Professional Interventionist

Denial – House of Mirrors or House of Cards?

  • Posted by: Steve Bruno

Many believe that if an addict does not admit to having a problem, he does not know he has a problem. This is categorically false. We are taught to see this as denial in mainstream recovery theory, alack of self-awareness on the part of the addict. I can assure you, it is not. If it were, your loved one would not be in a state of conflict about what he’s doing.

For example, if your addicted or alcoholic loved one told you he went to the library last night when really, he was at a bar drinking, does that mean he isn’t aware he was at a bar drinking? Of course not–he’s lying. If he woke up after three days of binging on meth and later told you, “it’s not as bad as you’re making it out,” is he unaware of what actually took place? Of course not. This is not to say an addict does not habitually minimize and justify and hide things, but that’s different than being unaware.

People talk about addicts as being “in” denial, as if it’s some sort of box out of which the addict cannot see, complex mental condition of self-inflicted blindness. Denial is not complex psychology. It’s two-dimensional: on one side is the truth, on the other are lies.

Denial is lying either because the person doesn’t want to get caught, expose himself or is ashamed, angry, guilt-ridden or distrustful. Admitting one is powerless over drugs or alcohol, for example, is, for many, a necessary first step to recovery, but nowhere is admitting this to one’s family deemed necessary, except in some literature and discussions about interventions where the idea is, in my opinion, grossly misplaced.

Simply because your addict doesn’t admit it to you does not mean he isn’t aware he has a problem. Just because he tells you he does not want help, does not mean he does not want help.

In other words, if your addict is in denial when he arrives at the program, fine. This is part and parcel to the overall condition the person is in, and part of what any quality program is designed to address. If he tells you he’s willing to address his opiate addiction but plans to smoke pot for the rest of his life, fine. Again, this is something any good program will address. If he tells you that you’re the one with the problem and the only reason he’s going to the program is to make you happy, smile and tell him, fine. Great, as long as he goes.

The purpose of any good treatment program is at some point, to move the addict from seeing himself as a victim, to a condition of responsibility. As long as he makes it to a program where he can begin this process, nothing else matters. Very little interns of therapy can occur during an intervention that will have any significant outcome on how a person does in treatment, that is up to the treatment program.

Do not make the mistake of trying to resolve the condition itself during an intervention. It overcomplicates things.

For example, I got a young man into treatment after months of his bellowing against it. All the way to the program he denied his condition was as bad as his family said it was and certainly not bad enough to justify treatment. He insisted his family was wrong and said the only reason he agreed to try was because he had nowhere else to go. Upon arrival, he called home and cursed his family, swearing never to speak to them again and predicting someday they would see just how wrong they were. Two weeks later, after going through withdrawal from several years of opiate use, he told his detox supervisor he was happy to finally be on the road to recovery and forever grateful for his family for getting him there. In terms of the intervention, the only relevant thing is that he arrived.

This is not an exceptional case. It happened with me and I make it happen all the time with outstanding results.

In the world of recovery, some of the best success stories come from very unlikely beginnings.

Big picture realizations can and will occur after your addict is at the program, once he’s off the drugs and alcohol and beginning to get control of his life again. The important thing is that the addict eventually realizes these things for himself, not that he confesses them to his family.

Author: Steve Bruno
Hi, My name is Steve Bruno. I'm here to build my name as a professional interventionist, an author, blogger, and - to the extent I establish myself as such - an authority on the subject of alcohol and drug addiction interventions.