Maybe you or a loved one has struggled with drug addiction or alcoholism for some time now.
You may be wondering–what is really holding you back from the sobriety that you seek?
This can be truly baffling at times, because the addict or alcoholic can genuinely want for things to be different, and yet still struggle to find sobriety.
So what is really going on in such cases? Why the struggle, if the person actually wants for their life to be different?
It is important to realize that there are several levels of denial. And therefore, there are several levels of corresponding willingness to those various levels of denial.
We all know about the most blatant level of denial, the outright denial in which an alcoholic is drinking wine for breakfast and tequila for lunch and they are passed out shortly after dinner, but they claim that there is no problem at all, and that they drink only a moderate amount of booze. That is what I would call blatant denial, or outright denial. The alcoholic is just not admitting to any of it, not even a tiny bit. They have a long way to go indeed. Or rather, such an alcoholic has a great deal more pain and consequences to endure before they might consider the fact that they might have a real problem.
Now the second level of denial is the one in which the alcoholic wakes up in jail the next morning after a nasty bender and asks the guards if they killed anyone the night before, because they honestly have no idea how they even got to jail in the first place, and no recollection at all of what might have transpired.
So this person is likely to admit to themselves and to other people that they do, in fact, have a problem with alcohol. They might even admit out loud that they are alcoholic. However, just because they admit to having this problem does not mean that they are instantly cured of it.
I was stuck in this level of denial for at least a year or two. I had been to rehab at the request of my family and I knew that I had a serious drug and alcohol problem. I knew full well that I was messed up. I could no longer argue against that and cling to the blatant denial that I used to have. No, I readily admitted that I had a real problem.
However, I was not willing to accept the solution. At the time I was terrified of AA meetings, and I was afraid of the notion that I might have to face the rest of my life and existence without alcohol or drugs to self medicate with. The idea was terrifying to me. The idea of sharing in an AA meeting while everyone was listening to me and looking at me was, quite simply, terrifying. I could not imagine embracing recovery because the solution was just too overwhelming for me. I thought to myself: The only way I could handle recovery is if I were drunk for most of it. And I was not trying to be funny, but instead I was driven by fear and anxiety. I relied on alcohol and drugs to manage my fear and hide from the world, and I could not handle the idea of facing reality without this crutch. It was too scary.
I had been to rehab twice before and yet I continued to self medicate. I said to people “AA meetings are not for me, I have been to them and they just make me want to drink.” That was because I was stuck in denial when I had been exposed to meetings, and I had not yet worked a recovery program and figured out how to manage my anxiety in recovery.
In other words, if your method of dealing with reality is to get drunk, and you suddenly take away the booze and stick a person in an AA meeting, it is no surprise that things don't instantly work out for that person. They are still stuck in denial, they are still stuck in the problem, and they do not have any new coping skills for living a life of sobriety yet. So of course early recovery is going to be overwhelming to them. It takes time to heal your life.
And so I struggled with the transition into recovery for a few years because I was afraid of sobriety, I was afraid of AA meetings and rehab, and I was afraid to face life without the crutch of drugs and booze. And perhaps even deeper than all of this, I was afraid to find out who I really was, because I had been self medicating for so long.
So then, what changed? How did I go from being full of fear and anxiety in addiction, to being sober and clean and healthy and happy in recovery? How did this transition unfold specifically?
Specifically I can tell you what happened. First, I reached the turning point that is mentioned in AA–that point at which I felt like I could not quite kill myself, but I did not really care to be alive any more either. That is a very desperate point to be at in life.
I wanted it all to just go away. I was done fighting, done struggling. I was sick of chasing the buzz and the high. I wanted to rest. I wanted to be done. Forever.
Because of this, I finally reached that point of surrender. I don't know exactly if you can choose to do this, but I believe you can inch closer to it by being honest with yourself. Chip away at your denial by seeing the truth.
What truth? Start measuring your happiness. Are you really happy when you drink? For how long are you happy? Every single night when you drink booze? Once a week are you happy? Is it for 2 days each month that you feel happiness? How often are you truly happy in your addiction? Start writing it down. Start recording it. Keep a happiness log. Prove to yourself that addiction is a dead end path.
Once you break through your denial you can choose something else. That “something else” starts with a call to an inpatient treatment center, or at least it did for me. I went to rehab and never took another drink or a drug, starting over 16 years ago. That has allowed me to create an amazing new life, one in which I have real happiness, freedom, and even joy.
What was holding me back from recovery was the fact that I was in denial, and I would cling to the idea that I could only be happy if I were drunk or high, and that if I were sober then I would be miserable forever. That is what my denial told me. I could not see the simple truth that I was miserably nearly all of the time in my addiction. I could not see the simple truth that if I were clean and sober that I would have nearly an infinite amount of opportunities for happiness and joy, especially when compared to the chaos and misery of my addiction.
I was stuck in denial and I could not see that simple truth. All I could see was the idea that I was happiest when I was drunk or high, and I wanted to hold on to that forever. I wanted to float away on a cloud of drunken intoxication without a care in the world and just be happy forever.
But addiction betrayed me. It turns out that the high doesn't last, it never lasts, and if you get drunk and high every day then eventually it is no longer fun, it is no longer that relaxing float through the clouds that you envisioned in the beginning. It all turns into chaos and misery, and eventually you are left with nothing–no happiness, no peace, and certainly no hope for a better tomorrow.
Your denial is what holds you back. Break through your denial by seeing the truth. And once you realize this truth, ask for help.
Ask. For. Help.
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