By: Marilyn L. Davis
I’ll Protect Myself by Not Looking at Myself
For many of us, admitting that there is a substance abuse problem or addiction creates fear, shame, and embarrassment. As a result, the only way we can come to terms with it is to avoid it.
Avoiding the truth of the problem relies on denying that there is a problem, rationalizing or justifying. We minimize the outcomes of our use or embellish the circumstances to try and convince ourselves and others that our use and behaviors are not the problems.
Hear, See, and Speak No Evil about Me, Please
Rationalizing and justification take place internally and externally. These are the lies we tell ourselves and others about our use. I had many people question my continued use and behaviors.
Rather than acknowledge that what they were telling me was legitimate, I refused to see any other viewpoints.
My denial about the severity of my problem should have been apparent to me, but denial is such a difficult barrier to overcome.
It’s a problem for us, and for others trying to get us to see the problem.
The Many Ways We Avoid
If you find that you are trying to steer the conversation away from a particular point, maybe that is what you need to discuss. Annie Besant sums denial up well, “Refusal to believe until proof is given is a rational position; denial of all outside of our own limited experience is absurd.”
So what are those predictable and absurd excuses we use to rationalize to ourselves and justify to others? Here are some of the ways that you’ll know when either you or someone close to you is avoiding the issues of a substance abuse problem. When you see yourself in these examples, you might realize your problem and seek help.
1. Complete Refusal to See the Problem
- “No, that is not how it is.”
- “I won’t listen to this kind of criticism.”
- “Stop bothering me.”
Don’t continue being like George Carlin, “The reason I talk to myself is that I’m the only one whose answers I accept.” This kind of denial of the existence or severity of the problem will cost you.
2. Minimizing, Downplaying, or Underestimating the Problem
- “I don’t think it’s as bad as you describe.”
- “There are people who have beers every night, and they don’t have problems.”
- “I only act that way when others push my buttons.”
This one works because if you are upset and stressed out, most people aren’t going to bring up your short-comings, drinking, or using behaviors. You can manipulate the situation to “make” others leave you alone.
3. Leaving Out The Information That Would Prove A Point
“I discussed my drinking with my doctor, and he said I was within limits.”
- (Unfortunately, the limits the doctor discussed were amounts for a week, not a day.)
“I’m getting a divorce. I’m stressed and need a drink.”
- (Unfortunately, he forgot that his drinking was a significant consideration in the decision for the divorce.)
“I got fired, and I’m not the only one smoking pot.”
- (Unfortunately, he forgot that he had several write-ups for the issue before.)
4. Avoiding or Running from the Obvious
- “Let’s talk about something else.”
- “I hear what you’re saying, but you’re wrong.”
- “I don’t want to discuss this.”
- “I’m uncomfortable talking about this.”
If you find yourself wanting to run away from a conversation, think about this differently – there is probably a reason that family and friends return to this topic.
It might just be that they see a problem that you are trying to avoid.
5. Avoiding the Problem with a Flood of Words
We aren’t able to talk about the real problem because we start talking about so many other things that have nothing to do with the issue. We do this in the hope that whoever has confronted us will get sidetracked and forget the problem.
- “I have to tell you about my work situation – a new boss and new rules, oh, and he hired his daughter. All of these changes are just driving me crazy. I don’t know if I can adjust to the new rules and guidelines and the favoritism. You know how traffic is, and we’ve got new rules about being late. I think he should give us time to adjust. After all, we worked under different guidelines for years, and we just need time to get used to the new ones. And then, there’s the policy on calling in sick. I don’t always know that I’m not feeling well until I get up, and there’s no time to call before the office opens, and then we’re considered a no-show, plus we are talking to his daughter, the receptionist. I did tell you that she was his daughter, didn’t I?”
(Hangovers are horrible.)
6. Frenzied, Messy Distractions to Avoid
If we are desperate and distracted enough, others may have to bail us out or rescue us for our newest mishap.
And, if everyone stays focused on the new problem, there’s no time to discuss the drinking or using. There’s usually some manipulation in this one; clearly, if you’ve got all this other stuff going on, people ought to understand why you’re using.
7. The Real Issue or “Who Is at Fault”
- “I’m only reacting to them.”
- “If they would only change the way they do things, I would not have to drink/use/act this way.”
- “If you had to deal with what (ever) I have had to deal with in my life, you would drink/use/act like I do, too.”
- “Now that I am sober/clean/acting differently, I need to have my spleen taken out. It has bothered me lately, and I think I need to have many tests to decide if I truly have cancer. These tests will let me know what is REALLY wrong with me.”
Blaming, projecting, and awfulizing your situation does not diminish the reality of using.
8. Overly Confident
This one is when we start spouting off things that are not always relevant to the topic. Even if the subject is related, we discuss it in global terms that prevent us from realizing that the actions apply to us. We are hoping that we sound so confident and knowledgeable that people assume we are smart and competent.
Clearly, if we are intelligent, we would not show whatever they want us to realize. We desperately hope that people perceive us as smart since we’ve created the illusion that intelligent people are not addicts and alcoholics. When we use obfuscation, distraction, and wax philosophical about the nature of the problem, it makes it a detached entity, not something that we are experiencing.
- “The problems, concerning drinking/using/behaving a certain way, go so far back in our collective makeup.Therefore, they are deeply rooted in my being and probably will not change without severe health problems or the loss of my income. However, I know my health is good; I went to the doctor just last week, and my job is secure since I own the company.”
9. Rationalization and Justification
When confronted with our alcohol/drug/behavior problems, we can talk ourselves and other people into believing that it is okay.
- “I do not think my problem is bad, and I just don’t feel it’s that big a deal.”
- “Studies show that a glass of wine is beneficial.”
- “I go to work at 9 o’clock every day, and I can usually function well by 11 AM.”
10. I Am Different Justification
- “I do not drink/use/or behave as bad as so and so, and they aren’t even in trouble.”
- “My brother is anti-social, and he’s are not in trouble.”
- “I am fully aware of the impact of my drinking, but I can learn to control it better.”
11. Deciding That You Are Too Far Gone to Get Help
- “I’m too far gone to get any help.”
- “How can you expect a dilapidated old drunk/junkie to change?”
- “I have acted this way all my life, and I cannot change my ways on such short notice.”
This defeatist attitude will keep you actively using. A better approach is to decide that change can and will happen at any time if you choose to take advantage of opportunities to heal.
12. I Do Not Need Any Help; I Now Have all the Answers
- “I’ve been sober/clean/acting differently for twenty-five minutes now, and I understand what my problems are, and it is no longer a problem.”
- “Thank you for your help; you have confirmed what I was thinking.
- “I know so much about it; I do not have to pay you for counseling; thank you very much.”
No one is saying you aren’t intelligent about a lot of things, but taking the advice and guidance from professionals or those who have more time in recovery than you do would show humility and offer you more answers. You might demonstrate your intelligence more if you did take some advice.
13. I’m Too Old to Have That Problem
- “I am retired, financially secure, and come from a good family.”
- “I only take things that my doctor prescribes, thank you.
- “Alcohol is good for blood pressure, but I’m sure you didn’t know that.”
- “I didn’t start drinking until I retired, which shows how responsible I am.”
- “I’m a respected member of my community.”
- “If I drink while cooking dinner, it’s no one’s business but mine.”
Regardless of your standing, your age or your socioeconomic status, alcoholism, and addiction are issues for all ages.
14. Pretending and Placating to Avoid
This defense is difficult to spot sometimes. People look like they’re listening, and may even agree with you, but underneath that seeming willingness is often other attitudes.
- “I’ll just look like I’m listening; I’ll let them get it off their chest, and then go on about my merry way.”
- “I see your point, and I’m going to do whatever you tell me to do.”
(Then you do whatever it is that you wanted to do besides following the directions.)
The thinking that accompanies pretending and placating is:
- ‘I hoped that worked, and they will move on to someone else in the group that needs help. Once you are off my back, I will feel so relieved that I will forget what I promised to do.’
- ‘Glad they believed me; I have always been good at pulling the wool over someone’s eyes, and here are, trained counselors.’
- ‘I will show them, I will say one thing, and then do what I want to do.’
15. Scared Sobriety
- “I know I cannot drink/use or act this way ever again because I will get sick and die.”
- “These consequences will scare me into recovery.”
- “I know that I am afraid of my addiction now, and I know that I will never drink or use again.”
- “I do not need to do any other type of recovery work, as this fear will do it all.”
Many people use drugs and alcohol to bolster themselves and overcome their fears. Therefore, making fear the motivating factor for your recovery seems contradictory, doesn’t it? Yet, people will claim that fear can keep them sober. Rarely does that work.
Dropping the Facades and Seeing Your Past
Have you ever used these excuses when someone brings up your substance use? I understand why you have; denial, avoiding, rationalizing, and justification protects you from embarrassment and exposure.
However, that means that as long as you are operating from any of these excuses, you cannot make necessary changes. You’ll continue to see your life from a limited perspective. With a change in attitude, and a willingness to break through your excuses and stop avoiding, you can find a new reality in recovery.
When I Listened to Others
Thirty-one years ago, when I was the subject of an intervention, I had the good sense to listen for a change. For once, I heard the care and concern, not the condemnation.
When you honestly reflect on your past and your use, you will probably see that others are right. Being open to this may, in turn, allow you to find help, and you can drop those absurd excuses.
Image: Hear, See, Speak
Source: Mohammad Al Hoshan