When something breaks your heart, it takes time for the realization to set in. If the brain has ever experienced emotional pain before, then it may want to delay that realization even further. In that sense, denial is a protective instinct, when we feel like shielding ourselves from the truth. But just like addiction itself, this temporary measure for comfort will only lead to greater pain in the future. If drinking is a maladaptive coping mechanism for stress, then denial is a maladaptive coping mechanism for addiction – and letting go of that feeling to accept the truth is both a tremendously difficult thing, and the very first and most significant milestone in any person’s journey towards recovery, sobriety, and happiness outside of addiction.
Recovery indeed begins with recognizing you have a problem – it’s the first step, and there’s no going back.
Yes, Denial Exists
For anyone who has had to watch a loved one suffer and deny the cause of their suffering, denial is a very real – and very painful – thing. It is a tragedy for both the denier and the ones surrounding them, friends and family who want the person they care for to realize their condition and seek help.
Overcoming denial is a central part to defeating addiction, because you cannot force someone into getting better. Forcing treatment onto people does not work because addiction treatment is entirely voluntary. It’s not a pill, or a surgery. It’s a set of instructions, of ideas, of concepts and imagery – addiction treatment involves describing a path to a blind stranger and inspiring them to take the first bold step on the uneasy path to recovery. Without full willingness and a strong motivation behind them, they cannot take that bold step. You can technically force someone into rehab – but they have to decide to get better for real change.
To help someone overcome denial, you must first be sure that what they’re going through is an addiction.
The Importance Of Defining Addiction
Everyone has problems, and sometimes, the way we deal with our problems can seem strange from the outside. Concern for others may lead to misconception, and a lack of trust or communication may lead to misunderstanding. It is important to be clear about addiction, because if you’re going down a path convinced that your loved one has a problem when they do not, you may find yourself inadvertently causing more harm than good.
However, it is not very difficult to tell whether your loved one’s behavior is problematic enough to warrant asking for a professional opinion. The amount does not define addiction someone drinks or takes, but rather, what counts is how it affects them as a person. Irritability, tardiness, inconsistencies, and constant lying are trademarks of suspicious behavior – but if it’s coupled with poor work performance, slacking off on responsibilities and stealing finances, it’s clear that a severe problem exists, regardless of whether substance abuse is at its core.
Addiction is defined by an obsession for something so powerful that it drives someone towards hurting themselves and ruining their lives. They break apart relationships, take unnecessary risks and, in extreme cases, even break the law to achieve the next high.
If your loved one is behaving very suspiciously and irrationally and has been drinking a lot or is in possession of suspicious paraphernalia, speak to them about their behavior. If they are in clear denial of their addiction, talk to a professional to help stage an intervention and hopefully put them on the path to recovery.
Taking The First Step
Interventions are carefully crafted conversations held between you and your loved one, or yourself and several others, including your loved one. The aim for these conversations is to make your loved one realize that their behavior is hurting them and others, and that whatever is causing it isn’t worth it. It’s to bring them to the realization that their unhealthy habits are causing major problems, of a scope that cannot be ignored.
This can be a painful burden to carry. Not only is the stigma of addiction heavy, but the guilt felt by those struggling with addiction for their actions and their denial can be emotionally devastating. However, only positive thinking will foster a productive recovery – even if it may seem impossible right now. Taking the first step is all about acknowledging the disease. Everything else comes after.
A Long Road Ahead
Seeking treatment for addiction can help you break the habit and prepare you for the road ahead. Ultimately, getting clean and staying clean is the key to beating an addiction. Treatment helps you get clean. But staying clean after recovery is something you will have to do without professional help.
That doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. While recovery treatment can help prepare you for the signs of a relapse and keep you mentally and emotionally strong, there will be days when the temptation to use again can seem overpowering. Especially on days of immense stress of overwhelming loss, not succumbing to the urge will require every drop of your will, and then some.
That is why it is critical to have a solid support system to help you stay clean for months and years after the end of treatment. Friends and family that know what you’re going through and understand that there will be days when you need help getting motivated, days when the fight feels like a losing one, and you need someone to tip the scales.
There are many ways to fight against relapses. One is to maintain a schedule that prioritizes the things that help you fight stress, including exercise or hobbies. Another is to regularly socialize with friends, while staying sober together. Go out on trips, go hiking, and see the country. Another tip is to help others get sober. Helping other people and seeing them grow – and pushing them through many of the same struggles you had – can be a great way to reflect on just how far you’ve come, while at the same time giving you the reminder of where you came from, and what you’re fighting for all this time.
Sobriety is not easy, and it’s something you have to maintain every day. But it does get easier to maintain, with time. And even if you do eventually slip up, what matters most is that you get back up, and push forward, past the experience, towards the future.