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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

09-02-19 | By

The Missing Piece You Need When Nobody Believes You In Early Recovery

I sit with a patient as she hems and haws about why there cannot be cocaine in her urine drug screen. She shakes her head, looks afraid, tells me it might have been on the counter of her friend’s kitchen where she made a sandwich three days ago. Her left eyelid twitches; the corners of her lips turn down. Her chin rests on the palm of her hand that hides her mouth. I think, does she know that I really don’t care about the cocaine as long as she is okay? The thing most important is that she can say what is true so that she can decide what she wants for her life in her heart of hearts.

She says, “I just want you to believe me.” And I say, “sometimes the hardest thing is to tell ourselves the truth.” I know this from having not been able to tell myself the truth about my disordered eating until I saw it clearly in an “AHA” moment one day.

“I Want You To Believe Me.”

The need that we all have deep inside is this: we need to be believed. And the need that goes with this are to tell the truth so that we can be believed.

I have been honored to hear this need hundreds of times. “I want you to believe me.” “I want my family, my husband, my girlfriend, my kids, etc etc etc to believe me!” I have said it myself. We actually need this in our relationships, to tell the truth and to be believed. 

But why did people ever stop believing us?

First, some of our loved ones came from histories where they were repeatedly lied to. They may have had parents who did not tell the truth about their own whereabouts, their own feelings, their own behaviors. Our loved ones grew into the belief that no one is trustworthy. They may have had the unspoken family rules: “Don’t talk. Don’t trust. Don’t feel.”  What this means is that even though you might tell the truth to your loved ones, the loved one listening doesn’t have the internal framework yet to believe the truth. 

I want to emphasize this point: I say, “YET”, because I know that people CAN learn to trust.

Second, we became unable to be trusted. We lied to others. Why would we lie to others when we desperately need to be believed in relationships?

Why People Still Don’t Believe Us In Recovery

    1. We made promises or commitments but did not keep them. We said we were never going to do x, y, and z again, but we did do x, y, and z again. People stopped believing us. Because we could not keep commitments.
    2. We learned to lie as kids to protect ourselves. Maybe it was not safe to be honest in our families. I will say that there are so few families where it is safe to just be yourself. You had to lie about what you did, said, thought, felt, liked, disliked, etc etc etc. Maybe you were shamed, accused, made fun of, not listened to, belittled for your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, actions, etc. So we grew up not realizing we were lying so frequently and did not know.
    3. We lied to ourselves about our deepest desires, wants and needs. We lied to ourselves about our cravings for whatever substance or thing or etc. And this may be universal. It may be that we all are unable to get to the deepest inner longing that seems unsatisfiable and ineffable. “But a little quick fix will do for today,” we tell ourselves.
    4. We lied to others so that they would not leave us or reject us. Because we need people! We need relationships! We need love! This is absolutely universal. We need belonging. So sometimes this need to belong is stronger than the need to be believed, even with the internal conflict it causes.

“AGH! No one believes me! Where can I start?” 

Start right where you are with the you that makes you you.

I wish I were high brow enough to say I perused Hamlet in my *spare* time. No. My brow was at the level of Gilligan’s Island reruns, and, thank my lucky stars, Gilligan and his friends performed Hamlet. In an abbreviated style, of course. The Skipper, as the character Polonius, sings advice to Laertes: “There’s just one other thing you ought to do: to thine own self be true!” Here is the actual quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: 


“This above all: to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

(Hamlet, Act 1, Scene III, 78-81)

Be True To Yourself

Be true to yourself and you cannot be false to anyone. This will happen as surely as the night follows the day. Start with being honest with yourself. Gradually, speaking truth, being believed, trusting, and being trusted can follow. But it has to start with oneself.

Let’s get really practical with being true to ourselves:

  1. Establish a quiet hour for yourself every day with paper and pen. Journal. Why is this so important? You can more easily converse with yourself. More of your brain is engaged. You can look back on writing. You can slow your thinking down. You can creep up on truth. 
  2. Recognize these things that sneak up: feelings of unsafety, anxiety, judgmental, critical thoughts,
  3. Choose to honor and respect every thought, feeling, belief, action, 
  4. Have a backup plan that includes talking over anything unsafe with a pastor, therapist, friend, sponsor, addiction doctor. In my experience, sometimes it has been easier to confess my lies to a very kind and non-judgmental person than to myself.
  5. Allow yourself to forgive yourself for all the lies. No human being goes through the world without lying. So you are just human. 

“…to thine own self be true.”

Disclaimer: This article is for information and educational purposes only and is not medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It’s solely intended for your own self-improvement and does not replace the advice and services of health care professionals. You are advised to seek professional advice as appropriate before making any health decision.


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