The First Step: Denial is not just a bad pun

July 27, 2006

Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions and that your life has become unmanageable

The truth is that most addicts that I have met are not in denial about their addictions. They are aware of it and they are aware that it is bad. What they are in denial about is the effects of their addiction.

Perhaps the most common form of denial is “I can quit any time I want.” Cliched but true. The most enduring aspect of denial is the denial of being out of control. That is why the first step concludes with the acknowledgement that your life is out of control. That is hard to do. In this country and in this church, we have great belief in the power of the will. Horatio Alger tells us that with a good work ethic and good character, anyone can make it. Anyone can do anything (isn’t that the American dream?). We are here to become Gods, after all; certainly, a problem with alcohol or gambling can be easily dealt with. And yet, it isn’t and it persists. Paraphrasing Mark Twain, of course we can quit any time we want. The problem is that we don’t stay quit. If we have quit the same sin/habit hundreds of times, it may be time to consider that our problem isn’t quitting, it’s starting up again.

Another common form of denial is “I’m only hurting myself.” Generally, you find this among people afflicted with the more socially acceptable, less criminal addictions. Controlling behavior, anger, pn, mb, or overeating addicts often use this justification. Who else is hurt by it? To be honest, “I am only hurting myself” is always a lie. You have relationships that are damaged, callings that go unmagnified, people you disappoint, and opportunities that you miss. When you spend all your time and talent hurting yourself, it gives you a warped view of the remainder of society and you begin to hurt others “accidentally”. After a while, the only people you can stand to be around are other addicts, mostly because they are the only people who will tolerate you. You are not an island; you never just hurt yourself.

I’ve never really encountered someone who sincerely believed that “it’s not really that bad.” Most addicts I have known understand that it is bad. Denial for them is in denying that they could live without it. The addiction becomes the focus of the whole existence of the addict. It is the only thing that makes life bearable. The addict may have other pursuits, interests, or loves, but they are all understood in through the filter of the addiction. One might take a hit in order to make oneself presentable to a loved one, to feel in control at a job, or to feel alive at all. There is no real life without the addiction. That is a denial of other people’s experiences and a denial of God’s power to redeem.

In this way, the addicted life is a denial of reality. In reality, we all have problems and we all have triumphs. In the addicted life, all one’s triumphs contribute to the problem. In reality, people have faults and strengths. In the addicted life, my fault is so bad that I can only appear to have strengths; if anyone knew my fault, they would abandon me and those who know and haven’t abandoned me are too stupid to keep around. In reality, we are all steadily trying to overcome a myriad of faults. In the addicted life, there is one overwhelming fault and once it is dealt with everything else will finally be perfect. If life isn’t perfect, one can always go back to the addiction.

Addiction is denial.


One Response to “The First Step: Denial is not just a bad pun”

  1. What they are in denial about is the effects of their addiction.

    That is well said.

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