When an alcoholic or a drug addict is struggling with their addiction and they are stuck in denial, they are essentially being controlled by fear.
Of course no one wants to admit to this. No one wants to admit out loud that they are being ruled by fear.
But this is what addiction does, and this is how it keeps people stuck: They are afraid of sobriety, they are afraid of facing their life sober, and they are afraid of being sober and finding out who they have truly become.
And so the alcoholic escapes from reality and they are running away from themselves. This is how they live their life–by running away from their fears rather than confronting them. They hide in their addiction because they believe that it is the easier path to take.
As the alcoholic continues to abuse alcohol and other drugs, the consequences of their addictive behavior begin to mount up. Sometimes this accumulation happens quickly and sometimes it happens very slowly, but ultimately every alcoholic and drug addict faces the same path to total misery and chaos: Things just keep getting progressively worse over time.
We can stay stuck in denial pretty easily because any alcoholic can say “you think things are getting worse? Well, look at me, I just cut down drastically with my drinking and I have this going for me, I have that thing working out for me, and I just landed a great new job, so things are looking up now!”
What the alcoholic in this case fails to realize is that–while progress can still be made on a temporary and short term basis during an addiction–the long term trend is always towards more chaos and misery.
So when the alcoholic is arguing that “things are suddenly going so great for me,” what they really need to do is to take a giant step back from their life and look carefully at the long term trend. Have things really improved fundamentally, or is this temporary upswing just a band-aid on what has become a train wreck of a life?
For me, looking back during my darkest days of denial, I could try to convince myself and others that my life wasn’t so horrible even while I was slowly self destructing. But I was only kidding myself because things just kept spiraling further and further out of control. My bar for what was reasonable was continuously reset lower and lower as I had to accept crazier and crazier consequences as a result of my drinking and drug use.
The chaos and the misery continued to pile up as I faced greater and greater consequences in my life, but at the same time I was held back from recovery because I was stuck in fear. I was paralyzed with fear and felt helpless to address my addiction. I wondered why the people in my life could not just be happy for me that I had found something that “worked for me,” even though that something was to drink upwards of a half gallon of liquor every night and just about kill myself due to overdose. I was suffering regular blackouts just to try to feel normal and happy. And yet I wondered why my friends and family could not see that I needed to drink in order to be happy. What was wrong with them?
Of course the real problem was that I was too scared to go back to rehab.
Sure, I had been twice before. I had scared myself quite badly because I could see the path of blatant self destruction I was on with my drinking, so I had checked into treatment twice before. But when I saw the solution that was being offered in rehab I got depressed and discouraged, because I could not see that solution working out for me. I could not see how I could face my fears and my anxiety and be able to sit through an AA meeting. I could not understand why there were not other solutions being offered for alcoholism and drug addiction outside of the usual meetings, therapy, 12 step programs, and so on. I felt lost and discouraged because I was too afraid of the solution to embrace it. It was far easier to self medicate with alcohol and use that as my drug of choice to alleviate my fears and anxiety. If I isolate and drink then I can just be safe and happy without having to face the world, face myself, or take any risks. So I stayed stuck in denial for years.
For me, denial was in thinking that I was at my happiest when I was drinking or taking drugs, and that if I ever sobered up completely that I would be miserably depressed to the point of suicide. Honestly, I believed that if I got sober I would kill myself from depression. That was the story that I told myself in order to justify my drinking and drug use. I was so afraid of facing the fears and anxieties that I preferred to nearly drink myself to death on a daily basis. This was madness.
At some point I got desperate enough and through a series of coincidences (?) all of the people in my life were temporarily out of town, and I was all alone. Great, I thought, this is what I have been wanting all along–to be able to be left alone completely and drink to my heart’s content. Now no one will bother me, and I can truly be happy for once as I drink in total isolation!
Looking back now, I can see how ridiculous that sounds. But at the time I was serious–my greatest fantasy was to be completely alone and able to drink as much as I wanted.
So when I finally got that wish, when all of the pieces finally lined up correctly for this to happen, it was a huge smack in the face when I realized that my ultimate fantasy was actually making me miserable. I was isolated, I was drinking, and I was completely miserable.
How had I gone so wrong? What was I missing that was robbing me of my happiness?
This was my moment of surrender. When I reached this point I was about to ask for help, go to rehab, and start to successfully face my fears and work a recovery program.
I was so miserable at that point and I was so isolated and lonely that you could have put a gun up to my head and I do not think I would have even reacted with any fear. I was completely hollow inside.
I think I had been living in fear for so long that when I finally reached this point when I could test out my fantasy (be alone and be able to drink) that I realized that I had been chasing a false idol.
I no longer knew what I want, or what I needed to be happy. I had failed at happiness. The universe had given me what I wanted (isolation), and I was miserable with it.
So at that point I was able to surrender.
That was how I moved past my fear: I became so miserable and so sick and tired of drinking that I no longer cared about myself, my life, or anything in the entire universe.
I was completely done. Finished. And I had no more answers and no more fantasy to indulge. I could no longer say “If I only had a million dollars and a huge liquor closet and a pile of drugs then I would finally be happy,” because I had achieved my fantasy and it left me miserable.
And that is how you move past the fear that keeps you stuck in denial. You must see the truth for what it is, realize that your drug of choice will never lead to real happiness. And then you can choose recovery, choose a different path, try something different. That is how it worked for me.