Here is one of the hard truths of life when it comes to alcoholism:
Some people never break through their denial.
This is tragic because I honestly believe that every struggling alcoholic has massive potential. And in fact, the more screwed up an alcoholic may be in their life, the greater their potential is in sobriety. In other words, if you have fallen very far in your addiction and your bottom is extremely bad, then you will have a very powerful story of inspiration if and when you eventually recover. Your experience can later benefit others in a huge way. And this is very powerful–it turns the negative part of an addiction into a positive thing. But of course this all depends on sobriety, on making that critical change in your life, on turning things around. And many alcoholics never achieve this ideal, because they stay stuck in denial.
What is denial?
Denial is when the alcoholic continues to self medicate every day, even though they know that it is killing them.
It is when the alcoholic continues to keep their head in the sand, like a stubborn ostrich, and refuses to see the truth that everyone around them can plainly see. The truth that they would be so much happier in life if they would just stop using alcohol and drugs every day. The truth that they are no longer happy as a drunk, that the alcohol has, in fact, betrayed them. It used to make them happy but those good times are gone now.
They are in denial because the believe that they are unique, that they are special, and that they for some reason require alcohol in order to function and deal with reality. They cling to the idea that alcohol has special meaning in their life, that is their one saving grace. Denial convinces the person that alcohol is helping them and is the one source of a little bit of joy in their life, when the truth is that their addictive behavior is what is driving their misery.
Denial is when the alcoholic declares to the world that they would finally be happy if only things would go their way for once and everything would fall nicely into place. Then they could drink and be happy and everything would be fine. But they are pointing a million fingers at other people, at the government, at society, saying to the world: “This is wrong, and this is wrong, and they need to fix this, and they need to change that, and if all of these things would just happen then I could finally drink my alcohol every day and be perfectly happy.”
That is classic denial. The alcoholic points the finger of blame at anything other than themselves. They point the finger of blame at anything other than their alcoholism.
It is a trick of the mind. I know this because I used to engage in the same exact trick. I was a drunk and I self medicated every day. And my life was full of chaos and misery and I blamed everything and everyone else. And I defended my use of alcohol as being innocent. It was not the real problem, everything else was the problem. If these other situations and issues would just take care of themselves then the alcohol consumption would not be an issue, you see? This is what I tried to convince everyone of. I tried to convince them that my alcohol use was not driving my problems or my misery, but that the other things in my life were the source of my misery. And so I focused entirely on these other people, these other situations, these other circumstances. And I said over and over: “If these other problems were to suddenly clear up and magically go away, then there would be no problems at all, and I could drink and be happy.”
This is pure denial.
The alcoholic is confused.
It is all so clear in their own mind, because they can see all of the problems and issues in their own life. But they have assigned the blame for those problems to other things, to other people, to invisible enemies.
The opposite of denial is surrender.
Even better, surrender is the antidote.
When the alcoholic finally overcomes their denial, what they are doing is they are surrendering to the truth.
It is like they have been trying to prop up their false beliefs, pointing the finger of blame at anything other than their drinking, and they have been doing it for so long that it is automatic. And when they surrender they are essentially tearing down this entire belief structure all at once. They strip everything away. It is like they take an eraser to their entire life. And suddenly they are face to face with a new reality. The alcoholic becomes willing to entertain the idea that maybe alcohol is the one and only thing that is to blame, and all of these other problems and circumstances are a result of the chaos of addiction.
This one possibility has the power to change everything. But the alcoholic has resisted this idea for so long. They have protected their ego from having to face this reality for a long time. It is difficult for those walls to come down, for them to accept that they may have been wrong all along.
It is such a radical shift for the alcoholic who has lived in denial for years or decades.
They are basically saying at the moment of surrender:
“I give up. Maybe alcohol really IS the source of all my problems. And perhaps I should get some help for it.”
This is true surrender. This is the moment when you break through your denial.
Then you go to rehab, or you go to AA, or you call up your old sponsor, or you go see a therapist, or whatever. You take action and you stop putting alcohol into your body and you start to rebuild your life.
But without that moment of surrender, without the antidote to denial, you cannot possibly turn your life around in any meaningful way.
It is natural to stay stuck in denial
Once you are in denial, it is difficult to break free from it.
It is natural to stay in denial. That is how denial works.
Instead of seeing the truth or listening to other people’s suggestions (Example: “Maybe you should get some help for your drinking problem….”), we just bury ourselves further and further in denial. It is as if the alcoholic is covering their ears with their hands like a child and saying “Can’t hear you! La la la.” Every attempt at getting them to see the truth is met with more resistance. They don’t want to look at themselves, they don’t want to get honest with themselves, they don’t want to admit that they have this massive problem.
Unfortunately you cannot really appeal to logic when you are dealing with someone in denial. They are not going to see your reason, they are not going to follow your logic, because they are focused on the wrong thing. If you try to convince them that their life would be better if they were sober, they will simply say something like:
“What are you talking about? I have all of these problems and situations in my life, and none of them have to do with my drinking. If I stop drinking then I won’t have any way to be happy and I will just be miserable, and all of those problems and situations will still be there. So why should I give up my alcohol, my one bit of happiness, just to make you happy?”
You can’t really argue with that. The alcoholic has perfect logic, in their own mind. In their own little world they have it all figured out, and eliminating the alcohol doesn’t really change anything. It doesn’t fix their other problems or change other circumstances. And they are terrified that they will be miserable forever without the alcohol.
Of course when you actually stop drinking and break through denial, everything changes. This is what the alcoholic who is stuck in denial cannot see. They don’t realize that their entire world will change, that their attitude will change, that they will find a new peace and a new happiness in life that is not dependent on being medicated. They cannot anticipate these changes when they are still drinking.
You cannot predict how your life will improve when you get sober.
The fact is that the journey is random and wonderful. If you get sober and you start taking positive action and taking suggestions from other people, your life will improve tremendously. That is a fact. It is 100 percent certain that if you stop drinking, stop using drugs, and simply do the work and follow some direction, things will improve greatly. There is no doubt about this. Your life will transform and you will find a new peace and happiness. This is a certainty, it is just a matter of whether the alcoholic wants to surrender and do the work or not.
But the alcoholic does not believe it.
I did not believe it.
Even when I went to my third rehab and I was finally at a point of true surrender, I still did not believe this! I did not believe that I would ever be truly happy in recovery. I still was hanging on to a piece of my denial, even after “total surrender.”
I know that is probably sounding a bit confusing. As in, how can you still have a bit of denial in you after you reach “total surrender?”
Let me explain.
Denial is tricky.
There are many levels to denial. When you are first becoming alcoholic, you are in total and complete denial. You don’t even suspect that you have a real problem yet. This is obvious denial. This is where you deny your disease outright. “Alcoholic? Not me! Those are bums who sleep in the alley with brown bags of liquor in front of them.” That is total denial.
I was at this point once myself, when I was very early in my disease.
Later on I had been to 2 different rehab centers and failed to remain sober after them. I was struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction and I definitely knew, that this point, that I had a serious problem. I fully admitted to myself and others that I was a real alcoholic and that it was probably going to kill me some day. But I was trapped because I thought that if I were to become sober that I would be even more miserable.
Is that denial?
Yes it is. It is still denial. Now obviously it is not the same thing as someone who won’t even admit they have a problem. But it is still denial. I was in denial of the fact that I might one day be happy if I were sober. I refused to believe that was a possibility. And instead I clung to my alcohol and I lived in fear. I lived in constant fear and I medicated that fear with alcohol every day. I was still in denial.
You can deny the problem (“I am not a real alcoholic!”) or you can deny the solution (“AA will never work for me!”). Or you could be in denial of both. Or you could break through both of them.
Now when I finally went to my third rehab, I was in what I call “total and complete surrender.” I had surrendered to the fact that I was a real alcoholic, and I had also surrendered to the fact that I no longer knew how to make myself happy. And I was on the brink of surrendering to the fact that someone had a solution that might help me.
I was terrified of AA. I did not like AA meetings. I had too much social anxiety to feel comfortable in a meeting. But that seemed to be the only way forward. All of the rehabs that I knew about used the 12 step model and AA meetings to try to help people.
So my last tiny bit of denial that I was hanging on to was this:
1) That AA would never really work for me, and
2) That if I were sober that I would still be unhappy in the future.
I was still hanging on to those two reservations when I got clean and sober. I did not know how they would work out. I had serious doubts. I had no real hope about either of them.
But it didn’t matter.
Because I had reached my breaking point. I was at “total and complete surrender.”
In other words, I was so miserable from my addiction and I was so sick and tired of using drugs and alcohol that I was willing to overlook those last two doubts. I was willing to take a leap of faith, to ask for help and to take advice, to go to rehab and just go with the flow and see what happened. I was willing to make that leap of faith and face my fears because to stay stuck in addiction any longer was just too miserable.
And this is the secret to breaking through denial.
You have to be miserable.
I wish this weren’t true. I wish there was some other solution. I wish that there was some sort of trick that I could give you that would allow you a shortcut, a way to avoid the pain.
But it is pain that motivates the alcoholic to get sober. It is pain that challenges us to face our fears.
Without that pain and misery in your life, you will never be motivated enough to face your fears and break through denial.
It takes a lot of self honesty and examination to break through denial
If you want to achieve long term sobriety then you have to be honest with yourself.
You have to get honest with yourself in order to break through your denial.
There are three principles that you will hear about in recovery over and over again. They are:
2) Open mindedness.
In reality these three principles are so closely linked together that they are practically the same thing. They all depend on each other. They are interconnected.
So the process of breaking through your denial really requires all three of these things.
You must be willing to take a look at the truth. You must be willing to examine your life, to see if you are truly happy as a drunk, if you might possibly find more happiness in sobriety. You have to be willing to look at the fact that maybe your problems are your own fault, and not everyone else’s fault.
You have to be open minded enough to make this leap of faith. Surrender is a leap of faith. Taking action when you surrender in order to get help requires a massive leap of faith. Because there is simply no guarantee that going to rehab will make you happy. You are doing it on blind faith. It takes guts. And so you have to be open minded enough to let the possibilities into your life.
And above all you have to be honest with yourself. This is the real trick. Honesty is what pierces through your denial, in the end. Are you really happy with yourself? Are you really happy with your life? If not, then change it. Simple as that. But denial tells us that we are doing fine, that everyone else drinks too, that we are basically happy enough, and so on.
In order to surrender to our disease we have to summon a whole lot of honesty. And we have to take a hard look at our lives and realize that we want something different.
It takes guts to be this honest. It takes guts to get real with yourself and then to make a leap of faith.
I am not saying it is easy, because it’s not. It is a very hard thing to do.
How can you force yourself to get honest about your problem
One way to force yourself to get honest is to start writing stuff down.
This won’t work for everyone. But it will work well for people who are willing to do the work.
And it’s not much “work,” really. All you have to do is keep a written journal.
Get a notebook. Get a pen. Write down today’s date and then write down how you feel.
Not what your opinions are about the world, but how you feel inside today–happy, scared, frustrated, bored, angry, etc.
Write that down every single day. And write about your drinking or drug use. But make sure that you write down how you are feeling every day.
Keep doing this.
That is the whole trick. Pretty simple, right?
If you do this, it will force your brain to start accepting reality.
If you are consistent with your journal, and you keep writing down your true feelings, then what you are doing is training your brain to accept reality.
Because your feelings are your highest truth. You can’t fake your feelings to yourself. If deep down you are angry or scared or upset or hurt, you can’t fake this to yourself. You might fake it on the outside but you can’t fake it in your own mind. Your brain knows the truth.
So you need to write it down. Every day. And over time, this will force you to get honest with yourself. This will force you to realize just how happy (or unhappy) you are in your addiction. It will show you how ineffective your drug of choice really is.
It is one tool in the fight against denial. But you have to be willing to do it, to follow through with it, to make the effort at getting honest. And being honest is really tough. Most people won’t do it because it is so uncomfortable. But the value that you get from such an exercise is really amazing. It will transform your life and force you to be honest with yourself.
What about you, are you still in denial? What are you in denial of? The problem, or the solution, or both? Can you take action today to get more honest with yourself? Let us know in the discussion forums. It only takes a second to register!