Archive for the ‘Book excerpts’ Category

(Blog #4)”Beating Myself Up” as Denial

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Pseudo-responsibility: “Beating Myself Up” as Denial

“I’m such a fool.”
“I can’t believe I did that (again). I’ll never forgive myself.”
“I’m so ashamed I’d like to crawl in a hole.”
“If I could slug myself, I would.”

Such is the language with which we “beat ourselves up,” after a relapse.

This does not sound, on the surface, like someone “in denial” of a problem. Not until you’ve heard it over and over again, from the same person, someone who has been doing and saying the same thing, for the same reason, time after seemingly endless time.

It turns out that “beating myself up” almost always is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Geneen Roth [4] spells this out poignantly for overeaters in Feeding the Hungry Heart. Show me a person beating himself up for something he or she did or didn’t do — he will show you a person who is going to do or not do that very same thing again.

Consider when we punish people. An infant soils its diapers and causes inconvenience, distasteful odors, perhaps, disgust. Do we punish the infant? Yet the same child, three or four years later, steals a cookie he was expressly told not to eat. Why do we punish him or her? Simply because we think she or he is old enough to at least begin learning to exercise choice and control.

The key here is the assumption that the perpetrator has control.

What is the First Step of all Twelve Step programs?—to admit I am “powerless” over the very behavior for which I have been punishing myself. In other words, the very fact I am punishing myself reveals that I am denying my powerlessness! I haven’t seen enough of my problem to admit I have lost control. I do not really believe that one important AA shoe fits me — that I “have lost the power of choice in drink.” No wonder I can’t solve what I can’t yet see.

And this is just the first level of denial.

A gory metaphor describes my profound denial of a deeper problem that controls me behavior:

compulsive, addictive, repetitive, impulsive, nonassertive, aggressive, self-defeating behavior of virtually all types. Anything we beat ourselves up over — each can be viewed as blood oozing from a wound. Why? Because virtually all such behavior appears to be triggered by painful feelings. Emotional pain is the wound, out of which the behavior flows. This can be true even if the pain originates in biochemistry, or even if such pain would not trigger craving in someone without addictive disease.

So beating myself up is a brilliant distraction from facing the pain which “One won’t hurt” or “F— it avoided in the first place!

Denial as Isolation of the Connected

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

(Blog #3) Denial as “Isolation-of-the-Connected”
“Alcoholism,” any addiction, can be known by the addict and anyone else only as a pattern. To not see the disease is to not see the forest for the trees. Alcoholism is a forest that emerges out of a number of discreet events, all tied together by one common denominator … every tree gives off the odor of alcohol, whether from roots or branches. Likewise, for drug addiction.
“Isolation” is that perverse and subtle response that blocks my mind from forming the pattern. I see the trees, each one. I even smell the alcohol, though I may place blame elsewhere. But I don’t connect the trees into a pattern that outlines my problem: alcoholism. My problem/life is like a dot-to-dot drawing and I seem unable to connect the dots The “aha!” won’t come. How do I stop it? I don’t know. I don’t even know I am doing it, though I get pretty huffy if someone tries to close the Gestalt for me.
It is painfully clear that “One won’t hurt” isolates that particular drink, the one I am about to take. By so doing, it disconnects the fatal decision from all the hurtful drinks that will follow. The wishful relapse also isolates this moment from a pattern of having done this before. One of the DSM [3 ] diagnostic criteria for the disease of “substance dependence” reads “…the substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.” “One won’t hurt” is the voice of that futile “intention.” Another DSM criterion includes “…unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use.” “One won’t hurt” is the voice of those “unsuccessful efforts.”
How does “F— it” isolate the numerous interconnected experiences of addiction and relapse. White-knuckle sobriety begins with the separation of drinking/drugging from the issue of coping.
It starts by denying that the problem lies with my sober self, the inability to cope without a chemical crutch. I just “set my mind” to stay clean and sober. When something bothers me, I “stuff” the feelings. Each upset becomes another “rock” in my proverbial “gunnysack.” By the time “I’ve had it,” the accumulated “dots” I did not resolve or connect are what I let fly. If I can allow these dots to connect, they all add up to one thing — my pattern of addiction.
“Hitting bottom” or “surrender” seems to involve seeing the forest created by so many painful trees. The author is encouraged when an alcoholic/addict in early recovery reports spontaneous memories. These are revealing and painful drinking episodes that were dismissed at the time they occurred. Every drinker in denial has a collection of such memories, like an unopened photo record of the disease as it unfolded. The day that album falls open is the day the person gives up isolation-of-the-connected — the “Gestalt” of the addiction can now close. Aha!

2. Denial as “Not Thinking About It”

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

2.Denial as “Not-Thinking-About-It”

Ask a recovering person who feels badly now about something done while drinking. “What did you feel about this incident then?” The answer will so often be “I didn’t think about it.”
“Not-thinking-about-it,” is the essence of denial. And it usually entails heading off uncomfortable questions at the unconscious pass.
To illustrate the role of questions in problem solving:

• I notice my car needs gas and fill it up, vaguely troubled. I ask myself how recently I was last at the pumps and question my log.
• I see it has been less time or fewer miles than usual and check the mileage, asking myself and the numbers if it has dropped.
• I see the mileage has dropped and ask myself what is wrong.
• I wonder if I am losing fuel and raise the hood.
• Everywhere I look — carburetor, fuel lines, gas filter, I look with questions. Does it look as it should? Do I see or smell a leak? When I find my leak, I have answered the question “what is wrong” and, very likely, “what needs to be done?”

The inside of human experience is not a machine. But we still think in questions to face our personal problems, if we let ourselves think at all.

• “What’s bothering me?” (How specifically do I feel? What are my feelings about? What do I want? What are my choices? What is the best thing to do? God, what made me do that again)?
• “When did it start?”
• “What can or should I do about it?”
The addict/alcoholic thinking “One won’t hurt” is already cut off from inner signals.
The last thing I want to do (when saying “One won’t hurt” or the like) is think. To begin with, is that really true (that one won’t hurt)? What happened last time I said this? Did I get “hurt?” Just how many times have I said this and acted on it? What is making me say it again now? Is there something I want to escape from? Am I an addict/alcoholic or not? If I have changed my mind about being addictive, how come? What did they say in meetings and/or in treatment to do when this thought comes back? Where are my phone numbers? Where are my reminder cards?
“F— it” (when picking up that first drink/drug) avoids thinking much more directly, precisely because the two words are so meaningless. One of the “it”s” in “F— it” is clearly the effort of coping instead of drinking. Some of this work is mental and requires deliberate thought. What am I so upset about? What might I have to accept about it? What change? If I resent this, what was my part in it? What makes me think my frustration justifies my drinking? Do I have the disease or not?

Denial and Acceptance

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Denial —
Four Ways to Catch It in the Act:

“Denial is when you say what is, isn’t.”
A newly recovering alcoholic came up with this descriptive definition in group years ago and the author would be hard put to improve on it. We might be a little more technical and say that denial consists of not believing a painful truth, thereby avoiding the
painful feelings and choices that would follow. That is the apparent motivation — but how does the mind do it? Let us count the ways -four!

1. Denial as Prejudice

An analogy with prejudice gives us a glimpse of the mind dispensing with irritating facts that threaten belief. For example, a male chauvinist might believe that a woman cannot
do the work he does. Unfortunately for him, a woman joins his department or job site. Not only does she do this particular job, she does it measurably better than him!Does he alter his ideas? No, not our male supremacist.
“She’s getting breaks from the boss, the customers, probably sleeps with them,” he alibis.
“Beginner’s luck,” he concludes.
By a few well-chosen explanations, he dismisses the facts that threaten his precious belief. And if he can’t explain the facts away, he can fall back on an even more primitive and complete way of ridding himself of the troublesome facts: he forgets them! In these ways,
prejudice protects itself from reality.
Denial works in a similar way. I can explain away the facts that threaten my cherished belief that I am a “social drinker,” that I am “okay,” “in control of myself,” “normal.” Or, I can just forget them.
We cling passionately and stubbornly to our beliefs about other people or groups. How much more vehemently do we defend our most cherished beliefs about ourselves! Seeing denial as prejudice also reminds us that every disbelief hides a belief — every denial is the flip
side of an affirmation! Empathy for what denial protects may soften it, while relentless battering of the wall only seems to make it thicker.
What prejudice about self is protected by telling myself “One won’t hurt?” I’m “normal.” I’m “strong.” I’m okay and I’m in control of myself — and I would never knowingly do something that would hurt myself or anyone else. Why, that would be “crazy” or “cruel,” and
I am, I believe, “nice.” Like the spouse-beater who says, “I couldn’t have caused her black eye because I’m not that kind of person!” Prejudice: clinging to mental categories and labels in the face of facts that contradict them.
What about the relapse which begins with “F— it?” Maybe the prejudice toward myself is negative. When “I quit” is what these words mean, perhaps, I protect the negative image of myself as a “loser.” Or as “inadequate,” a child, really, — you can’t expect me to continue to cope. Then again, maybe I believe I’m a “victim.”
And if my prejudice about myself is “positive?” The very fact I say a resentful “F— it” avoids facing the fact I’m quitting. If I think of myself as a “winner,” how can I admit I’m quitting? I may also avoid saying “I don’t care” by using “F— it.” Of course, I’m a
“caring person!” — just ask me. The spirit of “F— it” is blame, that something else is not how it “should” be, justifying my relapse. I only do what I do for “good” reasons, when someone else is “bad.” Whatever else recovery requires, it is going to entail facing what I have really been doing. I must give up my rigid and out-dated ideas of who I am.
“Cleaning house,” they call it.