What Is Integrity?

Integrity - let's live sober another year

When asked, so many people give the same AA-Meeting-Room definition of integrity.

“It’s doing the right thing whether nobody is looking or not.”

Poor grammar aside, it’s sort of true.

Kind of.

It is a really basic definition for absolute beginners amounting to, “Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t cheat. Ever.”

It only takes care of the stuff that could get you chased, arrested, or shot.

Granted, for many of us, that’s a giant step in the right direction, but it doesn’t necessarily keep us spiritually fit, and there’s a lot of gray area there.

We’re going to miss the point of the Sobriety Journey if we don’t grow beyond that definition.

Integrity — the Definition

The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.

The state of being whole and undivided.

We nail the first part as 12-Steppers, but many never consider the second deeply — being whole and undivided.

That means consistency in all aspects of life.

Our program is one of the soul, and the mind, yet it is a program of action. It takes shape out in the real-world interactions with other people.

If it doesn’t come out into the real world, we are not whole, and still living as insubstantial shadows between our own ears.

The Integrity of the 12 Steps

Do you believe to your core that you are an alcoholic or an addict? Are you ready to use that acceptance and desperation as fuel to do something about it?

See where integrity plays a part? It’s consistent in your mind, your heart, and translates to action in the real world. We accept this fact and set out to get help, willing to do whatever it takes.

Steps 2 and 3

We have to get honest about our faltering relationship with God. If it weren’t faltering, and if it were effective, we wouldn’t be in this situation… Right?

We have to decide once and for all if God exists.

“When we became alcoholics, crushed by a self-imposed crisis we could no longer postpone or evade, we had to fearlessly face the proposition that either God is everything or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t. What was our choice to be?” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 53)

We may have to admit we really know nothing about Him (and Alcoholics Anonymous tells us that’s just fine!).

“We finally saw that faith in some kind of God was a part of our make-up, just as much as the feeling we have for a sick friend. Sometimes we had to search fearlessly, but He was there. He was as much a fact as we were. We found the Great Reality deep within us. In the last analysis it is only there that He may be found.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 55)

Then, we go forward, putting the discovery within to the test daily by standing firm on it as we live daily life without alcohol or drugs.

We take that inner decision and turn it outward, so that it exists in all places — in our hearts, minds, and actions.

Steps 4 and 5 Are Simple

Be honest, be consistent, be open, or drink again. What will your choice be?

“We went back through our lives. Nothing counted but thoroughness and honesty.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 65)

“In actual practice, we find a solitary self-appraisal insufficient. Many of us thought it necessary to go much further. We will be more reconciled to discussing ourselves with another person when we see good reasons why we should do so. The best reason first: If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking.”

As the authors continue, the idea of integrity, consistency in every regard, becomes clear.

“Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 72-73)

The theme of integrity continues — that sameness on all fronts is critical.

“Having persevered with the rest of the program, they wondered why they fell. We think the reason is they never completed their housecleaning. They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else ALL their life story.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 73)

Those ideals of honesty, humility, fearlessness failed to make an appearance in the real world of action.

We kept them inside, failed to show integrity, and fell.

So many of us.

Steps 6-9

Look at what the language tells us about integrity.

“We were ENTIRELY ready to have God remove ALL these defects of character.”

“Made a list of ALL persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them ALL.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 59)

Entirely. All. Everything. Completely. Whole.

Then we took those thoughts and feelings and turned them outward, translating them into fearless action.

By This Time…

Most of us considered ourselves recovered.

We hadn’t wanted a drink or a hit in a pretty long while.

Life was better — we certainly felt better.

Some of the Promises began to take shape for us.

And, just then, many of us will fall flat on our faces.

What Happened?

I have experienced this personally, and seen it in some men I have sponsored.

We become inconsistent.

We stopped lying and stealing in the outside world, and yet we lie to ourselves and steal from ourselves spiritually.

“This brought us to Step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along… Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we turn our thoughts to someone we can help.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 84)

For many of us, our pride takes over.

As long as there is no monetary crisis, no job lost, no romance going down in flames, no cops banging on the door, we refuse to see there’s anything wrong.

Or, if we do sense something going on inside, we say a quick prayer, “Hey, God, do something, will ya?” and go on with our self-centered lives.


There Is No Integrity in That

Our outsides may look great, but now our insides are rotting.

When did we stop doing what got and kept us well?

Making a 10th Step call to our sponsors started to feel like taking the report card home with an D or F on it and having to come clean to the parents.

We start to feel that an honest admission of our humanity, that faults remain, is something to be embarrassed about — an admission of failure.

Our integrity falters.

We stop admitting fear, resentment, dishonesty, and selfishness.

Remember? “We find a solitary self-appraisal insufficient.”

We stop being honest with ourselves on the inside, or we fail to turn it outward — with ourselves, with God, or with another human being.

In that state, if we do have some sense that we’ve done something wrong, we probably aren’t willing to be real or authentic and go make that right with the other person involved.

There Are Consequences

Steps 10 and 11 are very much related to Steps 4 through 9.


Early in the Steps they warned us that failure to practice integrity, being true on the inside and translating that into authenticity on the outside — into action — was a recipe for destruction.


“It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.” (Alcoholics Anonymous p. 85)

I Encourage You…

Take a hard look at Steps 10-12.

Is your intent to stay sober real on the inside?

And, if it is, is that translating into action?

Are you still willing to admit to yourself, to God, and to another human being that you are feeling afraid, angry, or selfish?

Are you willing to go make a selfish or dishonest slip up right with somebody?

If you are willing, is that materializing as action out there in the real world?

With other real people?

Or Are You Just Working Your Program in Your Head?

That is not integrity, not authentic on all fronts.

We know where that leads.

That Said… An Invitation

As I write this in the early morning hours of August 11, 2017, I am grateful to still be sober.

It was 3 years ago today I took my last drink, and with the grace of God I will never take another.

But there are days when I am less than authentic, my Program fails to become action and exists between my ears in intention alone.

So, I am making a personal commitment to being more real to myself about when fear, dishonesty, selfishness, or resentment creep back into my life.

I am going to be intentional about taking it to both God and another human being I trust as often as possible.

I commit to going out and making things right with others when I falter.

I will focus more on integrity — a Program that is real both inside and out.

Won’t You Take That Challenge With Me?

Let’s live sober another year.

May God bless you and keep you. Stay real. Stay safe.

David S. is an alumnus of the SONTX Residential Program and served as a house manager.
He is celebrating sobriety as an up-and-coming writer in Dallas.