Dismantling alcoholic denial piece by piece: someone you know needs to know this

Someone you care about is slipping into an alcohol problem, and it might be you. He or she (or you) can’t see the problem and gets mighty touchy when anyone brings it up. So this is the denial you’ve always heard about.

At first, denial seems like a high stone wall. There is no getting over it, or around it, certainly not through it. But then, a crack appears. As Leonard Cohen says in “Anthem,” There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.

But just how hopeful should you become when you hear the first “Well, yes, I can see that there has been a drinking problem.” Not very, because denial is no fool. It does not just give up and go away. It shifts around and takes different forms, and engages in research about what it can get away with. The progression sounds something like this:

“Now that I realize it, I will be able to control the drinking. I’ve got this.”

That may work for a while, but then doesn’t. After a few repeats of overdrinking and accompanying unfortunate behaviors, the crack widens and a little more light gets in. “Well, it didn’t work to control the drinking, so yes, I’ll stop entirely. But I don’t need to go sit in a church basement with a bunch of drunks to accomplish that. I’m strong-willed and can do this myself.”

Which may work for a while, but then doesn’t (Unless it does, in which case more power to whatever is making that possible, and fingers crossed that it lasts), which leads to “Well, I guess I could use a little help, but no rehab. I’ll go to a couple of meetings. Look them up for me.” A little stronger shaft of light, and a little hope, it seems.

Eventually, the lucky ones reach the final breakthrough which usually follows a convincing relapse. It sounds like, “Oh, all right. I give up. Bring it on. I’m so tired of living like this, I’ll do whatever it takes for as long as it takes.”

Bingo! The wall of denial becomes a pile of rocks. The light is bright, the fog clears, and things start to make sense. Sober life feels good. Denial has run out of moves.

Until it finds a new opportunity. It still lurks, always looking for a chance to start rebuilding that wall. Seeming success in sobriety is irresistible to the waiting denial, ready to pounce as soon as the newly sober person gets a little self-congratulatory instead of a lot grateful. It’s a cunning opponent, not to be underestimated.

That’s why recovering people have palpable gratitude for another sober day, and the commitment to keep doing what it takes to have another one. They stand in a whole new place, grateful yet wary. They see themselves in every uncertain, pained face that comes through the doors, and they welcome the possibilities.

Denial isn’t as smart as it thinks.

Just be glad that it’s not alcohol awareness year – I could go on and on, but other topics are calling too. Please subscribe to stick with me. I’ll do everything I can to make it worth your while.

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