Recovery Workshop: Lesson Ten
The Concept of Absolute Honesty
Committing Yourself to a Policy of Absolute Honesty
One of the most important aspects of living a healthy life is your ability to share your true self with the world around you. That means that the life you are living is the life that others know you to be living. A life without secrets. A life without fear (of your hidden decisions being discovered). A life without deception. A life where you take responsibility for every decision you make and every consequence that follows. Now, before you panic at the thought of having to live such a life, relax. You are not being asked to do so. In fact, you will never be. There is no point. For absolute honesty to be used effectively, it is not a task that can be assigned to you. It is a value that you must choose to adopt on your own for no other reason than it exemplifies the life you are striving to build.
At this level of development, we are not talking about the mechanics of honesty (e.g. lying, omission, minimizing, partial truths, etc.). These are elements you already know (or can easily learn should you be motivated). Granted, you may not use this knowledge constructively but you never the less have the information. Instead, we are talking about the CONCEPT of absolute honesty as a foundation for how you live your life. We are talking about establishing honesty as a proactive guide to living your life, rather than as a reactive decision — and honesty as such is not an easy concept to grasp. Why? Because this is one area where your intelligence can actually be a detriment to your development. Historically, the more intellectual you are (intelligence without wisdom), the harder it will be for you to share your true self with the world around you. Ideally, to apply the concept of absolute honesty, you would have an IQ of around 40. You would be someone who lacked the ability to minimize, to manipulate, to cover up, to omit, to skew. The people best suited to build a life based on absolute honesty are those who can't comprehend the perceptions of others or, who have achieved the wisdom not to care. When these individuals are sad, they show sadness. When they are angry, they show anger. When they love, they show love. When they err, they accept their err — paying no mind to how others might perceive them. They just share what is. As it is. And accept that as their reality.
Of course, you are blessed (and cursed) with an intelligence capable of allowing you to perceive your actions through the eyes of others. Because of this, you have the ability to consciously manipulate those perceptions. What's more, as someone who has developed an addiction, you have also learned how to manipulate the way that you perceive yourself. This ability has saved you from experiencing many uncomfortable moments in your life. Times when conflict was avoided/minimized because you used deception to alter reality. This 'skill' has saved you from taking full responsibility for many of the things that you have done. And because it requires an emotionally immature person to use this self-deluding technique, you will have experienced this capability as a good thing. "If I'm careful, I can get away it. If I hold to my story, she can't prove otherwise. I saved my relationship because I was able to distract her from the truth." Through deception, you avoid uncomfortable emotions and so, you register the use of that deception as a 'success'.
But using deception to absolve yourself of responsibility is not a good thing. It's 'success' is in the short-term only — even when the deception allows you to permanently escape responsibility for your actions. To be dramatic, you have in essence sold your soul (integrity, honor, genuineness, etc.) for a 'Get out of responsibility free' card.
This is the part that is difficult for people to grasp. Until now, you have used honesty (or deception) as a reactive tool to help you manage your life. You have used honesty in terms of risk assessment. If I tell the truth, what might happen? If I engage in this action, how might I use deception to protect myself from taking full responsibility? If I lie, what are the chances she can prove that I was lying? This type of thought process needs to end. In fact, as you progress, your engaging in such thoughts should trigger the awareness that you are heading down a destructive decision-making path and take immediate action to change tracks. You will learn more about this when you get to the lessons on values-based decision making, but for now begin to deepen your awareness of how and when you use deception in your life. How invasive it has become in your day-to-day life.
Inherent in developing absolute honesty is your commitment to live in congruence with your values. If you learn to manage your life predicated on decisions that are based on your prioritized values, you will have ensured a solid foundation for growth. Granted, your values may be misguided, but that is not important now. What is important is that you learn how to manage and use those values. And, that you use them as a reflection of who you are. If there is ever a time when you have to use deception to hide something that you have done, then you know that only one of two things have happened. One, you consciously chose to suspend your values in the decision-making process; or two, your values are not properly identified. Either way, growth is required.
What is 'absolute honesty'?
Well, first, what it isn't:
Absolute honesty is not, ironically, referring to being honest at all times. There are times to lie. Times when the truth would be unnecessarily painful to those hearing it. “Do you like my artwork, daddy?” “Does my hair look okay tonight, honey?” “Thank you, I love the gift” There are times when it is appropriate to deceive. Absolute honesty is not defined by what others can see or prove. It is not defined by the suspicions of others. It is not defined by the awareness of others. It is not defined by what you can justify or rationalize. It is not superficial.
Instead, it is about learning to communicate with yourself. Learning to develop a deep enough awareness to analyze the games that you play in your own head. It is about embracing the concept of being real. Of being a student of your own life—learning the nuances of your own thoughts. And this takes time to master. As an example,
You are at dinner with your partner and you find yourself struggling with fantasy. There is an attractive waitress, and an attractive woman seated a few tables down…and you find your thoughts wandering to sneak peeks at these two women. You become aware that this is inappropriate, but don't know what to do.
Honest Option 1
You stop yourself—you force yourself to stop looking, but as you know, this will often create more intense feelings (pressure to look again, pressure not to look again, shame for wanting to look, shame for this even being an issue). But let's say you choose this option. You force yourself to stop looking and re-engage with your partner. What are the consequences? Well, you were honest in that you did nothing that crossed your partner's boundaries (that she was aware of). You controlled the situation through force…and you succeeded, alone. One trigger managed. No harm, no foul.
Honest Option 2
HYou tell your partner that you are struggling with compulsive thoughts. You tell her that you are frustrated with having these thoughts but they are there just the same. You tell her that, while you may not know exactly what you can do to stop them, you are going to force yourself to not act on those thoughts and remain engaged in the conversation at hand. What are the consequences? You were honest, to the point where she is now a part of your thought processes. A part of the value system that you use in making decisions. You and she talk this out and you succeed, with a plan to not only manage this trigger, but with the confidence to know that you have external support and experience in managing future triggers as well. You both feel a sense of trust and support for each other.
Note: the above resolution for option #2 is obviously the ideal, but would only be part of an action plan that has been talked about long before the situation occurs. Without preparation, it would be easy to conceive your partner feeling resentful, jealous, angry, etc. that you would even have these feelings at such a time.
How does this relate to sharing about the past? Absolute honesty requires that you share your vulnerabilities as well as your strengths. You learn to share your insecurities, your indecisions, you ignorance—you share your true self—unabashedly and unashamed. There is nothing capable of building more trust in a relationship than for one person to approach the other and say, “I don't know what to do…and I trust you enough to help me figure it out.” This is the attitude that you must take with your past. Not feeling the need to protect it—and thus, protect your addiction…protect your partner…protect yourself. But rather, courageously stepping forward and saying, “I don't know why I did the things that I did. I'm ashamed of the decisions that I made. I am ashamed at how I have lived parts of my life. I hate what I have done to you. I hate what I have done to our relationship. This is not the life that I wanted to live and I want nothing more to do with it. And while it will be very painful for you to hear these things…and painful for me to share them…I know that it is the only way that I can move past this addiction for good.”
As you do this, encourage questions from your partner. Be an open book. And when questions come, answer them thoughtfully and without reservation. Embrace the attitude that—like it or not—this is the life that you have led and the first step towards taking responsibility for that life is to accept the consequences for your past.
To better understand the principles in play here, let's return to the scenario of your business partner/friend in the previous lesson. How could you begin to develop enough trust in this person to once again make yourself vulnerable to them? It is likely that you would need full disclosure for what he has already done. One, to make sure that he has accepted full responsibility for that behavior; and two, to make sure that you have as much information as you can so that you can watch for similar things down the road. And so, you will want to ask questions such as: “Walk me through everything, step-by-step. Don't leave out anything. I want to know everything that you did so I know exactly what we are dealing with here.”
1) And now imagine that he begins to tell you, but only tells you what you already know. He doesn't volunteer a single new thing and states, “But that is everything! You know it all already…“ When you ask him to share his thoughts on some of these things, he becomes defensive and refuses. He says that there is nothing to be gained from such exploration. That he has paid his debt to society and just wants to move on.
2) And now imagine that he begins to tell you, and shares many, many things. Painful things. Shameful things. Behaviors that make your blood crawl with anger for all the unnecessary pain that his actions have caused you. But he leaves something out—something so significant that this omission was not by accident. It comes to your attention several months later that he forged your signature on those transaction sheets that he used to cover up the embezzlement. You think of all the self-doubt that that created for you as a manager and confront him with why he didn't tell you about this himself. He responds first with, “I completely forgot about that.” Or, “I didn't think it was that important.” You are furious, he sees this and then adds, “I didn't tell you because I knew how angry you would be that I would do that to you and was afraid that you would never forgive me.”
3) And now imagine that he begins to tell you, and shares everything openly. You have the opportunity to ask him about his thoughts and actions, and he responds instantly and openly. It is obvious that he has suspended his thoughts about protecting his own self in an effort to provide you with understanding and closure. What he shares is devastating, but he knows this and is choosing to share it anyway. In this disclosure, he talks of the ways that he manipulated you…the ways that he sabotaged the business… You ask him why arson? Why not just sell the business to you. He responds, again instantly, that he chose arson as a last desperate chance to hide his addiction and all that he has done. That he knew it would impact a lot of people's lives…cost a lot of people their jobs…but that at the time, he was only worried about being caught. He acknowledged that this was the only option that had any possibility of a happy ending (because of the insurance money and destroying all of the evidence). Everything he shares, he shares openly.
Of these three responses, which do you think would provide you with the best chance of healing? Which would provide you with the most likely scenario for being victimized all over again? Now think of how you have responded to your own partner. Have you provided her with the best opportunity to heal from what you have done? If not, it is not too late. It is never too late if you are sincere in why you are sharing…that is, until your lies and secrets become known. That is when it will be too late. That is when you will have forfeited your right to say, “I will do anything I can to make this up to you.” You will have been given that opportunity and will have chosen to throw it away.
Understanding Your Partner's Boundaries Regarding HonestyFor your partner, if there is any hope left, then your partner is desperate to trust you again. And so, it is probably enough for her if you just maintain your honesty within the following boundaries:
- He tells me the truth about what he has done
- He does not omit truths
- He does not tell half-truths
- He does not add lies to help minimize or rationalize the situation (for example, you go out to lunch with a coworker and you tell your wife about it. But, to cover for the inner thoughts and motivations of that lunch, you also tell her that 'we only discussed business' or 'I'm not attracted to her at all' or 'whatever'.)
If you just maintain these boundaries, your partner will likely see this as progress and you will both move forward. But, if you limit your communication to these boundaries, here is what will also happen:
- Your progress in trust and communication within the relationship will grow to a certain point and then stop. And when it stops, you will be far short of the level of connection that is needed to experience a nourishing partnership with someone.
- You will continue to feel isolated in your personal battle with addiction. There will come a point in your relationship where you and your partner will bond together as partners…and BOTH OF YOU will work to help manage each other's lives. This cannot happen until you take responsibility for more than just 'telling the truth'.
- You will not establish the deeper communication skills that are necessary for intimacy. Not passion. Not sexual release. But the intimacy that comes from joining your lives and working together.
It is on you to develop a policy of honesty that reflects your desire to establish a true partnership with your partner. That means, 'black-and-white' honesty is not enough. You must develop a mastery over your own actions—including your own thoughts and the intentions that surround those thoughts. And learn to share them fearlessly—as they are a part of who you are and the life that you are living.
Sharing Your True Self...
Sharing your true self with the world around you requires an understanding of another's expectations regarding honesty. You already know that being dishonest sometimes allows you to act without taking responsibility for that action; but now you must learn that the deception itself often causes more destruction in the recovery process than the action being lied about. To your partner for instance, who cannot see your thoughts or know your true experiences, the essence of your relationship lay with her ability to accept that you are who you share yourself to be. This is hard enough to accomplish in a healthy relationship, but add to that the history of deception that comes with a relationship marred by addiction and you have a situation that requires extraordinary measures. Family members, friends, coworkers...the concept is the same, even if the depth of application is different. You must take the responsibility for sharing yourself in such a way that people know what is in your heart and your mind. And because they have only observation and communication to guide their perceptions, you must become exceptionally proficient in communicating your thoughts and experiences. Ironic, given that this level of communication is one of the key deficiencies in most people with addictions, but it is not that hard to develop.
So, what you will need to do is something that SOUNDS harder than it actually is: come to see honesty as one of your strengths, not one of your liabilities. Even with your history, this requires only a shift in the way that you perceive yourself. A shift that requires two things:
1) Establish a boundary of being absolutely honest with yourself
2) Establish a boundary of sharing your true self with the world around you
Simple enough, but remember that these are just the mechanics. The essence of this value — in other words, your ability to derive fulfillment and stimulation from it — lies in your willingness to adopt the concept of living your life in a manner where you do not need (and do not want) to use deception to help manage your life. Inherent in this is your willingness to rely upon honesty as a proactive means of managing your life. Meaning, when you face a decision...you filter the decision-making process through whether or not you would need to use deception as a part of that process. If you would, then it goes against your values and you must find a better option. If you wouldn't, then you hold your head up high and take responsibility for however that decision turns out. It was based on your existing values and you can have no sounder base with which to act.
But I can't share everything with everyone. What about privacy?
We are not talking about sharing everything and anything with anybody and everybody. Absolute honesty requires that you present your true self to the world around you. That you approach others with vulnerability and a respect for their desire to truly communicate with you. You disrespect that process when you use deception to paint a new, more palatable version of reality. Not that you must share every detail of your life, you shouldn't. But, you must make it an absolute boundary that you do not lie about any detail. Something as simple as, 'I don't feel comfortable talking about that right now.' Or, 'That is personal.' Or even, 'I did something that I know is wrong. I don't want to talk about the specifics, but I do want to make you aware that I am addressing it. When I get to the point where I can talk about this openly, I will.' Each of these responses do two things. One, they respect your right to privacy you do have. And two, they do not violate your commitment to absolute honesty. What would be such a violation? 'Nothing happened.' 'That's all that happened. (when it wasn't)'. It was only that one time (again, when it wasn't)'. These are all ongoing deceptions that may allow you to ease your confession and responsibility, but ultimately destroy the foundation of any growth that is occurring.
In summary, the key to absolute honesty is to not hide behind deception in an effort to make yourself better in the eyes of those around you. Or in the eyes of yourself. It is to accept responsibility for managing all actions that you take in your life. And accepting all consequences of those actions.
Sharing DetailsOne of the most controversial areas of open communication lie with how much detail to share. This is not an easy question to answer. On the one hand, it is easy to take the 'all or nothing' approach that partners know what is best for them because they are the 'healthy ones'. That, when they demand the details of your behavior, they must indeed know that those details will help them in their healing. This is flawed logic. First, partners who are still struggling in the aftermath of a discovery are far from healthy. They are in some of the deepest pain that they will ever experience in their lives and so, their thoughts and perceptions will be affected accordingly. In truth, they don't know what is best for them. They are much like a drowning person…grabbing desperately for anything within reach. Details are within reach. They are real. They can be felt. But are they always healthy over the long term? No way.
Why? For the same reasons as shared above. Your partner cannot process the things as you process them. They can only take what you share and apply their own thoughts, feelings, etc. to them. And so, when it comes to addiction, the reality is that the details are not a part of that reality. The details are mere consequences of that addiction. The relevant details are the rituals themselves…and how those rituals have been used to manage their life. That is how to understand an addiction. Knowing that someone engaged in rituals involving multiple affairs, pornography and masturbation is important and necessary. Knowing that they had sex with someone…knowing whether or not protection was used…knowing how many partners he has had…those are all important details to know. Knowing whether someone that he had an affair with had 'bigger tits than me' or 'gave head better than me' or 'was skinnier than me' is not. Those types of details all provoke images that reek with objectification and tend to be destructive in the long term.
As someone who is committed to being absolutely honest with your partner, your job is to share everything with her openly. But, and this is walking a very thin line, you have to learn and maintain your own boundaries in relation to sharing the details of your past. As a general guide, consider the following boundaries and adjust as necessary:
- Share your past and present openly and honestly
- Do not leave out any major rituals that you have engaged in
- Do not leave out any affairs that you have had, how long they lasted and who they were with
- Do not leave out whether or not these were purely sexual relationships or whether they involved feelings of care/concern/intimacy.
- Do not lie, omit or intentionally mislead your partner about any of your sexual and/or romantic behaviors—including frequency and/or intensity
- If there are behaviors that you are too ashamed to talk about, and you feel that it would be detrimental to your recovery to share them, tell your partner exactly that. Tell her you will eventually tell her, you just aren't strong enough in your own recovery to do so yet. Do NOT tell her that there is 'nothing else'. And, do not expect that she will fully engage in your relationship/communication until you do tell her…but that is okay. You are not ready to fully engage in the relationship either—and you won't be until all of your secrets are out in the open.
- If your partner is asking questions about 'visualization' details—details that will allow her to better visualize the acts that you have engaged in while you were engaging in them—note that this is an unhealthy place for your partner to be and will likely be a detriment to the overall healing process. Do not lie about any of these details, but do tread carefully should you decide to share them at that moment. The best situation is to postpone discussing the details until after the initial discovery—at which time, it is usually no longer desired by the partner to know them. By that time, they have learned enough about addiction to know that the details themselves, and having you relive them, is actually a destructive thing.
- If you see that your partner has crossed an unhealthy emotional boundary—hysterical, in a rage, rambling, emotionally or physically self-destructive, non-responsive, etc.—end the conversation until you are both in a state of mind conducive to communication. This disclosure is not a purging of information, it is an opportunity to share what you have been through. If that is not being accomplished, then the conversation needs to stop until such a time that it is.
- In all cases, if it comes down to your partner's insistence that you share every detail—no matter what those details must be: share them. Do it against your will and against your better judgment. Take responsibility for having destroyed the foundation of your relationship and empower your partner's right to complete that destruction if she so chooses. As hard as it may be, you have to put your health and your partner's health above the health of your relationship.
Spontaneous Communication and Honesty in a Partnership
Honesty is obviously important in rebuilding trust and intimacy, but that is the expectation. You are expected to be honest. If communication was a cupcake, honesty would be the cake itself. Sufficient, but without the frosting it really isn't a cupcake, is it? Your willingness to develop the skills needed to be both spontaneous and emotionally vulnerable in your communication is then, the frosting.
In your partner's eyes, it is not enough that you project yourself as honest when you are approached. You need to be emotionally engaged. When you have feelings, you need to learn to share those feelings. When you have thoughts or experiences that are relevant to your life…that you share those thoughts and experiences. Note, I didn't say, “Report them.” I said share them. Intimately. Vulnerably. Imperfectly. Allow yourself to communicate in a way that is flowing and free…where if you make a mistake or lack for things to say…neither of you care.
In early recovery, participants are encouraged to develop daily monitoring that often includes the engagement in meaningful conversation with their partner or other significant person in their lives.
Lesson 10 Exercises:
I. Consider those lies that are still being perpetuated in your life. Who you are deceiving. Why you are deceiving them. Consider the 'risks' of coming clean. No need to do anything about these thoughts...just have an awareness of them.
II. If you are involved in a partnership, choose now whether or not you intend to continue deceiving them in certain areas. If the answer is yes, acknowledge that you are willing to jeopardize the future of that relationship by maintaining the deception; AND, admit to yourself that you are intentionally sabotaging your own healthy foundation by allowing such a huge crack to remain.
III. If you are involved in professional coaching (or outside counseling), choose now whether or not you intend to continue deceiving those whom you are working with. If the answer is yes, acknowledge that you are not fully commited to ending your addiction. Acknowledge that you are choosing to 'go through the motions', rather than actively pursue real change.
IV. Make a list of all the places where you have items stashed for sexually compulsive behavior. List these items and their locations in your Recovery Thread. If you are uncomfortable sharing this in the forum, email or PM the list to a Coach.Example:
- 25 Porn Magazines: In closet
- 3 Victoria's Secret catalogs: in magazine rack
- 1 Porn magazine: under spare tire in trunk of car
- 1 Bottle of lotion: in glove compartment
- 4 Porn Videos: in non-porn cases in video collection
- 3 Internet "porn" sites: in the 'Home Repair' folder in My Favorites
- Over 300 porn pictures: on blue zip disk in case
- 1 Picture of girl I am having an affair with: in office desk drawer
Note: this list may be small (or empty) for some of you, as your behaviors are more fantasy/affair oriented. That is okay. For others, it may be very,very long. That is okay, too. It is important that you get a complete and accurate account of everything...no matter how long it takes to complete the inventory.
V. Make a list of all the people that you use as compulsive sexual and/or romantic object. Post this in your thread.Example:
- Julie: 3 year affair
- Strange women: peek in their windows
- Strippers: watch them during my weekly trip to strip bar
- Male strangers: perform oral sex on me for money
- Jeremy: obsess over him, sometimes stalk him
- Masseuse: for manual masturbation
Like the previous list, it is important to include all sources of compulsive sexual/romantic stimulation — no matter how long it may take you to complete.
VI. Make a list of all the places where you go to act out your sexually/romantically compulsive behavior. Post this list in your thread.Example:
- Cliffhanger's Bar: to pick up sexual partners
- Car: for masturbation and exhibitionism
- Internet: surf for porn, chat rooms
- Local apartment complex: for voyeuring
- Mall: for fantasizing