It’s the word that many people in and around recovery use to describe the state that an Alcoholic or Addict is “in”, when they're actively using instead participating in a program of recovery. Often times that term is casually followed up by the phrase, ‘You're gonna die!!’ When I was newly sober, some of the people with long-term sobriety taught me that this is what the new-folks needed to hear. So, I went on to use that one-two punch myself. I used it on the most hopeless class of people I know, the suffering alcoholic/addict (a/a). I remember feeling very justified when I verbally body slammed these people whom I barely even knew. It didn't seem at all inappropriate because people were dying. I had been to their funerals. Surely these newbies are in denial, aren't they? I mean, come on! They were sitting in hospitals, treatment centers or dank church basements; things that most people didn’t do unless they absolutely had to. Somebody had to tell them the truth!
Or did they? Was that even the truth? Those are two very good questions that I never dared to ask others or myself in early recovery. Since those fears are long gone, let’s have a look at the second question first.
Were these people in denial about having a problem with drugs and alcohol? It’s not always as obvious as it first seems. There were plenty incidents in my life that should have indicated to me that I might have a problem with drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, these events preceded by far my ability to honestly or deeply examine them. Also, the possibility that I truly believed that I was still in control of my chemical intake or that drugs and alcohol weren’t really affecting my life, needs consideration. It seems to me that a delusional person can’t also be in denial about the same issue. Next it had to understood that just because a person doesn’t feel like talking, doesn’t mean they are guilty of denial by default. After all, other people couldn’t accurately say that I was in denial simply because I didn’t, wouldn’t or couldn’t talk to them about my life.
Now let’s have a look at the first question. Do we really have to say to someone; “You’re in denial”? Suppose we have thoughtfully evaluated all of the above and had a great deal of conversation with the other person, so we are now confident that the other person is actually in denial. Is the 'denial' talk really the most effective dialog to have? Obviously, I don’t have a special porthole of truth that I can gaze through and see ‘the right answer’ for everybody – or anybody else, really. However, I do have a great deal of experience talking to patients in various stages of treatment. I have also given a great deal thought about how I have handled and should handle these situations, so I’ll share my perspective.
When talking to a person whom I may be of assistance to, I ask myself a couple of questions. First, I ask myself; “What is my intention?” My answer to that question is always “To offer the most support and help to this person that I possibly can”. Next I ask; “If it was a younger version of myself that I was speaking to, what approach would I have most likely responded to positively in this situation’. The answer is always “One with a humble, respectful attitude.” My answer never was; “One with a confrontational and judgmental manner.” As I mentioned earlier, I used to employ this challenging tactic years ago. Clearly, I hadn't fully considered what it meant to be ‘of maximum service’ to these suffering people – MY people. If my agenda was only to make sure they heard what I believed the ‘the truth about their situation’ was, then that more combative approach fits the bill. It’s not hard to imagine why an antagonistic style is so unpalatable and ultimately less effective. This method is being used on a person who is already unwilling or unable to either acknowledge or discuss their situation. If a person feels like they’re being attacked, it will probably provoke in them a defensive posture. If that person is an a/a who feels like they’ve been condemned or cornered, their defense may look a lot more like a full-on counter attack! To avoid that adrenaline pumping, time-wasting battle, I long ago began to opt for a different strategy. One that highlights something the a/a probably hasn’t thought about much in their fairly recent past.
There is hope. For you! If think you might be an alcoholic/addict, there is a way out. It’s a group of processes that have worked for me and many others. If you do think you’ve got an alcohol or drug problem and you’re willing to take advantage of every resource of help that is available to you, you almost can’t help but to get and stay clean/sober. If you combine: Inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, professional therapy, aftercare, sober living, a recovery program, sober network of friends and the support of family and all who love you (and anything else you can think of) – I think you’ll have the very best odds for achieving long-term and contented sobriety. By the way, past failures you may have had at earlier attempts to recover don’t necessarily sentence you to another defeat this time around. To the contrary, if you change your approach based on the lessons learned from any mistakes you may have made, your odds are even better that you’ll succeed now!
Do you think you might have a problem with alcohol or drugs? What can I do to help you?