These ‘messages of madness’ tell the addict that he or she doesn’t have a problem, or that the isn’t so alarming, or that the addictive behaviour is under control. It is denial that drives the individual deeper into despair and isolation. The addict begins to sincerely believe the irrational reasoning, indulging in blaming, rationalising, justifying or minimising the issue. Therefore, addicts resist any intervention or support toward recovery.
If not for these instances of denial, most addicts or alcoholics would seek treatment much sooner. Denial and the associated messages are such an inseparable part of addiction; these must be addressed for recovery to be initiated and sustained.
What is Denial?
Denial can be defined as a lie or a series of lies told by oneself to pretend a problem doesn’t exist or isn’t as bad as it seems. It’s a string of falsehoods, justifications, exaggerations and omissions of truth that all seem to serve one purpose: to enable the addict to continue to use unabatedly and without consequence.
The insane messages the addict tells himself might include that his behaviour isn’t as bad as others. Any semblance of normalcy goes to reinforce the lie. If the addict isn’t jobless or managed to go through the day fulfilling normal activities, it goes to tell him or her that all is well.
“I only use on weekends”, “I don’t inject”, “I only drink beer mostly” and such messages are familiar with an addict in denial. Such messages of madness serve to keep the addiction going.
The insanity of denial spreads to the addict’s family and society. Family members also begin to believe in the denial patterns. Friends give us unhealthy messages, such as “work hard, party harder’ or encourages us to celebrate small achievements with ‘a drink’ or toast. The holiday season gets reserved for partying as if the person has to compensate with booze and drugs for work during regular times.
What to manage denial and it’s messaging?
Denial is not something that is treated quickly. It is a cunning maze of detours that can be puzzling at least and mostly frustrating. Denial management is a science and art. Addiction therapists often refer to is as multi-layered, complex system, like the layers of an onion.
However, the denial must break so that recovery can start. The addict will cooperate with a solution only if and when he/ she believes there is a problem.
Any meaningful recovery can only take shape on a solid foundation of truth and reality, not falsehoods.
Share with another
Communicating is integral to addiction recovery and managing denial. Recovery is difficult when attempted alone. We all need someone to guide us, to listen to us, and make sense of what we’re saying and thinking while giving us useful feedback. This is especially true of the alcoholic or addict who develops a compulsive tendency to mislead himself. That is the vital role of a therapist, mentor or sponsor in addiction recovery. If the self-messaging of lies is somehow interrupted, the likelihood of some clarity is possible.
Journaling or Writing
Another therapeutic tool is journaling, wherein the addict pens down his thoughts and even works on the 12 Steps of recovery programs. There are workbooks available for this purpose. Such writing gives an insight into the distorted or irrational thought patterns that are part of addiction.
Another simple yet effective tool is writing down good old-fashioned pro’s and con’s list. Often by listing consequences, the person can see through the lies or excuses or motives of thoughts and plans. And sharing that with a therapist or sponsor provides valuable insight.
Denial is a battle that will not be conquered quickly. Some of the falsehoods the addict told himself will cease the moment he or she sobers up. Others will take time and patience. Some patterns return in different forms, having the potential to trigger a relapse. Having faith, being rigorously honest and openminded through the journey of recovery is the way long-term recovery.
Our organisation has specialists who can help you understand denial with addiction and can direct you to a team of counsellors to help guide you through recovery.