Finding Integrity in Addiction

Brian M Murray, MS, IMH

“Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.”                   
-Spencer Johnson

Is there integrity in addiction? Absolutely, that is if the addicted person is willing to admit the truth that they have a problem. Integrity is about being honest with themselves about who they are as a person. Sharing the truth about having an addiction with others is also about having integrity. Being able to express who they are with a professional licensed counselor or addictions professional can take an enormous effort. In addition to licensed professionals are support groups such as Celebrate Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and dozens of other 12 step anonymous groups. Depending on the specific problem a person is experiencing chances are there is a recovery program for it.

Often people suffering with addiction issues think they are all alone and when they begin to get honest with themselves reaching out for help they realize there are many more just like them. This builds fellowship and community knowing they are not alone. They can begin to build a sense of belonging and understanding they do not have to fight their battle alone. Even generals on a battlefield know that they alone cannot win a battle, it requires teamwork. In order for someone to step forward and admit they have a problem requires courage. When this happens the first victory of the fight has been won because the person has stepped past denial. It is remarkable how people who struggle with addictions admit that a huge weight has been lifted off of them when they seek others and confess their secret.

People suffering from an addiction experience a strong sense of shame and guilt. This often leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, anger, financial problems, marriage and relationship problems and at times homelessness. This person feels hopeless and lost and does not know what to do about it so they turn inward in an attempt to hide their true self from others. A low sense of self worth settles in. They may begin to withdraw from others and isolate. Nonverbal behavior includes lack of eye contact, a general downcast look and frequently turning away from others, especially family members.

If a person is facing some very strong feelings of guilt and shame the underlying thought is associated with the idea that if “I do not face anyone then I will not have to engage them or face my problems.” The other side of the coin is that the person is not ready to admit they have a problem and they are trying to protect the addiction. In this manner the addiction is being used to medicate some undesired feeling, thought or life stressor. Unfortunately some people never seek help and they begin to self destruct.

Recovery requires moving into acceptance to work on the addiction. Integrity requires a person to understand that this will be more than kicking a habit; it is about a lifestyle change. It is a dedicated unrelenting pursuit of healing leading to live a life of being true to the self. Fear of the truth of who a person really is conjures up feelings of being vulnerable, that they will be judged and become identified as a person in a negative way. This internal critical voice indicates to the addicted person that they are somehow fundamentally flawed. Perhaps a bigger question to counter act this thinking is who is not flawed? While this does not provide an excuse to keep damaging oneself, it does let go of feelings that a person must be perfect in their recovery or else they are some kind of a failure.

Recovery is often like learning to ride a bicycle, how many times does a person fall off, get hurt, get back on and try again before they learn? Sometimes it takes a while and it takes practice. Living a life outside of addiction is new and it is a new way of being in the world. The main idea is to be honest with yourself and then be honest with others and that is the integrity in addiction. It is about stopping the denial and stepping forward. It is okay. There are many that have done who are glad they did.

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