We have seen how denial can keep people stuck in the disease of addiction.
Are you guilty of making excuses that allow you to justify your addiction?
If you decide that you are making excuses in order to justify your drinking or using, do you have a plan to help you to overcome this limitation in your life and move forward?
Let’s take a look at how this can work.
First, identify your excuses and raise your awareness
Every addict and alcoholic has to engage in constant self talk in order to keep using their drug of choice. What they are really doing is justifying their addiction to themselves. Because their behavior is not really in their best self interest and therefore is not rational, it takes quite a bit of justification and rationalization in order to keep abusing chemicals.
“I know this is killing me, but….”
Do you have any self talk like that? Do you have a mental list of excuses that you use in order to justify your disease to yourself?
Furthermore, there is a second level of denial that has to do more with avoiding the solution than it does with accepting the disease in the first place.
In other words, the first level of denial is in denying that you are actually a hard core addict or alcoholic who is unable to help themselves to solve their own problem and figure out how to get clean and sober. This is the “accept that you are a real addict” part of denial, and so there may be all sorts of rationalizations and justifications that go into simply ignoring this simple fact, and avoiding it.
The second level of denial comes later, after the addict or alcoholic can no longer avoid this first fact. At this point they have realized fully that they are a hopeless addict and that they cannot solve their own problem of addiction. They fully accept this now. However, another layer of denial exists because the person will still deny that recovery (or any solution) could possibly work for them. They are still in denial because they deny the solution, not the problem.
So really there are two main levels of denial when it comes to addiction and alcoholism. The addict can be in denial of the problem (the addiction) or they can be in denial of the solution (recovery).
Regardless of which stage of denial they are in, the goal is for them to break through this denial, STOP making excuses, and take action to restore their life. In doing so they must overcome at least two levels of denial, not just one. This is why some people call it “total surrender” without really thinking about why they are adding the word “total” on to the phrase. They are adding the word “total” because they instinctively realize that there is more than one level of denial, and that at some point in their own past they may have overcome the first level and tried to get clean and sober without really overcoming the second level of denial. So they intuitively know and realize what kind of results you get when you only sort of “half surrender” and ADMIT that you are an addict but you still do not fully accept that there is a solution that can help you (and then follow through with that solution). In order to get clean and sober and remain that way for the long run and live a new and happy life, the addict must overcome BOTH levels of denial and fully embrace some sort of recovery solution (does not really matter what that solution is, so long as it is abstinence based and involves daily positive action. Could be 12 step based, religious, therapy based, etc.).
So in a way it all boils down to denial, and therefore the mental garbage that we use to frame our own denial is in the form of excuses. We stay stuck in denial based on the excuses that we tell ourselves in our own heads.
In order to overcome our denial we are going to have to smash these excuses.
In order to do that we have to become AWARE of these excuses and recognize them for what they really are: justifications that allow us to feel good about our drug or alcohol intake.
If we cannot become aware of these excuses then we are powerless to stop them or to do anything about them.
Let’s take a look at some of the more common excuses that people use to justify their addictions. We will also attempt to “smash” each excuse and prove how foolish it is to hang on to it as a real justification for drug or alcohol use.
Ultimately the premise behind any and all of this “excuse smashing” is that all of these rationalizations and justifications that allow us to stay stuck in our addiction are completely bogus…..we could get clean and sober and seek recovery and ask for help and our life would be SO MUCH BETTER. I know this because I have done it, I have lived it, and I have looked back and seen how foolish all of these excuses really are. There really is a wonderful and awesome life to be had in recovery if you are willing to look past all of these garbage excuses and take some real action and get help. Keep this in mind as we go about smashing excuses here. If you find yourself clinging to any of these excuses then think very carefully about how that excuse is keeping you stuck in your addiction, and about how happy you might become if you were truly free. Recovery is true freedom, where you no longer need drugs for happiness.
Typical excuse: I have to use my drug of choice in order to be happy
This is the biggest excuse and therefore I believe it is the most important one to disprove.
For a long time I believed in my own life and in my own addiction that I would be completely miserable without my drug of choice. I thought that if I were forced to be clean and sober that this would be the equivalent of a death sentence. You may as well just kill me, went my thinking, because I would be so sad and so miserable while I was sober that I surely would not want to even live any more.
I went to rehab one time, fairly early in my addiction, and I heard a man speak at an AA meeting who attempted to disprove this thinking. He talked about how recovery is awesome and amazing and how the journey itself is fun, exciting, and challenging. He made a really good speech and it had a huge impact on me at the time.
However, it was not enough. I left that rehab and continued with my addiction for many years. His promise of “an awesome new life in recovery” was not enough to motivate me to stick with recovery or to even give it half a chance.
I can tell you exactly why I did not take action and get clean and sober based on this man’s promise of a good life. My excuse at the time was basically “that might have worked for you, but it will never work for me. I am different. I am unique. I cannot possibly get clean and sober and go to meetings and share my feelings in them and get this awesome new life that you speak of. For some reason I was made differently than you and I am for some reason blocked from achieving this life in recovery. I am too shy and I need my drugs too much.”
It was not that I denied this man’s solution or his plan to get there. It was just that I had rationalized it away, that it could never possibly work FOR ME. This was that second level of denial that I mentioned above–the level where you deny the SOLUTION, rather than the problem.
So I was not saying “oh, this does not apply to me because I am not an addict.” Instead, I was saying “I am an addict and what you are saying makes sense, but it could never possibly work for ME, because I am somehow unique and different.”
So after hearing this man talk I went back out to the chaos and the misery of addiction and proceeded to abuse drugs and alcohol for several more years.
I really believed that my drug of choice made me happy, and that this was the only way that I could achieve happiness in my life.
The truth was that I was miserable almost 99 percent of the time, and my denial was fooling me. I was tricking myself into believing that I was happy most of the time, when in fact I was miserable most of the time. How was this happening?
The way it happened was with the memory of good times had with my drug of choice. Think about this carefully. What I was doing was replaying the “good times” tape loop in my mind, focusing on that and generalizing that loop as being my typical experience with my drug of choice.
So think back to your perfect memory of when you used your drug of choice and had a great time. Everything went right, you were blissfully happy, no one got hurt or went to jail, no hurt feelings, everything was perfectly groovy. We all have memories like that with our drug of choice. We all have a memory of when our experience with our drug of choice was amazing, fun, and perfect.
Now, realize that you are projecting this memory of “the perfect buzz” onto your entire life situation regarding your drug use.
So when someone points out to you that you are stuck in addiction and that you use your drug of choice every single day, what you are doing is saying to yourself “yeah, but it is so great because….” and then your mind uses that memory of the perfect buzz. You are projecting your perfect buzz memories onto your everyday experience with your drug of choice.
You are mistaking the daily grind of being stuck in the chaos and misery of addiction with this perfect image, this perfect memory of when things were good, and you are twisting the truth to try to convince yourself that you can achieve that perfect buzz EVERY SINGLE DAY. You deny reality and try to believe somehow that the perfect buzz and the blissful state that you once experienced with your drug of choice is always available to you AT ANY GIVEN TIME. You believe that you have this magic device (your drug of choice) that you can whip out at any moment and create instant happiness, and you believe this because you are projecting that perfect buzz memory onto your entire life.
Well I have got some news for you!
When you project “the perfect buzz” memory onto your entire life, you are creating a lie.
The perfect buzz happened once, in the past. Maybe you have had a few peak experiences where everything just fell into place, and you got really high, and nothing bad happened, and why can’t every day be just like that?
You may get lucky and have another perfect buzz again some day, but this will be one or two hours out of the next YEAR of chaos and misery, if you are lucky.
Keep in mind that as your addiction progresses, the amount of time that you can achieve one of these “peak experiences” goes way down, while the amount of time spent just grinding out an existence and avoiding withdrawal with your drug of choice gets infinitely larger. Addiction becomes a chore. It stops being fun at some point, you just have to realize it.
One way to realize it might be to start keeping a daily journal. You could use the format:
“I was happy today for X amount of hours.”
This would force you to start measuring your happiness, something that is quite rare but extremely enlightening.
Many addicts and alcoholics operate under the vague notion that they are experiencing happiness as they go along through life while using their drug of choice, but because they are getting messed up on drugs maybe they just don’t remember it much.
So start measuring. If you are stuck in addiction then start measuring your happiness. Every day, before you go to sleep, write down how many hours you were happy for that day.
You can do this after you get clean and sober too, and are living in recovery.
Believe it or not, you can be happy again in recovery. Start measuring how often you are happy in your addiction, so that you can expose the lie to yourself. Realize how miserable you are, nearly all of the time. At some point you will realize that your drug of choice is not really helping matters.
Typical excuse: I have to use my drug of choice in order to fit in with other people and be liked
A variation of this excuse is “everyone else is using drugs too, if I quit I will be the oddball out.”
This is ridiculous, of course, and if you get clean and sober and start living a new life in recovery you will eventually look back and wonder where all of your drug and drinking buddies went. Life is full of sober people and once you make the leap to recovery you will be associating with lots of them.
Drug and alcohol use is a sub culture. It is not the main culture. The vast majority of people do NOT live in constant addiction.
I can remember a time when I suspected that most people might secretly be addicted to something, but that they were just better at hiding it than I was. Ridiculous.
It takes one to know one. Now that I am clean and sober, I can see just how many people really are “normal” compared to those who are still stuck in active addiction.
I also realize how much easier it is to fit in and be likable when I am not getting messed up on drugs every day. That was a lie that I told myself in addiction, because I associated with other people who used drugs, I thought that I would be lonely forever and rejected if I got clean and sober. Obviously, there are amazing people in recovery who are sober and that will accept you just fine even if you are not self medicating every day. “Fitting in” is no longer a problem or a challenge in recovery, for the most part. It is an imaginary problem that is fueled by addiction.
Typical excuse: I have to use my drug of choice in order to perform well at a job or at school
Some people fall into the trap of thinking “if I study for a test while I get high then I have to get high when I actually go take the test.” This is not a great strategy for education! You may think that you are doing better while under the influence, but a few weeks sober on the same task would likely convince you otherwise. People are sharp and effective when they are sober.
Another popular excuse in this vein is with creativity. Some people argue that they have to be medicated on drugs or booze in order to be creative or to create art. This is false and has been disproved by several artists, authors, and so on. See Stephen King’s story in particular and how he overcame his writer’s block after getting clean and sober. Anyone can learn to create and become even more productive and more creative in recovery after they remove the constraints of addiction.
Typical excuse: I am just different and I need my drug of choice in order to function for some reason
This is the “I am unique” excuse.
Go to AA meetings for a year straight and you will learn that you are NOT unique. Or rather, you will see that there are other addicts and alcoholics who are even more desperate to use drugs or alcohol or self medicate than you are, and they have broke through all of their excuses and found a way to recover anyway.
I can remember when I really thought that I was unique, that I was the only human on the planet that had been made this certain way, so that I could only be happy with drugs, and that recovery could never work for. I really believed this for some reason. Also interesting to note is that when I was having these thoughts about how unique I was and how recovery could never possibly work for me, I was completely miserable in my addiction. I was really miserable.
How close can you get to the solution, and still be in denial? Sheesh! Here I was totally miserable, fed up with my addiction, wishing that things were different, and yet I was stubbornly sticking to the idea that I was somehow unique and that recovery was impossible for me.
If I could go back in time I would have grabbed myself by the shoulders and shook as hard as I could and yelled “stop making excuses and just give recovery a chance! Go to rehab and do what they tell you and stop whining about everything!”
How to smash through all of your excuses at once and break free from denial
Just give up.
Stop trying to control your drug or alcohol intake.
Stop doing mental gymnastics for a minute to try to justify your addiction.
Stop trying to convince yourself that your drug of choice is the way to happiness.
Stop projecting the memory of the perfect buzz on to your life. It is a lie.
Realize that you are miserable in addiction.
Realize that you COULD be much happier in recovery.
Let go of all of it.
Let go of everything.
Then, ask for help.
Follow through and take whatever advice you are given.