Speaking Truth in Silence
Addiction is often accompanied by mutations in character (e.g., lying, deceit, manipulation, aggression) that in turn spark breaches of trust within one’s family, personal, and professional relationships. It is thus not surprising that addiction constitutes one of the few health conditions in which reconstruction of character is posited as an essential dimension of the recovery process.
Addiction-spawned changes within the brain contribute to these mutations via the prioritization of sustained drug use above all other human needs and values. Such aberrations also constitute defensive gambits to avoid drug-related consequences and the emotional toll of guilt, shame, self-hatred, and fear of insanity. Whatever their source, affected parents, siblings, children, intimate partners, extended family members, friends, employers, business associates, creditors, and professionals seeking to offer help all bear the brunt of the resulting breaches of trust.
So for one on the brink of entrance into recovery, key questions become: “How can trust, once lost, be again restored? How do I get people to listen, who, for their own sanity and survival, no longer believe my words?” I have been asked such questions for nearly half a century by people beginning their recovery journeys. There are several things I have learned from these prolonged consultations. Trust can be strained, broken, or shattered, and only the latter is impossible to repair. Trust being healed is fragile and easily re-broken. Restoring trust takes time. Trust-building is best nested within a larger reconstruction of personal identity and values. But most importantly, trust is rarely, if ever, initially restored by words.
Words of manipulation play such an important role in addiction maintenance. If one were asked, “How could you maintain addiction for so long?” the answer might well be, “It was all done with words.” But the verbal proficiency of active addiction is a double-edged sword. While helping preserve the intimate drug relationship, it erodes all other relationships and, in that process, destroys any value our words may have once possessed. The lies, the deflections, and the failed promises and resolutions all become part of the mask of addiction that others come to distrust.
So where does that leave the man or woman standing on the threshold of recovery wanting to retrieve the remnants of personal integrity? The answer quite simply is that, like re-establishing a lost credit rating, you must act your way into recovery until your words again have value. If you seek trust from others, then seek first to be trustworthy by being reliable and responsible, humble and helpful, forgiving and grateful.
We are most eloquent, and most trustworthy, when we speak silently through our actions. Only our actions can restore the integrity of our words. And that is a time-dependent process for which we and we alone are responsible. So, when posed with the trust questions, I offer quite simple guidance. Show up and keep showing up. Be there for people and keep being there. Be of service to others and keep serving. When no one is surprised by our consistent presence, then we can speak fresh words of truth from a now sobered heart.