Over the next two weeks, I will be dedicating my time to the 12 Step Spiritual Principles list. Each step in 12 step programs has a spiritual principle attached to it. You may have seen these posted above or below the steps hanging on many A.A. rooms throughout the country. They are as follows:
- HONESTY – Fairness and straight forwardness of conduct: adherence to the facts.
- HOPE – To expect with desire; something on which hopes are centered.
- FAITH – Complete confidence; belief and trust.
- COURAGE – Firmness of mind and will in the face of extreme difficulty; mental or moral strength to withstand fear.
- INTEGRITY – The quality or state of being complete or undivided; soundness.
- WILLINGNESS – Prompt to act or respond; accepted and done of choice or without reluctance.
- HUMILITY – Not proud or haughty; not arrogant or assertive; a clear and concise understanding of what we are, followed by a sincere desire to become what we can be.
- LOVE – Unselfish concern that freely accepts another in loyalty and seeks his good to hold dear.
- DISCIPLINE – Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character; to bring under control; to train or develop by instruction.
- PATIENCE/PERSEVERANCE – Steadfast despite opposition or adversity; able or willing to bear; to persist in an understanding in spite of counter influences.
- AWARENESS – Alive and alert; vigilance in observing.
- SERVICE – A helpful act; contribution to the welfare of others; useful labor that does not produce a tangible commodity.
Every one of these principles is crucial to having a spiritual experience. Today, we will point out the importance of honesty, our dishonest past, practicing this principle, and taking concrete steps to living a more honest existence.
Let’s explore the principle of Step One: HONESTY.
Honesty is associated with step one for an important reason. Step one is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.” While I do not agree this is the most important step, as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, it is the only step that must be done perfectly. This step has been particularly hard for me. It is painful for me to admit that I had accepted the first part of this step many times with no results. I knew I was powerless over alcohol, and I simply didn’t care. I knew once I started drinking I had no real idea how or where I would end up, as I blacked out nearly every time I drank. Unfortunately, the fear of something terrible happening just wasn’t present for me. It wasn’t until I faced the possible destruction of my relationships with my family that I became fearful.
The second part of the step was where I had the greatest trouble; I couldn’t accept my life was unmanageable. Had I not managed to graduate from college at the top of my class? Had I not secured virtually every job I went after? Had I not performed superlatively in many ways? Because of these things, I could not admit that my life was unmanageable. Never mind that I had embarrassed myself hundreds of times, had been convicted of multiple DUI’s, hurt my friends and family, spent money in the dumbest ways imaginable, etc. It was also clear to everyone that I was a total mess except myself. Thankfully, I eventually saw it.
I had to truly accept that not only can I not control my drinking, my life, by all normal standards was out of control and unmanageable. It is actually liberating once I accepted I could no longer drink. I had proved this time and again. I no longer have to devise ways to hide my drinking, or obsess about being “normal”. I had to accept step one and learn to adhere to the honesty principle, or die. These were my only two options.
Dishonesty Out of Necessity
Being addicted to a substance will turn the most honest man into a liar. After it is apparent to ourselves and other people that we have a problem, we begin to omit facts, bend the truth, flat out lie (even when unnecessary). It can sometimes become pathological, where we lie about trivial details simply because it has become so natural to us. Every alcoholic should audition for movies, because we are great actors.
Mark Twain said: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Alcoholics have to remember everything! This is because we have a different story for so many people. Frankly, it can become a daunting task to keep all these stories straight. Remembering all these stories eventually becomes impossible.
Let me illustrate an example that can occur over the course of one day. We go to work and are hungover. We tell our boss we have the flu knowing full well we plan on going to the casino and drinking. We tell ourselves we will only have a few drinks and play casino games for a maximum of two hours. Our girlfriend calls and we tell her we got off work early because the computer network went down. We fail to mention we went to the casino. We then proceed to get drunk and lose a few hundred dollars and call a friend and ask if we can sleep there that night. We then drunkenly tell our girlfriend on the phone that we are staying at a long-lost friend’s house who recently came home to avoid the scene of going home drunk. This is a close approximation of one example in my life.
We tell these lies because we honestly believe we are fooling other people. We are essentially insane people who operate under the delusion that everyone has an IQ below 60 and buy our bulls**t. We may have gotten away with some lies before our illness really had us under its grasp, but this eventually erodes until nobody believes anything we say. We must get honest with ourselves if we are to maintain hope we can restore our lives, our relationships, and our sanity.
Principle in Practice
I am not going to sit here and tell you that I am now 100% honest about everything in my life, nor do I recommend it. If I was honest with friends and family about everything that entered my mind, I can assure you that I would not longer have any friends or family to be honest with. If you have ever watched Curb Your Enthusiasm, watch how much trouble Larry gets into by speaking his mind all the time. You don’t have to be an alcoholic to no that tact is called for in your daily dealings. I wanted to put this disclaimer out there so I’d be better equipped to discuss why this principle is vital to those in recovery.
Many of us prided ourselves on being everything to everybody. This false pride allowed us to morph into expert chameleons. We could adapt to any situation with ease. This was NOT our true selves. Little did we realize that actively trying to be everything to everybody, we were slowly destroying ourselves. We often said yes when we really meant no, for example. This is dishonest. When we blindly followed orders instead of speaking our truth we were being dishonest. A major one is allowing resentment to creep into our hearts instead of speaking up for ourselves. If somebody annoys you, is invading your space, is taking thing from you it is important to speak your truth. If not, you are being dishonest. We also must learn to allow ourselves to find something unacceptable.
Too many times in my life people have asked me how I was doing and my pat answer was fine. This was rarely true. If we are honest, we should say that everything is not good. This doesn’t mean we instantly unload all our personal problems on a stranger, but if something is bothering us we should consult a friend or sponsor. A problem shared is a problem halved; this is especially true of those who suffer from addiction.
How Do I Begin?
It is quite difficult to completely change the way we behave quickly. Obviously, the first step is to stop drinking or using. When this is accomplished, we can at least minimize the reasons for lying. Most of our lying stems from finding clever ways to drink with impunity. I often drank alone because I knew I wouldn’t have to answer to anybody.
Practicing honesty can begin in our support groups. Every time you raise your hand and share a story or how you honestly feel, you are building upon the honesty principle. This is the best place to begin getting honest, as the surrounding people suffer from the same problem and understand intimately. Rarely is there anything said in an A.A. meeting that hasn’t been heard before. When we first enter a support group, we believe we are unique. To our chagrin, we find that our similarities vastly outweigh our differences.
As we progress through the steps, we will have many opportunities to get honest. To recover, it is said that we trust God, clean house, and help others. Getting a sponsor and following suggestions will help greatly in this regard.
Honesty is Our Best Policy
It is important to realize that much of our dishonesty stemmed from our desire to hide our drinking and drugging from others. We believed we were fooling or protecting them from harm, when we were really hurting them. We tried all sorts of way to control and moderate our drinking. In order to make up for our drinking, we tried to be the end all, be all to everybody. Eventually, we have to get honest with ourselves and admit we are powerless over alcohol.
This is when the real healing begins. We will stop saying yes when we mean no, start expressing our truth, and enjoy standing up for ourselves. Little by little, we will become more honest people and start down the path to becoming happy, joyous, and free.
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