Addiction, Awareness, Mindful Recovery, Psychology, Self-Help, Spirituality

Rigorous Honesty in Recovery is Painful

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Honesty is the key principle where one admits how powerless it is to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable [ref] LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Program: Step One[/ref] . For many of us this includes admitting our powerlessness over the effects of substance use or other family dysfunctions and how our lives became unmanageable [ref]Steps – Adult Children of Alcoholics [/ref] . Another aspect of honesty is realizing I am not God and therefore willing to admit that I am powerless to manage my tendency to do the wrong thing and therefore my life has become unmanageable [ref] Celebrate Recovery – 8 Recovery Principles [/ref]

Many of us began our addictions out of curiosity. Some of us became involved because of a justifiable need for a prescription drug or as an act of deliberate rebellion. Many began this path when barely older than children. Whatever our motive for starting and our circumstances, we soon discovered that the addiction relieved more than just physical pain. It provided stimulation or numbed painful feelings or moods. It helped us avoid the problems we faced—or so we thought. For a while, we felt free of fear,worry, loneliness, discouragement, regret, or boredom.But because life is full of the conditions that prompt these kinds of feelings, we resorted to our addictions more and more often. Still, most of us failed to recognize or admit that we had lost the ability to resist and abstain on our own. As Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve observed: “Addiction surrenders later freedom to choose. Through chemical means, one can literally become disconnected from his or her own will” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1988; or Ensign,Nov. 1988,)

Regarding honesty, as it concerns growing up in a dysfunctional family where substance use, emotional, sexual, and even spiritual abuse was prominent, we find this to be true:

Beginning with step one, we address denial, which can involve simply refusing to admit that abuse or neglect occurred in our childhood. Denial also includes trivializing behavior or remarks that were obviously harmful to us. If we admit that harmful behavior occurred, we can still be in denial if we fail to acknowledge the effects of the harm on our lives. Additionally, if we are practicing denial if we attempt to explain away the behavior or to offer excuses for our family. By breaking through our denial, we seek a full remembrance. We find our loss and learn our story. With help and acceptance, we recognize false identity we had to develop to survive family dysfunction. [ref] Twelve Steps of Adult Children – Steps Workbook [/ref]

Honesty is the first step toward recovery from active substance use and journey toward emotional sobriety. It is also a painful step for many of us. Yet one we need to wrestle with. By rigorous honesty we admit to the fullest extent the nature of our problems [ref]Lewis, B. A. (1996). Sobriety demystified: Chapter 4 Twelve Step Programs. In Sobriety demystified: getting clean and sober with NLP and CBT (Vol. 1, p. 84). essay, Kelsey & Co. Pub.[/ref]. By setting the stone of honesty means we are willing and committed to face our denial – no matter how painful – as a means to accept the reality of who we are.

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Click the image to purchase and support Damascus Way Recovery

Click the image to purchase and support Damascus Way Recovery


Rigorous honesty begins when we are willing to accept the reality of who we are. We read in the Big Book the following truth:

Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks … After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery [ref]Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. (2001). The Doctors Opinion. In Alcoholics Anonymous: the big book –4th ed.– (pp. xxviii-xxix).[/ref]

Not only are we willing to face the reality of who we are. It is honesty that brings us to an awareness – a spiritual awakening – of our suffering. This spiritual awakening occurs when we appear to awaken from a deep sleep (see, 2 Nephi 1:13)

O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell, and shake off the awful chains by which ye are bound, which are the chains that bind the children of men, that they are carried away captive down to the eternal gulf of misery and woe.

There is an awakening that occurs in the heart and minds of every person who is suffering and perishing. Those who awaken to their awful condition and state of being see the destruction for what it really is. We see ourselves as unclean. Filthy. And, a great burden is on our back that weighs us down. As much as we do not want to face this truth – we must face it or continue to suffer and perish. This is where we find Christian. Faced with the reality of a coming destruction. The reality of the burden we bear [ref] Read more about Shake off the Chains With Which Ye are Bound [/ref]. According to Psalm 38:4, King David laments:

For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me.

Weighted down by our own transgressions, the losses we have experienced, the suffering we may have endured by those who engaged in abusive behavior. All of it seems quite unbearable. This realization, maybe for the first time, of how destructive our active substance use had become scares the hell out of us. Of course we want to justify our denial. The strong emotions of shame, guilt, depression, anxiety, anger, and even emptiness (or loneliness) motivate us to stay in the cocoon of our denial. And as safe as we want to convince our selves – denial brings about just as much of our suffering and despair as our drinking or using.

Facing our denial is a serious and painful undertaking. Yet we are not able to begin the process of healing, restoration, and journey toward emotional sobriety without first facing and defeating our denial. True powerlessness comes when we have given ourselves over to the comfort of denying our own pain, our own reality, and justification to isolate ourselves from others. Rigorous honesty begins when we are willing and committed to allowing the light of truth to set us free (see John 8:32).

Breaking free of our own shackles means we are giving ourselves permission to courageously face the challenge of overcoming our denial. This means we are willing to admit the reality of our own emotional, relational, and spiritual hurts. And since denial prevents us from becoming aware of the extent of our wounds we are not able to take the necessary steps toward healing and health. Rigorous honesty provides the solution that our problem is not because of stupidity. It is because of our lack of objectivity. Our inability to see the reality of our own suffering, the pain, hurt, and anger.

How do we lack objectivity? How is it that we are not able to see the reality of our own lives? What is it that we are afraid of when it comes to experiencing a spiritual awakening?

Perhaps we think that our situations are “normal”, that experiencing loneliness, hurt, and anger is really all there is to life. Perhaps we want to be “good Christians”, and believing that “good Christians” don’t have problems or feelings like ours, we deny the existence of our painful emotions. Perhaps our lack of objectivity is a learned response from childhood. All of us desperately want our parents to be loving and supportive. If ours aren’t (or weren’t), we may protect our concept of them y blaming ourselves for their lack of love, and deny that we have been hurt by their behavior[ref] McGee, R. S. (2003). Chapter One: Turning on the Light. In The search for significance: book and workbook (p. 4). Word Pub.[/ref]

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Denial is one such elaborate defense mechanism that is used to block out pain. It also prevents us from gaining any sense of worth and significance in our own lives. This is because:

We suppress our emotions; we are compulsive perfectionists; we drive ourselves to succeed, or withdraw and become passive; we attack people who hurt us; we punish ourselves when we fail; we try to say clever things to be accepted; we help people so that we will be appreciated; and we say and do countless other things. [ref]Ibid[/ref]

2 Peter 2:19 says that we are slaves to whatever has mastered them. For many of us substance use has become our master. So much so that we find this to be true [ref]LDS Family Services. Addiction Recovery Program – A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing [/ref]:

Rarely do people caught in addictive behaviors admit to being addicted. To deny the seriousness of our condition and to avoid detection and the consequences of our choices, we tried to minimize or hide our behaviors. We did not realize that by deceiving others and ourselves, we slipped deeper into our addictions. As our powerlessness over addiction increased, many of us found fault with family, friends, Church leaders,and even God. We plunged into greater and greater isolation, separating ourselves from others, especially from God.

Through honesty we are able to face the the reality of what we allowed ourselves to deny. It opens us up to be willing and committed in discussing what happened. Our ability to permit the light of truth means we are stepping out of the darkness of our toxic family dysfunctions, toxic roles, and even step toward freedom from our enslavement to alcohol and drugs. It is because of our denial that we refrained from stepping out into freedom. Christ taught that he is the light of the world and yet many love darkness over him because our fear of condemnation when the light exposes our inner faults, failings, hurts, and anger (See, John 3:19-21).

Breaking the Shackle of Disabling our Feelings

Active substance use provided us a means to detach ourselves from our feelings. In a sense, we denied our ability to experience our feelings for what they are. By denying our emotions we essentially died spiritually. There are many reasons we may want to hide our feelings.

One of those reasons is that we do not want to show vulnerability or weakness. This may be due to our fear of rejection or abandonment. Possibly fear of judgment. Or, we may have had past experience where individuals used our vulnerability of expressing our emotions in a way that was abusive.

Another reason may be because we want to avoid getting hurt. This may be because we strive to please others. Or we simply desire to avoid any potential and painful conflict. Still, there are those who may have been the victim of manipulation where we fear trusting someone with our feelings.

A third reason for denying our emotions may be our lack of confidence. This is true if we grew up in a home with alcoholism, drug use, abuse and the message received is that our opinion and feelings do not matter. We most likely developed a way to hide our feelings as a means to survive. Because of judgments and criticisms expressed from parents or caregivers – we no longer feel safe in expressing our own thoughts, opinions or emotions.

One of my own earliest memories involved several incidents where my sisters and I were being babysat. My father was active in the Army at the time and we lived on Fort Lewis (now known as Lewis-McChord). Such incidents where my sisters, other kids, and myself were lined up and asked about something that happened. When I spoke up, I was called a liar and punished. Sometimes it involved having a whole bottle of Tabasco sauce poured down my throat. Another involved getting home and being spanked. Such message had taught me that no matter what the situation – I was always at fault. Even if I had nothing to do with it. This was further enabled whenever I came home and family conflict started and I was too blamed because of my mere presence.

By denying ourselves the ability to experience our emotions we experience significant issues. It disrupts our ability to communicate in a healthy and assertive manner. So much so that it creates tension within our body and spirit. We become bitter and resentful. Not only does it impact our ability to communicate and resolve conflict; suppressing our own emotions may actually intensify the degree of experiencing them.

Sadly, for those of us who grew up in a family environment where there as dysfunction, abuse, active substance use, and other intense and distressing experiences, individuals may develop symptoms associated with Borderline Personality Disorder. This serious psychological condition is a complex and misunderstood today – even by those who are experiencing such a disorder.

When we break the shackle of disabling our emotions we are essentially finding freedom to experience and understand our emotions. It is a declaration of freedom to break our silence in order to speak to the reality of how and why we feel the way we do. Some of us growing up may not have had opportunities where such a freedom existed. Our fear rested on the notion that if we expressed how we felt – there was something wrong with us. This included taking responsibility for how other people feel. Through blame, we became the scapegoats of a family members anger, resentment, sadness. It’s all your fault is the typical statement that we had come to embrace and believe in.

Breaking the shackle of energy draining anxiety and depression

The most intense and distressing emotions one experiences is that of anxiety and depression. In some recovery rooms depression and anxiety is described as having one foot in the past and another foot in the future and we are crapping on the present moment. Denial keeps us wrapped up in the should-a, would-a, could-a thought process. It also keeps us in fear of what the future may hold for us. Denial essentially convinces us that we do not need to be paralyzed by our shame and guilt of the past. It also convinces us that there is too much to worry about when it comes to a future that has not yet occurred. It is a deceptive and manipulative means by which we are held bound to our own fears, worry, and self-condemnation and judgment.

Rigorous honesty brings us face to face with our own failures. Our own resentments and bitterness toward God, self, and others. It forces us to address the shame and guilt we have carried with us. Rigorous honesty also brings us face to face with our fear of what may or may not happen.

Dealing with anxiety and depression is spiritually, emotionally, and physically draining. We feel overwhelmed, irritable, and even alone. Some may even become reactive to things happening our lives in harmful and dangerous ways. And because these two emotions are draining – we tend to avoid things in our lives that stand in need of our undivided attention and focus. Whether it is because of our lack of motivation, apathy, or fear we simply say I just don’t have the energy.

The irony here is that maintaining our denial requires an exhaustive amount of energy in and of itself. Causing us to feel more anxious and depressed. By admitting the reality of our powerlessness and inability to manage our lives we are willing to commit toward transferring our energy of maintaining our denial toward letting go and allow healing and restoration to begin.

Breaking the shackle that negates our growth

When we are ready, willing, and committed to a plan of recovery, we are giving permission to break free and grow. The power denial has over us prevented us from growing and maturing. This is evident because studies have shown that majority of individuals suffering from active substance use began around 12 years of age [ref] See, National Survey of Drug Use and Health [/ref]. How this is significant is because our adolescent period is a time of emotional development [ref] See, Maturation of the Adolescent Brain [/ref]. And when active substance use begins during this period of time it prevents the process of emotional maturity from occurring.

Our own personal plan of recovery demands spiritual and emotional growth. By admitting the reality of our own weakness, vulnerability, and lack of confidence in managing our lives we are breaking the chains that held us back from experiencing and growing in life. In 2 Nephi 1:23 we are called to not only awake but we are also called to shake off the chains by which we are bound. We are also called to arise from the dust and come out of obscurity. This is a process that does not happen overnight.

In truth – honesty means we are bringing to light that which is unknown to us and difficult for us to understand. By shaking off the chains and rising from the dust we are essentially freeing ourselves to develop a clarity of truth to who we truly are. Not only to accept our true self (that had been hidden and unknown because of our substance use) we are free to embrace our true purpose and sense of meaning in life. Something that only occurs when we are growing. To include developing the means by which we are able to manage our emotions [ref]See Emotional Maturity: What it Looks Like[/ref]

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Click the image to purchase and support Damascus Way Recovery

Click the image to purchase and support Damascus Way Recovery

Another aspect of arise and come out of obscurity is something I have heard many patients described as they relate how they experience a present mindset where there is clarity. Each one described how they came out of a fog or a deep sleep from active substance use. This, of course, appeared to occur within 3-6 months of active abstinence and working a plan of recovery.

Rigorous honesty not only demands we come face to face with our suffering and pain – it also allows us to begin to develop a clear and sober mindset. Ability to manage our emotions and develop ways to be more responsive and not reactive.

persons raising hands
Photo by Luis Dalvan on

Breaking the shackles of isolation and alienation

Part of our denial is to convince ourselves that no one may understand how we feel, what we are struggling with, and our very own fears. Out of all the chains that hold us captive and bound in obscurity isolation and loneliness appears to be the heaviest and strongest. With the pandemic of Covid-19 social isolation became even more significant and weighted on those struggling with substance use and mental health related issues [ref]See, The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use [/ref] Whether there is a pandemic or not – social isolation prevents us from developing healthy human connections with other people.

Another aspect of denial is the secrets we keep that separates us from others. By being honest and admitting how we are powerless and how our lives had become unmanageable means we are in need of connecting with others. We stand in need of admitting to others the nature of our own defects and the problems active substance use has caused. Rigorous honesty means that we are no longer able to hide our secrets. Again, we bring our deceptions out of darkness and obscurity and into the light.

In 1 John 1:6-7 we read that in order for us to claim fellowship with God and yet continue to walk in darkness we are deceiving ourselves and not living out the truth. However, if we walk in the light, because Christ is the light and truth, we find fellowship with others and with our Heavenly Father.

This is where sober support and recovery groups are vital to our recovery. Working with a sponsor. Connecting with a faith based community of fellow believers. Confiding in clergy. All of which offer us an opportunity to be vulnerable and express our emotions. To bring ourselves out of obscurity and to arise from the dust of our active substance use. As we being to participate in recovery support groups we start finding that we are not alone. Others are struggling just as much as we are and with that we find a sense of belonging.

Along with isolation denial also means that we may have alienated ourselves from those closest to us. Revealing our true nature and what is happening presents a fear of what they may think. Through alienation we actively convince ourselves the need to protect who we are and those secrets at any cost. Thus we isolate and alienate ourselves so that we do not risk any potential exposure that may potentially lead to rejection. And for those of us who grew up in a dysfunctional family home – the fear of rejection and abandonment is another layer to justify our need to protect and keep our secrets obscure.

Unfortunately, this leads to us losing the most significant and important relationships. Such loss feeds into our false belief of being rejected and abandoned. It further justifies our need to continue actively using or engaging in adverse behavior – despite the negative consequences that follow. We find ourselves blaming those, because of our hidden resentment and bitterness, for appearing to have abandoned and rejected us.

Isolation and alienation are probably the main reasons for many people to bounce in and out of recovery support groups. It is not until an individual makes a commitment and willingness to actively attend support groups and getting connected with other individuals within that group. Therefore, rigorous honesty means we admit that we cannot do this program alone. We need people around us that are willing to support us, empower us, encourage and motivate us. To even call upon us and come along side to help us become aware of how we are detaching from the fellowship of brothers and sisters in recovery.

Breaking the shackles of our pain

The final aspect of our denial means that we lengthen the pain and suffering endured because of our unwillingness to admit powerlessness over active substance use. How our own lives have become unmanageable because of active using. And that suffering becomes the greater need over the use of alcohol and drugs. For some, this is called hitting rock bottom. Others may not have a rock bottom experience where they are jolted awake to the reality of their active use. Whether you hit rock bottom or not denial prevents us from addressing the pain we are experiencing.

There is a solution to our pain and suffering. That solution requires us to be honest with ourselves as to the very nature and problem active substance use has had on our lives. In our relationships, and how it has caused us to experience a sense of spiritual death. Rigorous honesty means we are ready to admit how weak and vulnerable we are [ref]Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization. (2007). Powerlessness versus Learned Helplessness. In The twelve steps of adult children: steps workbook (p. 8). [/ref]

By admitting our powerlessness over alcoholism and dysfunction, we gradually learn to trust our perceptions and feelings. Whether we re self-sufficient or clamoring about appearing helpless, we can learn to trust ourselves and ask for what we need. We let people into our lives. At the same time, the word “boundary” begins to have meaning and creates a reasonable amount of power for us. We stop giving away our power to others and feeling helpless to change. By admitting powerlessness, we take our first step toward reclaiming personal power, which is critical for healing our fractured identities. If we are compulsively self-reliant, we take our first step toward trust and asking help.

Since there is a solution to our suffering. By admitting to ourselves, and others, how powerless we are and how our lives have become unmanageable. We are able to honestly approach healing and restoration to our mind, body, and soul. However this is not something that happens over night. There is a process. And this process means we face our pain. Face the suffering and embracing it.

Do not think that by admitting powerlessness and an unmanageable life is a simple act of confessing. Many confess that they are powerless over their drinking or using. They also appear to admit how it has impacted their life where they no longer are able to manage relationships, finances, health, and emotions. Yet those who merely confess have not fully acknowledged and embraced the pain and suffering experienced because of active denial. Until one is ready and willing to commit themselves over to accepting their own pain and suffering the shackles of denial continue to hold them bound.

Working step one means that we are willing to have a Gethsemane experience [ref] Berman, T. R. (2021, March 3). Having A Gethsemane Experience toward Spiritual Transformation. [/ref] where true spiritual transformation may occur. A place where we come to not only learn to admit powerlessness – it is a place where we come to recognize our need for a higher power and surrender ourselves over to the care of God.

Rigorous honesty sets the foundation for each one of us to come to the end of our rope and realize that we need help. Support from others. Willingness and permission to come out of the darkness and obscurity and into the light so that we are to shake ourselves free from the chains that hold us captive. And to experience genuine contrition and humility by acknowledging and accepting our suffering.

Honesty begins when we are ready to take responsibility for our own pain and suffering. It also means we are willing to allow ourselves to be held accountable by others. Without honesty, we continue in denial and perpetuate our suffering all that much more.

Step one is not something we recite. Nor is it something we quickly confess in order to move forward. Honesty is the key principle where one admits how powerless it is to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable. For many of us this includes admitting our powerlessness over the effects of substance use or other family dysfunctions and how our lives became unmanageable. Another aspect of honesty is realizing I am not God and therefore willing to admit that I am powerless to manage my tendency to do the wrong thing and therefore my life has become unmanageable.

When you are ready to be aware of the reality of your suffering. Willing to acknowledge and embrace your suffering for what it is. Willing and committed to permit yourself to experience your emotions. It may then be safe to say you are ready to work through step one. Be ready and willing to abstain from active substance use and willing to attend meetings. Seek out a sponsor to work with you on the steps. By doing so you are learning how to not only be rigorously honest with yourself. You are learning how to trust in yourself and develop confidence in your ability to courageously face the pain and suffering that has held you in darkness and obscurity.


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