What does denial look like?

What does denial look like from the outside? I can see it in the hooded eyes of my friends who can’t speak of a past trauma because they can’t bring themselves to confront it. Denial refuses to be bottled up and it spills over into other parts of our lives where we drink too much, cut ourselves too much, use our bodies too much, and degrade who we are a little too much. From the outside, most of us can’t even identify what denial looks like. We can only recognize the symptoms of denial and surmise that if someone keeps making bad decisions in their lives that harms them, they must be a whore, an alcoholic, or a cutter while not realizing the core of where this self-harm is coming from. They are hurting deeply inside perhaps because they can’t acknowledge that their mother died, that their significant other is cheating on them, or that they are miserable where they are. If we only address what we can see, we’ll never get to the root of the cause. This is denial. We wrap ourselves in self-harming tactics so that our closest friends and family can’t see the hurt we carry under all the layers.

How does denial look like from the inside? I was in a four-year relationship that I mentally knew wasn’t working, but I was also very stubborn and refused to admit defeat. I had the fresh memory of a recently failed relationship on my mind and I wanted to prove to myself and others that I could make one work, so I felt determined to keep going even when I was miserable. I felt isolated, depressed, and was at the heaviest point of my life because I ate my feelings. Everyone chooses a different poison to deal with their denial, and mine was gambling. This was a safe alternative because it wasn’t as obvious as drinking myself into oblivion. However, I realized it was an issue when I went to the casino more times than I did in the past. What do these poisons we pick do for us? It numbs the mountain of pain we hold for just for a moment. Just for a moment, you feel nothing, and nothing is better than feeling the pain of what is weighing you down.

Finally, I realized I just wasn’t happy and decided to do something about it, but I know some friends who have continued to live in denial for most of their lives. At first, it is an essential coping mechanism to get you through, but when it starts to eat your soul alive, you become your pain and it owns you. If we don’t confront these traumas, they will replay themselves over and over again in our lives like a ghostly reminder of our past. So what do we do when it’s not us that is in denial but our friend? It is extremely painful to watch them go through this, but do not address what you see because they are merely the symptoms of the underlying issue. Most of the times, we have no idea what it is. Instead, ask them what they are holding on to or let them know that whatever they are holding on to, you can see the hurt in their eyes. Sometimes, the person will not listen and spiral down deeper. It is okay to accept defeat and leave their side because it pains us to watch them. You will be there when they get back to who they are. This doesn’t make you a bad friend. It just means you are emotionally exhausted from this relationship and need to pull back for yourself.

The fact that you can accept defeat makes you a healthy person, for I realize now that is what I needed to admit in my relationship, but was too stubborn to. We abhor failure and because of this, we keep up the semblance of success even when everyone around us sees that we are drowning in a sea of our excuses. If you never accept defeat or failure, you can never move on past your trauma. Failure means acknowledging we are not perfect and yet, we can still continue on. If we don’t accept failure, we are forever trapped in denial. Your relationship didn’t work not because you didn’t try, but because you valued the relationship over yourself. You can’t get over your mother’s death because you feel cheated, but realize that some people never had a mother. Some people have mothers and wish they never knew them. At least you had a mother you loved for a short period of time. No one can change your life except for you. Someone may be able to throw you a life line, but only you can climb that rope.

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