What Do Denial and Family History Have to Do With Addiction?
By Chris Chandler, MA, LMHC, CSAT-C, Bellevue Christian Counseling
References “The New Codependency” by Melody Beattie
Addicts do not abuse substances because they are worse people than everyone else. They use because that is the system they’ve developed for dealing with painful feelings and problems. It’s called “self-medicating.” Why do addicts self-medicate? Two common reasons: they do not take advantage of healthier ways to cope with problems, or they are not psychologically capable of processing what is hurting them.
Dealing with Denial
In her book, “The New Codependency,” Melody Beattie talked about the years she spent as a hardcore drug addict, starting in her teens going well into her 20s. She eventually got sober, but during a presentation, she ran across an old photo of herself from high school. The painful expression in the picture triggered a flood of all the old feelings she had suppressed with drinking and drugs. Beattie realized self-medicating was the only way she could have dealt with those feelings growing up, otherwise she would have killed herself.
“Denial can be a gift. It gives people time to gather their resources so they can face the truth. The strongest people can have something that’s too much to accept at once. People don’t deliberately use denial. They need its help. For some, it’s a hotel–a temporary place to stay. Other people dig in and make denial their home.” (103)
The Process of Denial
Life is a growing process. There are early stages when you are not prepared to accomplish a task you will grow into later. There is a reason you do addition in elementary school and save algebra for later. Paul demonstrates the same principle in his first letter to the Corinthians. He tells them in chapter 3 that he gave them milk instead of meat because they could not yet handle the rigorous “chewing” required. Denial is similar. It is an example of how God created our brains to recognize when we are not ready to handle something. It protects us from a task that would overwhelm us, and instead keeps it waiting until we are ready to tackle it.
That is not to say you should indulge in or support self-destructive behavior for the sake of “feeling better.” If you or someone you care about struggles with substance abuse, get help. But, bear in mind that denial is not easily left behind. Beattie said it’s important people feel safe, and that they are making choices on their own terms.
Blaming Family of Origin
One reason it is crucial addicts must feel safe before they can confront their addiction is because substance abuse is often rooted in insecurity and mistreatment. While not all addicts endured abusive childhoods, many did. They learned they could not trust other people to be sympathetic to their pain. They were made to feel weak for revealing their sadness or fear. Can you see why criticizing an addict only makes them drink more?
This is why security is such a crucial part of persuading addicts to pursue treatment. They must feel they can trust their loved ones and rehabilitators not to shame them for their “weakness.”
Dealing with Difficulty
Weakness is not an opportunity for others to shame you. It is an opportunity for God to demonstrate his grace and strength. As Paul said of the thorn in his side, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Cor. 12:9-10 NIV)
Some periods of life are harder than others. Don’t get down on yourself when you find yourself struggling. Rather, take advantage of the valley as an opportunity for God to reveal his power to you.
Living in the Past
It is only when addicts feel safe that they can begin confronting what they have been self-medicating. “We know that until we examine the past, we will re-create it and continue living in it… Abuse doesn’t end when it stops; the effects go on for years–sometimes for a person’s life or generations.” (110)
Some people have the idea that looking for causes of addiction is looking for excuses to be a victim. While some victimized people may do it that way, the goal is to gain a better understanding of why you engage in self-destructive behavior so you can stop. “Letting go of the victim self-image is challenging for most victimized people. But until we do it, our healing isn’t complete. We’re only partway there.” (110)
Christian Counseling for Addiction
Consider getting in touch with a professional Christian counselor to aid you on your journey to sobriety. Like a personal trainer, you want someone who is sympathetic to your limitations, but willing to push you to endure the discomfort required for growth. A professional Christian counselor will use therapeutic techniques and Christ’s message of compassion to help you face what you have denied, so you can embrace a better way of living.
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