recovery, much of the shame we have been carrying around is not our own shame. It belongs to others. At the same time, however, we learn that some shame is healthy shame. It is our conscience speaking, motivating us to grow and to change. Responding to this personal shame, while at the same time releasing the carried shame that has been nothing but an albatross around our necks, is the hallmark of the functional adult. It is about taking responsibility for our choices. It is about owning our dishonesty. It is about getting honest with ourselves and others - and choosing to do things differently as we move forward.
Rigorous honesty is nothing short of hard work. It takes courage, after all, to speak our truth. It takes strength to be vulnerable, readily admit wrongs, stay current with the people in our lives and acknowledge the truth of who we are. Disciplining ourselves to share our realities and to attend to what we want and need - when we want and need it - is the liberating work of our recovery.
Interestingly, maintaining our dishonesty had been hard work as well. After all, keeping up appearances was exhausting! Keeping all those balls in the air all the time was arduous and draining. The feeling of wanting desperately to flee (and from a situation, no less, that we perpetuated through our deceitfulness), and yet remaining amid all the craziness, certainly felt like hard work. But doesn't hard work usually pay? Were there any payoffs from our dishonesty? Or were there simply trade-offs?
Our disease has robbed us of our integrity for long enough. No longer must we live in that proverbial "pressure-cooker" of codependency - namely, that adapted condition in which the pressure of external demands and the pain of our own dishonesty inhibit our ability to truly thrive. In recovery, we learn to consistently release "steam" from that pressure-cooker by speaking our truth. No longer must we operate in crisis mode. No longer must we seek simply to survive in an environment from which we want to run. We come to embrace life, rather than flee from it! Getting honest involves acceptance and vindication. We acknowledge that our addictions served a purpose in our lives. They helped us to survive in less-than-nurturing environments. Next, we accept where our addictions took us by confronting the dishonest patterns of our disease. The addicted life, after all, is inherently dishonest. (This by no means implies that addiction is a moral issue, but maintaining the addicted life demands a degree of deception.)
One of the greatest - if not the greatest - fruits of recovery is intimacy, the path to which is self-knowledge. To achieve true intimacy in our lives, we must challenge each and every message that has led us astray, that has taken us away from ourselves. In doing so, we come to know ourselves... perhaps for the very first time.
We need no longer cling to false pride. Rather, we now love ourselves justifiably as we nobly strive for rigorous honesty. We learn to love ourselves, if only for the effort we make, as true valor is found in progress, not perfection. We love ourselves for being honest about our fallibility and our weaknesses. We love ourselves as we walk down the perfectly imperfect path of recovery... two steps forward, one back... two steps forward, one back...
Honesty is nothing short of an act of love - for ourselves, for others and for our higher power. It is in this place of honesty that we truly connect. It is here that we genuinely feel a part of the human family. It is here that we not only survive, but thrive. Simply stated, the language of recovery is truth. May we speak it now with honor, dignity and love.