I have the disease of addiction. It makes me an alcoholic – an addict. And it means denial is second nature to me.
Today my higher power and I are celebrating 23 years of continuous recovery, walking together in sobriety through rough times and ready times, and times when change has come upon me ready or not.
The disease of addiction has meant that I have needed to navigate through many incidences of denial over the years. My recovery is contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition and for me there can be only one higher power.
Time and again I have discovered an addictive behaviour that gets in the way of my usefulness to God and to others. A behaviour that has no business being in my attempts to do God’s will.
Non prescription drugs, cigarettes, coffee, work, excessive pride, toxic relationships, prescription drugs, sugar. Some things were stopped when I got sober or before, and some later in recovery. All substances or things I had turned to with the same justifications, all with the same levels of denial. All with the same goal, to get me out of the present moment and make me feel different. Behaviours that needed to be discovered and addressed through surrender. But only once I realised they were a problem. Only when I became ready for change could I even begin the process.
The paradox of denial has meant that I genuinely couldn’t see the truth of my situation or feelings. So how could I undertake change before it hurt enough, or even make sense of what was going on without those vital facts?
If I’m lucky I might have had a vague sense that I need to pray for clarity, but as I mentioned, the paradox of denial is that I genuinely don’t know what I don’t know. This means most of the time I haven’t even realised I needed to ask for clarity. I’ve just gone along, doing what I am doing, thinking I’ve got it right and then noticing I can’t seem to get results, feeling that something seems out of balance, that there is a gap between me and God and struggling to find my footing.
Just like when I was drinking and in active denial, when I could not see my addiction, and without all the facts, I sought to understand my unhappiness and less than impressive results. I thought the reason had to be something else. I sought to blame and looked outside of myself for understanding.
With alcohol, I suspected it might be others in the household for not supporting my efforts to stop, I thought the alcohol industry had a hand in it for selling alcohol. I believed my family of origin had a hand in it for not teaching me a better way of living, I blamed my lousy will power, I even justified my excessive consumption by explaining people’s varying rates of metabolism. The list was endless. Too busy, don’t care enough, not safe, sick of failing, wrong climate, etc etc. I was so very busy “doing”, instead of “being.” I considered everything but the truth, I was an alcoholic. I couldn’t consider this truth because a major symptom in the disease of addiction is denial. My inner addict wanted me busy “doing,” so there was no time for “being.”
The stopping of other addictive behaviours have followed similar lines.
Today I hope I am truly willing to embrace self honesty as best as I can. That means continuing to seek regardless of how I think I’m doing.
If I do this, I trust the ah hah moments that have truly moved me forward on my journey will continue. I have to watch for anything that might be pre-occupying me, it could be another addictive distraction because the addict within is expert at deceiving me.
But with the knowledge I now have about my disease of addiction, I can look at my denial around drinking and make sure that I don’t look for reasons where there are none. If I have thoughts about picking up it is because I am an alcoholic. If I actually do pick up, it is because I am an alcoholic. Being addicted to alcohol is the reason why, not any of those other things outside of that.
Accepting this is important to me because it means I can make change from a place of honesty. It means that ok, the whole thing starts and stops with my addiction so what do I need to do to take full responsibility for managing this?
First of all, I surrender to the fact that the disease of addiction can only be arrested one day at a time, by living in the moment, and allowing a power greater than me to do exactly that … Be greater than me.
Secondly, in addition to letting go and letting God, there is leg work. My leg work includes maintaining my commitment to self honesty. It means continuing to be open minded regardless of whether I think and feel I have made the best or even the only choice. To seek! To assume that despite compelling evidence, the denial component of this disease could well be hiding reality from me.
These are “being” things. My recovery also includes planning, service work, meetings, and other practical strategies which are “doing” things. In and of themselves, while they are important, I need to remember they are “doing” things, so that I can watch out for pre-occupation of a different kind, obsession, pride, perfectionism and really all my character defects given enough time. It is possible for my denial to make a play for my serenity if I let myself become too busy “doing” without the balance of “being”, even doing what is suggested in recovery.
Living by the principles of this program, handing over to God with all my heart and understanding every day. These are not options or choices. They are the first and only line of defence for a disease that tells me I don’t have a disease. I am so grateful that the pain of my reality became so great that it broke through my denial around my alcoholism, because it meant I could escape the hell I was living in.
Every day I am abstinent is a miracle. Each and every moment is cause for celebration and thanks. Perhaps my disease will tell me I have failed if I am marking my time in minutes, or celebrating 24 hours instead of 24 weeks or years. I’m not listening. Every second, every minute that I name this addiction and claim abstinence is a victory. Let me shout it from the roof tops. Did you hear? I’m an alcoholic, and in this moment I have broken through my denial to call it by name. Today it has no power over me.
I would love to hear how you navigate through life in respect to denial. What is your understanding of denial? How has it sabotaged you in active addiction? What tricks has it got up to in recovery? When has it left you shaking your head and smiling ruefully after the truth finally emerged? Please feel free to share on this recovery focus or anything else that might arise for you after “attending” the opening of this week’s meeting.