Radical Honesty: Why Honesty Is The Cornerstone of Recovery
The debate in my head is exhausting.
No conclusion is ever reached.
The moderator is at the end of his rope.
And the audience?
Well, suffice it to say the only neurotransmitters left exist for one sole reason: to produce anxiety.
“Why the madness,” you ask?
Arm in arm with the wisemen of old, I desire to find the most fundamental building block to happiness and, consequently, lasting contented sobriety.
And, it hasn’t been easy!
Finding The Sobriety Stone
Just like philosophers have their stone, I have sought the holy grail for those in recovery – the sobriety stone.
The philosopher’s stone is defined as a “mythical substance supposed to change any metal into gold or silver and, according to some, to cure all diseases and prolong life indefinitely. Its discovery was the supreme object of alchemy.”
I will define the sobriety stone as a mental substance that can arrest all forms of the disease of addiction and produce emotionally contented sobriety.
Ladies and gents, I believe I’ve discovered it.
Drum roll please…..
I guess you saw that coming.
Probably shouldn’t have given it away in the title.
Yet here we are.
Radical Honesty is the sobriety stone.
Glad we got that out of the way.
So, why honesty?
Well, when one lives a LIE they experience a worldview drenched in absurdism, unpredictability, and isolation.
This lifestyle is incompatible with recovery.
It’s impossible to actively dwell in this dark emotional landscape and live contented sobriety.
Therefore, radical honesty is the key component to a lifestyle incompatible with addiction.
What can be more powerful than cultivating a lifestyle wherein addiction is unnecessary?
The following discussion is constructed upon the acrostic LIE, which represents
==>Lack of resources (MINDSET).
==>Interpersonal difficulties (FUNCTION).
==>Emotional insecurity (MOOD)
All of which form a lifestyle of consummate selfishness. After all, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous remarks that the drink was never the problem, it is in fact self-centeredness. They even go as far as to say that if addiction kills you, it’s not the drink that does the deed but a state of mind called “selfishness.”
This state of mind is constructed upon a lie and and in this article I want to unpackaged precisely what this looks like and why it’s incompatible with happiness.
Bill W is adamant,
Lack of Resources: The Mindset
At the end of the day, when you lie you’re lying to yourself.
You’re caught up in the belief that the benefit of deception outweighs the risk. This belief becomes a governing mindset and it’s a dangerous one.
But how did this belief develop?
Well, for starters, it’s about control.
We all have basic human needs and these needs must be met.
Choice Theory, which was formulated by psychiatrist Dr. William Glasser, posits that all humans have 5 basic needs.
We attempt to satisfy these basic needs through our behavioral choices.
So, we develop various skills to accomplish this end. These strategies almost invariably involve manipulation because we need to control the world around us to ensure these needs are met. This is particularly true when we are children.
Alfred Adler wisely observed,
“that we all begin our lives small and weak in a world of adult giants, so that the first message of the environment to the child is: ‘Overcome your weakness! Make your mark! Be someone who matters!’
In other words, we manipulate and control the conditions around us to bend to our will. Nature seemingly demands this of us.
For example, a baby controls their surroundings by crying.
They are hungry, they cry, and their mother feeds them.
Crying is their language. It’s useful and effective. It accomplishes the task.
Fast forward a year and they see the newest bright and shiny toy at the store.
They are smitten.
To say they simply want it is a gross understatement, they feel they need it.
In fact, the brain registers it as a need.
The cortex isn’t sophisticated enough to categorize and separate the needs from the wants.
Therefore, they use the same technique they do for their other needs – they cry.
Viola, it works. The toy is theirs.
Unknowingly, deception is swept into the mix.
You can’t blame a toddler for confusing a want with a need, their wee little brains see no difference.
They vocalized the “I need it” cry and the perceived need was met.
Now all wants become needs. That escalated quickly.
I call this the “needs/wants dilemma.”
As can be imagined, it only gets worse from here.
Eventually, the family starts to push back a bit.
The child unleashes the “I need it” cry for the next attractive thing, but now picking up the shenanigans of the tot, the parents adamantly refuse, “shush, you don’t need that!”
Oh, boy. Now there is competition.
Self-deception plus competition, a sure sign for an emotional nightmare!
At this point, the child needs to outthink, out maneuver, and outperform the guardian to satisfy their perceived need.
This takes grit, cunning, and a ton of deception and manipulation. It’s not just the I-need-it cry, now it’s transformed into a litany of unhelpful behaviors and habits.
Consider the amount of perceived needs that accumulate overtime.
They could never possibly all be satisfied.
This in turn creates what I call “persistent gut wrenching impending doomism,” or anxiety as the earth folk call it.
The angst is due to the fact that the perceived needs can’t ever be satiated. The sheer volume of needs far exceeds the actual needs of a human being.
However, rather than question the veracity of the basic needs, the brain brilliantly changes the narrative.
It writes a radical new screenplay where the problem is not a ridiculous canon of needs but a scarcity of resources.
Subsequently, the belief is developed that the majority of individuals are likely out for themselves and should be viewed with deep skepticism.
It’s a life of limited resources and seemingly unlimited competition. I call this the scarcity worldview. It perfectly typifies this dominate mindset.
In one fell swoop faith in self, others, and God is tarnished
Once the relationship with God is out of whack, whatever that concept means to you, things start to get funky.
From this position people generally go one of two ways:
- Deifying one thing as the ultimate need (equivalent to the ancient concept of idolatry).
- Deifying oneself, or better known as perfectionism (proving to the world ones worth through performance, making social acceptance the ultimate need).
Timothy Keller, philosopher and pastor, once noted that
Despair is the demanded outcome of this needs/wants dilemma because it always leads to deification of the self or an object or, more narrowly, the perceived ultimate need that cannot be satisfied as intended nor as expected.
The path of despair is also rife with interpersonal difficulties because we tend to emphasize one emotional drive at the cost of another as I’ll demonstrate in the next section.
Interpersonal Difficulties: The Function
One incredibly helpful way to navigate emotional drives is by dividing them into three primary categories.
As I’ll demonstrate, when the needs/wants dilemma creates that “ultimate thing” it results in an overemphasis on a specific drive.
Subsequently, the other drives are haunted with deficiencies.
The three main emotional drives are Social, Security, Sexual.
Instinctually we are tribal, it’s in our DNA to seek to build communities. We look for companionship, it’s innate. We desperately crave fellowship to such an extent that in it’s absence we will bond with a volleyball (shout out to Wilson) or in our case a bottle, needle, or behavior.
We cannot deny our social drive. Any attempts to refute this must use language to make its point. But language is a social enterprise, therefore it’s self-defeating. Or, for our purposes here, self-deception.
Instinctually we are also driven to security.
For starters, we are creatures in motion. Any beings in motion must have some form of consciousness to protect itself.
One can never imagine a tree with consciousness. What good would it serve? It has zero mobility. It would be torture and unbridled absurdity.
Why does motion demand consciousness?
Because then it has the cognitive capacities to expect and anticipate, in order to protect itself.
It’s barebones survival.
Consciousness leverages sensory information to determine whether the rustling leaves is a chipmunk or a lion approaching.
This was extremely helpful for our ancestors and obviously continues to be. However, it can be severely damaging in a civilized society.
I know some people that experience the same sensations of fear as if they were face to face with a hungry lion but they are in fact just sitting in their living room watching Family Matters reruns.
Something is out of joint here.
Nonetheless, without this sense, it’s unlikely we would have survived as a species. Moreover, even on our own it’s unlikely we would have survived.
The majority of human beings will not win a fight against a bear. Maybe one time out of ten, but apart from sheer grace and dumb luck, that individual is dead.
However, in groups we are extremely powerful. We can use our supreme intellect and our social ingenuity to construct amazing strategies to take the beast down.
Any individual who says they fear nothing is lying. Fear is built into our hardware, it’s there to foresee problems, anticipate threats and respond accordingly.
Without this inborn drive we wouldn’t construct shelter, harvest or herd food, or perform all the extremely difficult but necessary tasks to protect and maintain life.
That all being said, it makes perfect sense as to why we have the emotional drive for security and sociality. They have survival value, including the last of the three, which is the sexual instinct.
This is based upon the prior two. If we are social we naturally procreate to make families to sustain our community. It’s also necessary for survival of the species.
If it’s necessary for survival the brain will naturally make it pleasurable to motivate us to continue to do it. It brings people closer together into near mystical union, being the zenith of both the social and the security drives.
Nevertheless, this too can become significantly damaging when out of joint, just like the other drives.
Since all the above have the highest survival value, they are the strongest emotional drives and tend to be the most controlling and motivational factors within our unconscious.
Emotional Drive Imbalance
How does it go wrong?
My observations are that when the needs/wants dilemma creates the ultimate thing it results in an overemphasis of one of the major emotional drives.
To illustrate, one basic need is human connection and belonging (the social emotional drive), but when magnified into the ultimate thing we usually define it as codependency.
Someone who is codependent tends to interpret human connection as the constant need to be validated by someone who is not emotionally mature enough to validate them.
Since the task is not plausible, they are putting all their eggs in the social basket (the ultimate thing) and thereby sacrificing their emotional security because their agenda can never be realized.
I’m not sure precisely what creates this attraction to the individual of emotional immaturity but I surmise it has to do with a lack of attention to the security instinct. Someone who is healthy will simply not be attracted to someone with that level of insecurity.
What’s interesting is that the individual they’re chasing tends to be someone who places an overemphasis on the security instinct.
They are skeptical of others and distrust the apparent plans and schemes of those around them. They become emotionally unavailable and fairly closed off from the world and appear constitutionally unable to develop a true partnership with a fellow human being.
Thus, one party chases as the other runs, both validating their initial beliefs.
The former that they are unlovable, which will be validated due to their social expectations being unattainable, and the latter that people are unloving, which will be validated because their security expectations are not tenable.
As Keller similarly witnessed,
No single relationship can consist of 100% connection and 100% security. That obliterates key ingredients to a healthy relationship – vulnerability and acceptance.
Vulnerability is unconditionally accepting yourself as you really are and acceptance is unconditionally accepting other people as they really are.
The out of balance individuals will end up relying on sex as a bridge, but in the end it only provides them temporary connection and security.
They both need to get brutally honest with themselves.
The person who overemphasizes the social instinct needs to examine why they feel so insecure with themselves and believe the lie that are unworthy.
They don’t realize that this lie infiltrates every aspect of their being. They interpret the world through an “unworthy lens” and behave in such a manner that they end up with people that treat them in a manner consistent with their belief.
So, what should they do to counter this? For starters, they need to begin by practicing the opposite virtue, they must act as if they are worthy. This places the emphasis on the security instinct ideally balancing the scales.
Generalizations such as “I’m not lovable” usually dominate the person’s headspace and need to be dismantled, and this happens as they practice being loveable, as silly as it sounds.
The individual who overemphasizes the security instinct needs to examine why they are so insecure with others and believe the lie that others are unworthy.
Subsequently, they interpret the world through an “they’re unworthy lens” and behave in such a manner that they end up with people that treat them in a manner consistent with their belief.
This individual counters their dilemma by practicing the opposite virtue as well, they must act as if others are worthy. This places an emphasis on the social instinct and likewise ideally brings emotional stability.
Generalizations such as “people are only going to hurt me” usually reign supreme and need to be eliminated. This occurs as they practice being loving.
A person who overemphasizes the sexual instinct is usually an individual who has both above generalizations and thus feel unworthy and views others as unworthy. They have a lot of work on their hands.
The truth: addicts use sex and many other behaviors and substances to restore the balance, but it always ends up worse than before.
At any rate, numerous generalizations can be gleaned by examining the imbalances and getting honest and real about those generalizations is the bread and butter of the honest principle.
It’s not just about identifying the dishonest generalizations but equally about practicing the lacking emotional drive.
As William James correctly concluded, “we must act our way into right thinking.”
Let’s take another swing at this.
Case Study: The Gossiper
What’s the imbalance of a gossiper?
Correct answer: the social drive.
They gossip in an effort to create the feeling of connection and belonging with whoever they are gossiping with. Recall, this imbalance is characterized by feelings of personal unworthiness.
Unfortunately, this is an emotional missile strike on the security drive.
For starters, the gossiper will believe that others are gossiping about them.
For someone struggling with poor self-worth, this is def-con 1 level anxiety.
Additionally, what if they’re found out as a gossip? That would be disastrous, one they likely emotionally anticipate at every turn.
The only advantageous element to gossiping is a momentary feeling of connection followed by constant insecurity.
What’s the generalization?
The gossiper believes the lie that they are unworthy of belonging.
However, if they can break down the worthiness of those around them, maybe they can level the playing field.
Why does It never work?
Because the field was never unlevel! Rather, the gossiper was in a sinkhole.
One emotional drive is always increased at the cost of the others, without fail!
Thus, the generalization needs to be dealt with by challenging the lie.
How can the gossiper practice the security drive? Some would suggest by simply not gossiping. This won’t do though.
That’s like my doctor telling me I’m overweight and suggesting I practice not being fat. It’s not very helpful.
Rather the attention would be on activities that assist in losing weight. So, what activities help reduce gossip?
Well, the insecure person usually attempts to find security by taking something from the world around them. To illustrate, the gossiper attempts to take the security away from the person they are gossiping about in an effort to increase their own.
The secure individual, on the other hand, always looks to contribute to the world around them. If the gossiper is prompted to gossip about someone, they should instead seek to assist that individual. Attempt, as it were, to add security to their lives.
As the old maxim states, “it is by giving that one receives.” They’ll likely find the more they do this the more security they feel, because they are exercising their security drive.
Of course these generalizations are broad, but that’s the point of generalizations, they can simplify complicated issues. It can just help direct us in the right direction as we start living honestly.
Emotional Insecurity: The Mood
If all dishonest generalizations could be broken down into two primary categories it would be:
- I’m unworthy
- Others are unworthy
They both are generated from what I call the consumer style, which can really be summed up as insecurity, but I’ll elaborate.
Consumer style is best defined as the perceived lack of resources and the necessity of controlling the people and the world at large to have any type of fulfillment.
I call it consumer style because it’s a lifestyle characterized by consumption (taking) rather than producing and contributing to the world.
Someone with a scarcity worldview will by default have consumer style.
Its garden variety needs/wants dilemma, and understanding of the emotional drives enables one to see that the perceived lack of resources is purely due to an instinctual imbalance and that the resources to restore the balance are readily available.
Nonetheless, the imbalance causes quite the emotional conundrum.
As alluded to, feelings of insecurity are usually the foundation for a host of other negative states of mind, if not all negative states.
It tends to read its ugly head in a phenomenon I call the abusive stranger syndrome. It demonstrates how we are really up against our own biology! It’s a devastating disclosure.
Recall, this sophisticated brain already screwed everything up with its inability to distinguish between needs and wants. Oh but it doesn’t end there!
What’s bizarre is that we use our sophisticated brain to create this perceived lack of the consumer style; if something is missing then there is always something that we need to take, to add, to do, in order to feel ok.
This has huge adaptive value. In terms of evolution it’s enabled us to survive. But the part of our brain that creates all this, is largely irrational and can’t see when it’s no longer helpful.
For example, the ability to run is incredibly convenient and efficient. However, if you just simply run for running sake, with no purpose, failing to hydrate properly, and fighting people when they try to stop you, you’ll simply run until you die.
Running has adaptive value and survival value when employed correctly. Unfortunately, if the running created surges of dopamine like booze does, you could, in fact, run until you die. At least, that’s the message your brain would be telling you. It wouldn’t be able to see the negative associations because the positive is overwhelming to it.
You have to realize we are designed and programmed in this way. Our brains sculpt our experience to keep us alive and the system can only handle so much information. The primitive brain cares little about joy and content. It cares about survival
If something feels good it’s designated as something important for our survival. You can envision how this can get ugly quick.
Now if the brain is merely designed to aid our navigation while we trot the globe, it really needs to be modified, and it can be (needs/wants dilemma).
The brain is malleable but it’s stock assembly is awful in terms of emotional health.
Tack on the consumer-style that constantly reinforces it, and you have a shit show on your hands.
Unfortunately, because of this, it is wrong. Like a lot.
We begin to modify its assembly for optimization by listening to its messages.
That is, what it communicates.
Some refer to this as mindfulness, I guess that works as good as any.
This is paramount!
Could you imagine hanging out with someone everyday and never truly listening to them, never getting to know them, just doing whatever they tell you and being abused them?
You’d simply be living with an abusive stranger.
That abusive stranger is you.
I call it Abusive Stranger Syndrome (ASS).
The abuse ends when you start listening to your mind.
First, stop following the directions of the ASS!
The legendary George Pransky writes on this topic exhaustively, he notes,
With this in mind, Pransky concludes, “Often people think of feelings as things to work through or deal with. But feelings were meant to be a barometer to help us maintain our emotional equilibrium. Feelings provide our moment-to-moment experience of life. They tell us the extent to which our perceptions are distorted by our moods and thought systems.”
Therefore, your wild emotions simply communicate the wildness of your thoughts. The instinctual imbalance and the gut wrenching mood they create is driven by insecure thoughts.
Your feelings, your experience of the world, is the thoughts you entertain. The generalizations inherent in instinctual imbalance enable you to hone down on the precise thoughts you harbor. If you can just be honest with yourself and get real, you’ll find your level of understanding increasing and naturally you’ll distance yourself from that stinking thinking.
Therefore, the treatment is threefold:
- Understand the needs/wants dilemma
- Identify the emotional drive imbalance, reverse the generalization, and practice the opposite virtue
- Understand that human beings always live in the feeling of their thoughts. People are not their thoughts, but their emotional experience is the thoughts they entertain.
Wrapping It Up
So, what’s the sobriety stone? What’s the mental substance that can arrest all forms of the disease of addiction and produce emotionally contented sobriety? It’s your thoughts and it’s time to get honest about them.
Don’t let the LIE hold you captive any longer.