Every addict and alcoholic who has gone to addiction treatment successfully has had to overcome this battle within themselves.
The battle that I speak of has to do with control, and with our ego. We know that we are spinning out of control and that our lives are a mess, but our ego is so powerful and so delicate that it will not allow us to admit that there is a serious problem. Our denial takes over and creates all sorts of mental constructs to keep us from seeing the truth–that our life is a mess and that we cannot overcome our drug or alcohol problem without extra help.
The first inkling that there is a problem
At some point every addict and alcoholic gets to that point in their live’s where they start to notice that there might actually be a problem. Denial is the mechanism that keeps us from looking at our life with greater perspective and seeing the real problem–that we are out of control and that our drug or alcohol consumption is getting the better of us.
The first time that the addict or alcoholic tries their drug of choice, they are far from admitting they have a problem. In fact, at this point, there really is no problem at all. It’s too early in the game, and the addict still has plenty of control over the drug. They can take it or leave it, they can use very small quantities of it without going overboard, and their life is not a tangled, jumbled up ball of chaos…..yet.
At this point, the addict has just started to experiment with their drug of choice, and they have found that they really, really like it. They like what the drug does for them and how it makes them feel. They like how the drug can alter their mood, regardless of how crappy they may have been feeling before they took the drink or the drug.
When I personally started using drugs and alcohol, I distinctly remember being at this point of no return: I realized that I absolutely loved to get wasted, and I realized that it was a level of obsession that I had never before experienced in my life. I said to myself “This is amazing, I love using drugs and alcohol, I think I was born to do this.” In the back of my mind I knew that I might be in trouble, because I had never before had this level of obsession in my life about anything. I was hooked, and I knew it, and I did not care one bit. I was having too much fun and enjoying the buzz too much to really worry about it.
But in the back of my brain, I knew there was a potential problem.
The tricky nature of denial
When the addict or alcohol first discovers their drug of choice, the amount of time that they spend enjoying themselves and having fun while using the drug is nearly 100 percent of the time. When they use the drug, they enjoy it thoroughly, and all is well in the world. They have no complaints at this time. They simply enjoy the buzz and have genuine gratitude for being alive and feeling good in that moment. This is at the very onset of their drug or alcohol use, long before they are seriously addicted.
As their diseases progresses, the amount of time that they are in this blissful state starts to diminish slightly. This happens for a couple of different reasons:
1) As the addict uses the drug more and more frequently, the state of being high, drunk, or buzzed becomes their “normal” state of mind. Their life continues to go on, with both good things and bad things happening, good days and bad days, and now they are just always buzzed when all of this stuff happens. So what used to be a novelty buzz that was pure joy and elation has now become an everyday thing.
Going to the movies? Get buzzed first. Best friend passes away? Time to get buzzed. Have to spend time with the in-laws? Better get good and buzzed for that.
The excuse starts to matter less and less over time, because everything and anything justifies using or drinking.
Because the frequency of use increases, the amount of time that this is “pure joy and bliss” goes way, way down. After a year or two of heavy abuse, the addict might only reach this “peak joy experience” like once a month or so, if that. And yet, this is the feeling that they continuously chase after, this is the feeling of extreme joy and elation that they cling to, hang on to, and associate with their everyday drug or alcohol use.
2) Tolerance increases. Remember the first time that you used your drug of choice? You got lit up, wasted beyond belief, and it was a terrific buzz. And you probably used very little of the drug in order to do it!
A few years later and you are taking ten times that much, alone in your own house, and you are miserable. Trying to get that blissful joy buzz back.
Trust me, it’s gone. Your increased tolerance has killed that “fun” buzz forever.
3) Duration decreases. Remember the first time you got blitzed on your favorite drug? It probably lasted for several hours. After a year or two of abuse, that same dose will only last for an hour or less probably. This is another tolerance factor of course–not only does it take MORE of the drug to get the same result, but the duration of your buzz is going to get shorter and shorter as your tolerance increases. It’s a double whammy of misery that just gets worse and worse as you continue to use.
Have you ever noticed any of these issues with your own drug or alcohol use? Less joy and elation, shorter buzzes, or having to take more of the drug just to get the same effect?
If so, this is a very strong indicator of something. What does it mean?
It means that you are on a downward spiral, one that never has a happy ending unless you choose to get help. The symptoms listed above all signal “the beginning of the end.” Keep using your drug of choice and the results will never be positive.
I could stop if I really wanted to–I just don’t want too!
This is a classic denial mechanism and one that can threaten just about any addict or alcoholic who thinks that they have their drug or alcohol use under control.
The premise here is simple:
The addict or alcoholic in question does not WANT to stop using.
Because they do not want to stop using, they have every excuse that they need not to take action and try to fix their problem (or seek treatment).
But the fact that they do not want to stop using is actually irrational. They are acting out against their best interest, a condition that we often associate with insanity.
Everyone around the addict or alcoholic can tell that the person is in big trouble, that they are digging themselves an early grave, that their drug or alcohol use is escalating over time, that they are becoming less and less healthy, and so on. Everyone can see that the drug has control over the addict, and not the other way around.
The addict might lose their job, wreck their car, lose close friends, get into huge fights with their family, spend time in jail, and yet they will not own up to these consequences as being of their own making. The addict will refuse to admit that their drug or alcohol use played any part in the episode.
The amazing thing about denial is not that the addict will make these outrageous claims in defense of their drug use, but that the addict will actually believe what they are saying.
Say for example that the addict or alcoholic gets thrown in jail for a night after drinking and driving. This has upset the family greatly and caused all sorts of extra problems, and a huge argument breaks out over the situation. Unbelievably, the addict in question will argue that forces were conspiring against him, that the police are out to get him unfairly, and that the whole world is aligned against him for some reason. The addict will argue all this in order to give their drug or alcohol use a free pass, to assign the blame elsewhere somehow.
The addict’s denial will say things like “I only had a few drinks, they should never have pulled me over, they had no right to do it and they were just picking on me for no good reason, had I been completely sober the same thing would have happened, this had nothing to do with alcohol,” and so on and so forth.
Their denial will do anything that it can to shift the blame, to protect the drug of choice. The reason that the denial does this is because of fear. The addict cannot bear the thought of facing life without their drug of choice, so their denial will jump through some outrageous hoops in order to protect their drug or alcohol use. Their brain is basically saying “believe whatever you will, make up any excuse, as long as no one tries to take away my drug of choice!”
And so ultimately, the addict or alcoholic will make up any excuse and shift the blame however they can, because deep down they are terrified of facing life without being medicated with their drug of choice.
And if you corner the addict and really make them face the facts, they will still argue that–deep down–they are not stopping their drug or alcohol use right now simply because they do not WANT to stop. Oh sure, if they really wanted to stop, surely they could do it! But they simply don’t WANT to.
How out of control do you have to be in order to need addiction treatment?
At some point the addict needs to take a look at their control over their drug–or lack of control–and realize that they are going to need help if they ever want to get their life back.
Denial is a powerful mechanism. There are people who have lost everything–their home, their car, their wife, husband, family–and yet they still believe that forces are conspiring against them, and that their drug use is not to blame.
Perhaps what the addict really has to consider is how much they value their life, and use that as a measure for how desperate their situation has become.
Most every addict and alcoholic, before they ever pick up their first one and start their wild journey, they still have a love for life and a passion for living.
Years of drug or alcohol abuse erode that passion for life until they are near suicidal. Some addicts and alcoholics might actually become suicidal. Others will just flirt with the idea in their head occasionally, noting that they really do not enjoy their life much anymore. But either way, this is what the addict and alcoholic must really examine if they want to get honest with themselves.
Consequences can be ignored or rationalized away. But at some point, the addict must look deep into themselves, really step back and take an objective look at their life, and start to wonder: “Is is really worth it to chase after this buzz all the time? Is it really fun any more? Is it possible that I could learn to enjoy life again without self medicating all the time?”
These are the sorts of questions that are required to break through denial. And it is not so much the external consequences that need to be confronted, but the addict has to take a look on their inside–at how happy they really are with their drug and alcohol use, and how miserable they have become over the last few years. It is only when they accurately assess these “internal consequences” that the addict will potentially get serious about confronting their disease and taking action to recover.
The addict can rationalize away almost any external event, shifting the blame away from their drug or alcohol use. But they cannot escape themselves, and how miserable they have become due to their disease. This is the final truth that they must confront in order to ask for help and start to heal finally.
Is it necessary to lose everything and hit rock bottom before you surrender to your disease?
No it is not necessary to hit rock bottom. Many will do this (lose everything) but continue on until their disease kills them. Others will make the leap of faith and give recovery a chance when they still have not “lost everything.”
As mentioned above, it is not the external consequences that matter so much–if you have lost your wife, your car, your family, your job, your dog ran away….that stuff is all external, and while you can still lose those things and feel bad about it, these are not really the things that motivate a person to get clean and sober. They might contribute to the decision, but they are not the primary lever that moves this mountain.
No, what moves this mountain and allows the person to surrender and ask for help is the internal stuff. Thus, “hitting rock bottom” really means that you have lost yourself, that you no longer care about your own life, you are either suicidal or you are close to it, and you no longer care about your own well being. This is the real turning point, this is what “rock bottom” should actually refer to–not the loss of possessions or the external stuff that addiction affects.
So the answer is really “yes,” you do have to hit rock bottom in order to change. But understand that “rock bottom” means that you have lost your own self, and your own value of life, and your own will to live. It is only then that you can reach the point of surrender that is necessary to transform your life.
Is it an admission of weakness to realize that you need help in order to stop using drugs or alcohol?
No, absolutely not.
The disease is not your fault, but getting help for it is your responsibility.
Look squarely at your life and analyze it objectively. Are you making excuses for your disease in order to further justify your use? Are you really happy with your use any more?
Taking the plunge into recovery takes a huge leap of faith. Luckily, if you are miserable, you will not much mind making this leap. After all, what have you got to lose? Your life is miserable, right? Have you admitted that much to yourself at least?
Real help is available. Addiction treatment actually works for those who want it. The key to avoiding relapse in the future is to get a solid foundation in your early recovery.
It’s time to see past your denial.
It’s time to take back a life of happiness and joy, without having to self medicate all the time.
It’s time to ask for help.
Are you ready to change your life?