Denial: the inability to see the truth of one’s addiction.
Four hundred years ago, Galileo looked at the night sky with the newly invented telescope and declared that the Earth revolved around the sun, rather than the other way around. Despite the ever increasing evidence to support his claim, it took 150 years for his findings to be accepted by the majority of society. Even though new inventions and mathematics supported him, some people still staunchly refused to believe that the discovery was true.
Denial is the refusal or inability to see what is obviously true, a distancing of the self from reality. Everyone has had a brush with denial, whether it’s a relationship they shouldn’t be in, feeling that they can take on more tasks than they should, pretending things aren’t as bad as they seem. But where denial becomes harmful is when we ignore warning signs that are detrimental to our physical and mental health. Harmful denial is incredibly common for those struggling with alcohol or drug addiction.
Few people start out with a full-blown addiction to alcohol or drugs. It typically creeps up slowly, building as it goes, which is why it can be easy to ignore the signs that your use is getting out of hand. When well-meaning friends and family give gentle nudges, we tend to blow it off and make excuses. Even when those closest to you begin pushing harder, with emotional pleas , it can be hard to accept that what they are saying is true because many feel like they’ve got it all under control, that they can stop anytime, and that they only use out of boredom/stress/anxiety so it can’t be that bad. If people who know you and typically have your best interests in mind seem to be continually disagreeing with the way you view yourself or your habits, it’s time to consider that you may be in the throes of denial.
Here are just a few examples to let you know if you have a problem with denial.
Denial comes in many forms and can look different depending on your personality and circumstances. How do people know when they are in denial about their substance abuse? Here are just a few examples:
- You know that you have a problem, but choose to ignore it anyway. This involves lying to yourself as well as your loved ones.
- You rationalize your substance use as a temporary solution to an external problem: “I’m only drinking because of the stress of my job, I will stop when this project is over.” “I’m only using to cope with my anxiety, I won’t need it after things are easier.”
- You compare yourself to your peers to determine acceptable use: “Everyone I work with drinks like this, so it can’t be too bad.”
- You know you use more than you should, but you don’t think it causes any problems for you, your work, or your relationships.
- You hear your loved ones telling you to get help, but you think they are just being too hard on you or don’t understand you.
- You may have considered getting help, but think that your case is “unique” and that treatment can’t possibly help your situation.
Denial is the habitual ignorance of reality, whether intentional or not. So how do you overcome the habit of denial? Author James Allen once said, “The great stumbling-block is not the habit itself; it is the belief in the impossibility of overcoming it.” Realizing that denial is just another habit that we can be addicted to can be a great push in the right direction to deal with any other addiction. It starts with brutal honesty with yourself without allowing your ego to step in and say “You’re doing fine.” Taking a good hard look in the mirror of your soul, taking inventory of your habits and actions and whether or not they are leading to the healthiest YOU that you can be should illuminate any actions that need addressing. Eventually, society had to accept what Galileo laid out as the truth to grow and progress. The same goes for each of us when facing our own life’s actions. The sooner we accept the harsh light of reality, the easier it is to face it.
Once we’ve laid ourselves bare for personal inspection, if we find that maybe the drink or the drug use is causing us to miss even one hour of the life we would like to live, interfering with relationships with loved ones, or hindering our path in our professional, social or spiritual life, it must be faced. Turning away means more denial, more prolonging of the inevitable truth that will eventually resurface, and more wasted time pretending the truth isn’t real. Facing it means accepting that this is something that you’ve done, not something you are and that just because you acted one way before does not mean you must keep acting that way in the future. For most, it means telling a loved one that you understand you have a problem to address. For many, it means getting the help they need from family, friends, physicians and counselors who are trained specifically to help break the cycle of these habits. Regardless of what path is chosen, it should always include an honest inventory of a person’s current situation and a willingness to accept whatever that honesty uncovers.
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