Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On The Fourth Step and Lying

*** Submitted by Guinevere, who blogs at Guinevere Gets Sober

Went to my noon meeting at the university yesterday. Topic: Fourth Step.

It occurred to me during the meeting that the fourth step is about Naming Shit. We name the people, institutions and philosophies that have made us resentful, some of them for our entire lives. We name the reasons.

So why are people so scared of Step 4? You might think it would be a huge pleasure to get all that shit down on paper.Step 4 asks us not just to name shit but to name true shit. It’s the beginning of overturning rocks and looking at lies.

I won’t tell you a bald-faced lie (I never could tell a bald-faced lie without cutting my eyes or fidgeting) and say the fourth step never scared me. Three years ago when I started this grand, epic, terrifying journey called sobriety, I was a bit nervous to name all that shit.

If you’re looking for something to help you get started naming shit, I recommend the poet Adrienne Rich’s essay, “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying” (1975), from her collection On Lies, Secrets, and Silence. In re-reading it recently I was struck by how many of her statements apply to what we do in recovery—peel back layers of self-delusion and manipulation to look at truths. To create community based on radical truth-telling.

Here are some passages that always touch me:  "An honorable human relationship—that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love”—is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.“  It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.“It is important to do this because in so doing we do justice to our own complexity.“It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.”

Also this, about confronting fear:“The liar may resist confrontation, denying that she lied. Or she may use other language: forgetfulness, privacy, the protection of someone else. … She does not say, I was afraid, since this would open the question of other ways of handling her fear. It would open the question of what is actually feared. She may say, I didn’t want to cause pain. What she really did not want is to have to deal with the other’s pain. The lie is a short-cut through another’s personality. … Why do we feel slightly crazy when we realize we have been lied to in a relationship? … When we discover that someone we trusted can be trusted no longer, it forces us to reexamine the universe, to question the whole instinct and concept of trust.”

So lies go three ways: others lie to us, we lie to others, and we lie to ourselves.

I was raised on lies and deceptions. Many people raised in alcoholic families say it was the alcoholic who lied and created chaos all the time. In my family, my alcoholic dad was the comparatively sane and much kinder one. It was my mother, the daughter of a violent drunken dad and a pathologically manipulative mother, who told outright lies in our family. Her rhetoric could seem fine, but the screwed-up lies came out in her behavior and in her body.

The rhetoric: I remember, after watching Nixon resign on TV (I was 9), enduring repeated kitchen-table lectures about “Where Lies Get You.” “When you lie,” my mother said, waving her cigarette and blowing smoke into our faces, “pretty soon you can’t tell the difference between your lies and the truth. You always end up lying to yourself.” Words to live by.

Now fast-forward 25 years, my mother is dying of lung cancer, having convinced herself there was no “real” evidence linking cancer with smoking. She has ostensibly quit when she was diagnosed five years before. And Daddy comes to us in tears. “I have something to tell you guys,” he says. I’m thinking, What? Did you cheat on her, did you quit the church, are you yourself dying?—these are the worst things I can think of. I have only ever three times before in my life seen my six-foot-two Dad cry: when his oldest sister died before he could say goodbye; when he disowned me when I was 23 (by this time he had reversed that ruling, which he’d issued by proxy anyway, at the behest of my mother); and when he first held my newborn son. The sight shook me to my core.

“What, Dad?”

“Your mother has been smoking all this time.”

My sister and I looked at each other.“Pfff!” she said. “Dad, take it easy. We knew that.”

But he hadn’t known. For five years, he’d believed her when she told him she was no longer smoking. Talk about point-blank lying. And if my sister and I knew, there is no way he couldn’t have come across some evidence. He lied to himself about it, to protect her from his poor opinion, and to protect himself from disappointment. And the previous generations had ignored each other’s deceit.

This is the way addiction—unrecovered addiction—works. It was then I decided I could never tell him about all her other lies. And he died in 2007 not knowing about them.


  1. Beautiful post. Love this: "what we do in recovery—peel back layers of self-delusion and manipulation to look at truths."


  2. oh, so raw and honest and beautiful. This post tugged at my core.

    Thank you.

  3. I can relate so well to the non-alcoholic mother being sicker than the alcoholic father. I also have been peeling back my layers with an old family friend of 20 years who quit smoking pot and drinking. It's empowering to have someone to share with who loves you and has had a similiar past so shame is not felt but understanding is fely!

  4. I am coming to realize that on the other side of fear, we should not hold on to hope, for hope can be insisting that we will get what we want. Rather we should rely on trust, knowing that we will get what we need when we are able to face the fear of knowing ourselves.