An excerpt from The Craving Brain: Science, Spirituality and the Road to Recovery
Is it possible to overcome the powerlessness of addiction? Joining forces to answer this age-old question, co-authors Anderson Spickard, a doctor with more than 40 years of experience in addiction medicine, and James B., a recovering addict, candidly describe the harsh challenges and clearly outline the necessary steps toward healing and recovery.
This section of The Craving Brain: Science, Spirituality and the Road to Recovery is written by James B., a recovering addict with extensive experience helping men in recovery and people at risk for addiction. He is currently the director of operations for a nonprofit and serves as a conference coordinator for a men’s organization.
During the years of my active addiction, I became compulsively dishonest, telling people what they wanted to hear and embellishing stories with white lies to make myself look better. Lying became an embedded character trait, and I lied reflexively, even when it served absolutely no purpose.
One of the oldest and most respected members of my NA home group noticed my tendency to bend the truth and suggested that I do the Honesty Project. This required going thirty days in a row without telling a lie, asking for God’s help every step of the way. If I slipped, the thirty days would start over again.
It took me a couple of months to accept the challenge, and even then I had no idea what I was getting into. The first hitch came the very next day, when I was standing in the airport, waiting with my girlfriend for a flight to Pittsburgh to meet her parents. She was a devout conservative Christian, and out of the blue she asked me a personal and pointed question about my sexual behavior as a young, addicted adult.
My heart began to pound, and I broke out into a sweat. Almost shaking with anxiety I took a long pause and had one of the most intense internal struggles of my life. Should I tell her the disturbing truth and risk losing our relationship? We had not been together that long, but already she meant the world to me. Wouldn’t it be better to start the Honesty Project another day? But I didn’t want to build another relationship based on lies. If I repeated my usual pattern, things would eventually fall apart anyway.
With my stomach in knots I tried to answer my girlfriend’s question as honestly and vaguely as possible. Her response was to ask even more probing questions, and I felt compelled to share details that I would have preferred to keep private. In the wounded silence that followed, it was clear that I was in big trouble. Our relationship survived—but barely.
In all, it took me seven months to complete the thirty-day Honesty Project. At first, I told lies and didn’t even notice them. Then I was able to see the lie on the tip of my tongue but couldn’t stop it from coming out of my mouth. In the next stage, my lies were followed by a confession: “What I just told you wasn’t exactly true.” Eventually, I could stop myself from lying in the first place. Finally, at some point, I developed a new level of cognitive awareness, and telling the truth became my natural instinct.
It was around this time that a member of my home group asked me to take a look at the morality of driving on a suspended license. “In keeping with the Twelve Step tradition, we’re trying to be honest in all our affairs,” he reminded me. A little over a month later I was taking the bus. It was fifteen difficult months before my license was returned, but in the process I experienced a character change that left me deeply committed to living a transparent, open, and honest life.