We have spent a lot of time in this series discussing the myths and misconceptions commonly held about alcoholism and addiction.
But we have not spent time talking about the myths – or lies – that the alcoholic and addict tell themselves. Curious, I asked numerous recovered alcoholics and addicts for insight, and their responses resulted in this article.
People on the other side of addiction are a pretty happy bunch. And why shouldn’t they be? They have escaped the jaws of a ruthless predator.
I found these people honest almost to a fault and without pretention or devices. They are also quick to step into what seems to be self-deprecation until I realized that their continuing sobriety hinges upon them never forgetting how susceptible they continue to be to addictive substances.
It seems that like war, the first casualty of addiction is truth. The further one progresses into addiction the further they are removed from reality, so the absurdity of the self-deceit progresses in lockstep with the progression of the addiction. Simultaneously, all of the higher spiritual, emotional and intellectual human endowments are increasingly diminished. Intuition, inspiration, empathy and the ability to engage in introspection are among the early losses. This loss of higher function continues to diminish until the individual is left with nothing but the most primitive drives – fear, anger, lust, guilt and shame. Towards the end the disease even corrodes lust, guilt and shame.
It would seem that at some point this would alarm a person, but they cannot see themselves because another symptom is denial. It was said that addiction is the only disease that tells you that you don’t have a disease. Lacking intuition and having destroyed any meaningful relationships, in the end the addict is left with no guide but their own thoughts, generated by a diseased and addled mind.
Following are some of the responses to “what lies did you tell yourself?” question I asked.
The descent into the abyss doesn’t follow a linear path, but I have tried to order these from the early addiction mindset to the later ones. Following each lie is the way that same person feels about that lie today – in sobriety. Their current views may seem harsh, but they are direct to the point. It IS NOT suggested you use these as rebuttals with an active alcoholic or an addict; they are simply the sober opinions of people who used to believe these rationalizations.
Remember, the one still in active addiction BELIEVES these lies; trying to convince them against their will only serves to entrench them further in the false belief.
“Every body does it.” No, everybody didn’t do it. I avoided people using healthy means to cope with life and created a circle of people who drank and drugged. If you didn’t at least drink I wanted nothing to do with you.
“I like the way it makes me feel.” In reality I didn’t like the way I felt normally, and rather putting forth the effort to feel better about myself I sought instant gratification.
“I only do it on the weekends.” I had gone from not using mind and mood altering substances at all to using them two consecutive days out of each seven. Don’t ask me about holidays and “special occasions!” In the long run the habit of escaping reality could do nothing but further remove me from actual reality. Soon, it was a martini with lunch….
“I’m not as bad as ___ (fill in the blank with name.)” When and why did I start comparing my behaviors to people who were not succeeding at life rather than people who were? I can’t remember when I started that, but fear of failure was probably the true reason why. I was like a diabetic refusing to change my behavior because my sugar levels weren’t quite as bad as someone else’s. Reality is that BOTH are suffering severe damage.
“I’m not hurting anyone but me.” That my parents or husband would lie awake worrying about me was the furthest thing from my mind. I was just fine, thank you. And just because I damaged the car or they had to bail me out of jail was not that big of a deal because it wasn’t my fault anyway. Nothing was ever my fault. YOUR feelings never even occurred to me. I just needed to get everything calmed back down so I could get back to my “normal’ drinking.”
“I wouldn’t drink /use if it wasn’t for…” Alcoholics drink because they are alcoholic. Addicts use because they are addicts. Good times, bad times, boring times, stressful times came and went and I still used. I now realize that allowing external circumstances drive me to the point of putting poisonous amounts of substances into my body is not ‘normal’ behavior. It was my addiction all along.
“I only drink beer/wine.” Alcohol is alcohol, whether in cough syrup, fermented cider, liquor or beer. Arguing about the purity or the quantity of a substance being abused is a pretty trivial argument. When I take a drink, the drink takes a drink and then the drink takes me. It doesn’t matter what form the alcohol was in before it hit my brain.
“I’m not that bad because I haven’t lost my (job, family, car, house, etc,).” Please add the word ‘yet.’ Addiction is a progressive disease, so the consequences progress right along with the usage. I have found that every time I made something more important than my sobriety, I lost that thing or relationship along with my sobriety. Sobriety has to be my first priority, because without it everything else is lost anyway.
“I don’t have a problem because I control my using. I can stop any time I want.” First off, if I have to expend effort to control something it is already a problem. Secondly, when using our physical chemistry AND brain chemistry is continually changing to accommodate the drug, developing deeper dependence. And there are reasons you are using the drug. None of these things is just going to “go away” when we stop using the drug, assuring that without a solid treatment program relapse is all but assured.
“I really learned my lesson this time. I am never doing it again.” Ok, so what did I ever do differently to address this thing that had its claws in me mind, body and spirit? Nothing. And nothing is what changed until I did something different.
“If you had my problems, you would do the same thing!!” Talking about MY drinking or drugging was a losing proposition, so I would deflect, create distractions, attack, wheedle, whine – do whatever I could to either make it YOUR fault or change the subject.
“I just have to have it to get through today – I will quit tomorrow.” Never once in my life has it been ‘tomorrow.’ It has always been ‘today.’ I lived for years believing this lie until I was on the brink of not living any longer.
“It’s no use. I’m too far gone.” When I was one step away from the end, I was also just one step away from the level of surrender I needed to get and stay sober for life. If it weren’t for some people that had found sobriety coming to help me, I wouldn’t be here today. I could relate to them, and they convinced me to try doing what they were doing to stay sober. Despite my skepticism, it worked and has continued working for many years now.
There are numerous others that won’t fit in this format, but hopefully this is a sufficient variety to see the different levels of honesty people are capable of when they are no longer under the influence. It truly shows how the chains of addiction are too light to feel until they are too strong to break.
Hopefully if you or someone you know is caught in the trap of one of these lies a glimmer of truth might shine into the darkness of the situation. Because without honesty there is no chance of recovery.