What to do to Overcome Denial while Struggling with Alcoholism

What to do to Overcome Denial while Struggling with Alcoholism


If you are stuck in alcoholism or drug addiction then, technically, you are in denial.

Now in order to overcome this denial and do something positive about your problem you first need to understand the denial that you are in.

This took me several years to figure out, because I originally believed that denial only came in one variety: The kind of denial where the alcoholic is staggering drunk, thrown in jail for drunk driving, and they declare to the world that they definitely do not have a drinking problem. I thought that this was the only kind of denial that existed, and I clearly was not suffering from that problem. Case in point, I could admit fully that I was an alcoholic and that I had a serious problem. I just didn’t want to do anything about it, nor did I believe that AA or rehab could possibly help me.

Therefore my kind of denial that I was suffering from was really a denial of the solution, not a denial of the problem. I knew that I had a problem and that my alcoholism and drug addiction were killing me. I would even go so far as to admit that the drugs and the booze were making me miserable. I firmly believed, at the time, that being clean and sober would lead me to be even more miserable, and therefore I would become so miserable that I would just die or perhaps off myself. That was my brand of denial, and it was working very nicely at keeping me drunk and self medicating for several years on end.

But at some point I was able to move past this denial and see the truth, which was that I really could be happier if I was clean and sober, that the drugs and the alcohol were actually causing me misery, and that I most definitely needed professional help in order to stop drinking.

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And it all reached a breaking point and suddenly, I asked for help, and I was willing to do whatever it took in order to change my life. Truly.

The question is, how did I get there? By what process did my brain jump through the right hoops in order to move past my stubborn denial and get to a place where I became willing to ask for help? How did I come to the point of what we might call “true surrender?”

I would say that one of the most important factors in this journey was an accumulation of misery. Had I not accumulated so much misery and chaos and suffering in my life, I would not have been willing to do the things that I needed to do in order to get clean and sober. I would not have been able to do the impossible, because at the time, I honestly did not believe that I could endure the anxiety from AA meetings, or make it through a stay in rehab without going insane.

The truth was that I could make it through an AA meeting, and I could make it through rehab, and in fact I ended up going to a 28 day program and I also ended up living in long term transitional housing for quite a while. During my addiction I believed that these things were impossible, because I was essentially using alcohol in order to manage my anxiety.

And honestly, I don’t even believe it was real anxiety. I think that I was so used to drinking every day that when I suddenly went without alcohol I simply experienced anxiety as a symptom of withdrawal. And so I came to believe during my addiction that if I were to sober up that I would feel a horrible feeling of anxiety for the rest of my life.

This was obviously not the case, and after going through rehab and getting past the initial withdrawal I was just fine in terms of anxiety. But when I was stuck in denial I honestly believed that I would be miserable in recovery and that I would be full of anxiety all the time.

These are some of the factors that kept me stuck in denial, because I was afraid. I was afraid to face my life without the alcohol, without being drunk every day, without self medicating. I was so terrified to discover the person that I had become, I was so afraid to see what my life was really like if I were sober. And so I stayed comfortable, even though it was miserable, at least it was what I knew. At least drinking every day was consistent. At least it was known. At least it was safe.

Meanwhile, going to a 28 day rehab program and attending AA meetings was not even close to being “safe” in my mind. I was afraid of all of it. I was afraid that if I was in rehab that I would want to bust through the wall like the Kool-Aid man and run straight to the liquor store. Obviously this fear was unfounded, because I eventually went through treatment and did not have any major problems to speak of. I have also worked in a rehab now for many years and I have never seen anyone who had that kind of reaction. Which proves that being in rehab is actually easy, while getting here is very hard to do.

So if you are stuck in denial and you know that you have a problem, you still may be stuck because you have not yet embraced the solution.

The answer in this case is to embrace the solution, to call up a drug rehab center and tell them that you need help. The answer is to take positive action, to ask for help, to seek professional help, to go to AA or NA, to go to rehab. Those are the solutions, and the only way to really pull yourself out of a messy life of chaos in addiction is to embrace one or all of these solutions. The problem is that your denial keeps you trapped, and your denial makes you believe that those solutions are impossible, or that they do not apply to you because you are unique, or that those solutions would never work for you, or whatever. We all have a list of excuses a mile long and we can all talk our way out of any real solution that leads to recovery, because we are scared. We are afraid to face the world clean and sober, we are afraid to face the person that we have become.

That is understandable. I would urge you, if you want to break through your denial, to start noticing things. Increase your awareness, even during addiction you can do this. Start paying attention to your own happiness. Start paying attention to your own anxiety, to your stress.

We tell ourselves that the drugs or the booze make us happy, and that they cure our stress. But is this really true?

Start watching yourself. Start watching your life. Write it down if you want to know the truth by keeping a daily journal. Write down how you feel each day, your stress level and your happiness level. Start keeping a written journal of it and write the date down each day. Just do this for a while and keep noticing. Keep watching. You will eventually reach a point where you look back at the past entries and realize that your drug of choice really doesn’t do what you once thought that it did for you.

You will find that, in the beginning your drug of choice worked well for you, but over time, the effectiveness of it has waned. But your denial is still clinging to the idea that your drug of choice can fix anything. But can it really? That is what you have to keep asking yourself in order to break through the denial.

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