Yesterday we looked at some of the typical recovery outcomes to expect when attempting to overcome addiction. Today we want to move on to part three of our journey, and look at how addiction treatment can set you up for success.
Specifically, we are going to look at how we actually break through denial and become willing to attend rehab in the first place.
This can be a major stumbling block for addicts and alcoholics, and by some estimates up to 90 percent of those who struggle with addiction never even seek any help for it, ever. This is just crazy, and is a huge loss of opportunity for the world. This is especially true when you consider the downstream effects of one person finding sobriety and how much they can affect others, inspire someone else to get sober, and so on.
First of all: Why rehab? Why do I need treatment at all?
Nearly ever struggling addict will start out their journey by resisting the idea of treatment. This is perfectly normal and is to be expected. No one wants to believe that they need professional medical help just to control their behavior, and this is essentially what you have to admit to your ego if you agree to go to rehab. You are essentially saying “I am out of control, I cannot control my own behavior and resist drugs, so please lock me up and teach me how to get control of myself.” That is a bit of a harsh way to phrase it but essentially that is the mental battle that the addict must face in order to agree to check into rehab. This is why it is so humbling to make the leap into recovery: because it destroys the ego.
You can either have your pride or you can have recovery, but not both. There are many who are stuck in addiction simply because of pride, because they are too proud to ask for help or allow themselves to show any sort of weakness. What a tragic loss considering how much better their life would become in recovery. What a tragic loss considering how much more power they would have if they were clean and sober for the next, say, ten years.
We need rehab in order to get clean and sober because we need disruption. This allows us to escape from our addiction, or at least it gives us a fighting chance. If you do absolutely nothing to disrupt your life and simply try to stop using drugs and alcohol, chances are good that you will fail.
If a close friend comes over to your home and finds you after a night of heavy drinking, he may attempt to disrupt your pattern and help you. Maybe he will take you to his house and put you on his couch and then go hide all of his booze somewhere or throw it all out. Then he might attempt to nurse you back to sobriety without letting you leave so that you can go buy any more alcohol. This would be a very informal form of disruption. Your friend is disrupting your pattern of addiction, he is interrupting the cycle. You can’t get drunk because he is watching over you and protecting you temporarily.
Now obviously your friend cannot do this forever, at some point he has to go live his own life and you have to live yours. But some people have managed to overcome their addiction in this manner, simply because they got this break that allowed them to get a fresh start. They had enough disruption to their addiction that they were able to break free from it.
This is exactly what the point of inpatient rehab is. There are actually two ideas behind rehab, and one of them is to disrupt your pattern of addiction and get your body physically clean from chemicals. The other point is that they are going to attempt to teach you how to deal with life without self medicating. That is an enormous challenge in itself and therefore most treatment centers attempt to outsource at least part of that job to the 12 step program.
But what is important here first and foremost is the idea of disruption and breaking free from the cycle of addiction. Without this disruption most people cannot even get a start in recovery and thus they have no hope at all to change their life. They need to get some sort of break and that is best accomplished through inpatient rehab.
There are other forms of disruption that you can attempt but none of them typically work as well as inpatient treatment. For example, you could go to counseling or therapy, or simply start attending 12 step meetings. But these solutions do not really protect you from an environmental standpoint. You could still just wander into a liquor store at any moment. Being in inpatient rehab removes this possibility, at least temporarily.
Any struggling addict who is resisting inpatient treatment is usually doing so out of fear. This can still be the case even if they have been to treatment before and pretty much know what to expect. It is not necessarily fear of the unknown that scares them, but it is fear of facing their life without their drug of choice. They know that rehab means the end of their addiction and they are terrified of being miserable. It is normal to assume this because when an addict starts to detox they quickly become miserable and uncomfortable. Therefore most struggling addicts project this discomfort on the rest of their life and believe that if they are sober they will be miserable forever. They also know that if they are “locked up in rehab” that they will have no chance to be able to self medicate, no matter how bad they might be feeling. So this is all part of the fear that keeps people from giving treatment a chance.
On the other hand, the struggling addict or alcoholic is not likely to make any progress until they embrace some major form of disruption in their life. Addiction has too much inertia to overcome without making major changes. Being in rehab for a brief period of time is a major change, and can then set someone up for more changes in their life.
Inpatient rehab may not be a magic bullet, but it is the best form of disruption that an addict or alcoholic can engage in. It gives them the best chance and the most opportunity to build a new life in recovery.
Denial is holding us back
So what holds us back from rehab other than fear?
It is denial that really keeps us from entering rehab and attempting to change our life.
What happens is that the addict gets stuck in a pattern of self medicating, and of course they enjoy it immensely as it “fixes” some part of their life for them. This is true at first and so they continue to self medicate and over time they become completely addicted. The original reason that they started using the drug or liked it so much may even be forgotten at some point, and now they use their drug of choice just to feel “normal” and avoid withdrawal symptoms.
One of the biggest functions of denial is that the addict will deny that their addiction has evolved into this terrible and pointless cycle. They will deny that it is no longer any fun, and that they have to use their drug just to function or feel normal. They will deny they are using the drug just to exist.
Often what the addict will do is to think back to their fond memories that they have of their early days using their drug of choice. These were the days when it was still fun and they were not completely out of control. These were the days before using became a chore and something that they had to do just to feel normal. So what denial does is that it clings to these early memories and it makes the brain insist that this is reality.
So the brain of the addict is in active denial. It is denying that the current reality is misery and simply self medicating every day in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms, and instead it is insisting that every day COULD be just like those good old days when everything was perfect, fun, and carefree. The stubborn brain keeps insisting that somehow we can get back to those good old days, that if things would just turn out right then we could enjoy our drug of choice and be happy and there would be no negative consequences.
This is how denial works. The addict is remembering the good old days when their addiction was still fun, and they are basically insisting that there is a way to get back to that point. What typically happens is that the addict will blame external things–people, places, circumstances, events, whatever they can blame–in order to avoid the idea that their addiction has become worse and that it just ain’t no fun any more. They stubbornly will not face the idea that their addiction has progressed and that it is ruining/killing them. So instead they insist that external events are keeping them from being happy in life. They try to point the finger at everyone else but themselves as the reason for their unhappiness. “If only they had unlimited money and unlimited amounts of their drug of choice and everyone would just quit bothering them, then they could finally be happy!” And, they would not have to get clean and sober in order to do it! If only, right?
Of course this fantasy of happiness is all a big illusion and even if the addict had all of the money and drugs in the world they would not be happy. But at least then they might realize the truth: that their problem is internal, not external. At least then they would realize that having all the drugs in the world would still lead them to misery. And so then they might actually get to the point where they realize that they are living in misery, that it doesn’t matter what the external circumstances are in their life–that they are still miserable and they will always be miserable if they continue to self medicate. This is the moment when the break through denial–when they realize that they are truly unhappy, AND that it ain’t gonna get no better. When they realize that addiction stopped being fun a long time ago, and that there really is no way to fix it.
This is what it takes to break through denial–you have to recognize that you are miserable. You have to admit it and accept it. Only after you have admitted and fully accepted that you are miserable can you then try to do anything about it.
Becoming conscious of your pain and misery
If you are a struggling addict or alcoholic, what should you do in order to move closer to surrender?
You should start paying attention to your pain and misery in your life. Start measuring.
How often are you happy? Every minute of every day? Probably not. Not even deliriously happy sober folks are happy that often–it just wouldn’t make sense.
Anyone who claims to be happy 24/7 is really just “content” 24/7. If you are happy 100 percent of the time then eventually that “happiness” will be just “normal” for you. Think about it.
Also, realize that this is our core problem in active addiction: we want that peak experience, that super happy feeling ALL the time. So we self medicate constantly in an attempt to be happier.
In doing so, we unmake our own happiness. This happens because eventually we become immune to the drug. We use it so much that it becomes the new “normal” for us. Now when we get high all day, every day we are no longer deliriously happy. Instead we just get ourselves “fixed,” enough to feel normal again.
Then we are trapped. Now when we don’t have the drug, we feel miserable. And when we finally get more of the drug, we don’t get elated and fantastically happy, we just get “fixed.” We get to feel normal again. Where did all of the happiness go? When did it stop being fun?
This is what you need to focus on if you are still stuck in addiction. Focus on your misery. Start measuring your happiness.
Are you happy for 4 hours each day? For one hour? For twenty minutes maybe? How long does that high really last anymore? Are you just avoiding withdrawal symptoms when you get your “fix?”
Really, start measuring how often you are happy. And if you notice that you are miserable, start measuring that too. How long do you have to be miserable each day before your realize that your addiction is no longer working out so well for you?
Really, start checking the clocks and marking time when you notice you are either happy or miserable. Start measuring, in minutes and hours, just how effective your drug of choice is.
This is really important, because the main argument of the addict is that “their drug of choice makes them happy” and also that “if they got clean and sober they would be miserable all the time.” This is what their denial is telling them.
So, prove it yourself. If your drug of choice really makes you happy, then prove it and show me how many minutes and hours each day of happiness you are experiencing.
Most addicts will object to such an experiment and say “What a downer, why focus on the negative? I just want to get high and be happy!” But of course they are in denial, and do not realize that 99 percent of the time (even while self medicating) they are miserable.
If you take an honest look at this “happiness factor” then it will be hard to justify continued addiction. Once you realize just how miserable you are in addiction, it is more likely that you will give recovery a chance.
Is your drug of choice doing what you want it to do?
My drug of choice used to “fix” my personality and it gave me false courage. I was extremely shy and so this was very helpful in allowing me to socialize. When I discovered this about my drug of choice, I was absolutely elated and had a very good time (for a while).
But at some point my drug of choice stopped working. It no longer did what I wanted it to do. Instead of going out to the bar and socializing, I was at home isolating, drinking by myself. What had happened?
The real problem in all of this was that I was in denial and could not even see this simple truth–that the drug had stopped doing what I wanted it to do.
So ask yourself:
What is it that you want your drug of choice to do for you? Make you happy? Give you courage? Help you to unwind? Reduce stress? Allow you to socialize more?
What is it that you expect your drug of choice to accomplish for you?
Then, ask yourself the critical question, and be honest with your answer:
Is your drug of choice really still doing that for you? Is it still living up to the promise it made in the beginning?
Because if it is, and consequences are minimal, then by all means–keep self medicating! Why not?
But if there are negative consequences in your life, and you take an honest look at things and the drug is no longer really doing what you want it to do anyway, then you have to ask yourself:
What am I doing? Why am I self destructing with this drug when it doesn’t even work for me any more?
This is how to reason your way out of denial. First you have to see the truth, then you have to question yourself and your life situation.
Honesty with yourself is all that matters. You are not answering to anyone else, you are not trying to satisfy anyone else or make someone else happy. Just look at your own life, look at your own drug use, and ask yourself if it is still working for you. Are you still really happy, all day and every day? Because that was the “promise” that your drug of choice made to you in the beginning. It promised you that it could make you happy at a moment’s notice, at the drop of a hat, just like magic. And that is the betrayal that you have to come to grips with. Your drug of choice lied to you, it has cheated you, and it all stopped being fun a long time ago.
Realize this. Realize it in your heart, and accept it. This is the only way to move past your denial, and start living an amazing new life.
Commit to a new awareness
Can you do it? Can you see through the false promised of your denial?
Maybe not quite yet?
That’s OK. It took me a few years, maybe almost ten years.
But you can speed up the process drastically, by making a simple choice.
You must commit to this new awareness.
Awareness of what?
Awareness of your pain and misery that is caused from your drug or alcohol use.
Become aware of it, and start measuring it, and be honest about it. Do not make excuses for your addiction or try to shift the blame onto external things.
Your drug of choice promised to make you happy, every time you used it. Is it really working? Are you happy every time you use it? For how long are you happy? Be honest!
And commit to yourself that you are going to start measuring, and you are going to keep measuring, until you have made a decision. Maybe you will decide that you really are happy all the time with your drug of choice, and there is no need to change! (yeah right….)
If you want to get closer to surrender, if you want to break through your denial, then you have to make a mental commitment to start measuring your pain and happiness. Do this all day, every day, until you can clearly see how miserable you have become in addiction.
This is the path to surrender. You must realize how your drug of choice has lied to you, and then take action to correct course. But the realization must come first. This is the tipping point where you overcome denial.