The high price of denial.

June 9, 2009

What is denial?  In my experience, it is usually a pain-motivated avoidance of a fact that we do not wish to accept.  Or do not know how to accept.

denialDenial as I have experienced it is usually a combination of conscious and subconscious avoidance.  We usually have some awareness of the object of avoidance but we do not often realize the breadth of our efforts to avoid thinking about, talking about, or acknowledge ‘the thing’.

Our subconscious then jumps right in and orchestrates elaborate schemes to keep us limping around the issue, rather than face it.  Some of the elaborate denial themes I have experienced are…

1. Blame:  My subconscious used to seek out another person’s involvement or even possible involvement in a matter to help me avoid the fact that I had a part, if not the major part, in causing the pain to me and others.

Being left by my wife for example was one life experience that my subconscious went to town with and created the most elaborate blame theories for me to latch onto.  I blamed my ex, her family, my family, our church, our culture, divorced friends, the other man, and pretty much anyone else within a mile radius.

These elaborate theories helped me avoid the pain of the fact that I had a huge, if not the main part in why my wife left me.  I was, at first, far too devastated and crushed to accept maturely the things I had done to damage the relationship.  At the time, it was just too big of a burden to bear.  I could not fathom the responsibility of what I had done.

Then the pendulum swung the other way…. all I did was blame myself.  Blame of others turned to self-loathing and suicide ideation.  I was still too messed up to come to any mature and meaningful understanding and acceptance of what had happened and what my part was…. and what wasn’t.  It was just one big painful mess.

Now, years later, with a lot of help, I am able to see and accept in healthy and mature ways what my part was.  And just as importantly, what it wasn’t.  It is only upon this type of realization that I felt I could find what needed to be changed.

2. Booze and Drugs: My drinking and drugging were largely efforts to avoid pain I had caused.  Self medicate.  Escape.  I see these behaviours now as denial strategies.  Especially once I knew I was out of control.  Then the elaborate denial strategy was to use the new found awareness of the fact that I was an alcoholic and addict as an excuse to continue.  And to avoid genuinely dealing with my part in how I created the painful circumstance.

I wonder if this is not why 12 step programs focus so intently on our own part and character defects.  Could it be because we are so tangled in the complex weaves of denial strategies?

It feels our subconscious will go to any length to insulate us from the pain of what the truth might be.

3. Sweep it under the rug: Just never talk about it again.  And avoid settings and circumstances where it may be brought up.  Ignore it and it will go away.  But sadly, it won’t.

Truth has a way of coming out.  Truth often needs no spokesperson.  Truth often just shows up and stares us straight in the face.  What do we do then?  Create another complex denial strategy?  Or grit our teeth, admit that there is a problem that we can’t or won’t deal with, and ask for help.

Funny how my ex would never set foot in the offices of either counselors, mediators, arbitrators, pastors, or anyone else that could neutrally adjudicate our situation so it was fair, manageable and in the best interest of our kids.  She eventually wove complex theories about how doing family mediation was a ploy of mine to be in her presence.  And this is 5 years after our divorce and a year after I was remarried.

The fact that we are raising the same children as one another and that we are still linked financially and through many friends and family wouldn’t have anything to do with why we needed mediation would it?  With all due respect, and I mean this in the kindest of ways…. Duuuhhhh!

The sad thing about this instance of denial is that our kids are paying the price.  And it is bloody expensive.  In every way.  Worst of all, my kids are learning blame and avoidance strategies by these examples.

4. Overcompensating Behaviours: Ever meet anyone who takes some aspect of their life to an extreme?  Whether good, bad or otherwise?  I wonder how often they are running from something that they cannot or will not face.  And they are knowingly or unknowingly forming a smoke screen to draw attention (theirs and others’) away from ‘the thing’.

I know someone else who left their spouse under questionable circumstances.  It appeared quite plainly to be betrayal.  Funny thing is that they immediately became Super-Parent!  Enrolling their kids in every activity known to man.  Including, but not limited to …. Church!  Clearly, they could not have  betrayed their spouse because they are church-goin’ super-parent!

They are at every school function… (of course always visible, chatting everyone up, parking their vehicle in front where everyone can see they are there, working the room). 

All this to help keep themselves from facing up to the fact that they left their spouse for someone else!  And hurt little kids and countless friends and family in the process!  Not to mention the devoted left-behind spouse who you walked out on!

The high price of denial is the cost of deferred payment.  And sadly, if it is us that is in denial, the it may not be just us that defers payment.  It will likely be our kids, our spouse, our families and friends.

And hey, if we are still entirely selfish, it may help us to know that when we are in denial, we are paying the price of looking freakin’ ridiculous while we are doing it!  Blaming, drinking, sweeping, and overcompensating aren’t hard to spot and don’t exactly look cool!  I know, I have tried them all!


The best way to cut the cost is to, as Dr. Phil would put it, “Get real”.  And as Chaz would put it, “Get help getting real”.

The only reasons we stay stuck in denial is that we can’t or won’t see what we are doing.  But invariably, we do have some sense that something is not right with our circumstance.  Denial behaviour is seldom entirely subconscious.  We have some sense we are doing it.  And to whatever degree we have a sense of it, we have the opportunity to bring it to light with someone we trust.  Our doctor, our shrink, our minister, our friend, our counselor, our sponsor, anyone to start.

I am so grateful for the community of AA that keeps people in my life who are willing to help me see these things in my life.  Not as experts, but as fellow journeyers who are travelling the path of recovery at the same time as me.





  1. NICE!!!! I enjoyed the post

    Booze and Drugs: My drinking and drugging were largely efforts to avoid pain I had caused. Self medicate. Escape. I see these behaviours now as denial strategies. Especially once I knew I was out of control. Then the elaborate denial strategy was to use the new found awareness of the fact that I was an alcoholic and addict as an excuse to continue. And to avoid genuinely dealing with my part in how I created the painful circumstance.

    I wonder if this is not why 12 step programs focus so intently on our own part and character defects. Could it be because we are so tangled in the complex weaves of denial strategies?

    IT IS—->>>>>>>It feels our subconscious will go to any length to insulate us from the pain of what the truth might be.

  2. Nice Post Chaz, I enjoyed it. Things are a little better for me. Depression is a hard battle to fight alone, so I finally started being REALLY REAL with those I know and love. I am amazed at the concern and also at some of the brush offs.

    I am making some changes in my life right now to try to learn some better living choices, like friendship skills. I wasn’t born with them. It’s very hard for me to make and keep friends.


    Have a blessed day,

  3. Crim…. thanks for stopping by!

  4. Kim… glad you are doing well.

    Glad you are being real about what you are going through. Truth is freeing. Maybe you are finding some of that freedom by the truth you have shared recently.

    Don’t be surprised when some brush off the concerns we have about depression. Some just cannot or will not understand. There will always be those who minimize depression because they cannot see it and perhaps never felt it.

    Check back with you.



  5. The high price of denial. I thought this a good read, especially since i am trying to get sober. (17 days) I now can see truth very clearly. I also think people are always so ready to say they are not to blame and want to blame you. They are the first ones to say after they blame you “oh MY side is clean.” Keep your side clean they say. They should also include dont blame others if you are in denial about how clean your side of the street is.

    Give it to God and be done with it….

  6. Thanks Chaz – great post.

    I should try and get my mother to read your blog. She is still in denial that her alcoholism (she is dry now) or her behaviour 10 years ago (adultery, walking out on her kids etc) actually really happened…and if it did it didn’t really matter…

    Lores x

  7. Cathy….

    I think it is human nature for any of us to interpret inaccurately exactly where we are at. Blame often is due to a lack of neutral input and a lack of willingness to receive such.

    This is one advantage of having input from a wide support group including a sponsor. Not that any one person will give you fair and neutral feedback at all times. But a divergence of input creates checks and balances to our own perspectives … does it not?

    In absence of some balancing, more neutral voices, any of us can take too little responsibility (blame) or too much (guilt, self-condemnation, self-loathing). All are innacurate.

    Anyway… I hear ya. Some can even hide behind statements like “My side of the street is clean”, yet frankly, that may only be a highly biased, unproven opinion. Especially if the person saying so is the only one who thinks so.

    Hey… you just gave me another point for my list…

    #5 Hiding Behind Cliches: This denial manifestation shows up commonly in cultures and organizations rich in jargon like 12-step programs and church. Not all, but I have certainly seen much.

    Great reply.



  8. Lores…

    Sounds like could be some facts that your Mother doesnt know how to face. It is big stuff.

    I know I did one thing that I regret so badly in my drinking/using. I endangered someone and they never knew.

    Finally one day in an AA meeting, a guy shared from the podium virtually the exact same thing. That was over 3 years ago and I still remember the feeling of guilt lifting from my heart that instant.

    I then sought him out and had a number of conversations with him around the identical mistakes that both he and I had made.

    We talked, we shared, we admitted our wrongs, we cried, we laughed, we healed. This is much what step 5 in AA is about where we admit to ourselves, God and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

    I have since had opportunity to go make right to those I had harmed… as best I could anyway.

    Let me tell you, it is so freeing. The guilt and accusations in my head have minimized to almost nil. Whereas I used to think of suicide over these matters.

    I hope your Mom and others one day can realize that no matter what we have done, the best thing we can do from here is admit it to ourselves first, seek help, and make right to the best of our ability.

    Frankly, this is a rare thing. Everyone makes mistakes and most of us huge ones. Few, in fact very few, ever admit it in a meaningful way and make things as right as possible.

    Your Mother would have opportunity to do so if she could find a way to face things. This almost always takes help from someone who has travelled a similar path.

    I hope she finds it.

    In the mean time, it may help you to recognize that a reason she may still be in denial is shear fear and confusion of how to face “it”. It may just be too big of a mountain for her to have any idea how to try facing.

    Yet I can tell you this, I know many who have faced things like this and frankly worse. I recently heard a guy admit to killing someone negligently. It took him years and lots of help. But he finally came to grips with it.

    We all make mistakes. We all hurt others. Sadly, some hurts are bigger than others. But that does not mean we cannot accept responsibility and stop denying.

    Always great to hear from you Lores. Lovin’ your pics!



  9. hi chaz,

    i know in my depressive states that i often deny the good and only see the bad. i think it’s the “all or nothing”-type thinking that focuses on any little bit of suffering i might be facing, and denies anything else that might be positive in my life at the time.

    i think this kept me drinking for a long time — feeling sorry for myself, afraid to face the reality that was never as bad as the suffering created by my drinking.

    i think the common analogy is not seeing the garden for the weeds. so yes, i use denial in the ways you described in your post, but i also want to mention that it’s not just the bad things we deny, sometimes we also deny the good.

    forgive the cheesiness of the following statement, but i’m grateful today that i can see the garden, and am learning to prune the weeds.

  10. Hey Blu…. awesome…. I am truly pleased.

    I remember the first few times that lights started to come on for me. I remember the feelings of having believed for the first time that there was indeed a way out of my dark thinking. Largely, my denial of the positive, as you state, was one of the factors.

    Something keeps us stuck. I do not know if it is habit of thought or familiarity that keeps us fixed on the negative.

    Or maybe it is fear of failure in that we are affraid that if we acknowledge the positive, it will only be a matter of time before we lose it and feel the agony of failure once again.

    This pattern of thinking I knew well. I have learned beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is not valid. It is another strategy of my denial (BTW… I think you just added #6: Denial of the Positive) to keep me stuck in a dark, dying, painful place.

    This is actually a great insight. I know you can relate to the feelings of being stuck in a dark painful place eh?

    Man, I remember those days. It was bleak. Let me assure you… and it seems you have discovered it for yourself already…. that the light does begin to shine brighter as we get better…. as we think better and act better.

    Good to hear from you Blu.



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