For the Addict: Integrity is More Important than Sobriety

By Ken Wells - 06/26/2020


“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

 Hard won sobriety is a treasure. The stories of addicts who fail to achieve this illusive paradise are replete. For some, sobriety has been inaccessible. In support groups addicts take chips to mark sobriety by the hours, days, months and years. Permanence of sobriety can never be taken for granted. The struggle for attaining a sober life is painful. Sometimes it seems like trying to nail jelly to a tree. You work so hard to avoid the junkie worm, yet the immediate reward seems to be dominated with discomfort, emotional and physical pain. Others talk about serenity but in the early stages of sobriety it feels more like misery, not serenity. It isn’t any wonder why addicts who achieve the hard fought victory of sobriety cherish the experience.

All that being said, I would suggest that what is more important than hard earned sobriety is integrity. Integrity is the adherence to moral and ethical principles. It is the quality created within that promotes honesty and provides cohesion and coherence without corruption and with virtue. Another way of saying it is that integrity is a forerunner to hard earned sobriety.

Oprah Winfrey says that “real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”

There is integrity in failure. Integrity in failure is what helps an addict get up again and stop wallowing in the mud of acting out. It is what comes forth when an addict chooses to ask for help in the presence of overwhelming defeat. It is the stuff inside that creates the step to do the next right thing when everything within cries out “just quit”. When defeat and disapproval surrounds and engulfs, it is integrity to be true to yourself that is sacred. This is what Emerson means when he writes about the sacredness of the integrity of your own mind.

Integrity is what transforms failure into meaningfulness in addiction recovery. Every addict knows what it feels like to wake up with the ashen taste in your mouth and a hollow pit in your stomach that comes at some level from the experience of relapse failure. It is integrity that is required for you take yourself by the nap of the neck and stick your nose back into the mix of recovery solution. It’s not about waiting till you feel like doing something, or when you get a good sponsor or when your partner finally supports you in the way you think you deserve. It’s the integrity of determining that you will be true to your heart no matter what. It’s the only thing that matters.

Sometimes I hear recovering addicts lament that if only I lived in Phoenix, Dallas, or Nashville—some mecca for recovery, then I would feel like I could get some good traction and remain sober. Nonetheless, it is integrity that makes the difference, not location. Descriptions of this type are only fantasies. These figment of imaginations remind me of people who say they live in the Bible belt which seems almost everywhere, except New York City and California. Through integrity, recovery is hammered out wherever you live in whatever situation is real to you.

Integrity is a requisite in order to uncover the underlying mistaken beliefs that fuel addiction behavior. Giving yourself the permission to be a mistake making person is necessary in order to determine that you are the person that will take meaningful wisdom from every mistake and move forward in recovery. An addict’s integrity is the propellant that pursues this wisdom and insight.

Integrity fosters habit so necessary in recovery. When I was a kid, my mom would tell me, “If you are too sick to go to school, you are too sick to get out of bed, watch TV, and listen to your transistor radio or read sports magazines.” While I did sneak sports magazines and my transistor radio into my classrooms, I seldom missed attending classes because of sickness. Upon reflection, I think my mother was over the top with her emphasis upon school attendance. Later, I applied that while it is important to stay home when you are sick, my mom’s attitude toward school attendance taught me the integrity to do what was right even when you didn’t feel up to it. Translating life experience into recovery knowledge is necessary toward building integrity in recovery. It becomes a key part of the foundation for sobriety.

Working the twelve steps is so helpful toward establishing sobriety. However, drawing from your life experience is also a great resource. You can develop and deepen the integrity of your addiction recovery experience by drawing from other aspects of your life that you managed to do well and translate that skill into your recovery life. For example, you can borrow from your life experience of doing the next right thing no matter what you feel in your professional life and translate that into doing the next right thing in your recovery life, when you feel like giving up. There are a myriad of skillsets that you can borrow from your everyday life to do recovery tasks. Integrity provides the link to integrate these skills.

Integrity is necessary in order to promote honesty in recovery. Dishonesty and secrecy are the breeding ground for addictive act out. It is my belief that everyone is hypocritical, incongruent and inconsistent about some aspect of their life. People embrace what they believe, feel something different and can say and do something different than all of that, even so. To avoid insincere idealized living, integrity gives birth to accountability, so necessary in addiction recovery. An addict needs accountability which only has teeth from the integrity to tell on yourself and become responsible to another addict.

Integrity is the foundation for telling on yourself. Many addicts who attend 12 step meetings hide in the numbers and fail to open their heart and truthfully admit where they are in any one moment. In order to effectively tell your recovery group the last thing you want them to know about you as the first thing you share, you have to cultivate the integrity of living with an open heart in safe places. Support groups are designed to be safe. Yet, they never become safe unless an addict cultivates the integrity of telling on themselves. Integrity is the foundation that sobriety is built on. Even in the presence of addiction failure, integrity is the quality that produces the resilience to get back up one more time and move forward. Emerson was spot on when he endorsed that “nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind”.  —KW

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