Dictionary.com defines integrity as “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.”
Way back in the ‘80’s during the real Miami Vice days, I knew a Dade County police officer whose beat was along the Miami River. “Jorge” was offered $50,000 to take his lunch break at a particular time — one day, one time. In those days, that was roughly equivalent to a year’s pay for a patrolman. Definitions are well and good, but when the bag man shows up with 50K and you have kids in school and a mortgage, it’s simpler than that: do I do the right thing, despite the cost, or the wrong thing?
Jorge put his beliefs on the line. He said “No”. That’s integrity! Fortunately, he got away with it — no sure thing in that place at that time.
Honesty and integrity are the cornerstones of sobriety. In Step One, we get a little honest with ourselves, then in Step Two we get a little more honest with ourselves. In Step Three we get honest with our higher power as we understand it. When that works out for us, we increase the honesty by working our way through the steps — especially 4 through 9 (and if you think Step Nine doesn’t require a bunch of honesty and integrity you’re not ready yet). We do the famous “Next Right Thing,” even when it involves serious risks to our self-esteem and sometimes even the course of our lives.
Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty.
— Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 5, page 58.
Today we know that such people are products of nurturing that was dysfunctional in some way, and that their inability to be honest — with themselves or others — is most often the result of repeated bad example, neglect or trauma. We also know that willingness to work on those issues through the 12 Steps, therapy, prayer and/or meditation can result in profound changes in those “unfortunates”, if they are able to overcome the ingrained fear of their truths and progress at making themselves better people.
But again, integrity and honesty are the keys. I’m a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, as well as recovering from some process addictions. There was a time when I would frequently lie when it would have been easier to tell the truth. I spent so many years protecting myself by bending or exaggerating the truth about the real Bill that I reached a point where I often didn’t even notice when I was lying. I even carried that over into 20-odd years of supposed sobriety in the chemical programs because I was protecting the underlying addiction and lousy self-esteem that was probably the start of everything else.
Real honesty was the beginning of my recovery. I had to get honest about the true nature of my addictions: the reality of my past life and the problems and trials I was experiencing day-to-day in recovery. I had to become willing to talk to people and tell the truth as I was able to understand it. Over time, it became both easier and clearer. These days I sometimes get the urge to take the easy way out of a situation, but I now know that lies will eventually come back to bite me in the ass, or — worse — I’ll get away with them and slide back into being the old me.
Integrity: in the program we call it “doing the next right thing.” I would add, “even when it hurts.” To paraphrase the late, great George Harrison: You got to pay your dues if you want to lose the blues.