Addiction and self-delusion are inevitable partners. We adjust our thinking and beliefs as required to justify and protect our drugs of choice, whether they’re chemicals, sex or other addictions such as gambling, shopping and so forth. We rationalize our behavior, and become defensive whenever anyone “calls us on our shit.” We avoid confrontation any way we can, by lies, deception, sneaking around, minimizing our involvement, comparing (He drinks a lot more than I do!) (Everyone my age does it!) (It’s a normal part of life!), and otherwise trying to confuse the issue and stop folks from getting too close to the truth.
These things may fool people temporarily, but we get tangled up in our lies eventually, so that even we don’t know the truth from falsehood. Or perhaps our behavior reaches a stage outrageous enough that even a codependent’s “believer” is overcome, and they have to look the truth in its bloodshot eye. When this happens, our partners become the problem — to our way of thinking — and “if you were married to that s.o.b, you’d use drugs too!”
We claim that we’re misunderstood, that we can’t help ourselves because we’re bi-polar, wasted on our lousy menial job, got fired because the manager had it in for us, blah, blah, blah. Lying and justifying becomes such a habit that we begin to do it when it would be easier to tell the truth.
Recovery is about replacing the habits of addiction with the habits of sobriety. As we become more aware, we say things like, “That’s my addict talking,” and “that’s addictive thinking.” We begin to realize the depth of our self-deception, and understand that “rigorous honesty” is the only path to recovery. As the old AA saying goes, “Fooling other people isn’t nice, but fooling ourselves is eventually fatal.”
In the beginning, we need to trust others more than ourselves. We are not up to the task of untangling our addict thinking without help from people who understand how an alcoholic or other addict’s brain works. The literal insanity of our addictive life continues, slowly abating over time. After a few months (or, in my case, a few years) we are able to consider our own thinking and identify many of our delusions, and eventually we reach the point where most of the addict thinking and habits are replaced by our new ways of looking at and thinking about life.
Finally, we reach a point where we learn to trust our gut. When something feels wrong, when we get that nagging doubt in the back of our mind or in the place where that addict is buried, we stop. We don’t make any decisions or take action until we have satisfied ourselves that we are doing what needs to be done, instead of what we want.
That’s the secret of sober living: telling the truth to ourselves and others, and doing the next right thing, even if we don’t want to.