My teeth clamped my bottom lip.
Eight years of anticipation lie in wait at the tip of the tattoo gun’s needle. Randy dipped the gun in what looked like a water bottle cap, filled halfway with onyx-black ink.
“You ready?” he asked, snapping his latex gloves into place.
“Let’s do it,” I nodded. I readjusted my arm one final time before locking it in place. I glanced down at the foot-long scar slashed on my inner forearm, shimmering in the fluorescent light of the tattoo shop.
I bet that hurt worse than this will. If only I could remember.
The needle met my arm, started to dance its design into my skin. I exhaled the breath I didn’t realize I was holding.
It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had built it up in my head.
Honesty in addiction recovery
Honesty saved my life.
During the fourteen months of sobriety before my relapse, I was honest about everything except for one of the most pivotal parts of my identity. It drove a deepening divide between how I presented myself to those around me and the way I truly felt inside. The person on the outside was a confident lesbian, proud of herself and her identity. She carried her head high, knew the right things to say, and when to say them. But it wasn’t true. It wasn’t real.
After the relapse, the following 8 months of destruction and insanity finally beat me into a state of reasonableness. I was broken seemingly beyond repair. Seconds and inches away from nothingness. And then received the most beautiful gift of my life. A reprieve. But that reprieve depends on the amount of willingness, honesty, and open-mindedness I live with on a daily basis.
When I attempted suicide on April 16th, I still thought I would never tell anyone I was transgender. Though I had hinted towards it, I never permitted it as more than a fleeting though. After getting sober and doing some work, I realized I had enough strength to share my secret.
The nervousness I felt before getting my first tattoo reminds me of the nerves I feel when getting honest in addiction recovery. I build up expectations of what the other person will say and operate on assumptions. I have a conversation with the other person in my head. I play a convincing role as Person #2. I map out every possible way the conversation could go.
And oftentimes the conversation ends up going in none of those proposed directions.
The solution to delusion is honesty
Delusional: adj; characterized by or holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality or rational argument.
I learned about the masks we create as addicts and alcoholics, mainly in our disease. We put up a facade, a show, insist everything is okay, that our drinking and drugging is normal. Because everyone steals their brother’s unused Adderall prescription and snorts it off their dresser during winter break. Right?
If I am honest with myself there was nothing normal about my use. I recall the first time my mom told me, “I always knew when you were drinking heavily because your knees were scraped up again.” Not everyone drinks to the point of tripping and falling? But that was normal for me. That was my reality.
It took a relapse and a new collection of consequences before I realized it, though. Try to convince a crazy person they’re crazy. I was delusional in active addiction and alcoholism. I lied to everyone around me and, most importantly, I lied to myself. I had to believe my lies in order to make them convincing. I thought I meant every false promise, good intention, and each insistence that I would do better next time.
Every alcoholic and addict is delusional when they first get sober. We spend countless months and years defending our actions in order to get loaded. We find a way to decline or escape social engagements, avoid our families, skip work and other obligations. We become masters of lying to those around us and spinning ourselves into a delusion.
The only way to crack through delusional thinking is through willingness, honesty, and open-mindedness. By doing something differently. What we’ve done with the majority of our time obviously doesn’t work. Why not try something else?
Overcoming the fear of honesty in recovery
Honesty in recovery was initially terrifying. I had no problem speaking my mind with the assistance of liquid courage and powdered confidence. To be honest while clearheaded and fully aware of possible consequences seemed impossible. The potential threat to my security and well-being gave me an excuse to keep my truth hidden.
It took the reliance upon something greater than me to get me through each coming out conversation. I had no control over the outcome but knew it would be okay, regardless of what happened. The only thing I can control are the actions I take and how I respond to the consequences (positive OR negative) that arise from those choices.
I’m learning daily how to better manage these reactions. I don’t have to cut the guy off on the freeway to get back at him for cutting me off three miles back. I don’t have to yell at the DMV representative on the phone for being unhelpful (although that I still did .. I’m still a work in progress).
I don’t have to react today but I can respond. When I react, I’m acting on my first thought. When I respond, I took a pause to gather myself before speaking. The latter always produces better results.
I was told that I’m not responsible for my first thought but I’m responsible for my second one.
“I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
You have the opportunity to be honest today, to share your truth with someone. Even if you share it with only one person it’s a step towards freedom. Freedom from delusion. Freedom from the lies. Freedom from the mask you spent years putting into place. It won’t all fall away at once but you can take the first step towards the rest of your journey. Today.
You will only pass this moment once. Right here, right now. What are you going to do with it?