Perspective: Truth doesn’t end at Step One

by Valary C.

“The truth will set you free” – but is truth only the first Step?

I can’t argue with the idea that acknowledging and really facing the problem is absolutely essential or that admission of the truth must be followed by action if any change is to occur.

The Steps themselves are structured to reflect this. One step identifies the problem and 11 steps move in to the solution. (Get on with it and don’t stay stuck in your story.) The Preamble is entitled “How It Works,” not “How It Reads, Studies, Discusses or Analyzes.”

However, the idea that honesty is only the first step fails to highlight the centrality of honesty to every step and every aspect of the program of recovery.

“Honesty” is the only word which is mentioned three times in the Preamble, and it is pointed out that those who fail to recover are those who are “constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.” Thus, honesty is not only the essential first step, but essential to every step thereafter.

Action is essential to change, but my actions must be taken with the same degree of honest self-scrutiny as the first step. If not, my program is in danger of becoming a program that “looks good.” After a lifetime of trying to manage my “image” and create the impression of being “totally together,” working a program that way will lead to … relapse.

No group of people, says the literature, are more skilled at lying to themselves than alcoholics. “I don’t need to go to a meeting tonight,” I tell myself. “I’m tired”; “I’m cured”; “I’m sick of hearing the same people say the same things.”

When I was active in my disease, I didn’t see myself clearly. In fact, I didn’t even see what my problem was. Having had so much practice at self-deception and so little at honest self-appraisal, why do I think I can “figure it out” all by myself now? Why do I need to go to a meeting? Why do I need a sponsor? Because I need other people to check me when I’m believing my own “story.”

When people ask “Do you have a sponsor?” that translates as “Do you have someone who knows you well enough and cares enough to tell you the truth even if you don’t want to hear it?” And that is true regardless of how long I’ve been sober, what step I’m on, or what life issue (my kids, money, relationships) I’m facing.

There’s no “best before” date on truth.

When people say “Oh, s/he is in denial,” it’s often spoken of as though denial is a conscious choice, but my experience is that I honestly don’t know what I’m not seeing until I become conscious (Step One) – either through the gift of a “moment of clarity” or because someone else helps me to see. As the Sufi saying goes, “The eye cannot see itself.”

And I have to keep choosing honesty rather than my own stories, particularly when I venture into the murky waters of Steps Eight, Nine and Ten.

Do I owe an amend? What form of amend? (Amends, in my experience, take many different forms, and seldom are apologies.) My sponsor has taught me to check my motives, then check them again, then again (yep, three times), to make sure I’m getting past all of my rationalizations before I wade into exchanges with other people.

The point being that honesty is not only central to Step One, but becomes even more critical as I progress in my recovery and become more engaged with life.

My experience with sponsees has shown me that they, being human, will do things which might be harmful to their recovery (i.e. get into relationships too soon), but that the best check they can subject their actions to is: “Do I want to keep this a secret (not be honest about this)?” If so, they’re heading for trouble … Big Time.

This “constant vigilance” and “rigorous honesty” sounds like work … and it is. I don’t get to coast very long in recovery. As a member of my group says, “If I’m not servicing my recovery, I’m servicing my disease.”

Are the rewards worth it? No question … and that’s the truth!!!

About the Authors

Renascent Alumni
Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email