The Cycle Of Denial
One of the hardest things for somebody to do is actually to ask for help, to realize that they need help, and that happens when somebody decides they want to go to rehab because life has become too painful for them and they want to do something to change the way they’re living their life. Honesty is something that you find difficult when you’re in active addiction. You develop strategies which will justify and rationalize what you’re doing, you start being dishonest with your colleagues, your family members, about the amount you’re drinking or using, you start telling people that you’re doing really well when in actual fact you’re not and you’re feeling miserable. You start to rationalize, you start to think that, well, if you had my job you’d drink, or if you were in my relationship you’d drink or use or whatever your substance is.
When addicts rationalize, what they are actually doing is trying to find a good enough excuse that will justify using. So, if I have a job that I really don’t like and I find difficult, well if you had that job you would drink too, or I can’t sleep at night, that’s a huge one, I need it to sleep. We look for ways to make sure that ultimately, we don’t have to admit to ourselves that we’ve got a problem. I mean, who does, who wants to admit that they’ve got an issue that they can’t deal with themselves, it takes a lot of pain and consequences before one is willing willing to do that and ultimately that’s what the process is.
Addicts go through a lot of pain and discomfort, lie emotionally, psychologically, lying to ourselves, lying to other people. The pain of that as human beings becomes very difficult to bear and the only way that we can really carry on doing that is to continue using a substance, but our substance use then, in effect, is causing the consequences, so you get caught in this loop that just spirals down. Hopefully you’ll get to a point when the consequences and the pain have got so great that you have one choice left: you have to do something about it.
Once we’ve rationalized and once, we’ve justified, our denial patterns, our denial mechanisms become reinforced. We learn to live in a certain way that allows our addiction to continue. Now, once you come into recovery you start looking at those patterns and behavior and you realize, or hopefully you start to realize, and become aware of those patterns of behavior which have allowed you to do what you’ve been doing for a long time. Those patterns which may have helped you and have been useful in addiction are no longer useful and actually cause you more harm.
Firstly, it can be difficult to recognize those patterns of behavio,r and secondly it can be difficult to actually do something about it. Awareness is great and it’s really powerful to become aware of your behaviors and your denial, but actually then to do something about it, that’s where the hard work starts. In denial, even though we hear from our family, from our friends, from our colleagues, they all tell us about what they see going on in our lives but we find a way to deal with it: we just don’t listen. We refuse to listen, we start getting angry with them, ‘why are you having a go at me all the time?, it’s not my fault, everybody else drinks or uses, it’s just normal’, etc. We start using loads of statements like this to justify, to rationalize, to deny exactly where we are and what the consequences are to ourselves.
Shaking denial and becoming honest is about recognizing the difficulties that we have and asking for help, which in itself is a very difficult process. This is difficult because one of the things that we have to do if we want to get well is to allow ourselves to become vulnerable. People seem to think within society and the wider culture that it’s seen as a weakness to become vulnerable but actually if you can allow yourself to become vulnerable, that takes courage, real courage of a type that most people struggle with. However, people do respond to vulnerability and you start to get well when you allow yourself to be vulnerable and start talking about what’s going on, Change begins when you get the denial, the justifications, the rationalizations out of the way and you start being honest with others, and more importantly honest with yourself and where you are.