If you ask anyone who is in recovery they will tell you denial is the hardest obstacle to overcome. I once asked our co-founder and former alcoholic Takis Liris abour denial he somberly proclaimed that “denial is a very bad thing, when the addict is in denial they can’t or won’t seek help, and when the friends and family of an alcoholic or addict are in denial they are of no service to their loved ones.”
What exactly is denial? Simply put, it is someone’s refusal to admit to a truth or reality. Psychologically speaking, denial is something we use as a sort of defense mechanism when dealing with situations that threaten our view of reality and our egos. Indulging in a bit of denial can be helpful when
* It gives you the time you need to adjust to a challenging life event.
* It stops you from making any rash decisions.
* It helps to protect the ego from something that would cause a great deal of suffering.
However, living in a constant state of denial is dangerous and destructive. Those who suffer from denial truly believe the chaos and misfortune of their lives is due to anything else, other than their abuse of alcohol or drugs.
Consider some of these excuses:
* My real problem is other people are judging me.
* My family stresses me alcohol helps me de stress.
* I hate my job and my boss and they make my life miserable.
* Life is so boring without alcohol or drugs.
* The real problem is I can’t find a job or I’m underemployed.
* People who do not do drink or do drugs are weird and uptight.
* The system is unfair and this is why my life is so miserable.
* The weather is to blame.
* I’m single and it’s making me depressed, I need a boyfriend/girlfriend.
As we see the excuses vary from the slightly plausible to highly ridiculous, the excuses all send the same message, everything else but the addiction is responsible for their misfortunes. Furthermore it is very difficult for a person to break away from their denial, for most they have to hit what is referred to as rock bottom which essentially means that they can no longer avoid the reality of their situation. “Rock bottom” is different for each person, but it usually has to do with realization that they are about to lose what they value above all else, a spouse, children, career, or their life.
Denial not only effects the abuser, it has a profoundly negative effect on their families. Families feel they have no choice but to join their loved ones in their distortion of reality. Most do not or cannot bring themselves to point out the flawed logic in their reasoning, and as time goes on this creates stress, anxiety and a resentment towards the denier. Children of alcoholics and addicts often are afraid to challenge their parents reasoning for fear of being shut out of their lives and consequently they enable their parent by joining them in their thinking. Unfortunately this can become habit forming for the child and does not necessarily go away when their parent sobers or cleans themselves up. This is particularly problematic as they now know (subconsciously) they can use denial to “re write” the parts of their life, character, personality or whatever they do not feel comfortable with.
Denial does have its short term advantages, such as giving one time to adjust to a painful or stressful situation, or serve as the precursor to a great life changing decision. However, staying in denial for any prolonged period of time is dangerous and, for those who are struggling with alcoholism and addiction it delays recovery. Breaking through denial is very challenging, if one confronts the denier with the severity of their situation this more often than not pushes them further into denial and is further fueled by the same shame and stigma associated with the disease of alcoholism and substance abuse . Breaking through denial however is not impossible. Help can only come from those family and friends who are not also themselves in denial. The most effective method in battling denial is by helping a loved one learn about their disease in a more benign manner. Another course of action is helping the denier seek out support from others who have dealt with or are dealing with the same issues. These non-threatening techniques disarm their natural defence mechanisms and eventually help them overcome their denial. Once the alcoholic or addict has come to terms with the reality of their situation, only then can recovery begin.