One of the most common treatments for alcoholism / addiction is still AA and NA. AA and NA both offer a program of step work, and step work includes a lot of self-reflection and rigorous honesty. Participants are asked to humbly analyze their mistakes, and then take accountability whenever possible.
The way honesty is woven through the structure of step work makes step work challenging, but it also makes it progressive and meaningful. I’ve been told by several people who have opened themselves up to step work programs, “The world would be a better place if everyone did this!” And it makes sense. It’s almost impossible to disagree with the notion that our society would be a much kinder place if every young adult had to learn to reflect on their mistakes, take accountability, and make the necessary changes to rid themselves of toxic habits.
Unfortunately, not everyone entering adulthood is in fact required to do step work. Which leaves us in a society with some people taught to proactively fight for honesty, and other people still able to function without having to face their dishonest habits (habits that sometimes those people don’t even realize they have, as people who are dishonest with others are also often dishonest with themselves). So as it stands, a lot of people in AA and NA are taught to stay rigorously honest, take care of others, and not work too hard to obsess over their own problems. But then they live in a world with people who are not always taught to have the same values.
It’s jamming a round peg into a square hole.
People leave their first round of step work feeling honest, open to forgiving others, and ready to constantly look for ways to improve their character and be better. Then, they waltz back into the world, and they proceed to get eaten alive by a society that emphasizes self preservation. This, ironically, causes a lot of relapses. People in recovery see that they get punished instead of rewarded for practicing their honesty-based values, and then they fall back back on their old way of life because that life offered less criticism. While it could still be argued that being a good person and being honest is always the right answer, it could also just as easily be argued that the good effects of honesty take a lot longer to reveal themselves than the instant-gratification effects of self preservation. A lot of times in this life people are asked to make a choice to do the right thing, but it takes an extended period of time before poetic justice shows itself or the honest person is rewarded for their honesty.
This is where therapy enters the picture. If you are being asked to stay honest and stay forgiving in a world that is not always willing to do the same for you, you need to have some armor on. This armor can be built by learning new skills in a structured, clinical setting. Therapy empowers patients with healthy coping mechanisms, emotion-regulation skills, and guidance on how to build progressive and free-of-toxins support systems. All of these bring self care into the lives of people who are often trying to put their focus on taking care of others.
For example, therapy offers strategies to help people effectively cope with the reactions of others. AA will teach you to be honest, but then therapy will jump in and teach you how to regulate your emotions if people respond to your honesty in unhealthy ways. Honesty does not equal appreciation in adulthood. It can actually often equal the exact opposite. Knowing how to not inflict blame on yourself that you do not deserve on is an aspect of emotional self care that therapy can offer patients. Additionally, knowing when to step away from unhealthy situations after being honest is an important skill taught in therapy. Honesty and integrity are a great first step (or great first twelve steps), but finding acceptance, peace, and self love are important follow up steps.
If you want to be the round peg in a square society you need to find ways to keep yourself emotionally and mentally resilient. It sounds all exciting to rebel against society’s negative values, but when you actually live it each day it can be draining and discouraging. Rebels need support too, and rebels need healthy coping mechanisms. You can find this support through therapy and self-examination that revolves around emotional / mental / neurological self care.
If you or someone you love is battling addiction, try to remember that you’re up against the addiction monster, but sometimes you’re also up against a society that doesn’t necessarily understand your journey yet. It is a STRENGTH, and not a weakness, to get as many defenses as you can. Go to therapy as you go to AA or NA, learn to help yourself as you simultaneously learn to help others, and practice ways to keep your own emotional health in a positive place.
You’re a hero and a warrior, you deserve your extra layers of armor.