Breaking the Cycle of Addiction and Lying

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There is a notable scene in the movie Liar Liar you will probably remember, when Jim Carey’s character gets off a crowded elevator and turns back to tell the group, “It was ME!” The scene is funny I think, because it is so unlikely. Who would confess to passing wind in a lift, when they could easily get away with a lie of omission?

That’s the point of the movie: every day we lie just a little to make people feel better; get out of an embarrassing situation; and cover our tracks when we’ve done something wrong. But as an alcoholic in recovery, I can attest to the fact that I lied all the time when I was drinking to avoid those probing questions. Where were you? At the mall (lie). Who were you with? I was with the Book Club at Carol’s house (lie). How much did you have to drink, ma’am? I only had a glass of wine with dinner, officer (big lie).

That’s the thing about addiction and lying, it gets easier with time. It got to the point where lying was second nature, and even when I didn’t have to obfuscate, I did. There is an old saying, “No one is smart enough to lie”. Add to the equation an impaired, booze-soaked memory, odd patterns of behavior, and wine breath and eventually you get caught every time.

Why Do Addicts Lie?

A friend of mine, who’s been in recovery for many years, was telling me a story at dinner. She had heard from an old boyfriend, who had found her on Facebook, and she had carried on a secretive, reaffirming email dialog with him for a few days. It was involved enough that her husband asked if she was having “some sort of an online affair.”

She said, “My husband does not have any idea what a derelict I was, and he will never know. We hide so much from everyone while we are in addiction. My go-to solution for everything was to lie. I lied constantly and with an almost pathological ease. Damned if it wasn’t my first impulse when he confronted me. I realized that while I have come a long way, it would be a short walk back to the old ways. Frightening, but good to be reminded…”

Which reminded me that when we are actively using, we lie for self-preservation. We lie to ourselves so we can maintain our addiction and we lie to others to avoid confrontation. The problem with the practice of lying is that the more you do it, the more cynical you become and the worse you feel about yourself. It goes without saying that lies destroy relationships.

How Do We Break the Pattern of Lying?

In the article “Why We Lie and How to Stop,” Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. says, “It’s important to consider: how honest is the world we’ve created around ourselves? How often do we ourselves tell lies? And on the flip side, do we intimidate others in ways that might encourage them to shade the truth?” She goes on to say, “So what can you do to be more honest? You can begin by being honest with yourself.”

I try. Sometimes I feel like a toddler, a little clunky in my attempts at (what is often considered) brutal honesty. Now that I am sober, I hate the thought of keeping anything under wraps, but my first inclination is always to protect myself: a leftover defense technique from my drinking/lying days. It’s a hard pattern to break.

Sanford House founder Rae Green says, “Honesty is not a hallmark of active addiction. You may want this, but your brain is still on the other team for some time. Your subconscious, protective mechanism is clicking in and you must find a way to stop and think before you lie. Healing and honesty parallel each other and it takes time to mend.”

In recovery we begin to learn to trust and to be trustworthy. Almost three years into my sobriety it still amazes me that I do not really have any secrets anymore (see brutal honesty above). So much of untruth is based in the need for acceptance and the fear of reprisal. Dr. Firestone says, “…you can take chances on the people you care about by being a lot more honest and direct with them. You can find healthy and considerate ways to express yourself and to be sensitive to the other person’s sense of reality. The truth may not always be easy to hear, but in the long term, you will earn a lot more trust and respect from the people whose opinion you value the most.”

I used to work for a guy whose motto was, “A Successful Salesperson Tells the Truth in the Best Possible Light”. He also told his sales reps that the “most effective” lies were brief and close to the truth. Now that I think about it, this guy was like Fagin indoctrinating the Artful Dodger… I am not buying that anymore. When it comes to truth, there are no lights, versions or degrees. The truth is the truth.

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Marilyn Spiller is a writer, sober coach, recovery advocate, and student of the world. (She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing). Seven years sober herself, she penned one of the first sobriety blogs, "Waking Up the Ghost" in 2013. The blog garnered an international following, allowing Marilyn to communicate with thousands of folks in all stages of recovery. Marilyn is Sanford's Director of Marketing and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford online magazine, "Excursions". She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction.