The second line of the familiar childhood taunt, “Liar liar your pants are on fire, your nose is as long as a telephone wire!” seems the perfect description for any interaction between someone in active addiction and the people trying to support them. In the moment, as the words fall out of their mouths, their noses seem to grow to great lengths. Pinocchio has nothing on them!
I often hear, from families and parents with a Loved One struggling with Substance Use Disorder (SUD), that they have been deeply hurt by the lies their Loved One tells them. I too, struggled with this issue on a very deep and personal level. While in the depths of crisis, I remember asking myself, “How can I help if I do not know what is going on?” and “I am the one person he can trust—how can he lie to me—I did not raise him this way!”
The lying and dishonesty really drummed up a lot of feelings of frustration and anger. It led me down a winding path of twists and turns to nowhere. I became what I call “Super Sleuth,” hyper focused on proving to two people that my Loved One was lying: the first person being myself and the second was my Loved One himself.
As I am sure so many other families can relate, I wasted ridiculous amounts of time snooping around looking for evidence that my Loved One was using. I would search the bedroom, the bathroom, telephone records, all the pockets in my Loved One's laundry, etc. I looked for signs in my Loved One’s pupils, speech patterns, body movements, sounds in his voice, etc.
I chased down every lead I had. I called numbers that I suspected were dealers, I followed my Loved One or found ways to check on his whereabouts, I listened at the bathroom door and called out when he was in there too long.
I was hell-bent on proving what I already knew to be true.
I was driving myself crazy. I was contributing to my own anxiety and with each new bit of proof that I found, my stomach and mind felt sicker.
Then, each time I presented my proof to my Loved One, more lies and dishonesty proliferated!
On some level, I fell for my Loved One’s deceptions because I wanted to believe the lies. I wanted what he said to be true. It made it easier to excuse the behavior and in the moment, it let me off the hook for holding him accountable. What I had seen as solid evidence of what I suspected, had now become a lot fuzzier. And so, the cycle begins again.
Things did not shift for me until I stepped back and asked myself, “Why am I so focused on the lying? Why am I so focused on this part of the disease, when I know it’s a symptom?”
The key for me was two-fold:
1. Recognizing (once again) that “IT’S NOT PERSONAL.” My Loved One does not lie to me because he wants to hurt me. It is in fact the complete opposite. People lie as a form of protection. Protection from their own, and someone else’s, feelings. Of course, our Loved Ones do not want us to know they are using. They do not want us to hurt and feel pain. However, they do not want to deal with the feelings associated with seeing us in pain. Never mind that they would have to face the fact that they are the cause of all this stress. Realizing that the lying was not about me, and that it was more a form of protection, started me on the path of a new understanding: SUD is driven by shame.
2. My Loved One is avoiding reality and confrontation in order to preserve his disease. If I continue to waiver because of my need for proof of lying, then I am making it a reward for my Loved One to continue with his behaviors. The manipulations, lies and use are paying off for my Loved One, so why wouldn’t he continue this behavior?
Coming to terms with why my Loved One was lying and my own contributions to the "Proof-Trap" forced me to find a strategy to end it.
I decided that when I insisted on being “Super Detective,” I was boarding the hamster wheel of lies. So, here it is: I accepted that he was going to lie to me. Period. All actions and decisions going forward would be based on the knowledge that: I know I am being lied to. If I suspect a lie, then it’s a lie. If I start to feel a little pang in my stomach or head then I know it’s a lie. I do not need further proof. I am going to go with my gut.
I do not confront him or call the lie out, I don’t have to! I know it’s a lie. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck!
Once I came to this conclusion, I no longer needed to prove the lie. This alone brought me a sense of internal calmness and less confrontation in my relationship with my Loved One. My obsessive thoughts and actions were reduced (not gone). It also helped me feel less hurt to say to myself, “Okay, he is lying because of the disease” — it gave reason and logic to the lie. The lying was not intended to hurt me.
Coming to these conclusions made it more difficult for me to enable his bad behavior—not just the lying, but the using.
I could no longer ignore the fact that it was a lie with a deadly purpose. Now I was forced to set up boundaries based on my own values and beliefs ... or else I would be prolonging and contributing to the situation. When I stand strong in my own integrity, my Loved One becomes accountable for his own behavior. Will my Loved One admit to the lies? Will he stop using? In the moment, probably not. But deep down I believe there is change. Even if it is just a fleeting thought, he is beginning to realize that the lies are not working anymore. At least not with me. He is going to have to change strategies and try something new.
These changes on my journey were not easy for me and I am sure others' paths are just as difficult as mine. I hope that sharing my experiences with others will inspire thought and change for the better and bring just the smallest amount of relief from the despair. Remember, you are not alone, we are in this together.