When we’re struggling with emotional and behavioral issues like addiction and mental illness, sometimes the hardest thing to do is ask for help, even when we need that help to get better. We can have a tough time reaching out for support, confiding in people, and also letting them know we have a problem. What are some of the reasons why it’s so hard for us to ask for help, and what are some ways in which we can help ourselves get the support we need?
Denial is the elephant in the room for so many of us. When we’re simultaneously dealing with mental health issues and addiction, sometimes the reality of it all is too much for us to deal with. We feel overwhelmed, lost and confused. Not only are we dealing with these vast and complicated issues, but we’re also coping with life challenges and harsh circumstances. We might be struggling with financial instability, difficulties at work or in school, or conflict in our relationships. We might feel like it’s all too much to handle. Sometimes when we’re in this place of sheer overwhelm, we shut down, often as a defense mechanism. We’re trying to protect ourselves from emotional overload, being overtaken by our difficulties, experiencing a crash, breakdown, or depression because of the weight of it all. When we shut down, we often will use denial as our go-to coping mechanism. It’s too scary and too confusing to face the truth, within ourselves or with other people, so we shut down instead. We pretend that everything is fine. We convince ourselves that we’re not depressed, or that we’re not addicts. We tell ourselves we don’t have a problem.
Denial can look different for different people. Some of us will adamantly deny we have a problem any time someone confronts us or approaches us with their concerns. We might get defensive when people tell us they’re worried about us. We might get angry when our loved ones try to stage an intervention. Some of us will live our entire lives in denial, hiding whole parts of ourselves from the people in our lives and the outside world, in hopes that no one will catch on to our painful secret. We isolate ourselves, allowing our denial to dictate how we live our lives. We’re not able to be open, honest, or genuine about who we are. We’re afraid to let people in, to allow them to get close enough that they might discover the things we’ve been hiding. We might struggle to have close relationships and to confide in people. Our denial has difficult consequences like creating conflict in our relationships, bringing us intense inner turmoil about whether or not to be truthful about the ways in which we’re struggling, and most of all, preventing us from getting the help we need. When we’re not being honest with ourselves, we often don’t feel capable of reaching out to others for support.
Sometimes when we feel unable to ask for help, it’s because we’re dealing with some very deep, all-consuming insecurities. We assume that asking for help will mean we’re weak, helpless, and unable to cope with life on our own. We want to put on a brave face for our loved ones, especially if they’ve already expressed concern. We want to present this image to the world that we’re brave, competent, and confident. The problem is, we’re feeling so insecure within ourselves that we don’t feel self-assured enough to ask for help. We don’t yet understand that asking for help is a demonstration of strength. We’re allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, we’re demonstrating humility, and we’re letting people in, all of which are signs we’re strong and confident within ourselves. When we don’t feel self-assured or comfortable within ourselves and with who we are, asking for help can feel painful, even impossible.
When we’re at the beginning of our recovery journey, we have yet to figure out who our true self is. We’re afraid to self-identify as addicts or as people who struggle with mental illness. We have yet to figure out who we are as individuals and how we feel about ourselves. We’re afraid of the judgment that can accompany these labels. We don’t yet know how we feel about our issues. We feel a lack of inner peace around our self-identification. We haven’t made peace with the fact that we’re dealing with these unique challenges. We fear people will condemn us, judge us, reject us, or shun us. We’re afraid that people will ascribe to us some of the common stereotypes around addiction and mental illness – that we’re criminals, that we’re impoverished, that we’re shameful and immoral. Sometimes we are still so conflicted about our identities and these particular issues that we internalize harmful stereotypes and believe them to be correct about other people but also about ourselves. We become self-hating and self-rejecting as a result, which is typical for those of us struggling with mental health issues and addiction. In part, it is because many of us are alienated from the rest of our families, communities, and mainstream culture. When we don’t feel accepted for who we are, asking for help can make us susceptible to further rejection. We don’t want to run the risk that we’ll be shamed, criticized, feared or hated. Sometimes the alternative, keeping our problems to ourselves, choosing denial, and living in secrecy, can feel so much easier.
We might have already experienced the painful sting of someone calling us names, bullying us, or even assaulting us because of our issues. People in our lives might resent us because of how we’ve hurt them, the mistakes we’ve made, or the wrongdoings we’ve committed. We might be struggling to make amends to the people we’ve hurt, or we might be so early on in the recovery journey that we have yet to realize what work we need to do to rebuild our damaged relationships. Loved ones might have completely cut us off. Close friends and partners may have ended things with us, disconnecting our important bonds and separating themselves altogether. They may have done this out of spite, or because they’re also struggling with mental illness and addiction. They may have separated themselves due to an instinct to protect themselves from the harm we’ve caused them. Whatever the reason, when we’ve already felt rejected by people who are important to us or even by strangers who talk down to us or look down on us, this can exacerbate our existing fears of judgment, rejection, and abandonment. We’re that much more likely to resist asking for help when people have already made us feel even worse about ourselves and our problems.
Sometimes we have a hard time asking for help because we feel so hopeless and so defeated that we think it will be pointless. We often will become convinced that there’s no use reaching out for support because we’ve given up on ourselves and our chances for healing. We might have tried to get sober countless times, only to find ourselves unable to. We might have successfully gotten sober but then relapsed. We may have completed a treatment program but then felt we still had considerable healing work left to do. Many of us are dealing with recurring episodes of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. We’re living with acute, chronic, persistent mental illnesses like panic attacks and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When we’ve been suffering mentally and emotionally for so long, often for years of our lives, we can become convinced that there is no hope left for us. We can tell ourselves that recovery is not possible for us. When we feel this overwhelming sense of hopelessness and despair, asking for help can seem futile. Any efforts at all to recover can feel like a waste of time, energy, money, and resources. We tell ourselves that if we’ve tried and been unsuccessful, there’s no hope left now. We feel drained, depleted of our confidence and motivation, and devoid of energy. Our depression and anxiety can make even the smallest task feel insurmountable, let alone the daunting feat of asking for help.
For many of us, our hopelessness, negative thought patterns, ways of thinking, and limiting beliefs that fuel our patterns of mental illness and addiction. Many of us become pessimistic and cynical about recovery. We might start thinking this way because of our past experiences, or because we’ve seen, other people unsuccessfully try to get sober or to heal their depression and other mental health issues. We develop the limiting beliefs that we aren’t deserving of happiness, that we aren’t good enough to live the lives we envisioned for ourselves, that we aren’t strong or brave enough to get better, or that recovery is not in the cards for us. When we give in to these negative lines of thinking, reaching out for help becomes just another useless task that won’t get us anywhere. Asking for help is just another chance to being rebuffed, judged, or rejected. Needing help is just more proof that we’re not good enough. Admitting we need help is just admitting we’re inadequate and inferior to other people. Asking for help means we’re not strong enough to deal with life on our own.
These limiting beliefs are problematic for multiple reasons. For one, they make us feel even worse about ourselves, which often closes us off to opening up to people. They make us even more depressed, anxious, insecure, and self-hating. We isolate ourselves even more. We continue to use denial and secrecy as defense mechanisms. Trying to pretend everything is okay, passing off our problems as minor inconveniences, and telling ourselves there isn’t anything that can be done keeps us trapped in self-destructive cycles of living alone with our pain. For many of us, this means our addictive patterns increase. We’re turning to alcohol or our drugs of choice to help manage our pain, to help numb how difficult it is to be so isolated and alone and to take our minds off our problems. We use our drugs of choice to help ourselves escape the truth of what we’re going through and to make it easier to deny that we need help.
Another reason our limiting beliefs are so problematic is that they fuel our resistance to getting help. When we give into these beliefs, we’re taking our fear of getting help and amplifying them exponentially. We’re telling ourselves that our worst fears will inevitably come true – that we won’t get better, that we’re beyond hope, that recovery is impossible, that asking for help is a sign of weakness and will cause people to abandon or reject us. We listen to our doubts and fears rather than summoning the courage to seek out help. We stop ourselves from asking for support, even when we feel driven to. We become self-sabotaging in our recovery efforts. We stall on making an appointment with a therapist. We put off checking into rehab. We refuse to read the pamphlet on addiction given to us by a friend. We don’t tell our doctors, family, or friends how depressed we’ve been feeling. Our limiting beliefs can block our progress and keep us from taking the necessary steps forward in our healing.
What can we do? A powerful way of confronting our fears around asking for help is by surrounding ourselves with people who are going through similar challenges. Support groups are an especially helpful way to get the help and support we need, while also learning about some of the common struggles we all face. We get inspired by other people’s success stories and helpful tips, ideas, and resources. We feel comforted by the group’s reassurance that what we’re going through is normal. The solidarity and understanding we find are uplifting. When we undertake the recovery journey knowing other people believe in us, who are in our corner, who are rooting for us and cheering us on, who want to see us succeed, we can feel so much less alone with our pain. We no longer feel judged and rejected, because we’re listening to people give voice to their issues that are so similar to our own, and we’re sharing our stories knowing other people can relate and empathize with us. This shared understanding is a connection many of us have been lacking for a long time. We have felt so disconnected from the people in our lives, and the world as a whole and support groups can help us feel a renewed sense of connection with others and within ourselves and can help us build a sense of community, togetherness and shared hope.
Take one small step to reach out for help. No matter how little it may seem, it will prove meaningful in the long run. It will be the first step in your recovery journey. Call the hotline number on that pamphlet you’ve left sitting in your bedroom. Go to a support group or meeting, try a few different therapists until you find one that you feel comfortable with, that you feel like you can trust enough to be vulnerable. Talk to a friend or family member. Join an online forum – you can even chat anonymously about the tough things you’re going through. Educate yourself more on addiction and mental illness – read articles, ask questions, talk to people, get curious about the issues you’re struggling with, and see your recovery as a challenge to get better. Chances are the more you seek out support, even in small ways, the more you will empower yourself to take huge strides forward in your healing. You have nothing to lose and a world of happiness and fulfillment to gain!
Wondering what step you should take next? Unsure of what services would be the best fit for you? Call Steps Recovery Centers today – 385-250-1701- to talk with one of our trained clinicians. With levels of care from outpatient to residential, we can meet you where you are and help boost your journey to recovery.