The Nature of Denial

Denial runs deep in those who suffer from the disease of addiction. Yet to admit and accept personal powerlessness provides a foundation for recovery. Losing alcohol can be difficult. Alcohol is often perceived as a solution rather than a problem. It takes courage and commitment. Once we overcome denial, a happy and purposeful life is available.

Although not always conscious, denial ranges from a lack of readiness to change to an out-and-out refusal. After all, “Who cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea of personal  powerlessness.”(Step 1 from 12 Steps 12 Traditions)

Anyone suffering a loss doesn’t want to accept it. To hold a hidden glimmer of hope in the face of an unwanted reality is human. We are not unique. In AA literature we read. “When first challenged to admit defeat, most of us revolted.” (Step 1 from 12 Steps 12 Traditions)

Spotting Denial

Some people aren’t ready to discuss their issues. It is easier to pretend things are different; pretend to be normal. AA literature explains, “It is truly awful to admit that, glass in hand, we have warped our minds into such an obsession for destructive drinking that only an act of Providence can remove it from us.”

Denial is a defense for fear, confusion, and shame. It can manifest as rationalizing, minimizing, and/or discounting our addiction. Changing the subject shows denial is present. Blaming others also serves to deflect an unpleasant truth. Avoiding an honest look at our circumstance and the part we play. Putting on a self-sufficient front. All parts of the face of denial.

Some sounds of denial are:

I can handle this.

I’m good.

I don’t want/need any help.

This doesn’t matter. I don’t care.

It’s not that bad./It could be worse.

I don’t have a problem now.

This doesn’t bother me.

If it weren’t for … I wouldn’t….

Breaking Through

The urgency to overcome denial stems from the life-threatening nature of addiction. Denial is the first stage in the process of acceptance. The question becomes how can one break through the wall of denial and come to a degree of acceptance sufficient to bring about a change?

To overcome a problem we must admit it exists. In recovery, we learn we are the one who needs to change. This is a significant part of ‘hitting bottom.’ When we take personal responsibility for our lives and our actions. We recognize ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’.

If you are wrestling with denial, knowledge can be helpful. Book knowledge is the beginning. The knowledge one alcoholic shares with another is priceless. If we listen to someone in recovery with an open mind, it can help us identify and accept the help we need. There is great value in hearing the experience, strength, and hope of others.

Once we face the problem deep in-roads are made.  We get honest with ourselves about our addiction. We get a clear picture of the past and future, a new clarity shines forth. Others in the program can help us see the picture if we are open. Thank goodness we don’t have to do it alone. Then we must do the work involved in healing. Getting involved in a homegroup, working the steps, using a sponsor, reading the literature, can help dissolve denial and move toward recovery.

The Return of Denial.

What if denial returns while in recovery?  It takes effort to stay in touch with reality. This means staying mindful of relapse signs and symptoms. We must recognize our negative thoughts and feelings. Anger, unrest, and discomfort can bring the return of denial. Oversensitivity can leave us vulnerable. Judgmental attitudes, frustration, and feeling disconnected from others can be dangerous.

After years people may uncover thoughts of denial. These thoughts creep in to claim, “This time it will be different.” “I can be safe now.” “I don’t need meetings anymore.” We forget our necessary focus. We twist reality to fit our agenda. Often we don’t realize where these thoughts and feelings can lead. This complacency opens the door for denial to reenter. It can go unnoticed for some time. Months or even years can pass without warning or acknowledgment.

Lack of gratitude also allows denial to return. Maintaining a consistent level of gratitude can offset the downward spiral before it gains momentum.

Navigating the Path of Recovery

Recovery is a lifelong process. We are not perfect. Nor are we immune from the peaks and valleys of life. If denial returns, seek support. Share with a friend, a sponsor, or someone in the program. It works wonders. An outside source can lend insight. Someone strong in their own recovery can help you to explore: Where have I fallen into ‘stinking thinking’? What biases have taken hold and tainted my thinking? What can help me feel more connected and comfortable? How can I be helpful and contribute? Perhaps I can learn to shift the focus from what can I get to what can I give? What options work for me?

We each have specific and unique suggestions to overcome our denial. Besides people in the fellowship, I am an advocate of outside help to discuss issues which threaten our sobriety. For all people however the suggestion to make sobriety a priority holds true. This may include an increase in meeting attendance and deeper involvement in the fellowship. Offering to help someone else in the program shifts our self-centeredness and relieves us of the ‘bondage of self’. Engaging in recovery practices like prayer and meditation, daily spiritual reading, and journaling can bring peace and comfort. A recommitment to apply the steps in our daily lives.

Denial must be recognized and dealt with in a constructive manner. Although it is not always easy, it must be worked through to enjoy the benefits of a sober life.


As written for All 4 Ur Addiction Recovery Resource


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