Denial is the PRIMARY psychological symptom of addiction. It is an automatic and unconscious component of addictions. Addicts are often the last to recognize their disease, pursuing their addictions into the gates of insanity, the collapse of health and ultimately death. Sadly, many addicts continue to act out on their addictions while their world collapses around them – blaming everything but the addiction for their problems. Denial is one of the reasons that recovery from addictions is seldom effective if the chemically dependent person is forced into treatment. You cannot work on a problem unless you accept that it exists.
Step One of Alcoholics Anonymous deals with working through our denial, allowing us to accept our powerlessness over addictions and the chaos and unmanagability they bring into our lives. (This is just one of the curious and beautiful things about recovery – in acknowledging powerlessness the addict is empowered to lead a healthy life.)
Active alcoholism and addiction are characterized by a struggle to control use. Addicts resent the suggestion they are powerless until things get so bad they are forced to face their addiction. Sadly, some alcoholic / addicts never break through their denial, and continue use to the point of insanity and death.
There are many subtypes of denial, including projection, (“I don’t have a problem – you have a problem.”) rationalization, (“I drink because of my crummy job / life / wife /parents etc.”) intellectualization, (being too much “in your head” about your problems) minimizing, (sure I drink a few beers each day, but it’s not a problem”) suppression, (forcing down memories of our using behavior and consequences of use) withdrawing, (leaving relationships, jobs, etc. rather than face our problems.) geographic escapes (my life is unmanagable – but it’ll get better if I move to another place.)
About Codependendency and Recovery from Addictions:
Addictions and Codependency are family and relationship issues as well as a primary illness for the addict. Modern treatment methods address the entire family and relationship structure. Ironically, codependency isn’t about other people – it’s about the relationship with the self. Codependents often believe that if the addict in their life sobered up their problems would go away. Countless addict / alcoholics find their relationships end or change radically when they get clean and sober. The family / relationship dynamic was predicated on the addict being “the sick one.” As the addict gets well they may find their partners and family members have no idea how to adjust to the changes. Enabling codependents may subvert the addict’s recovery so the unhealthy relationship dynamics can be preserved. Addicted codependents who hid behind another’s more dramatic problem may leave the relationship rather than give up their own using. Addicted codependents often progress in their own addictions more rapidly when their partner enters recovery. (Since the change in the relationship is stressful.)
Codependents in denial cannot adjust to the relationship changes that occur when their partner begins recovery. They may move on to other addictive relationships so they can cling to their own dysfunctional patterns. (The controlling codependent is often lost without someone to blame, fix and control.) How many times have you heard of people who leave one alcoholic only to enter a relationship with another one? All people involved in the addictive cycle need a solid recovery program if relationships are to be preserved and they are to lead happy, fulfilling lives.
Symptoms of Codependency:
- Inability to know what “normal” is.
- Difficulty in following a project through.
- Difficulty having fun.
- Judging self, others without mercy.
- Low self esteem, often projected onto others. (eg: Why don’t they get their act together!)
- Difficulty in developing or sustaining meaningful relationships.
- Belief that others cause or are responsible for the codependent’s emotions.
- Codependents often use language like “you make me feel ______”, or “I was made to feel like____”.
- Overreacting to change. (or intense fear of / inability to deal with change.)
- Inability to see alternatives to situations, thus responding very impulsively.
- Constantly seeking approval and affirmation, yet having compromised sense of self.
- Feelings of being different.
- Confusion and sense of inadequacy.
- Being either super responsible or super irresponsible. (Or alternating between these.)
- Lack of self confidence in making decisions, no sense of power in making choices.
- Feeling of fear, insecurity, inadequacy, guilt, hurt, and shame which are denied.
- Isolation and fear of people, resentment of authority figures.
- Fear of anger or bottling anger up till it explodes.
- Hypersensitivity to criticism.
- Being addicted to excitement / drama. (Chaos making.)
- Dependency upon others and fear of abandonment.
- Avoidance of relationships to guard against abandonment fears.
- Confusion between love and pity.
- Tendency to look for “victims” to help.
- Rigidity and need to control.
- Lies, when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.