How do you make the transition from deceiving yourself and living a lie, to something honest and open and being willing to move forward in life?
It’s tough when you are stuck, when you are trapped in addiction. It is tough to break through your denial.
One of the tricky things for me was that I knew that I was in denial. How could you really be in denial if you admitted that you were in denial? Was that even possible?
Apparently it was possible. I found out that you can be in denial, know that you are in denial, and still remain stuck.
I was stuck there for a few years before I figured out how to move forward. Although I am not sure I really “figured anything out” in terms of overcoming my denial. Rather, it was something that happened, and after I moved past my denial, I was able to get the help that I needed. But I am not so sure that my deliberate actions allowed me to overcome my denial directly.
One of the things that I can distinctly remember from the final few weeks of my addiction was that I had a shift in attitude. Up until that point I was always trying to control my drinking and my drug intake so that I would not endure heavy consequences. Of course bad things would inevitably happen anyway due to my addiction, but I tried to minimize it. This went on for almost a full decade of my uncontrollable drinking and drug use.
In other words, I was always trying to control my intake.
But in the last few weeks I sort of gave up on that idea. This was a precursor to real surrender. This was my stage of “pre-surrender.” What I was doing, although I did not realize it at the time, was that I was surrendering completely to the drugs and the alcohol. I had given up entirely and I was no longer trying to control my intake. I no longer cared about the consequences at all. I was so miserable and so sick and tired of the madness that I had put myself through that I just wanted it all to stop. So for that last few weeks I noticed that my attitude changed. I no longer cared about anything or anyone, least of all myself. So I self medicated without any hesitation, without any thought to how I should hold back and try to control things so that I didn’t find myself in trouble.
This only lasted for a few weeks maybe. To be honest I have no idea how long I had this attitude change, it may have been a whole year or it may have been just a few days. I could not tell you for sure. But what I know now today is that looking back on all of this, that was really a step towards true surrender for me.
Because what happened is that it didn’t work. I had pulled out all of the stops, so to speak, and made an agreement with myself that I was going to drink all I wanted with no regard for my personal safety. I was going all out. I just didn’t care any more and I was tired of being miserable.
So I had an expectation at this point. I thought what would happen is that I would get really drunk and really messed up on drugs, probably have a good time, and definitely get into trouble or suffer major consequences. I was going all out because I was so miserable.
But what happened was this: I couldn’t even get properly buzzed. I was drinking hard liquor and taking drugs and I was still miserable. Where was the party? Where was the fun in this? For some reason I could not “get happy,” no matter how much I consumed.
And this was what I had to discover for myself. I had to “pull out all the stops” and try my hardest to get drunk and high in order to realize just how ineffective this had become at making me happy.
So I reached this moment where I realized: “Hey wait a minute. This really isn’t working any more. Even when I try my hardest and take as much drugs and alcohol as I desire, with no regard for my own health or any consequences. Even when I go all out, it’s not fun any more.”
Huh. And that was my moment of clarity. I had to experience that in order to realize that things just weren’t working any more.
The moment when you finally break through the last of your denial
That was the moment when I finally broke through the last of my denial.
And for me, that moment was a realization that “This isn’t fun any more, and I am not happy.”
I can distinctly remember the exact moment when I shattered the last of my denial. It was one of those deep, “whoa moments” for me. I stared off into space and I glimpsed the future. And I realized that it was never going to change, it was never going to get any better, that even if I had all the money and all the drugs in the world and all of my fantasies came true and things worked out exactly the way I hoped, that I would still be miserable.
This is a critical point. This is the end of denial. I realized that my drinking or drugging could never fully eradicate my misery. Why had I never accepted this before? Why I had I clung to the belief for so long, that if I just had enough drugs and alcohol that I could medicate my way to happiness? Why did I choose to believe it for so long, when it was clearly wrong?
That was my moment of clarity. I saw the future. And I did not like what I saw.
And so here I was, miserable beyond all recognition, completely sick and tired of my addiction, and yet I was terrified of changing, terrified of sobriety, terrified of rehab, and terrified of AA meetings.
But this moment of clarity transcended all of that. What happened is that my feeling of being sick and tired of the misery was finally greater than my fear of recovery.
This is a really important point. Every alcoholic is balancing two things when they consider sobriety. One thing is the misery of the addiction. The second thing is the fear of change.
I was so sick and tired of being afraid. And I lived in fear for almost ten years, drinking myself into a stupor every night, medicating my fears away. My fears and my anxieties.
And I was afraid to change, I was afraid to get sober, I was afraid to ask for help. So that fear held me back for many years. And it prevented me from taking action, from getting the help that I needed.
But when I got to that moment of clarity, I realized all in one brief second that I was already afraid. I was already living in fear, every day. I was so sick of being afraid. I was sick of living in fear. And I realized that getting sober, going to rehab, attending AA meetings, doing all of that recovery stuff–that was all just more fear too.
But at least it was different. At least it had some hope to it. At least it would be a change.
I had finally admitted to myself that I was miserable, and that I had been for a long time. This was breaking through denial. I had to embrace the fact that I was miserable.
Sure, recovery would be scary. There is no way around that. Of course it is scary. It’s a big change. There is fear written all over it. I can’t help that. No one can help that. Change is scary, deal with it. There is no other solution in the end, other than to walk through your fear. That is what I had to do when I finally broke through denial. I had to face my fear, because I was sick and tired of being miserable.
How to stop lying to yourself in addiction recovery
Once you are in recovery and no longer abusing drugs or alcohol every day, it is still possible to be in denial.
There are all sorts of things that we can be in denial about even after we stop drinking and drugging.
For example, you could be in a toxic relationship, and be in denial about that. Or you may be living some unhealthy habits in your life–be out of shape, no exercise, poor sleep habits, bad nutrition, and so on. And we can be in denial about any of these things.
Is it as big of a deal as being in denial about your primary addiction? No, not usually. But it can all add up. And some of those things can have a definite impact on your sobriety. I know people in recovery who got sick, fell out of shape, ate poorly, and eventually spiraled down towards relapse. It has happened. Our physical health can compromise our sobriety efforts. But the same thing can happen with your emotional health, your mental health, your spirituality, and so on. This is why I always say that addiction recovery should be a holistic approach. We have to take care of ourselves every day in a thousand different ways. We have to be good to ourselves every day, and not just spiritually.
One suggestion that I had for people who may wonder about their own denial is to seek out feedback. This would have been the smartest thing that any of us could have done when we were stuck in our addiction as well, but the problem is that none of us wanted to hear it!
It is kind of a rule of thumb in recovery, actually: If everyone is telling you the same thing about yourself or your situation, then everyone is probably right, and you are wrong. Wasn’t that true in terms of my own alcoholism and drug addiction?
And then it was true again when I had 18 months sober and everyone was suggesting that I start exercising in some way. “What? What do I need to exercise for? I though I just had to find God and work on my spirituality!” But then there is that rule of thumb: Several different people suggested it to me, and they all turned out to be on to something good. I finally took their suggestion and I started exercising and it absolutely changed my recovery for the better. I just had to be willing to listen, to hear the feedback.
And I can still be in denial today, after 13 years of continuous sobriety. I had a friend who told me how I was being complacent, and it was like a smack in the face. But they were right! I had to think about it for a few days before my stubborn little brain would accept it.
No one really wants to hear the feedback or the criticism, but if you take the time to really listen to what people are telling you, obviously you can learn a lot.
Of course most of the time I am taking my own advice. And we all do that. The key is to seek feedback, to talk to other people, to get their input. “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” “What would you do in terms of relationships, career, physical health, spirituality?” And so on. Get lots of opinions and lots of feedback. Talk to various people. Seek out the “winners” in recovery and see what they suggest for you.
You can ignore everyone if you like. But if you do this enough and you really listen to people and you keep seeking, you will start to notice themes. These are the fundamentals of sobriety. These are the fundamental properties of a life that is well lived. You would do well to listen to such advice and apply it in your own life.
And you can find these “gems” by listening to everyone and noticing the similarities. Maybe the suggestions will differ slightly, but you might notice that they are all pointing you in the same direction.
This is one way to get honest with yourself. You have to first be honest with other people, and see what they reflect back to you. See what they suggest. Then look for the themes. One person might be wrong, but if you talk to various people then the overall advice will be good. Don’t ignore the advice that you get from several different “winners” in recovery. Their overall advice and direction is not going to be wrong. This is a simple principle that can be difficult to implement, because you have to get honest and you have to put yourself out there and open yourself up to criticism. No one likes to change. It is more comfortable to stay in a bubble and be protected. But you don’t “win” at the game of recovery by staying in a bubble.
Overcoming a million forms of denial in long term sobriety
There is another way to tune in to your potential denial.
Denial is tricky, of course, because it is something that tries to stay hidden. Your denial is sneaky and it tries to convince you that you are not in denial. Just like your disease of addiction.
So how can you combat that? The only way is to be proactive.
The same is true of overcoming complacency in long term sobriety. You can’t treat it in retrospect. You must prevent it through a proactive approach.
Dealing with denial is the same.
So the suggestion above is to “stick with the winners” in recovery, to seek out feedback and advice, and to act on that advice. We “are each others eyes and ears” in recovery, as they say in NA.
But another way is to do it yourself (though I would honestly suggest doing both). You can do it yourself by temporarily shutting down the mind for a while.
Without drugs or chemicals, of course!
I’m talking about meditation, of course.
This is where you can notice what is popping up in your life, where the trouble spots are, and what your true source of anxiety might be.
When we are walking around in our day to day life, our minds are constantly running thought patterns and covering up our million forms of denial. We can rationalize anything away in a heartbeat without even really trying. Our minds do this automatically for us. It is effortless. This is why denial is so sneaky, of course.
But if you slow down your mind enough and just listen, you can discover what the source of your anxiety is.
I will admit that I don’t really like doing this. I would almost rather have other people in recovery tell me what is wrong with my life, if you can believe that! It is scary to quiet down and get really honest with yourself. It is scary to really feel your emotions and find out what is really going on inside.
Some people will hear such a suggestion and say “I don’t know how to meditate.” But that is not really an excuse. If you can sit quietly with your eyes closed for even 5 minutes, then you have the basic idea down. Nothing more is really needed in most cases to start getting some benefit out of it.
And of course if you sit down and try this your mind is going to be racing. And you will notice your thoughts popping up and you will probably scold yourself and say “no, quiet the mind! Stop having thoughts!” And then you will notice that even scolding yourself like this is another thought. And you will become discouraged.
Don’t be discouraged. Just notice the thought, notice the scolding, and just watch it. Just notice the thought and let it float away. And soon you will have another thought. So just notice that one too. No big deal. Just let it be, let it float away. More thoughts, come and go. Just watch them.
If you can do that, and stop judging yourself for having thoughts, then you are meditating.
And you may not realize a huge benefit to this immediately after you do it. But if you make a habit if this then you will slowly start to gain clarity. Much like writing in a daily journal gives you more clarity over time (which is another great suggestion by the way, especially in terms of becoming aware of denial).
We have to listen to our emotions, to our innermost feelings, to see what is really going on in our lives. Because our minds are always racing to cover stuff up and protect our ego. We get to the real truth when we can slow down a bit and just watch. Try not to judge yourself or your thoughts, just watch them. Be the observer of your thoughts.
This is just one more tool in becoming aware of denial in your life. Remember that just because we get sober does not mean that we never have denial any more.
The path of continuous growth
The path of continuous growth is one of self honesty.
If you are not honest with yourself then you cannot make progress, you can’t make healthy changes.
Because change is hard and it is scary. And it is so much easier to lie to ourselves and pretend that everything is fine.
So we need ways to shake ourselves up, to figure out when we are not really “fine” in our recovery.
Tap into those techniques and find a path to self honesty.
Do you have any other ways for breaking through your own forms of denial? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!