Let’s talk about denial. Some say,“I don’t deny anything that is truth, why would someone who is struggling with addiction lie and minimize their problem.” Well, there is a bit more complexity to this phenomena than one might think. We won’t even broach the topic of truth being relative because, for our purposes, we are working to heal addiction. So, we’re going to focus on some mental aspects of addiction, what goes into the denial of it, and how to address the topic with loved ones, in a way that can most benefit their chances of opening up to some of that truth, and beginning a path to freedom.
Let’s first address the subject of denial in your average self-regulating, ever-evolving human being, you know the ones-maybe your reading this now-you have a few bad habits, maybe you watch Netflix and stay up too late, maybe you eat cookies when your feeling stressed, but overall you function quite admirably in society. Maybe you function above average, and have amassed a large empire, or continued a family empire. In any case, I would like to bring your attention to your average, positively channeled practice of denial.
It may be that you are on the last 10 minutes of a workout and your body is feeling the eﬀects of a few too many late nights but you push through, in denial of the messages for a restorative pause. Or, perhaps you’re working on a project that must be done and you are near finished, having skipped a meal, you might deny the hunger pangs for the sake of the finished product. These are harmless minimal practices of denial, the brain opting for a bigger picture reality, utilizing this ability to redirect neural pathways for the sake of a larger desire. Sometimes the denial does grow bigger, even in these instances- someone may continue to prioritize work, and put oﬀ eating, end up losing weight, and become malnourished. It can be so gradual that it is like a frog in a boiling water.
(This by the way is an untrue adage; The frog, guided by an unencumbered, purely positive, intuitive instinct, will scramble out of the pot as soon as it’s uncomfortably warm. Which is a whole other blog topic I may embark upon at a later date, having to do with the sensitivities of an addict or alcoholic, being used for the benefit of themselves and those around them.)
But for our purposes, as we can’t all be intuitively guided, self-preserving frogs, let’s just say the frog doesn’t know to scramble out at the first sign of discomfort…yet.
This is often what happens in the brain of an addict- at first it may simply be a setting aside of the reality of a bad habit to try and focus on life- survival or thriving, depending on certain factors in an individual’s experience. But eventually, as brain pathways are practiced, more denial is enforced. And this denial, combined with the bio-chemical dependency, becomes the grounds for a serious omission of the reality of their addiction.
Some signs of an addict in denial:
When a person becomes angry at the suggestion of an addiction problem, the anger is often a sign of a skewed perception, which can encompass a large collection of brain pathways, set up to support the maintenance of their drug-induced mental environment. The brain goes to great lengths to follow the path of least resistance, which in the case of an addict is a solidified dependance on a certain substance or thought pattern, to carry on the status quo.
Often these are used as a measure of self-justification. Excuses are rationalizations that have been practiced in the addict’s mind for quite some time, set up from small choices in subsequent moments that build up, sometimes quite gradually, to the point that they probably feel to the addict like a very real aspect of reality.
When an addict uses an external condition as the reason, or means, for using or not- for example, “when I finish school, I’ll be able to stop using, so it’s ok for now,” it can be a sign of denying the power of addiction in hijacking healthy thought patterns.
Often addicts in a severe amount of denial come close to death before they are shaken into an awareness of their reality. So what is a way we can penetrate the barriers to awareness and bring help to an addict, before they are on the brink of death? How can we aﬀect a shift in consciousness in those who may not admit defeat, or who may even, with great hostility, attack against any suggestion of powerlessness?
Everyone is unique in their expression of concern, and the dynamic between an addict and a loved one in addressing the problem of addiction is a very personal matter- diﬀerent approaches work for diﬀerent people. With that in mind, here are some techniques that have worked for some, in at least helping an addict to agree to get some help:
-The most important thing is expressing concern and love. If you are uneasy in the conversation, i.e.- resentful or triggered, yourself (which, lets face it, most loved ones are, with good reason) it’s going to be a more challenging conversation. So… whatever you can do to address your own feelings and come from a place of love and concern, is not only going to be more eﬀective in helping create awareness, it’s going to feel better and more satisfying for you, which in turn has a positive eﬀect on those around you, including the addict you love.
-Stay away from blame or criticism, instead use “I” statements, like “I noticed…” or “I was concerned when…”
-Talk about the eﬀects you’ve noticed on the things they care about most, i.e-family, career, hobbies, etc. helping them tap into those aspects of life that have uplifted them in the past, could open them up to some of the reality of what’s lost, that could be found again.
-Don’t take it personally if they are unable to admit their problem, make sure you leave them with the knowledge that you are available to help, should they decide they need it-often the seed is planted and it still takes a little time for them to come around to the truth (unless of course, you, for your own personal reasons, need to disconnect-sometimes this is necessary and can also lead to an addict getting help through the pain of losing your connection.)
As a side note- there are times when loved ones need to refocus on their own lives, attend to their own personal journeys and rid themselves of connection to the suﬀering addict in their lives. Sometimes the eﬀect of these boundaries on a relationship dynamic that may have been unhealthy and fed into an addiction cycle, can be just the push an addict needs to gain awareness and get help. With that said, there are times when it is helpful to continue to lovingly oﬀer support as much as possible, and remain available. Only those involved can know what feels right in their situation.
There are many points of entry for creating a change in any aspect of our reality, including addiction, whether we are aﬀected personally or are simply witnessing a loved one under the influence of addiction, there is always hope, there are many approaches. If one approach doesn’t seem eﬀective, we can try something new, and in these moment-to-moment experiments, we all learn, grow, and aﬀect the evolution of humanity, and everyone’s increasing freedom to choose their own reality.