A huge part of my recovery has been owning up to my own mistakes and being fully honest with myself, my husband and my children. Once you get rid of the lies and the secrets, you feel free, and you can truly relax and be yourself. For this week, I have chosen the safe coping strategy:

Honesty. Secrets and lying are at the core of PTSD and substance abuse; honesty heals them.

No doubt, at some point during the development of your addiction, you began to tell lies, hold secrets and hide things from your partner or other loved ones, from coworkers and from friends. And you also told yourself lies to justify your addiction.

At some point, you were caught in a lie, which is usually the first thing that leads an addict to get help and enter the life of recovery. It might be a very long time between that first time getting caught and a life of sobriety, but it’s usually what gets the ball rolling.

As an addict it’s painful to wake up every day, participating in your addiction and wanting to stop, but not knowing how to stop. Knowing you’re causing yourself harm, but continuing anyway. But what can be even more painful is the guilt and shame you carry around from all the lies you’ve told to your loved ones, and all the things you’re hiding and keeping secret. Carrying all of that around is exhausting. Keeping up with your enormous web of lies, finding hiding places for those things you’re physically hiding, seeing the love and trust in your loved ones’ eyes as you tell them a lie, it’s a terrible feeling.

I hid alcohol all around the house. And I told my husband I hadn’t drank, even though I had. And I really thought I was getting away with something. But, eventually the guilt and shame caught up with me. And I was so paranoid, all of the time. It exacerbated my already serious anxiety issues to have to constantly be looking over my shoulder and making sure I covered my tracks.

When I went to rehab, and I put all my cards on table with my husband, I felt such a sense of relief. Feelings of guilt and shame lingered, but at least he knew everything now. I could just breathe, and be myself again, and not have to constantly fear being found out.

And over time I learned to be honest with myself. In SMART Recovery, we do an exercise called Refutations. You take one of your old excuses, one of the lies you told yourself to justify your using, and you come up with all the reasons that it’s wrong. For example, I used to tell myself, “I’ll just have one drink.” Knowing full well that it never ended with just one drink. Or, “No one will know.” But the truth is, everyone knew. It’s pretty hard to hide being drunk.

Being able to examine your thoughts, and to be honest with yourself about what you’re thinking is a big part of recovery. Knowing that you need to avoid your substance of choice at all costs, and stop that little voice full of excuses dead in its tracks when it starts up in your head.

The honesty doesn’t stop there though. It continues throughout your daily life from here on out. Be honest with yourself about how it felt to be in a group of people who were drinking. Be honest with yourself about how it feels to see that aisle in the grocery store. Be honest with yourself about how you’re doing day-to-day, are you having a good day or a bad day? Can you pinpoint why? Staying in touch with your feelings and opening yourself up to discussing these feelings with your partner or a counselor will help you a lot as you struggle through those first days in recovery.

Being honest with your partner will help you earn back all the lost trust too. Those wounds take enormous amounts of time to fully heal, but full, true honesty, and lots of talking things out, will help the process along. Think of honesty as a medicine that’s helping to heal all the pain and suffering your addiction caused.

But above all else, it really is an amazing feeling to be able to be truly open and honest with yourself and your loved ones. You will feel free once again, and relieved of the burden of guilt, shame, and lies. No more will they hold you down. Living a open and honest life can only lead to good things.

Examining Excuses

I was recently reminded of an exercise I have done in SMART meetings about excuses for using. The stuff we tell ourselves when we use that makes it feel ok or acceptable. I thought this safe coping strategy related a bit, so I have chosen it for this week:

Identify the belief. Shoulds, deprivation reasoning, etc.

The exercise is called Refutations. In the exercise, we choose one excuse we used to make, and we examine it. These excuses are usually pretty common to all addicts. Stuff like, “no one will know.” “It’ll just be one drink this time.” “This will be the last time.” “No one really cares.” “I’ve had a bad day and I deserve a reward.” “It will help me feel better.”

You take one of your own many excuses, and you examine it. You think about what you are really saying, and you then use logic and everything you’ve learned in your recovery to refute it.

One of my all-time favorites used to be “no one will know.” But the truth is, a lot of people knew. They just didn’t say anything. And I knew. A SMART group leader once told us, don’t forget that even if you really were fooling everyone around you, you know. And you count as someone. This is also a lesson in self-esteem. Not to mention having to carry around a dark secret all the time. It’s exhausting.

A fellow SMART meeting attendee also pointed out that the longer you do something like that, the more likely someone’s bound to notice. You may think you’ve become an expert at hiding your habit from those around you, but sooner or later you’ll slip up. You’ll get caught. And that’s a feeling even worse than the guilt and shame you already carry around.

I also used to love “I’ve had a bad day and I deserve a reward.” The thing is, in my mind, every day was a “bad” day or a “hard” day. Being a stay-at-home mother, being any kind of parent at all, is difficult. It keeps you insanely busy and it tries your patience and it can be overwhelming. I’d gotten myself caught up in a cycle of having a “bad” day and then “rewarding” myself with alcohol. As if abusing my body in that way and making myself useless physically and mentally was any kind of reward that anyone would want. It only made me feel worse, and furthered my addiction. And my days truthfully were really not that bad, obviously.

The point is, you need to find and isolate those excuses that you’re making, and really think them through before you give in to them. What are you telling yourself to make using seem acceptable, even useful or beneficial? Because you know in your right mind that it is not.

Also, think about the “shoulds” in your life, as it says. I should be staying sober. I should be getting my life together. I should find a hobby or a job. I should I should I should. You and I both know sitting at home and telling yourself you should do something doesn’t get it done. And though it may feel good to think these things and feel like you are being a good, positive force in your life, unless you go out and do all those shoulds, you don’t benefit from it at all. If you never get out there and change your life, you stay stagnant. You sit in the same spot, and risk falling into old patterns. If you’ve got something you keep telling yourself you should do, just get up and go do it.

I made this mistake the first time I left rehab. I had a list of things I was going to accomplish when I got back home. I was going to find work. I was going to get back to hobbies I had let slide because of my addiction. I was going to seek extra counseling. And I never did any of it. I had every intention of changing my life to further my new sober lifestyle, but I didn’t do it. I was stuck. And as predicted, I fell back into old patterns and eventually started drinking again.

When I came back the second time, I put my plans into action. I have a job now. And I have picked a few hobbies back up. I’m trying to be more useful to the people in my life. I’m reaching out for help when I need it. I’m using medication to manage my depression and anxiety. And I am having far more success than I ever thought I could.

The main idea here is to examine your thoughts and beliefs. Determine if they are positive or negative, and react accordingly. If you feel a strong craving or urge to use, and start making those old excuses, take a moment to stop and think about it. And if you’re not making changes to your new life in recovery, start making them as soon as possible. It makes the road much smoother, and boosts your confidence and self-esteem.