"The beauty of working any recovery program is this: it is a new start."

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Episode 52 -- October 12, 2020

Honesty in Recovery: Giving Ourselves Room to Grow

New from Hazelden Publishing this fall, Jennifer Storm's Awakening Blackout Girl: A Survivor's Guide for Healing from Addiction and Sexual Trauma weaves her personal story of sexual trauma and addiction with a guide for navigating both recoveries. While not all of us might relate to being a victim of sexual trauma, many of us have experienced other types of trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that have formed us, that have made us more susceptible to having problems with substances, that have made it more difficult to face life with clear eyes and minds. As survivors, we know that we've had to adapt; we've done things in the name of self-preservation, like lying.

But how does that dishonesty serve us in our recovery? It doesn't. And Jennifer's here to relate her own experiences while showing us how we can make amends and really mean them: with self-honesty first.

This excerpt is from Awakening Blackout Girl by Jennifer Storm and has been edited for brevity.

One of the cornerstones of a solid recovery is the ability to be fully honest in all of our endeavors. This is hard for those struggling with trauma and addiction, especially in the beginning. In the past, we have spent lots of time and energy calculating how to cover up and hide our addictions, wounds, and secrets. That is a really hard habit to break, especially considering why we do it in the first place. Dishonesty is a tool we've used for self-preservation. It is very common for survivors to believe that how we have responded to sexual violence and what we have done to cope with our trauma is bad and wrong, and we are bad and wrong people because if it. We'll examine this internalized shame and how to deal with it in the next chapter. For now, it's important to recognize that lying, omitting the truth, and all kinds of dishonesty have helped us cover up and deal with our feelings when we couldn't see any other solution. Sometimes we lie to protect others; sometimes we lie to protect ourselves. It's often easier to avoid the pain of the why we seek to use and conceal. For many of us, the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell others have shaped our very existence.

When the lies fall away, who am I? What is left? What part of the story I tell myself or others is fact versus fiction? Can I even tell the difference anymore? These are often the questions that plague us in early recovery. They keep us up at night. What if the world discovers we are not who we have portrayed ourselves to be all these years? What if we don't even know who we are? The lies we tell have built a fortress around us and, in many cases, inside of us. We cannot distinguish our truth from the lies we have told, and we are petrified that as we recover, we will be exposed in more ways than we can handle.

The beauty of working any recovery program is this: it is a new start. We get a fresh page. A clean slate. Everything that happened prior to this point, everything we did and said, can be shifted and put into a new context. That's not to say that our past behaviors don't matter--all of our actions, thoughts, and deeds must be held into account in a meaningful way. But they can fade into our history as we make an active choice to be a different person. A choice to gain that vital self-awareness and make healthy choices. This work must begin on the inside first.

Making amends is Step Nine in Twelve Step recovery programs. I have seen many people come into addiction recovery for the first time and try to tackle all their amends right away. Some people think that if they do everything possible to immediately make right every bad thing they've done, they will be free and exonerated from their actions. Making amends to others we have hurt is vital recovery work, but there is a reason it comes far later in our addiction recovery program and needs to come later in our trauma-healing journey as well. First and foremost, you must contend with yourself. You need to distinguish who you are now from who you were then. You have to fully understand your own thoughts, feelings, and actions before you can atone for them. Otherwise, your amends for bad deeds will ring as hollow as when a child tells the truth just to gain a reward. When a child hits a friend on the playground, their parents will usually make them apologize, right? They apologize but then do the same thing again a day later. This is because the child is learning. Their brain is still developing. They do not yet fully comprehend what is right or wrong. They act on pure instinct based on their own needs. This is normal development.

In early addiction recovery, we are like toddlers in many ways. We're either learning many things for the first time or relearning them because our use of drugs and alcohol has stunted our growth and development. We may have to learn how to hold down a job, how to cook healthy food, how to pay our bills on time. We also have to learn who we are, where we belong, and how we want to behave in our new, improved life. When we stop feeling, stop processing, and stop actively participating in life by anesthetizing ourselves, we lose so much. We lose time, we lose experience, we lose the ability to respond appropriately to things happening around us. We lose boundaries, and we lose ourselves. Truth and lie become so enmeshed that we have trouble telling them apart. We determined that it's much easier to catch a new high or lose time in a bottle than to actually deal with our shit. In early recovery, we can't handle that lifestyle anymore. We must now give ourselves the room to learn how to live in a healthy way.

We have to fully understand the why behind our actions before we can really give and gain forgiveness. On a practical level, amends made too soon and without this framework are often not received well. It is obvious to the person being "apologized" to that this is simply an act, rather than a true understanding of or appreciation for the harm done. It can do more harm than good. Have you ever been on the receiving end of an apology when it was clear it was given only for the reward, not because the person apologizing truly understood the harm done? It's infuriating. In recovery, we have to be vigilant of our intentions. We have to understand that our dishonesty has led to harm, and that harm will take time to repair. Like any true repair, this must start from within. If you hear someone refer to early recovery being a very selfish program, this is what they mean. You have to focus on and unravel yourself. You have to begin to unpack your lies, your actions, your reasons, your faults, and your motives to begin to understand yourself.

And you have to focus on yourself before you can focus on anyone else.

For more insight into recovering from both sexual trauma and addiction, read Awakening Blackout Girl by Jennifer Storm.

About the Author:
Jennifer Storm is a survivor, author, advocate, and internationally recognized victims' rights expert with more than twenty years of experience. Storm has worked many high-profile cases, including helping victims of Jerry Sandusky, Bill Cosby, Catholic clergy, and thousands of others. She serves as a content expert on victims' rights in the media and tours the country sharing her experiences, including frequent live and taped appearances on all major networks. Storm has four additional publications: Blackout Girl: Tracing My Scars from Addiction and Sexual Assault, Leave the Light On: A Memoir of Recovery and Self-Discovery, Picking Up the Pieces without Picking Up, and Echoes of Penn State. She is also working on a documentary based on Blackout Girl to help carry the message of addiction, victimization, and trauma. Storm resides in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, with her wife, Fianne, and their adopted son, Victor.

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