In the eighties, when I was still a rabid atheist, there was a song I used to listen to when I was feeling lost.
It was a beautiful ballad by the Irish band In Tua Nua called “The Innocent and Honest Ones.” I’d listen to this song, often after a night of raucous, drunken debauchery (this was when alcohol was still my primary drug of choice), whatever random coupling that had just occurred only serving to intensify the constant ache of loneliness. My raging hatred towards God, dulled by countless screwdrivers, would subside for a while, and I would take in the lyrics:
“I wanna believe in you, If I can find a way
I see signs of you each and every day
You’re in the Innocent and the Honest ones
The liberators and the selfless ones
In the forests and the air they give
the few oceans where life still lives
I wanna believe in You, not corrupt institutions
You’re a feeling inside, not rules or regulations
You gave us sexuality, desire is no sin
You gave us common sense, but not in a catechism
You’re in the Innocent and the Honest Ones
In retrospect, I was a terrible atheist. One can not be angry with something one doesn’t actually believe in. So perhaps I was never truly an atheist, rather, I was just someone who was so angry at God that I chose to ignore Him, the way a fifth-grader will suddenly cold-shoulder a classmate they’ve been friends with for years over some schoolyard slight.
Yet, drunk and lonely, I found myself wanting to believe. The song encapsulated everything that I felt about religion: anger, frustration, and a belief that God…if he existed…was – to quote the song – in the innocent and the honest ones.
The problem was, I stopped feeling “innocent” around the age of eleven, thanks to the Catholic church and its policy of protecting child molesters. I certainly didn’t feel “honest,” either…by that time in my twenties I already had a closet full of secrets I’d been holding on to for years. Lies kept me safe. Lies kept me from being judged. Lies allowed me to walk around safely in a time when an admission of homosexuality could be extremely dangerous. Lies kept me from having to let anyone know how dirty, how damaged, how very sick and tainted and dark I felt inside, thanks to early exposure to hardcore pornography and the truly evil Father Oliver O’Grady. Lying…outright or by omission…was my defense mechanism, almost reflexive at times. Every word, before it left my mouth, had to be weighed and assessed before it could be spoken to make sure it wouldn’t accidentally betray the bright, shiny, wholesome, blond and tan golden boy image I had so carefully cultivated.
And so it went, into my thirties, and into my forties. As I matured, I did learn how to be honest about things I’d lied about in the past. And when I began seeking recovery for the first time in earnest 14 months ago, I began talking honestly about my feelings and my secrets on this blog…and it was liberating.
Honesty, however, still doesn’t always come to me as quickly or as reflexively as lying does. It’s ingrained. And that lack of honesty is what aids and abets my disease of addiction. Not just lying to you, but the lying I do to myself.
Last night, I attended a recovery meeting with about 60 other recovering crystal meth addicts. These are people I have come to care about deeply over the past fourteen months, people who have supported me, loved me, even celebrated my one-year milestone of “recovery” in my backyard swimming pool. The gentleman who shared his story last night could have been reciting my own. He shared openly and honestly about having lied during his initial experience in recovery – how he had used amyl nitrate (a sex-enhancing inhalant, aka poppers) during the period he had claimed to be sober. He actually made eye contact with me…and held it…while he related this information. It was disturbing, it was like he was looking into my eyes and seeing my own lies swimming inside them.
I felt horrible. I felt ashamed. I understood in that moment that I can not keep lying to myself, to others, to anyone…if I want to live. And I want to live. I want to beat this disease. I want to kick it, strangle it, wrestle it to the ground and choke it into submission, tear out its fangs and humiliate it the way it’s humiliated me.
So, I stood up and told the truth.
I told the room that during the 13 months I had claimed to be sober, I had actually used inhalants as well, despite the fact that doing so clearly constitutes a relapse in this recovery program. I had justified using them: they weren’t really a mind-altering substance (the truth: they are), they kept me from using meth, so what’s the problem? (the truth: they didn’t keep me from using meth, obviously), and I’d been using them since my early twenties and they weren’t a problem then, so why should I consider them a problem now? (the truth: then, I hadn’t found crystal meth, now meth and poppers are both inextricably tied in to the twisted relationship I have with sex).
It was, perhaps, the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. I felt dirty, I felt like I’d disappointed every person in that room, I felt exposed for the liar that I am. The liar I don’t want to be any more.
After I shared that information, I fled the room: partially because I needed to call my sobriety “guru” (euphemism required) and tell him before anyone else in that room had a chance to text or call him, and partially because I felt humiliated.
Since that admission, just last evening, I’ve received a flood of emails and texts from recovery friends telling me how “brave” I was to stand up and be honest. I so deeply appreciate each and every one of those messages, but the truth is, I don’t consider what I did brave. What I consider brave is the ability to live honestly each and every day…being honest with myself, and with others. What I did last night was an act of desperation, not an act of bravery. Because I AM desperate.
I’ve received some messages from friends in recovery, basically saying that I don’t have to tell everyone, that when it comes to poppers there’s some wiggle room as to whether it constitutes a relapse. For me, though, there is no wiggle room. That wiggle turns to writhing, the writhing ultimately turns to relapse on crystal meth. No wiggling allowed, at least not for me.
My friend DC has a saying he uses frequently: “Some people are too busy trying to save face that they forget to save their ass.”
I want to save my ass, not my face.
Because the next relapse will kill me. I’m absolutely certain of it.
I’ve always cared too much about what people think about me. I want people to like me. But I’m done with that. If my telling the truth about the fact that I lied about my sobriety makes you hate me, so be it.
I’m done beating myself up. I’m no longer going to aid and abet the world’s…and my disease’s…propensity to do that on its own.
Because I want to live far more than I want to be liked.
I’m done with shame. I’m done with the lying. I’m done caring what anyone thinks of me, unless it’s because I’ve transgressed against them in some way that requires amends.
I have twelve HONEST days of sobriety today, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.
I’m grateful for my friends who have shown me so much love, even in the face of this recent admission.
I’m grateful for my sobriety guru Jonathan, who told me last night, “I’ve never been more proud of you.”
I am grateful for my husband Patrick, who loves me unconditionally, even when he’s had to lay down appropriate boundaries to protect himself.
I’m grateful for the presence of God in my life today.
If you read this, and you see me in person after, please don’t tell me that I’m brave. You can tell me that you’re proud of me, and that you love me, if in fact you feel those things. But direct the bravery comments to those who have earned them by maintaining an honest recovery in the face of trying circumstances.
I will never again be innocent, but today – thus far – i’ve been honest.