When my daughter was younger, she’d love to watch Veggie Tales. I had a copy of one of her favorite VT videos. The title: Larry-Boy and the Fib from Outer space. The premise of the storyline focused on dishonesty vs. honesty. Each time Jr. Asparagus told a lie, the character Fib grew larger and larger. At the end, Fib became quite big and caused trouble for Jr. Asparagus. It was only when Jr. Asparagus realized he needed to tell the truth. Each time he spoke the truth, Fib decreased in size. A simple message for children. Yet, a fundamental principle truth for people in recovery.
“…This clearly demonstrates a primary curative aspect of the Twelve steps program: the focus is not on the problem, but rather on the solution. …intrinsic to this step is a primary principle of Twelve Step programs known as rigorous honesty.”
What Lewis is referring to is the hard-line truth: all individuals suffering from substance use disorder come to a place of admitting to the fullest extent the nature of their problems. In line with the First Step, Lewis remarks how it is the start of the process.
Admission of Powerlessness
A person becomes powerless because substance use becomes a pervasive, chronic, and progressive disease of brain reward and motivation. Lewis comments on how ongoing sufferers of substance use tend to foster a tendency toward ignoring the consequences of compulsory behavior. Instead, the individual believes they are capable of handling problems associated with their continued use.
While they may trust in their own confidence in managing problems, despite continued use, there is repeated failure in moderating, limiting, or controlling their actual use. Instead, problems become exacerbated. Continued use despite negative consequences.
As a moderately seasoned counselor, I provide the following information to my patients:
Inability to manage when substances are consumed
Inability to manage the amount of substance use being consumed
Inability to manage behaviors associated with being impaired/under the influence
Inability to manage any withdrawal symptoms being experienced because of increased substance use
In Alcoholics Anonymous, one may even hear someone say, “I just can’t stop at just one drink”. They are admitting the reality of their own inability to control how much, how often, and how they behave once they start drinking.
It is this moment of clarity and honesty with themselves, a person may be able to start laying the foundation for a recovery-based program.
The Power of Honesty and an Unmanageable life
Not only has an individual become powerless over their substance use, but their lives have also become unmanageable. This recognition is a second layer of the foundation. Another rigorous honest approach is the acknowledgement of the pervasive impact it has had on the individual sufferer.
“For the addict in the midst of addiction, life is often a downward spiral that ends in incarceration, institutionalization, violence, loss, and death. Some may continue to function in seemingly normal ways – working, parenting, and participating in society – but an internal death occurs, a numbness arises, and they start to disconnect from themselves and from others. A wall of denial and suppression, too high and too thick to scale or break through, keeps others out and keeps the addicts in, trapped by [their] own defenses, prisoner to [their] own addiction (Refuge Recovery – Addiction Creates Suffering, pp 3-4).”
Levine continues with these points on how suffering manifests in an individual:
Stress created by craving for more
Never having enough to feel satisfied
Stealing to support continued substance use
Lying to hide ongoing substance use
Ashamed and Guilty of one’s behaviors
Feeling (belief) of unworthiness
Living in constant fear the consequences of one’s actions
Intense emotions of anger and resentment
Hurting other people and self
Intense hatred toward self and others
Jealousy and envious of others
Feeling victimized and/or inferior toward others
Selfish due to being needy and greedy
Lack of confidence toward genuine sense of happiness and wellness
Anguish and misery of being enslaved by continues substance use
The nature of unnecessary suffering (as Levine remarks in his book) is a battle between our desires for happiness versus our need for survival. In ongoing substance use, it is merely about survival from one moment to the next. A person’s life is focused on seeking out, obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol and/or drugs.
Levine makes this statement on how one’s recovery is fundamentally founded on the principle of honesty:
This is a process that cannot be skipped or half-assed. The foundation of our recovery is a complete admission and acceptance of the suffering that we have caused and experienced due to addiction.
Levine continues by explaining that this rigorous honesty needs to happen in order to do away with any shred of denial, minimization, justification, or rationalization. It is a principle truth that requires a radical honest approach toward healing. This radical honest approach encompasses two truths:
Come a complete and total understanding of the reality of our own suffering and negative impact substance use has had on our lives.
Accept the reality and truth that it is because of our continued substance use that is the causation for our own suffering.
Through our admission and acknowledgement, and by embracing the reality, that because of ongoing substance use, one has become powerless and life had become unmanageable.
Moving Toward Freedom
Admission to our sense of powerlessness and inability to manage life is the first step in creating an abstinence-based recovery program. An individual begins to experience freedom by striving toward physical sobriety. Once physical sobriety is achieved, an individual starts the hard work of reaching emotional sobriety.
Physical sobriety is the ability to establish and sustain life without alcohol and/or drugs. It is the ability to manage and cope with the symptoms of withdrawals. Keeping up daily empowerment to use different ways of managing cravings instead of those that lead back toward substance use. It is the ability to regain self-control and making daily decisions not to drink or use.
Emotional sobriety is more rigorous in bringing an individual face-to-face with their own inner turmoil. Learning how to manage intense emotions. Becoming empowered to move toward healthier relationships, financial stability, regain a peace of mind, finding meaning and purpose, rediscover core values and beliefs, and practicing a healthy lifestyle. It is a process of transformation and restoration of our true sense of identity.
Through emotional sobriety, a person regains the ability to manage their own emotions. This does not mean we fake it till we make it, or, force ourselves to think positively all the time. It means we are honest with ourselves when it comes to the nature of our own emotions: Positive or Negative. If we are not managing our emotions, our emotions are managing us and we end up not doing well. We fall short because we return back to our old behaviors.
The Nature and Power of Honesty
Like Jr. Asparagus, a person suffering from substance use creates a life that is dishonest. It becomes a rather large beast in their life. The only way we are able to bring ourselves back to the right way of living is by a radical and rigorous honest approach. The more we are honest with ourselves, the smaller and insignificant our own suffering becomes.
While it does not free ourselves from the consequences of our substance use, it does empower us to face those consequences in order to regain mastery over our own lives.
If you are struggling with substance use, Therapeutic Health Services offers a variety of treatment options for you. We offer regular intensive outpatient, outpatient, relapse prevention, MAT-Methadone, and MAT-Suboxone. Please see below to connect to care.
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