Understanding recovery: honesty & denial

Understanding recovery

It is no coincidence that Step One of the Twelve Steps recovery programme says: “We admitted…” This is a programme that has successfully helped millions of people struggling with mostly alcoholism and other addiction issues since the 1930s.

But the first part of getting well is admitting there’s actually a problem. Sometimes people with certain issues will look at and blame everything and everyone else around them. It can take time until they finally realize they are firmly in the middle.

But such a loss of denial and gaining of honesty is essential before anything can change for the better. As a Stoic philosopher, Seneca put it around 2,000 years ago: “To wish to be well is a part of becoming well.”

Head in the sand

Unfortunately – and all too often tragically – it’s so common that people with all sorts of emotional and mental health problems will avoid admitting the truth. Frequently this truth is obvious for everyone else to see – but sometimes the person in question has their head so far buried that they cannot see the damage and despair above ground. 

Esteemed psychiatrist Carl Jung said about denial: “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

There’s even a joke about it in recovery communities that goes: “Denial is not a river in Egypt…”

Fear of the unknown

Understanding the truth about recovery

So admitting there’s a problem and that you need help is the first step. But people are often reluctant as admission means you let something in.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, the author of one of the world’s bestselling recovery books The Road Less Traveled, spoke about how many people didn’t want to admit there were any problems – due to, in his words, fear and laziness.

In his bestselling book he wrote: “But while all fear is not laziness, much fear is exactly that. Much of our fear is fear of a change in the status quo, a fear that we might lose what we have if we venture forth from where we are now.”

When someone is down in the gutter from their drinking, broken down due to their drug-taking, trapped in their house because of anxiety or depression, it often doesn’t make any sense to anyone observing this as to why that person wouldn’t seek the help they so obviously need. But this is often due to the fear of the unknown.

Where they are might be uncomfortable and terrible. But it has become their ordinary world and it’s what they know. However painful it is, it’s something that is familiar.

It is also understandable why people might be fearful of being truthful. In their innermost feelings and memories, many people who are suffering know that their struggles started in childhood. They know this is where they need to go if they want to heal.

It’s just like if you have a terrible wound on your arm. It needs to be looked at and treated, which can be excruciatingly painful, in order for it to be dressed so that it can heal.

If it’s left as it is, it will start to fester and only get worse. In the same way, nearly always mental health and emotional problems will get progressively worse unless they are treated by someone with expertise in these matters. But sometimes to the person who’s suffering, it can seem easier to just crush another day by necking another bottle or taking more drugs or indulging in yet more of their process addiction.

Nothing but the truth

Recovery and treatment

To go beyond the denial stage it is often that somebody has to reach what’s known as rock bottom: they have run out of anywhere else to go. They have no more ideas of how to fix their problems.

In recovery communities, it is said they have been given the “gift of desperation”. Or as Dante put it in his narrative poem The Divine Comedy several hundred years ago: “The path to paradise begins in hell.”

So now they need to be honest. Alcoholics Anonymous puts it as “rigorous honesty” and that: “willingness, honesty and open-mindedness are the essentials of recovery.”

As an example, no one could expect their physician to help them heal their broken finger if they only told the physician that they had a slightly bruised toe. The finger would stay broken.

So in recovery, it is the same. Recovery requires no more denial and nothing but the truth in order to get well.

Our experienced team has treated people with all types of emotional and mental health problems. Contact us today for a free confidential chat with one of our professional experts at Centers for Health & Healing.

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