So many of us that struggle with alcohol or drug abuse spend years tangled in the web of denial. It’s easy to fixate on the semantics of the diagnostic world–clinging to the definitions that don’t quite suit us like medals of honor. “See! I’ve never missed work because of alcohol so I definitely don’t have a problem!” or “It says here that you have to meet three of the four criterion to have an actual dependence. Phew. I’m in the clear!”
In hindsight, I wish I’d spent far less time digging around for evidence to support my denial and more time considering one simple question: Does my drinking concern me? This question cuts to the chase, and chances are, I wouldn’t be conducting daily internet searches on alcohol abuse if I wasn’t worried about my relationship with it.
But denial gets fueled by stigma. And whether you embrace the disease model of addiction or not, there are some pretty intense stereotypes associated with drug and alcohol abuse. Admitting to the problem can feel like opening the floodgates to numbed emotions, vulnerability, and the opinions of others. Attributing the problems in our lives to other factors becomes a misguided act of self-preservation.
Denial is dangerous on several fronts. By discounting the aspects of reality that make us uncomfortable, we not only fuel the addiction, but also develop really unhealthy patterns of coping. To back up a belief system founded on falsehoods, the brain is forced to adopt a new inner-dialogue. What begins as a series of defense mechanisms spreads like kudzu through our psyche, altering our sense of who we are.
The good news? It’s not the 1950s. Admitting to your problem doesn’t score you a one-way ticket to electric shock therapy or a padded cell. While addiction stereotypes continue to exist in mainstream media, treatment options have diversified tremendously. The even better news? You get to choose your first step. There are countless options and the internet provides access to all of them.
For years, I felt like denial was protecting me from the judgment of others. If I didn’t admit to my problem out loud, I could maintain the glossy facade I’d so carefully crafted. In my mind, pressing the “help button” meant sending my toxic comfort zone into detonate mode. The reality was far less dramatic. Nothing exploded. No heckling mob emerged from the darkness. And no walls came crumbling down.
Rather, I walked into my new therapist’s office and said, “I self-medicate and I don’t want to do that any more.” And then–gently and calmly–she walked with me down that road.
Jen Anderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), sobriety coach, former alcohol enthusiast, and writer living in Florida.