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2 posts from June 2011


Who does your addiction hurt?

This month we're looking at denial, a big issue for people with all types of addictions, including food addiction and eating disorders.
Denial in relationships

Addicts often think their behavior is invisible to others. It's like how little kids play peek-a-boo. They think that as soon as they cover their eyes, we can't see them, either. Dogs will do the same thing – as soon as they turn away from you, they'll try and get away with stuff they shouldn't be doing because they think they've turned invisible.
There's an expression that food addicts and those with eating disorders "wear" their disease. Whether it's excess weight, dull eyes and complexion, swollen glands or a sad expression, there's not much about the effects of an eating disorder that are hidden – especially to the people closest to them.
Food addicts and emotional eaters may also be in denial about how their addiction impacts the other people in their lives. These disorders affect everyone in the family. And that's a sad fact to face.
Breaking through the denial
Overcoming denial is one of the first steps of recovery – sometimes people address it before they even make the call to come and see us. Yet breaking through denial is like peeling an onion.
For someone who's always been a "good girl," it can be shocking to realize that you're lying about what you're eating, how much you're eating, or what you're doing with food and exercise. Or maybe it's something else – like shopping, over-spending, or people-pleasing.
While only the person with the problem can face the denial and make that breakthrough, there are some strategies that we use in therapy to help make that happen.
Motivational interviewing is a form of questioning that confronts the way someone is thinking, and provides evidence for a new way of thinking. For example, addicts can easily get caught up in "all or nothing" thinking. In that case, the therapist can point out options in the middle area, which the person may not even have considered.
Groups are an excellent way to pierce the denial, because you'll hear other people say they have a problem. If you can relate to what they've shared, it may open your mind to acknowledging that you have the problem as well. You'll also be able to support other people and witness as they get through their denial as well.
Is there something you've been denying to yourself or others? Is it time to break through?


Are you lying to yourself?


Denial leads to relapse
Have you ever heard the expression, "Denial is not a river in Egypt"? It's also the name of a funny book of sayings for people in recovery, and denial is the theme of this month's blog posts.
Alcoholics will often minimize their consumption and say they're drinking less than they actually are. Meanwhile, because of the changes that happen in brain chemistry in addicts, the more they drink the more they need to drink in order to feel normal, let alone good.
The exact same thing happens in people with food and weight obsession. Whether it's how long they exercise or how much they eat (either restricting or overeating), they need more and more of the behavior – but will still under-report what they're actually doing. Tolerance continues to grow, and so does denial, until soon they're in full-blown food addiction. Usually, it's someone else who recognizes it before the person with the food addiction – a friend or counselor may be the one to point it out.
Complacency is a form of denial
People get excited and enthusiastic at the beginning of the recovery process. They're in therapy, a support group or a 12-step program, and they're taking actions. Inevitably, something happens in life, or they just wake up a little tired one day, or that "high" of early recovery wears off and they become complacent.
Complacency becomes a form of denial. In addiction recovery, we talk about something called euphoric recall – people dwell on remembering the "good old days" of indulging in their addiction, and completely deny that there were any harmful, unpleasant or life-threatening effects.
Being in recovery can seem boring compared to a fantasy of life with excess food. That's why in 12-step recovery, the first step is often to write out a history of all of the ways that food, weight obsession, over-exercising, etc. made your life unmanageable. Please contact us at White Picket Fence Counseling Center if you would like to try a journaling exercise like that.
Denial is a definite path to slips and relapse. Let's say someone has long-term abstinence from binge eating. She has a slip, one binge, but gets right back in the saddle. She may decide, "Hey, I can handle a binge once in awhile," and it happens again, and again, until all of a sudden (but it's really not) she's face down in the food again.

In the next post, we'll look at how denial can affect relationships, and some of the ways we address denial in the therapy process.