Getting past your denial while in active addiction is no easy task.
In fact, we might say that this is the biggest–and really the only–stumbling block for people who have not yet “got” recovery.
In order to change your life and go from being a hopeless addict or alcoholic to someone who is living a joyous life in recovery, you have to pierce through your denial and somehow get past it. This is a process of surrender, of letting go of the old ways that no longer serve you and work for you.
This process of letting go can take time. For most people in recovery it takes years of struggle to get past this denial and find the hope in recovery.
Let’s take a closer look at the process in the hopes that we can show the struggling addict what their true path should be. You have nothing to lose by exploring recovery.
What exactly is denial when it comes to addiction?
Most people do not really understand what denial is or how it works. When it comes to addiction, you have to be very careful with how you deal with the concepts of “admitting” versus “accepting.”
Most people believe that they have moved past their denial when they admit to their problem. “OK,” they say “I admit that I am a drunk, or that I am hooked on drugs. Big deal. I am no longer in denial.”
This is the “admitting” part of the deal, but this person has not gone to that next step yet and truly accepted their disease.
Getting past denial requires more than admitting to the problem. Anyone can see their own problem and admit to it, but still decide not to take any action to fix it.
Now the key is when the addict or alcoholic actually accepts their addiction fully, on a personal level, and they accept to their innermost self that they are hopelessly addicted and cannot use chemicals successfully. This is beyond admitting. This is accepting. It is deeper. It goes beyond the surface-level admission that there is a problem. It is a deep acceptance of a problem.
But the acceptance thing goes beyond even that. In fact, it assumes a rational person who seeks the good things in life.
In other words, if the person is rational, then full acceptance of their disease is also a turning point for them. Because they are rational, they are accepting that their addiction is no longer the way to happiness, they accept that it is making them miserable, and they accept that there must be a better way to live, if only they could find it.
True acceptance from a rational person goes beyond the admission of a problem. It assumes much more than that, because of the nature of addiction.
Over time, our disease becomes destructive, unhealthy, and it steals away our happiness. Therefore, rational people who fully accept their disease must also accept the responsibility to take action against it. If they are rational then they must agree to seek help for their problem, because they have accepted that their addiction actually IS a problem, it is no longer their solution for life, it is no longer what makes them happy, they have faced the reality of their disease and they know that it leads to death.
Working through denial, therefore, is not about admitting to a problem. Instead, it is about deciding to confront the problem. If the person has not yet made the decision to confront the problem of their disease, then that person is still in denial. We assume that they are rational and want happiness and life, rather than misery and death.
So the question then becomes:
How does the addict or alcoholic actually get to this point of acceptance? How do they accept their disease rationally and decide to take action to correct it?
What is the process of surrender?
Why do you actually use your drug of choice? What are you medicating?
Most addicts and alcoholics have long given up trying to figure out why they self medicate all the time. They have grown so used to their pattern of addiction that they just continue to self medicate mindlessly.
There is an idea out there that is very prevalent that basically says: “Figure out why you are self medicating with drugs or alcohol, and then fix those underlying causes. Then you will not need or want to self medicate any more.”
This is only half true and does not really present a full solution to the addict or alcoholic. Treating addiction is not ONLY about addressing the underlying causes. If it were that simple then there would be no need for recovery programs, we could cure any addict or alcoholic with just therapy sessions instead.
However, just because this method is not a full cure does not mean that it cannot be helpful to the struggling addict.
Part of breaking through denial is going to be facing some of these underlying causes.
The addict may have to look at why they really started to self medicate in the first place, and then get really honest with themselves about how well their addiction is really serving that purpose.
For example, say that a person is medicating with alcohol because they have a troubled past that is riddled with abuse and neglect. They never really dealt with those issues and they found that they could easily forget all of their trouble and overcome all depression and anxiety by simply having a few drinks.
Does this mean that if they go to therapy and deal with their past that they will no longer have a drinking problem? NO! That is the not how this works.
Instead, realize that in this example:
1) The person is now alcoholic, and their past issues and why they started to drink do not necessarily hold any keys for beating their alcoholism.
2) The person needs to remember why they started to medicate, and then realize that alcohol no longer works for this. At some point, they can no longer medicate away their problems. Tolerance increases and alcohol stops doing its job for them. They can not drink enough in order to medicate the pain without blacking out entirely.
3) Their past issues and why they started to drink are not the key to sobriety, they are instead one key to surrender. The alcoholic can move closer to surrender when they realize that their drug of choice no longer medicates their issue like they really want it to. It is a mechanism for realizing that their drug of choice has stopped working for them.
Does your drug of choice still do for you what you want it to do?
We have already looked at measuring our happiness in addiction. Now you need to think about why you actually self medicate and really start to measure if your drug of choice is still doing what you want it to do.
Remember how denial actually works: most addicts and alcoholics cling closely to the memories of their best high. They remember fondly the early days of their drug or alcohol use when they were able to get pleasantly buzzed and really enjoy themselves while staying in full control. Those days are long gone for the struggling addict, and they can never be reclaimed for any length of time.
You can look at your drug or alcohol intake on a continuum: at the one end, you are trying to control your drug intake so that you do not get out of control, and so you under-medicate yourself, and of course when you do this you do not really enjoy yourself or have any fun at all.
At the other end of the continuum you over-medicate yourself, and you lose complete control, and you either black out, pass out, become unstable in some way, or generally just lose control of yourself. This may be fun for a brief period but then when you go too far it creates huge problems and this will often lead to regret, remorse, etc.
In the middle of this continuum is the happy medium which no longer exists for the true addict or alcoholic. Maybe one or two days out of the month you will be able to find this happy medium where you are pleasantly buzzed and still in control.
If you think back to your early days of drug use, getting to this happy medium was really easy. This is because you were not fully addicted yet. You were still early in your drug or alcohol use and still experimenting and things were still easy and fun.
What the addict and alcoholic really wants is that happy medium–that “perfect buzz.” The drinks are flowing, everything is light and easy, they feel good, not a care in the world, and everything is right in their little world. They do not lose control, they do not run out of money, they do not worry about their supply of drugs or alcohol, they have no preoccupation with their drug of choice, they simply get high and enjoy themselves. This is what the addict really wants, and this is the state of mind that they are seeking when they use their drug of choice.
A big part of breaking through denial is to face this question squarely and honestly and ask yourself: “Does my drug of choice let me find that happy medium any more? How often? Every time I use it? Very rarely? Once a month or so?”
And then ask yourself:
“Is it really worth it?” Chasing that happy medium that you can almost never seem to find any more?
This is how to find the hope of recovery–by fully facing the misery that has become of your addiction. It’s no fun any more. Accept that, and move on.
Are there alternative methods to dealing with life or pain without your drug of choice?
The addict or alcoholic has almost always convinced themselves that they can not possibly medicate themselves in any other way.
For example, someone may have chronic physical pain and be addicted to painkillers. In such a case, the addict is almost always very quick to argue that nothing will help their pain except for strong medication, nothing will give them any relief except for opiates, and so on.
Part of the denial in this case is simply driven by fear of withdrawal symptoms. Extreme discomfort results from a lack of opiates, so of course the addict is going to believe that they can never medicate their chronic pain without opiates.
The truth is, there are always alternatives. There are always unique ways to overcome problems and obstacles in recovery.
The problem with the struggling addict or alcoholic is that–until they have fully surrendered to their disease and moved past their denial, they are not going to have the willingness that is necessary to explore these possibilities.
So part of piercing denial is about willingness. The addict or alcoholic must BECOME willing.
Take the opiate user above–they are not willing at this point. If their doctor is aware of their addiction and starts suggesting things like physical therapy, massage, or holistic medicine, the addict is probably going to have a million and one excuses why none of that stuff will work, or help, or do anything at all for them. They will simply not hear any of it because they are still stuck in denial. Their brain is screaming at them that only one thing in the world can possibly help their pain: more opiates.
The truth is that they are simply not willing yet to give recovery a chance. They are stuck in addiction, they are stuck in denial, and they cannot see how experimenting with alternatives could possibly help them in the long run. They have a one track mind that demands more of their drug of choice.
So remember that there ARE alternatives, and this goes for people who are medicating emotional pain as well. Or people who are medicating boredom. Or people who are medicating due to past trauma. There are alternatives and solutions for all of those situations that do not involve drugs and alcohol.
Part of moving past your denial is becoming open to those alternatives, and not just shooting them down instantly because they are not your drug of choice.
The true nature of surrender
The level of “hope” that you need to find when you finally break through the last bit of your denial is absolutely TINY.
That’s right….think about this for a moment. You do not have to have this huge ray of hope and this stunning moment where suddenly you are absolutely on fire for the idea of recovery. That is not realistic and you should not be expecting that kind of instant transformation.
Instead, what you are looking for, what you need to be watching for, is a tiny seed of hope. Just a smidge of hope, really.
You have to be at wit’s end, completely miserable due to your addiction, and just have this slight inkling of an idea that you could possibly be happier in your life if you were to wipe away all of this addiction stuff, just start over from scratch, give recovery a real chance to work in your life, and maybe….just maybe, your have to have this tiny bit of hope that your life, could, possibly, just maybe get a little better.
You still might have all sorts of fear at this point. You may still be miserable, and you may even believe that you will remain miserable in recovery. That’s OK. Don’t focus on the misery part. Focus on the idea that you might have a tiny bit of hope that things might possibly be different for you some day.
Sometimes I think that people believe that surrender is the joyous moment, where you decide to quit drinking and drugging with this big smile on your face. It’s not like that.
You will be beat down, miserable, and–if you’re lucky–you will find this tiny shred of hope that things might change for you, that life can be better than this.
THAT is what you must focus on to break through the last of your denial. See your misery for what it really is, and realize that things could get better. We believe that we are unique, and that we could never recover and be happy like others have done, but we are not really so unique. Anyone can change, anyone can sober up, anyone can surrender fully and start on a path that leads to a total life transformation.
It starts with hope. You have to have that tiny bit of hope, and cling to it. That is what can get the ball rolling.
Have you ever given recovery a fair shot? Really?
Anyone who is still struggling with addiction and alcoholism has NOT given recovery a fair shot.
Whatever they have experienced in their past, they failed to fully embrace recovery and make the positive changes that were necessary to make this total life transformation.
There are some who would argue that “recovery does not work for me, I have tried it, and I always end up relapsing.”
That argument does not wash with me, because used to use that broken logic myself!
The failure of my previous recovery efforts just served as an excuse so that I could stay stuck in denial, so that I could keep self medicating, so that I could stay in my little shell and not learn how to live a real life and face my fears without the crutch of alcohol and drugs. I argued that recovery could never possibly work for me, because I had already been to two rehabs and given it a fair shot.
But I was lying to myself….I had NOT given recovery a fair shot. Sure, I had checked into rehab twice before, but had I really embraced recovery and given it everything that I had? No I had not.
At some point I become miserable enough to admit to myself that I had not really tried very hard in the past, and that I could–if I was willing enough–give recovery a fair shot, and try to change my life once again.
This is how I was able to work through my denial and find hope. By fully accepting my misery in addiction, I was able to admit that what I was doing with my life was NOT working. It takes guts to make an admission like that, and then to ask for help and move forward. But this is the process of overcoming denial and finding hope.
My hope for you is that you can overcome your own denial, and find a tiny bit of hope that your life could, just maybe, be different for you some day.
If you find that tiny bit of hope, ask for help, call treatment centers, get into a rehab immediately. Your life is about to change for the better, and this is the most important moment of your life so far.