Denial: The False Harbor That Families of Individuals With Use Disorders Run To Again And Again

By Beverly Buncher, MA, PCC, CBC, CTPC, Certified BALM Family Recovery Life Coach

Whoever it was that said love would be easy was wrong, especially when the person you love has a use disorder. And it doesn’t matter really which one…alcohol, other drugs, gambling, food, sexual acting out…

Use disorders rob friends of companionship, lovers of intimacy, parents of the pride of parenthood and children of the support a present parent can bring. They kill good feelings, trust, and hope. Use disorders rob the individual (the suffering loved one) of these things, and in turn, the family members.

I’ve heard it said that it’s easier to be the suffering loved one during the darkest days of the illness than to be the family members – After all, the loved one has substances or behaviors to numb him, whilethe family members take it all in with eyes wide open…. or, are their eyes really ‘wide shut’?

That brings me to the topic of this article: Denial.

It’s almost trite – this idea of family denial of use disorders. And yet, as a Family Recovery Life Coach, I see it again and again in the faces, voices and words of my newest clients.

Just today, I was working with a client whose daughter had called him screaming about a broken computer. The dad described the situation of his daughter calling from college screaming about how her computer had fallen again. The dad told me how he listened to his daughter tell him what had happened, calmed her down, and went to bed, but it had kept his wife up all night.

The next day during our coaching call, he described his daughter’s behaviors and the broken computer with disbelief. Upon reviewing his daughter’s behavior, I asked if he thought it was related to her using.

“Well,” he said, “Maybe. But I don’t want to make an accusation. After all, it could just be a coincidence.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“My daughter’s usually calm, except when she’s drinking, and she was certainly not calm during that call. She was angry and yelling and using language she hardly ever uses.”

“Were her words slurring?” I asked.

“No,” he answered. “But slurring is not something she does when drunk. Instead, she gets these out of control rage attacks like she had on the phone.”

“So, do you think she was drunk on the phone?” I asked again.

“Not sure,” the dad answered. “After all, it was just a phone call.”

“I see,” I responded. “And what about the computer? I seem to recall you telling me about another one breaking in the past.”

At that point, dad reminded me (though I wasn’t the one in the conversation who needed the reminder), that this was the fifth computer that she had ‘dropped’ and of course there were countless smart phones that she’d destroyed as well, all of which he and her mom had quickly replaced so she wouldn’t be without her tools for school or her ability to keep in touch with them.

“And all of these ‘fell’ during drinking or drugging episodes?” I asked.

In response, he informed me that the daughter later admitted that she had thrown each of the prior computers across the room in an intoxicated rage, adding, “But of course, I don’t know about this one.”

His level of uncertainty could not be breached until I asked him to pretend his daughter was my child instead of his. He agreed to play  along with me and I proceeded to tell him the story of what happened to “my” son and then asked for his advice.

“Listen, Stuart, what do you think is going on with my son?” I asked him about my made-up son.

“This kid was definitely drinking,” he answered. “He was angry on the phone and you said he only gets that way when drunk. The computer fell again and was destroyed and he always admits that he smashed his computer afterwards, when he is in treatment making amends. How could you even doubt it? Why do you have to ask?”

Upon saying that to me, the dad stopped for a moment and a light bulb seemed to turn on behind the pupils of his eyes. “Wow,” was all he could say.

But, even though I saw him break through the denial, we had to go through three more of these role reversals during that session for him to be able to hold onto the connection to what was going on with his daughter, as this dad’s denial was very, very deep. And he is not unique in this type of reaction alone or even unusual.

While it is easy to spot someone else’s kid’s or husband’s disordered behavior, doing the same with one’s own loved one can be much tougher. And even when you do see the situation as drug or alcohol related, never underestimate your loved one’s ability to convince you that what you are seeing or hearing with your own eyes and ears is false!

So, the next time a loved one does something and you can’t figure out if it is related to their use disorder, think again.

If you just can’t see what’s true in any situation that involves a loved one’s behavior, ask yourself how you’d feel if the person doing what your loved one was doing was someone else’s son, daughter or spouse…If it will help you, write it out. Or, tell a friend what happened to your child, and ask them to tell you the story as if it happened to “their” kid, and then to ask you for your advice.

Denial runs deep. It can make us feel safer, but believe me, it is a truly false harbor. Every time you are willing to face facts and work on your own recovery, you can break the cycle of lies and denial. When you put your recovery from the family disease first, you have the power to blaze the trail to recovery in your home and you become your loved one’s best chance at recovery!

Beverly Buncher, author of her new book BALM The Loving Path to Family Recovery is often referred to as the Foremost Family Recovery Life Coach in the Nation. Founder, Director, and CEO of the BALM Institute for Family Recovery Education and Coach Training. Utilizing techniques developed as a professional coach, teacher, educational administrator, and person with 30 years of personal family recovery experience, Bev developed the Be A Loving Mirror Family Recovery Method. The BALM Program is designed to make the tools of family recovery accessible to all whose lives are affected by a loved one’s struggles with substance and other use disorders.
www.balmfamilyrecovery.com
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