I have been to rehab three times in my life.
The first two times I was not ready to get clean and sober just yet.
I was still in denial.
The third time that I went to rehab I was ready. Truly ready to try something new. Ready to turn my will over completely to something, anything else.
And that was when it finally worked for me. I had to break through my denial in order to get sober.
Until I could do that, nothing worked for me. I just kept going in circles and sabotaging myself.
How to tell when you are in denial
You can tell when you are in denial because you put conditions on what you will do in order to get clean and sober.
So the alcoholic or drug addict might say that they want to get sober, and in fact, deep down, maybe they really DO want to get sober.
But does this mean that they are in a state of total and complete surrender?
The question is, what are they willing to do in order to get sober? What lengths are they willing to go to?
For example, are they willing to listen to others in recovery, take their advice, take suggestions, do what they are told, establish new habits, and so on?
Most people want to change. But just wanting to change is not enough. Many, many alcoholics are miserable and they realize that their drinking is a massive source of misery for them. But this does not necessarily make them go to any lengths in order to change.
You can tell when someone is in denial because they will say “yes, I hear you, but….”
It doesn’t really matter what they say after the word “but”…..it’s all garbage. Because basically they are saying:
“Yes, I would like to go to rehab and go to AA meetings every day and go see a therapist and do all of this work on myself BUT……”
And then whatever they say after that is just a meaningless excuse. It is garbage.
Either they are prepared to go to any length in order to get sober or they are not.
I was at this point many times during my drinking career. I would say things like “Yes, I am willing to get sober, as long as there is a solution that does not involve AA meetings.”
Or I would say the same thing but put a restriction on the idea of going to inpatient rehab.
So I was stuck. I could not get clean and sober at that time because I was not willing to do the work.
Now a couple of times I got close. For example, I decided to go to rehab three times in my life, and obviously the first two trips I was still stuck in denial.
I was willing to attend treatment for a few weeks, but I was not willing to commit to a lifetime of positive change and abstinence.
I just wasn’t ready.
My denial was based on the fact that I thought I could only be happy if I were drinking or using drugs. I really thought that I would be miserable forever if I were to get sober. So I tried to convince myself that I was happy in my addiction, that it was just fine. But of course I was miserable 99 percent of the time. This is denial. I kept telling myself that I was happy because I was always “partying,” but the truth was that I was miserable.
What the process of escape from denial is like
So how did I overcome this denial? How did I move past the lies that I was telling myself?
The way it worked is this.
First, I started to slowly realize (this took months or even years) that I was truly unhappy in my addiction. This sank in very slowly. I did not just wake up and realize one day that I was unhappy. I had to figure this out slowly, over time.
Second of all I started to pay attention to this happiness (or lack thereof). I started to measure my happiness. I wanted to know how well the drugs and the alcohol were working.
And I had a clear point of reference, because when I first started getting high, I remembered that it lasted for hours. I could smoke one joint and be happy for three hours straight! It was amazing. Or so I told myself in the beginning.
So I very slowly started to figure out how tolerance was robbing me of my happiness. I did not want to believe this at first and I did not really want to investigate it, but I decided to look closer at it because I was so miserable anyway. And what I learned is that the drugs and the booze did not last nearly as long as I was telling myself they did.
So I would go to work and try to stay sober for most of the work shift. Then after work I would start to “party” and drink as much as I could and use as many drugs as I could. And what I noticed is that this bit of “happiness” was not lasting for three hours like I believed that it should (based on the past). Instead it was lasting for more like one hour and sometimes even less than that.
I was walking around in the midst of my alcoholism believing that I could drink 5 dollars worth of liquor and smoke 5 dollars worth of marijuana and be happy all night long. That this would set me for the entire day. But I was kidding myself. When I actually used those amounts I was miserable. And in fact, even if I drank much more than this and took more drugs, I was still miserable for most of the time until I finally blacked out or passed out. But the journey was no longer as fun as it used to be.
And I was kidding myself. I was lying to myself. I was telling myself that it was still fun, all the time, every day, and in fact it was only “fun” for maybe a few hours total out of every month.
Seriously. When I actually started to pay attention to my “happiness” in addiction, it was totaling up to very few hours out of an entire month.
When I first started drinking and using drugs I would be happy for hours at a time each and every day. And then I could do it all again tomorrow, and enjoy several more hours of “fun.”
But now it was gone, and I was slowly beginning to realize this.
And I had to consciously force myself to measure this. I had to take a step back (very hard to do when you are self medicating every day) and really take a closer look at my own happiness. I had to get honest with myself. Was I really happy all the time simply by drinking and using drugs?
I told myself the answer was “yes.” But in reality I was not happy any more. The happiness faded long ago. Yet I still clung to the belief that I could make myself happy instantly thanks to alcohol and drugs.
This is denial. This is how I started to crawl my way out of the hole. I had to realize that I was lying to myself. I had to realize that the fun was long gone, that there was nothing left for me when it came to alcohol and drugs. I had been plenty drunk and plenty high and there was no fun left to be had any more. It was over.
I just had to realize that. I had to accept it. I had to see the struggle, the years ahead of me if I continued to chase the buzz. And I finally caught a clear glimpse of that future, and I realized how horribly futile it would all be. I realized that I would never be truly happy if I kept chasing another high, another buzz, another drunken night.
It just wasn’t worth it.
What actions can you take to speed up the surrender process?
Get honest with yourself. Each and every day, you need to be really honest with yourself.
Are you happy? Are you happy right now? Have you been happy all day today? For maybe an hour of today? For a few minutes?
Get out a piece of paper. Write down how you are feeling today. Write down how happy you are right now. Write it all down. Put down your feelings, if you are happy or sad or scared.
Don’t bother writing down your opinions. That is not going to help you get any clarity. All that matters if sad/mad/scared. Write it down every day.
If you do this consistently then an amazing thing will happen. Your brain will be forced to realize the true cost of your addiction.
This is how you smack denial in the face. This is how you wake yourself up.
Get honest with yourself and start measuring your lack of happiness.
If you are sad then you are not happy.
If you are scared then you are not happy.
If you are mad then you are not happy.
Sad, mad, fear. Those are the three things that you are measuring. Those are the things that you need to start noticing.
Why are you taking a drink? Why are you taking drugs?
The problem with addiction is that you stopped asking that question a long time ago. But if you really stop and force yourself to get honest then you will find a deeper answer to that question.
It is a hard thing to do. Heck, I was sober for a few months and I still struggled to answer that question. I had to dig and search and kick and scream for a long time before I could really wrestle with that question.
We all have reasons that we self medicate. We all have fears and frustrations and anger and sadness in us.
So the time has come to realize that you are trying to cover those things up by taking drugs. By drinking. By not having to feel.
Alcoholism and drug addiction are a way to escape from having to feel your feelings. The sad/mad/scared stuff. That is what you are avoiding when you self medicate.
Now you might have some fancy excuses cooked up that you tell yourself about why you drink, or why you take drugs, but I promise you that it comes down to sad/mad/scared.
Deep inside we all running away from ourselves. We are running away from having to feel our feelings.
So if you are stuck in denial then you need to realize this. Start noticing it. Realize when you most want to self medicate. And ask yourself: “What am I running from? What feeling am I trying to avoid?”
Just notice it and ask the question. That is enough. Getting honest with yourself and noticing the misery is the process. There is nothing more that has to happen. You just have to keep noticing, keep getting honest, keep forcing yourself to be real with yourself.
You don’t have to answer the question. You don’t have to face all of your fears and then conquer them like a super hero all in one day in order to break through your denial.
No, you will break through denial just from confronting these lies. Just keep noticing. Keep being honest. Keep measuring your unhappiness.
And in doing so you will force your brain to realize what is really going on. You will force your brain to realize that you are not happy, and that you haven’t been happy for a long time, and that drugs and alcohol will ultimately never make you happy in the future.
This is the process of breaking through denial. You have to get honest with yourself, every day, over and over again. Until you notice that addiction is just no fun any more. And you can’t just casually observe that and get your brain to believe it. You sort of have to trick your brain into believing it. And to do that you have to raise your awareness, get honest, and keep asking yourself the tough questions. It’s a process and it takes time.
How to tell when you are at a point of full surrender
You can tell when you are at the point of full surrender when you break through your denial completely and have 100 percent willingness.
This is the point when someone suggests you go to treatment and you say “yes, let’s do that.”
This is the point when someone says “Let me take you to an AA meeting tonight” and you say “yes, please take me.”
No manipulation. No wiggling out of anything. You just accept the help that you are offered and you take action.
This is willingness. When you are ready to get help on someone else’s terms then you have finally pierced through the last of your denial.
Usually we are only willing to get help on our own terms. That is an example of someone who is still in denial. They want to change, but only if they can do it in their own way. They want the alcoholism to go away, but only if it does so on their own terms.
Recovery doesn’t work like that. If you want to change then you need to ask for help. Follow direction. Take advice.
Think about that for a second. You don’t just jump up one day and declare that you are going to figure this sobriety thing out.
No, you ask for help.
From other people.
Then you follow direction. Based on the directions that you get from other people.
Then you take advice. Based on the advice that you get from other people.
You go to rehab. And you get help directly from…..other people.
Are you noticing a trend here?
The trend is that you get sober based on the help that you get from other people.
Has anyone ever helped themselves in early recovery? Has that ever really worked out for anyone, in history?
If it has then I can assure you that there is precious little documentation of such an occurrence.
No, we need help in order to recover. We need the help of other people in order to get sober.
This is how you know that you are past your denial. You become willing to ask for help and reach out to others.
It is as simple as that. If you are still stuck in your own ideas and you refuse to listen to other people then chances are good that you are not yet ready for sobriety.
Finding the willingness to take the next step
In order to recover from addiction you have to be willing to take that next step.
But where do we get the willingness to take that first step in recovery?
The moment of surrender is when you develop this willingness. And the moment of surrender comes when you finally break through the last of your denial. When you realize that you will never be happy if you continue to chase drugs and alcohol. This is how you develop willingness.
I used to believe that I would never be sober and happy again because I believed that alcoholics and drugs addicts only got sober based on the pursuit of happiness.
This is an important point so I want you to really consider this.
I was stuck in addiction. I was miserable.
And I believed that there was no hope for me because I was so miserable. Why would I ever even try to sober up? What was the point? I was miserable in addiction and I believed that I would be miserable in recovery too. In fact I thought that I would be even more unhappy without alcohol or drugs.
But I got to a point one day where I was so sick and tired of being miserable that I just sort of….gave up. I did not care at that moment of I lived or died. I no longer cared about myself. I guess you would call this an “ego death.”
And it was then that I was willing to push aside my fears. I no longer cared about my fears. They were meaningless to me because I no longer valued my own life. That was how unhappy I had become. Not quite suicidal, but completely miserable.
And that was my moment of surrender. I still thought that I would be miserable in recovery if I were to get sober.
But I also knew something else: I no longer wanted addiction.
My error was in thinking that people who got sober must have been driven by happiness. They weren’t. Alcoholics and addicts don’t get sober to become happy (thought they eventually do). Instead, they get sober to avoid misery and pain. They get sober because they are so miserable they almost die from it.
Accept your misery. Accept your miserable life in addiction. Really embrace the misery. Start focusing on it. Stop denying it. You are an alcoholic and you are miserable. You are a drug addict and you are miserable.
It’s OK. Really, it is OK that you are miserable. I was the same way for a long time.
And I finally realized it. I finally woke up the face that I was miserable, and that I was sick and tired of living in fear.
And I did not know what sobriety would do for me. I had no faith that it would fix me, or that it would bring me happiness.
But I didn’t care because I was just so sick and tired of being afraid.
And this is how you break through denial. Face your fears head on by accepting your misery totally and completely.
It is only when you experience this total ego death that you will be willing to accept a new path. To surrender, to follow advice, to build a new life.
That is how we transform.