Alcoholic or addictive denial is all that keeps us from discovering who we really are — and who we’ve always wanted to be.
One of the processes of intervention and arresting denial follows;
"Dad," says the son, "I came home last week and found you passed out in the garage with the car still running."
Dad gets red in the face. "I was feeling sick. I just needed to rest for a minute."
"No, Dad, you were drunk. And it wasn’t the first time."
The daughter speaks up. "I was really hurt last spring. You promised to come to my graduation."
"I did," Dad protests. "I was late, but I made it."
"Yes, but you were so drunk and loud afterwards that we had to leave early. It was humiliating."
"I told a few jokes. No one’s got a sense of humor."
"No, Dad. You were drunk. Then you left and didn’t come home and you got arrested for drunk driving."
"Listen, I wasn’t that drunk. I was tired more than anything. Doesn’t it count for anything how hard I have to work? Besides, that breath test was screwed up."
"Dad, this was the second time," the son says.
The wife has been sitting silently as her children confront their father about his drinking. The session has been carefully rehearsed with the help of a counselor.
They’re trying to break down the father’s denial through a process called confrontation, where the alcoholic is given clear, unmistakable examples of how his alcoholic behavior has affected the whole family. The goal is to get the alcoholic into treatment.
The counselor looks at the wife, and says, "Didn’t you have something you were going to say, Mary?"
Now Dad explodes. "I knew it was all your idea, I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to do this!"
Daughter says, "Dad, it was our idea. We had to do something."
"Dad," says the son, "we’re trying to save your life."
With help, Bill is on his way to recovery. The technique of confrontation often helps to break the grip of alcoholic denial and is fully described in the book I’ll Quit Tomorrow by Vernon Johnson.
A similar kind of process occurs in employee assistance programs (EAP’s) where an alcoholic or drug dependent employee is confronted about impaired work performance and given the choice of seeking treatment or being fired. EAP’s have had some of the highest success rates in helping chemically dependent people.
Stages of Recovery
Helping professionals often report that many chemically-dependent people break through denial in three stages:
- Awareness. The person begins by admitting the problem. Many alcoholics get to this point and go no further. They give lip service to their alcoholism. But lip service just isn’t enough.
- Acceptance. The person actively does something to change his or her behavior. It’s more than lip service; but still the alcoholic has reservations: "Maybe I can drink again, like a normal person."
- Action. At this stage the alcoholic has no reservations. He or she sincerely admits an inability to control drinking and is committed to a life of sobriety.
In understanding denial, it’s important to realize that denial is not restricted to alcoholism-or even to other forms of chemical dependency. It’s a common defense that protects all our egos from harsh reality. It’s found in the cancer patient, the cigarette smoker, and the diabetic.
Still, nowhere is it more disabling — and potentially deadly — than in chemically dependent people.