He’s been in withdrawals for two days. He has only gotten up to take a Seroquel, drink water, or pee. I ask him if he can take the dog out when I hear some signs of movement and life from the living room couch. He responds with “In a little bit, I’m still nauseous. I must be fighting a stomach bug”. A year ago I would have countered with a strong rebuttal, but today I’m silent. I have learned after years of pleading, arguing, and crying that no matter the evidence I present to him of the truth (drug tests, emails, text messages) the power of denial is too powerful to argue. All I can do is fight my own denial and trust my gut. This is not a stomach bug. So what is this thing denial? And what does my husband believe, is denial so powerful that he does not know the truth of his addiction?
The psychological definition of denial is an individual’s refusal to acknowledge a painful truth as a coping mechanism for emotional conflict, stress, pain, and anxiety. This symptoms of denial according to the Mayo Clinic website: refusal to acknowledge a stressful problem, avoiding facing the facts of a situation, minimizing the consequences of a situation. A short period of denial can be a healthy mechanism that helps one to process emotions and ready themselves for rational solutions.
But for any of you that have loved an addict, you know the denial is not short term. On the contrary it is an impermeable force that becomes an everyday deluded and dangerous mental state, one that poisons rational thinking, serves to justify continued use without action for change, and refuses to acknowledge responsibility for the addiction, as well as the terrifying consequences of their addiction. The addict’s denial is rigid, unchanging, and impenetrable. With this denial at work, any true insight into the disease that can lead to recovery is very difficult. I also think it’s contagious; you can catch denial like that stomach bug. Oh and it’s devastating for loved ones.
Where do I as his partner stand in all of this? I am not here to give clinical advice because I am not an addiction specialist and I can’t even really give personal advice because I am still here and I have no answers. But I can share my experiences and what I have learned. As I mentioned before, I have given up trying to fight the denial myself. This is the self-love part I think. Detaching myself from old unhealthy patterns of pleading, crying, and begging him be honest with me and himself; saving myself from the disappointment and emotions. The pleading and crying worked the first time: before I knew how toxic addiction is, before I had any concept of what an addict is, or how bad it could get (much worse it turns out). He cried to me in our living room, sitting in the armchair in front of the window. He told me he would get help and get better, not to leave him, how ashamed he was. I remember how broken he looked, how much I believed him, and how much I loved him. I remember the hope back then as I held him and he cried, me stroking his head. We were going to get through this I thought. Remembering this, I feel my heart breaking all over again.
That feels like a lifetime ago and I see that man less and less and the denial more and more. Now the denial turns him into a stranger. Someone who is not sharing life experiences with me. The painful life experiences, like when he missed my birthday (twice) because he was detoxing, or we were late for our pre wedding cabana pool party because he had to score (I found this out later following his release from the psych unit), the endless number of beautiful weekends spent inside, him detoxing, me crippled with depression, nights worrying wondering if he was alive or had been arrested. He is minimizing this pain, this destruction with his denial. Are you even here with me? I want to ask him. No, he’s not; he’s being washed away by strong currents in the river of denial. He has had breakthroughs though: during therapy, after severe withdrawals, after a trip to the ER and a week of sobriety inpatient in a dual diagnosis psych unit, after being arrested, when I picked him up from jail on numerous occasions. Those moments felt amazing and I was always so hopeful! He finally sees! He’s enlightened! He’s back and going to get better! He will never go back to using now that he sees the truth! This is what makes the relapse so devastating. Where is that man that saw the truth and came to shore? How can he go back to the river when he knows the destruction and pain it causes? I suppose that is another blog entirely.
I am also still working on my own denial of course. In my research to uncover what forces of denial are at work within me and my husband, I found that there are many patterns of denial (developed by and taken from the website of Terence T. Gorski):
- Avoidance: I’ll talk about anything but my real problems
- Absolute Denial: I don’t have a problem
- Minimizing: my problems aren’t that bad
- Rationalizing: if I can find good enough reasons for my problems, I won’t have to deal with them
- Blaming: if I prove the problems aren’t my fault, I won’t have to deal with them.
- Comparing: showing others are worse than me proves that I don’t have serious problems
- Manipulating: I’ll only admit that I have problems if you agree to solve them for me.
- Flight into health: feeling better means that I am cured
- Recovery by fear: being scared of my problems will make them go away
- Strategic hopelessness: since nothing works, I don’t have to try
- Democratic disease state: I have the right to destroy myself and no one has the right to stop me.
It’s been two day since I started this blog entry. Tonight my husband told me he is going to re-enroll in IOP and has an appointment next week for his missed Vivitrol shot last week. He also told me he has not been using, refuses to acknowledge the ATM withdrawals, and claims that the two days on the couch were merely depression. That’s what I would call absolute denial. I on the other hand am absolutely devastated standing at the bank of the river, my voice battling the roar of the water pleading for him to come back to shore as I watch the river’s current take him further and further away from me, becoming a small amorphous dot.