Speak Out with Caroline: Denial- The Ugly Face of Addiction

Photo provided by Caroline Kagia

Caroline Kagia is a certified addictions professional and recovering alcoholic. Speak Out with Caroline is a column dedicated to addiction and recovery from substance abuse and/or other forms of addiction. Read about Caroline’s story here.

Denial is a protective defense mechanism which can remove painful feelings or uncomfortable emotions. Unfortunately, this is but a temporary fix as the situation has not changed or been resolved. It is also refusal to aknowledge the reality of one’s situation.

Some common denial patterns include:

  • Avoidance- not talking about it.
  • Absolute denial- ‘I don’t have a problem.’
  • Minimizing- ‘It’s not that bad.’
  • Rationalizing/justifying- ‘I have a good reason.’
  • Blaming- ‘It’s not my fault.’

Addicts are prone to denial. In my case, alcohol addiction cost me many jobs, was a catalyst to many broken relationships and lost opportunities. I was in denial for so many years that it became my reality. You see, when you live in a particular frame of mind for a prolonged period of time, you actually begin to believe or accept it as your reality.

I was in denial for years about just how severe and unhealthy my drinking habits really were. There was always  a reason to drink: When I was happy, I drank. When I was sad, bored, anxious, lonely…I drank. If the neighbor’s cat died, I drank :-).

Justification for my drinking and its consequences, while ignoring advice and even help from family and friends was very strong. It was unshakable.

Is there help for the victim of denial?

It’s not easy talking to someone about something as personal and sensitive as drinking or drug use. It is important not to try and approach your loved one while they are drunk or ‘high’, to have this conversation. They might not be able to devote their attention to you and may become angry if under the influence. When the right time comes, try not to worry about saying the exact right thing.

It may be more productive if you can talk to your loved one when the consequences of their substance use is still fresh  on their mind and they feel remorseful.

Approaching their denial:

No matter what the person’s behavior has been like, it’s important to remember that your loved one is not a bad person. He or she has an addiction and is in deep denial

When you do address the problem, avoid blaming or criticizing your loved one. That can be hard to do when their actions have caused you pain. Here are some things to keep in mind.

  • Don’t use general statements. Be specific about incidents they are aware of and have participated in like lost/missed job opportunities and broken promises.
  • Focus on how their action or inaction affected you. For example: ‘I was worried’, or ‘I felt’ when having ‘the’ conversation.
  • Bring up how their actions are negatively affecting the things he/she cares about like family or their career.
  • Don’t take it personally if your loved one refuses to admit they have a problem. It took me 18 years to accept mine. Keep in mind that denial is a symptom of addiction, try to remain supportive.
  • Do not be partisan to their addiction and denial by being an enabler and making excuses for them when they miss school, work or other commitments. That is detrimental to their recovery. An enabler is the biggest hindrance in an addict’s life. Sometimes the only way to salvage such a situation is to incorporate tough love. This means allowing your loved one to hit rock bottom and hopefully pick him/herself up from the ashes of his/her life.

Recovery is an ongoing process. Overcoming denial and accepting the situation in which one has found themselves, is but one of the many steps towards healing and restoration.

Being there for your loved ones duing their hardest times shows that you not only care, but that you understand them.

Several people close to me; even strangers, mentioned that they were worried about my drinking. Although it didn’t get me to stop immediately, it helped me to gradually consider sobriety when I was ready.

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