Throughout our struggles with addiction, we develop many coping mechanisms that we use in order to help ourselves cope with our pain but that are often means of trying to avoid it altogether. One of those coping mechanisms is denial. We can be in such deep denial about our substance abuse that we somehow manage to convince ourselves that we aren’t addicts after all, that we aren’t using or drinking any more than anyone else, that we can use in moderation, cut back, or even quit, any time want. We tell ourselves that we’re in full control over our choices and behaviors, when in reality we feel totally out of control and totally overpowered by our addictions. We tell ourselves that our dependence is not problematic, that it’s not an issue we can’t handle.
We often will ignore the signs that our dependence is worsening. We avoid looking at the fact that we feel totally needy and dependent upon a substance or behavior. We ignore how deeply attached to it we’ve become and how terrible we feel without it. We avoid thinking about how weak and powerless we feel whenever we try to quit, how disappointed and ashamed we feel every time we relapse. We pretend that we don’t recognize how angry we feel with ourselves and our addictions. We deny all of the inner turmoil we’re constantly feeling. We suppress the shame and regret we feel about our pasts and the fears and worries we have for the future.
When we’re in deep denial, we usually won’t share our concerns with other people who can help and support us. We’re afraid to share personal details with them for fear of being judged, criticized and looked down upon. We don’t want to let people into our experience for fear that they will reject us and make us feel worse about ourselves than we already do. We don’t admit to our healthcare providers that we have concerns for our health. We don’t seek out therapists, support groups, recovery coaches or sponsors. We might have loved ones who’ve expressed their concern, but we often will choose to distance ourselves from them and isolate ourselves rather than allow them to be there for us, because we’re trying to protect ourselves and the secrets we’re trying to keep.
Our denial is a form of resistance that keeps us from getting the help we need and doing the work we need to do in order to recover. There are many ways in which our denial functions in our lives. It works to worsen our addictions and compound the shame, fear and sadness we already feel. It keeps us trapped in fear, unable to move forward. Analyzing our denial is an important step in learning how to move through it.