Denial is a substance disorder’s middle name. Go ahead, put it there right now, “substance denial disorder”. It fits almost too well. In active addiction, the shrouds of defense mechanisms are second nature. “The purpose of defense mechanisms is to protect individuals from the reality of their addiction.” (Doweiko, 2012)
For some, being raised in an environment where addiction was present makes this practice foundational in dysfunctional personalities. In some instances, the amount of effort used to hide the truth may seem impenetrable. When you love someone who refuses to see deception in their own behavior, what could you do to help? Tough love? Treatment? Counseling? Sure. But the very best practitioners of self-deceit will spin a web of B.S. faster than you could tie your shoes. The purpose of this article is not to provide a detailed list of defense mechanisms and how to detect them in others. The reasoning is that through my personal journey in recovery, I have become aware of just how much we rely on protecting ourselves from the truth about our destructive behavior.
What I once saw in every other person, I now began to realize existed within me. When I looked at myself in the mirror during early recovery, the reflection staring back was someone I did not recognize. She was weathered, tired, angry, and in a great deal of pain. That was not the “me” I projected out into the world. I pretended to be someone else. So, here I was neither of these people really were the “me” I wanted to be. Never so lost, I decided that if I were to truly heal from within the self-deception would need to stop. After nearly a decade in recovery, I am still correcting a lifelong set of defenses that were part of my upbringing and will most likely continue to do so until the day I leave this world. There are no quick remedies to the mental dysfunctions that come with addiction. They are a part of us before we ever pick up the first drink or drug. I believe that in recognizing this, recovery has become a way of life instead of a specific time in life.
What we use to protect ourselves must be realized before we begin to heal.
If you are in active addiction or you are in recovery, whether you are in a twelve step group or white knuckling it alone-take the time to look at yourself in the mirror. Is the reflection staring back at you the person you want to be or is it someone you pretend to be for others? Strip away your defenses and let yourself realize you are worth the effort it will take to heal from within. Until we learn to love ourselves, we cannot truly love another and with self-love comes honesty, acceptance, and a shrinking need to defend who we used to be.
Doweiko, H. E. (2012). Concepts of chemical dependency. (8th ed.). Belmont,CA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning