I have lectured at many residential rehabs, spoke at board meetings and participated in a pod cast for the Al-Anon 12-step recovery program and without fail, I am always asked what is the most difficult thing for the family to do regarding their loved ones addiction issues? My answer is to rid oneself of being in denial about their denial.
Family members can be confused and befuddled about what to do to help the alcoholic/addict and because of that it is sometimes easier to believe or hope that though it exists, maybe it really doesn’t and will work itself out. Of course, only the drinker can stop drinking, or the user stop using, however, it is a family problem or issue as well and as long as you have a connection with the alcoholic in your life (whether in recovery or not) then burying your head in the sand about the reality and gravity of the situation is as irresponsible and unhealthy as the alcoholic/addict denying that he or she may have a problem.
Here are 7 reasons why family members continue to be in denial about their denial:
1) Embarrassment and shame. Relatives, other family members , friends or acquaintances may view them as bad parents or an uncaring person unable to “control” their husbands, wives’ or children’s behavior. They may be looked upon as having been negligent in the upbringing of their children or not being a considerate, sensitive or compassionate wife or husband which may be interpreted as a marriage on the rocks. Even the “I told you so” or “this is the kind of person you seem to attract” will keep the denial in full force just to save face or prove them wrong.
2) Private. It’s nobody’s business and one doesn’t air their personal, dirty laundry. Everything will be worked out as a family in the privacy of the own home. The problem here is that the family doesn’t have the tools or commitment to work out the issues at home. Or, the family is splintered as to the extent of the problem so there is no unity and infighting is all that is left. The crisis is therefore relegated to being swept under the rug.
3) Rationalization. He/she isn’t in trouble at work or with the law, so things aren’t that bad. It’s just a passing phase, nothing to worry about. Everyone needs an outlet or escape these days. It’s how he or she unwinds or deals with a tough day.
4) Lazy. Someone else will handle the problem. The other spouse will deal with the child, the other sibling will deal with the parent, and the wife/husband is too exhausted with their own issues to take on more headaches.
5) Not wanting to make waves. The family doesn’t want to be disciplined or scolded by the alcoholic/addict for getting involved with such a volatile subject matter. The punishment of being denied love/affection from the loved one or having the possibility that they will leave your protective care is too much to gamble. If one is dealing with a spouse that is the bread winner or primary care giver, then the ramifications of making waves is too high a price to pay and the outcome not worth the gamble. Anger, punishment, resentment, alienation of affection is all strong motives to keep the harmony. Peace at all cost no matter what that cost and bumping along the bottom hoping that maybe tomorrow will be better is all you think you have.
6) The alcoholic/addict relieves you of your concern or involvement as they have promised they will get help and all will be fine. You relish in their commitment to sobriety and all you have to do is be encouraging. A couple of AA meetings or even professional counseling starts and looks good and there is a sigh of relief; for the time being. Though this goes on time and time again it is easier to deny the instability of the commitment then deal with it head on.
7) Frightened about an ongoing commitment. How involved do I really want/have to be? If the family member seeks professional guidance, then they are now enmeshed and have to work on their part of the recovery and not just sit back and wait for their loved one to take action on their own. Why pay for counseling or read books if one is not going to heed the advice? Old behaviors that have been part of the family member actions possibly for years, now will give way to different thinking and procedures. Fear of not being able to follow through with new boundaries and expectations coupled with the fear of unknown actions/reactions from the alcoholic/addict keeps one with the denial blinders glued in place.
Of course no matter what one does, we CAN’T stop the alcoholic/addict from a life of self destruction if that’s the direction they are hell bent on going. But, we are not helping the throws of addiction or the beginnings of recovery if we continue to be in denial about our denial. To pretend this disease doesn’t exist, or not accepting the harsh reality of the situation can be as irresponsible as not attending to a loved one whom is bleeding profusely or is physically ill just because these may be viewed as an “acceptable” disorder.
If I can be of service, please visit my website www.familyrecoverysolutions.com and I invite you to explore my new book Reclaim Your Life – You and the Alcoholic/Addict at www.reclaimyourlifebook.com or on Amazon. In addition, my book is available as an audio CD from my website.