Being in recovery means we don’t need or want to lie to ourselves. Denial is our escape from reality, our fantasy. It’s lying to ourselves. All is fine, and we are in control. Denial keeps us from the truth. A spiritual reality is that when we experience faith, we can change and transform.
Many of us feel that our disease has its own personality and voice. We all have different parts or aspects to our personality. For Example, most of us feel and behave differently at work than we are with our parents, around our kids, on a hot date, or in a classroom. We tell our kids not to lie and mean it, and then we lie to our boss, the IRS, and our own mothers. It is as if we have different and real personalities existing in our consciousness. The disease also has a life of its own and its own voice. To stay “alive,” it creates its own story to tell us.
Essentially, it tells us we are fine and do not have the disease so we can keep using. This untrue story that we hear is our denial. Oh sure! We go to meetings and say, “Hi, I’m _____ and I’m an ______” because we are expected to do so. But do we really believe it?
Yes! People “do” lie at Support Group meetings. I swear I’m not making up that lie! Some even embellish or fabricate “war stories” in their drunk-a-logs (I think they’re called that) for the purpose of entertainment. I call that Negative Grandiosity. Some collect “good sounding clichés and attention-getting statements” and then begin repeating them. They sound good – but have little or no sobriety. Many groups have their own self-appointed guru (you know – touch my cloak and go forth) which departs radically from someone talking from a knowledge base for the purpose of helping others – and themselves. It (the camouflage and role-playing) is all lies. We intuitively recognize those that have something we want. Don’t be misled by the “good sounding ones”.
To recover from alcoholism and chemical dependency, we need to know how our disease lies to us, and how we lie to ourselves. We bring the truth in so we can have a chance to change our broken lives. When we go to 12 Step meetings, we will often hear people talk about what “their disease is saying”: “My disease wants me to go to my using friend’s house, my disease thinks that one beer won’t hurt me.” These people are familiar with their denial and how it works in them. Denial is a protective mechanism. It is a defense. It keeps us from feeling the painful and uncomfortable truth about our powerlessness and the consequences or unmanageability of our addictions. If we cannot feel or see these consequences, everything is fine and our disease can stay alive and active.
Denial comes in many forms. It is not just for chemical dependents either. If you are human, you have denial about something – your relationships, your behavior, your health, your family, etc. We all want everything to “be fine.” We have denial to protect us from pain. As chemical dependents, to keep our denial is to die. In the process, we create pain for those around us. We have denial about this to. To recover, we need to see our denial and see how it works so that we can loosen the grip of our addictions. Denial is replaced by the truth and acceptance. To be in denial feels like anger, fear, shame, and isolation. Instead of being cold and cut off from ourselves and others, we can be warm and begin to grow again.
Defenses are the specific way we ward off attacks to our denial. Some defenses are conscious and we are aware of them. Others are subconscious. We use both to keep our denial intact. Listed below are common defenses, or forms of denial. We use all forms of denial, although there are some that become our favorites.
1. Simple Denial – Simply denying being chemically dependent. Example: “you’re an alcoholic.” “no, I’m not.”
2. Minimizing – this is about making our chemical dependency or using seem less, e.g., “Yes, I drink, but not that much.” “I wasn’t that bad at the party.”
3. Rationalizing – Making excuses about our using, e.g., “I can’t sleep, so I drink or take pills.” “I need narcotics for my bad back.” “I had a bad day.”
4. Blaming – Using because we “had to.” Something “made us.” The responsibility lies somewhere else, not with us, e.g., “If my wife was nicer, I wouldn’t need to drink!” “I lost my job, that’s what made me drink.”
5. Bargaining – Cutting deals, e.g., “I’ll quit if you quit smoking.” “I’ll quit when there’s less stress at work.”
6. Intellectualizing or Generalizing – Using theories about your chemical dependency, keeping it general and vague, e.g., “My family is alcoholic and I have the wrong genes.” “My childhood was so bad, it’s a way of coping with my underlying feelings.”
7. Diversion – Changing the subject, e.g., “Yeah I got drunk last night, so what’s for dinner?” or “My drinking bothers me? Your weight bothers me.”
8. Passivity – Ignoring it or being a victim, e.g., “I’ve tried to quit, but it’s stronger than me.” “There’s nothing I can do.” “If I only had more will power……”
9. Hostility – Scaring or threatening people away from discussing it, e.g., “Get off my back.” “You like my paychecks, don’t you?”
The ways I have denial around my drinking/using:
1. Simple denial ….
2. Minimizing ….
3. Rationalizing ….
4. Blaming ….
5. Bargaining ….