One of the greatest challenges for someone who is living in the illness of addiction as well as for his or her family is the strong force of denial. There is denial about the amount of drug use and drinking that goes on. There is denial about the problems it’s causing. There’s denial that it’s a problem at all. And perhaps the most frightening is that there is denial about the thought patterns that exist that might have started an addiction in the first place.
Denial could be described as a mental trick, a blind spot. It prevents us from seeing what we are doing to ourselves and to others. Denial exacerbates the cycle of addiction and keeps an individual imprisoned despite the many warning signs that recovering addicts later admit to. Denial creates the need to justify our behavior and leads to hiding the truth from ourselves and from others. It distracts us from the compulsion of addiction and the illness that is only getting worse.
The incredible strength of denial infiltrates into every aspect of an addict’s life, which is why honesty flips the entire addiction on its head. Honesty makes everything come crumbling down. Honesty creates humility, connection, and healing. Honesty can counter the tendency to deny that there is a problem, to ignore the illnesses of the mind, and to avoid the truth.
Perhaps it might be useful to address denial more specifically so that it might be easier to see the ways in which one can be honest. The following are typical thought patterns that frequently come with addiction. They are those patterns of thought and behavior that continue to contribute to the illness of addiction.
-Avoidance – I will talk about anything but my problems.
-Minimizing – My problems are not that bad.
-Rationalizing – My problems exist for this or that reason and because of that I don’t have to deal with them.
-Blaming – My problems are not my fault.
-Comparing – Others have worse problems than I do and so I don’t have to deal with problems of my own.
-Manipulating – I will admit to my problems if you solve them for me.
-Fear – Being afraid of my problems gives me a reason to avoid them.
-Hopelessness – Nothing works so I don’t have to try.
There is a great deal of humility required to recognize that there might be something astray in one’s thinking. And then, it’s not only humility that leads to honesty, but courage is needed to. And so you might see how addiction can become problematic. If someone had courage in the first place, he or she might not be hiding from life, from problems, and from the stigma of addiction. In some ways, it requires transcending the experience of addiction enough in order to see yourself and the problems that the addiction is causing.
It’s at this point that honesty can come in. Honesty is the antidote for denial, which leads to the healing experience of acceptance – acceptance that there is a problem, acceptance that we need help, and acceptance of the truth. One primary way that honesty is healing is that it reconnects us to ourselves. It builds a bridge between the parts of ourselves as well as a bridge between others and ourselves. In addition to facing denial head on, the connections that honesty creates are also healing.
Honesty also creates willingness. Willingness could be defined as knowing what you need to do and doing it. It can be a hard choice to finally do what you need to do. There are old habits, familiar circumstances, and the inner struggle that get in the way. Willingness is participation, action, and commitment. Willingness is showing up to recovery, including all the activities that recovery entails – 12-step meetings, therapy, support groups, and events within the recovery community. Willingness is showing up for ourselves.
Denial can be a prison that keeps one stuck inside the walls of addiction. Denial can stand in the way between who we are now and who we could be. Yet, through honesty with oneself and with others, sobriety is possible. It’s not only possible; it’s a reality that has yet to be experienced.
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