The term rigorous honesty is used a lot in Alcoholics Anonymous, and in the 12-step recovery world generally.
Its original intent was to make clear the need for people to own and take responsibility for the reality of their lives, both internally and externally.
Like a lot of phrases and concepts in recovery, its usage tends to depend largely on the motives of the person saying it.
That is why it can often be used in a slightly overbearing way, making people feel they are either being bullied or pressured into a degree of accountability that they are not yet ready for.
The 12-step world generally has many areas of vulnerability and some people seek vulnerability in different ways.
Some can seem quite harsh, others are quite gentle and a fair number somewhere in between the two. Why this phrase rigorous honesty matters so much is really because of what lies behind it in terms of its original intent.
This raises the issue of the reality of an active alcoholics life and their denial of the fact that alcohol is causing a problem in it.
This covers both the inner and outer world of the alcoholic, as well as their potentially more deep-seated emotional and mental issues.
AA uses the phrase moral inventory when effectively referring to the need for self-analysis.
There is often a strong sense of urgency about the need for people who are recovering alcoholics to begin the process of becoming self-aware, and it is in this context that the term rigorous honesty is meant to apply.
Implying that an individual has to be honest with themselves can also imply that they had been lying to themselves beforehand. Not always the case, but recovery is often taken as the norm rather than the exception.
This raises all sorts of questions about motives and denial, and why an alcoholic is so reluctant or unable to accept the reality of their own life.
These questions are quite complex and will be different as are the answers for a wide variety of different people. There are however several important factors that do sit with these questions.
Whatever form denial takes, it is worth remembering that any denial is a form of protection.
It can sometimes be quite delusional, but for a significant number of alcoholics, denial is about protecting their need to drink. This may seem ludicrous in light of the havoc that alcohol is causing them but is normally part of the alcoholic mindset.
It is probably fair to say that most alcoholics believe that alcohol is the solution to the problems rather than the problem itself, even if they are not consciously aware of this belief.
As such, the worse their life gets, both internally and externally, the more they turn to alcohol as being the thing that is holding them together.
Denial of the reality of their life is often their way of protecting alcohol, which they believe they need to do at any cost.
It is important to realise that denial is usually a defence mechanism, trying to protect something the person believes is of utmost importance to them.
The depth of the denial can often make this difficult for someone who is not an alcoholic or addict to understand.
The need to feel safe or secure is a core element of most human beings identity, and for an alcoholic, it can achieve enormous proportions.
Their sense of safety is often disfigured by growing up in an alcoholic home, or other childhood dysfunction.
Many people in recovery link a lot of their emotional dysfunction, both whilst drinking and in recovery, to the issue of safety and security.
The denial mentioned above is a core part of helping someone feel safe, however irrational it may seem to anyone else.
Safety is primarily an emotional issue and is also the key element in allowing people to change their inner world. A real sense of safety allows people the freedom to change – threatening them and making them feel cornered does the exact opposite.
This is why the issue of how people approach their moral inventory, and the whole process of developing a level of self-awareness in recovery is so important.
Self-awareness, without judgement, is the cornerstone of real freedom in recovery.
Although it has become a bit of a cliche, the phrase “know the truth and the truth will set you free” is perhaps the most important element of a person’s recovery.
Developing a degree of self-awareness allows an individual to question themselves without judgement, allows them to question their motives and allows them to develop a real relationship with themselves, with others and with God.
This self-awareness, which is often associated with the phrase rigorous honesty, is about feeling safe enough to begin and continue the process of self-searching. Of understanding the nature of one’s alcoholism, as far as possible, and of putting the nature of denial into its proper context.
Whilst it may take a while to develop, the willingness to really look at oneself and genuinely reflect on behaviours and motives is not something that people normally want to do. For alcoholics in recovery, there is often a sense of urgency, as this need for self-awareness is usually a key element in staying sober.
It is in this context that the phrase rigorous honesty should be understood, almost as a plea for urgency rather than a call to fundamentalism.