As I begin to address the core of shame and its relationship to denial in relapse, please remember to take care of yourself. This is sensitive territory and it can bring up feelings, emotions, reactions, and behaviors that may feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Keep a pulse on your level of response.
Denial, especially with regards to the topic of relapse, is typically viewed as a destructive defense mechanism. I do not disagree. At the same time, there are occasions when denial serves as a protector - waiting for the right time, place, and person to help individuals navigate through their inner core of shame and the violations within. As a therapist, I witnessed this time and time again. And I, like many other professionals in my field, have the tender task of helping clients in their time of awareness and readiness to access that buried pain, root it out, and release the shame.
I recall one client who struggled for years with an eating disorder, relapsing time and time again. Denial served as her protector as she guardedly disclosed issues of low self-esteem and low self-worth. In the safety of our sessions together and as she learned to trust our process in therapy, slowly she begain to unravel the bundle of scar tissue within. At her core were years of physical and psychological abuse by both parents; then, additional issues of abandonment when at a very yong age, she suddenly lost her mother. Rooting out the core of shame she carried with her and releasing its hold on her did not resolve this client's eating disorder (as there are many other complex and complimentary interventions in this treatment). However, it did revive her in a way that brought healing to her years of buried trauma along with healthy management of present triggers which led to her continual struggles with relapse.
What is important here is this: Denial is a defense mechanism. It keeps us from facing ourselves and our truth. It is really hard to break through it. However, if we keep relapsing and we continue to find ourselves in a pool of shame, I believe we must muster up the courage to look inside - to conduct a fearless inventory and to face the brokenness within. As I write in Mountain Air: Relapsing and Finding the Way Back...One Breath at a Time, I compare the process of examining the cracks within our inner beings to assessing the fissures within the soil:
|"Fissure in the Soil" - Chapter 5|
Whatever I would decide, I knew the process would not be easy; I knew the emotional costs would be high. Exploring causation and arresting relapse always is. Most importantly, I knew that by embracing recovering, I must interrupt and disrupt the natural flow of denial. It was time to remove this mask of relapse; it was time to let go of its hold on my being." (Chapter 5 - "Fissure in the Soil")