Category Archives: Denial

Alcoholic denial

The Bitter End… or Willingness

…[W]e had but two alterna­tives: One was to go on to the bitter end, blotting out the consciousness of our intolerable situation as best we could; and the other, to accept spiritual help.
–“There is a Solution” (p. 25)

Over the years I’ve grown so accustomed to going to meetings, working the steps, and sponsoring people that I tend to forget I’m actually sober through god’s grace alone.  I forget that for most alcoholics, the disease rolls along like a hell-bound runaway train, taking them with it.

The Bitter End:  The other day I had coffee with a longtime friend whose ex-husband bavarian shed– I’ll call him Julius – was once a man vividly alive: handsome, funny, and brilliant. Together they created a beautiful home, the yard landscaped with a Bavarian-style gardenhouse of which I was always a tiny bit jealous. While our children were young, I joined their friends and family at many celebratory gatherings where Julius cheerfully acted as a bartender, mixing everyone’s drinks with a brisk, festive hospitality.

He didn’t seem to like me much, though. His wife had discussed his suspected ‘drinking problem’ with my partner and me, which he seemed to resent.  He was European-born, a year and a half older than I.  Alcohol, he maintained, was a normal part of European life – though Americans abused it.

As the years elapsed, however, my friend experienced the many pains of loving an active alcoholic. Finally she found herself cheated on in conjunction with alcohol, much as I would years later. Because Julius scoffed at AA recovery, she’d had to painfully end the relationship and find her happiness elsewhere.

Still, I continued to see Julius regularly because for some time he and I worked at the same place and exercised at the same gym. I’d witness much important traffic bustling to and from his windowed office across the hall from my virtual closet. At the gym, he’d stroll into the big cardio room glancing about as if for an audience, tall, blonde, and well aware of his strapping physique. But meeting his eye was only me – that annoying sober woman!  We’d exchange nods.  Then, about seven years ago, I was laid off.

So over coffee, I asked my friend, “And how is Julius doing?”

“You didn’t hear?” she started in return. “He died.  It was a few months ago.”

I shook my head, speechless.

“His liver went, and then… Didn’t you see his obituary on Facebook?”

Maybe you know the feeling I had, when you’ve rivaled someone you actually respect.  It’s as though the two of you were playing an intent game of ping-pong – and they’re suddenly not there.  The ball whizzes off to nowhere,  gone forever; you realize that underneath your resentment was… a slightly bruised form of love.  True, Julius had seemed to scorn my life choices – to flout sobriety by drinking hard and living well.  But he’d also passionately loved his children, the world of intellect, and life itself.  At heart, he was a good man.

My friend proceeded to unfold an old, old story lived out by countless alcoholics, a script starring that unsung hero, the liver. empties We alcoholics poison ourselves, and our liver cures us.  We do it again and again, driven by addiction, and that amazing organ reverses our suicidal onslaughts.  Until one day, it can’t.  It breaks.  But as alcoholics, we can’t stop the onslaught.  Poisons course unchecked through our systems, wreaking havoc on other organs – especially the brain.

Julius could not stop drinking, despite knowing full well alcohol was destroying his life.  He became obese and depressed.  He lost interest in work and took early retirement.  He stopped leaving the house, bathing, shaving, caring about anything.  His children both pitied and resented him, because he lived on the couch in a house that smelled bad.  He peed himself.  He saw no one.  Still, he drank.  And gradually, as ammonia crippled his brain, he stopped making sense.  Visiting to check on him, my friend found him speaking of people not there and tasks imagined.  She called 911.

At the hospital, doctors did all they could, but his body could not recoup.  A bloated wreck of his former self, watched over by the woman whose love he’d betrayed, with the children he would leave fatherless, 12 and 14, clutching his hands on either side, Julius died.

~

alcohol death

~

Willingness:  It’s an odd feeling to hear of someone dying from the same disease you have.  There but for the grace of god go I.  Nothing could be more true.

I was just like Julius.  For so many years, whenever the prospect of my “getting help” was raised by therapists or friends, a bulletproof glass shield came up like an electric car window between me and that idea.  “No.  That will not happen,” I’d think with an iron will.  Like Julius, I planned to slow down and then drink normally.  But I’d sooner join a leppers’ nudist colony than mix with those freaks in AA!

How did that change for me – but not him?  Surely Julius knew a misery just as dark and painful as mine.  But somehow, I was graced with the gift of willingness.

My desire to live jumped tracks.  Its impulse switched from “I must drink” to “I must change.”  Why that happened for me and not for Julius, I cannot tell you.  I did not want to change.  I did not believe AA could help me.  Yet I made that first call, went to that first meeting in spite of my thinking.

That god provides the defense we lack against the first drink – we’re reminded of that miracle often enough.  But even the willingness to BEGIN TO LET GOD HELP US comes from god.  A spark of god glows at our core, our source, and yearns to connect outside us.  For some, the blockage – our will – is temporarily lifted: our spirit reaches out and god answers.  Others languish, locked in self.

Grace is inexplicable!  But we can practice gratitude without understanding: “Thank you, god, for my sobriety.  Thank you for this life – exactly as it is!”

scroll

5 Comments

Filed under AA, Addiction, alcohol damage, Alcoholism, Denial, God, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality

Reasons I Wasn’t an Alcoholic

04Julesshakespear73Writing the final exam for my college Shakespeare course, I had to close one eye to read the questions, since I was seeing double.  Not puking also required an occasional surge of resolve, and I had the spins.  All unfortunate.  What concerned me most, though, was my handwriting: it looked more as if a third grader were reflecting on Shakespeare’s intent than a college junior – one who adored his plays and knew many lines by heart – at least, ordinarily.  That exam pulled my final grade down to a B despite many A papers.  I think about it every time I see my transcript.

What was wrong with that picture?  About three hours.  That’s all I needed to sober up. Wisdom acquired?  For an 8:00AM exam, one should stop drinking, not at 3:00AM, as I had, but probably closer to midnight.  Having learned that lesson, I’d manage better next time.  It was a mistake – not a problem.

When a couple years later I drank a fifth of 151 in a few hours and passed out so deeply, nothing could wake me, that was clearly because no one at the housewarming party had warned me about 151 – that you had to drink it slower!  Who knew?!  Another mistake.

When, at my wedding celebration, I hovered a couple of steps behind Michael Dukakis, governor and guest of honor, imitating his every gesture and doubling over with laughter (I might have peed my nylons just a little), it was simply a shamewine_cheese my in-laws lacked a sense of humor!  Though, okay – I might have had a bit much.  But the bride gets to make a mistake, right?

When a few years later I attended a wine and cheese graduate school function with my (new) partner, told inappropriate stories, shattered a fancy wine glass, and passed out face down on the floor of an upstairs room, it was just – whoops! – another mistake.  Good thing I wasn’t lying in my own vomit, because I was a pretty classy English professor!

So I learned to do better next time!  Well, actually, um, not next time, but the time after that.  I learned I really didn’t like getting falling down drunk, so the next time I… got falling down drunk, I didn’t like it again…once it was over, so next time I wouldn’t do it – til I did.

What those people who claimed I had a problem with alcohol failed to realize was this: I loved alcohol.  I adored it.  It fixed me, it fixed you, it fixed the world – so everything could be okay.  How could that be a problem?  I just kept fucking up on the amount, was all.  I just kept overdoing a good thing.  But it was a good thing!  That I knew.  No one was going phase me with this “Louisa, you’re an alcoholic” bullshit.  Maybe I was one but so what?  It was my way.  Nobody has the right to tell you to change that!

So, fuck ’em, I said.

Besides, I could list off a million reasons I wasn’t an alcoholic.  I…

  • Didn’t drink hard booze after I turned 26 – except when I did
  • Didn’t drink in the mornings – except when I started before noon
  • Didn’t lose my job or house – only chose to downsize
  • Didn’t get a DUI – because the cops appreciated my doe-eyed apologies
  • Didn’t black out and wake in strange places – just miraculously back home
  • Didn’t suffer DTs – just shook wildly, maybe a smidge of amorphous terror

As the years rolled by, however, and I continued to make unfortunate mistakes despite my lack of a problem with alcohol, a few liabilities did crop up, so my phrasing had to change a bit, like this:

  • Though I occasionally collided with door frames, I did so reminded of life’s bittersweet irony
  • Though I occasionally fell down, it really didn’t hurt
  • Though I attended keggers in my mid-30s, I did so from a worldly, intellectual perspective
  • Though I hit a car head on, I’d slowed down so much it hardly did anything
  • Though I cheated on partners, I did so secretly so it kind of didn’t happen
  • Though I might enjoy a glass of white wine while I cooked dinner, or perhaps a beer at lunch or while journalling, gardening, vacuuming, folding clothes, building a fence, watching TV, doing the dishes, clipping my nails, or taking a shower, I didn’t drink all the time
  • Though I hated myself, that was my business – and a fine reason to drink more

I could have gone on like that forever, with an answer for everything.  I don’t know why I didn’t.  I guess gradually the old threadbare idea that I’d manage better next time wore thinner and thinner.  At the same time, the prospect of any next time, any next anything, grew increasingly dull and even disgusting.  Though I think what actually defeated me, what drove me to break down and hit bottom and finally say ‘uncle,’ was that last point: hating myself.  The hate grew so intense – such white hot, pure acid, unmitigated and inescapable hate – that I simply could not stand to exist another day – drink or no drink.  So it was suicide or… what the hell, AA.

Meeting snowflake

Those of you reading this sober may know exactly what I’m talking about.  Some reading just a tad hungover may experience a twinge of recognition and whip their Monopoly-style NOT-THAT-BAD card from a back pocket.  No one can diagnose another person’s alcoholism.  But a word I discounted back then was honesty.  Today I know honesty is not a true/false prospect; it’s a matter of excavation.  And digging takes courage.

On January 29, 1995, whatever it is I call god removed my mania for drinking.  I’ve not had a drop since.  What could be more miraculous?  Deep down, just under our hearts, we can all sense our source, our core, our truth beyond knowing.  I used to drink to bury mine.  Today, with the help of my fellows, I strive to live by it.

 

scroll

1 Comment

Filed under Addiction, Alcoholism, Denial, Drinking, Recovery, Sobriety, Step 1

What Alcohol Did; What god Does

Pain happens, starting when we’re young. In our efforts to evade it, we suppress a whole array of feelings, turning away and denying them. But like an ignored roommate sharing the small apartment of our psyches, the pain lives on. It doesn’t grow up. It stays the age we were when the trauma happened. Countless negative beliefs systems sprout to position it – that we’re not good enough, that others will reject our true selves, so we need to strategize to please them.  We try.  Again we miss the mark and endure more pain, the rabble of negativity within us creating a ceaseless inner shitstorm.

It sucks – the shitstorm does.  Our psyches can become a hellhole.  In AA, we speak of the shitty committee.

Shitty Committee

click to enlarge

What Alcohol Did for Me
The first time I got wasted, alcohol shrank that entire tornado of pain and fear so small it could fit inside a harmless little bubble and float off somewhere in my mind’s periphery – totally irrelevant.  Hey!  I was fine, you were fine, and if someone didn’t like us, fuck ‘em. My psyche’s protective walls fell away so the world opened up as a land of plenty, beautiful and safe. Life was so damn easy!  Cocaine tripled that effect*, adding an intense interest and delight in all things.

I wanted that feeling again.  And again.  Addiction promises a shortcut, an escape from ourselves. It’s that hope, that sweet anticipation of GOOD STUFF that lures us every time to jump on it again. Something as simple as a red notification number on Facebook can trigger a spurt of anticipatory endorphins in our minds – this is gonna be good! This cheesecake, this big sale, this cocaine porn winning horse remodel facelift romance booze is gonna lift me right out of the bad stuff, set me on top, make being me so smooth!  Dopamine levels surge, causing us to “forget” all the pain in our lives.

“Thus addiction… arises in a brain system that governs the most powerful emotional dynamic in human existence: the attachment instinct.  Love.”  Gabor Maté is writing here of opiates, but the same principle applies to all drugs that impact our dopamine levels – including alcohol.

sunshine1That first perfect, blissful high is, in my opinion, reminiscent of heaven.  Literally.  Hear the story of anyone who’s had a Near Death Experience (NDE) in which they went to the Light, and they’ll tell you they were permeated by an ovewhelming Love, a brilliance so powerful it left no room for anything bad. The Light is the unfiltered energy of Love that is not incarnate, not trapped in a limiting body; it is whence we originate, what powers us here, and what we’ll return to. And it’s a memory of bliss for which we hunger desperately as we trudge through the difficulties of being human.

So what am I saying?  That consciousness from a brain artificially flooded with dopamine resembles consciousness in heaven?  Yep.  ‘Fraid so.  That’s why many addicts sacrifice their lives in pursuit of it.  Un/fortunately, our brains respond to such bombardment by curtailing both production of and receptors for dopamine, so life without using more becomes increasingly hellish – and that change persists for years.

What god Does for Me
…is not as fast or dramatic, but it works: god gives me the self-compassion to heal my own wounds.  The message of the Big Book is love.  In the rooms we’re surrounded with it as we dare to take that First Step, to admit openly, “You guys, I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing!!”  From that humility, we tap an “an inner resource” – god as we understand it – which begins to edge out ego as our guide for living.  The more love we accept from god, the more we have to offer others, and vice versa.  For the first time, we can love imperfect people from the standpoint of our own imperfection.  In other words, as working the steps gradually teaches us compassion for others, we also develop it for ourselves.  We become conduits of the Light.

“You have to feel it to heal it,” my cousin and I like to say.  In scaredgirlmeditation I go in looking for that little 9-year-old Louisa who was so blighted by shame, and I ask her to tell me where it still hurts.  I feel it, too; I grieve with her; I comfort her.  You don’t have to do anything, I tell her. You can just be you, and I’ll love you.  I can promise her this because my god has promised it to me. At the core of Al-Anon, ACA, and SLAA, named either directly or indirectly, is the healing power of self-parenting. That’s the nexus of change.  We can play both roles, loving and healing our past selves.

Today my inner little girl is pretty happy.  She got banged up rather badly in my recent break-up, but she’s convalescing well.  We share an open world infused with goodness – because I perceive god in all I encounter.  At times I do experience bliss – basking in the beauty of the mountains, laughing myself loopy with sober friends, or witnessing the miracle of my sweet son. It’s not a cheap bliss, either: it’s the real McCoy, earned through hard spiritual work – that freedom I once faked temporarily with alcohol and drugs.  And like heaven, it’s all about love.

~

Watch This:
Here’s a simple animation that depicts volumes about addiction in a brief 4.5 minutes.  Strangely, watching it makes me cry.

I’m guessing Andreas Hykade, the film’s German creator, knew addiction well. It’s not by coincidence that our protagonist is a kiwi, a flightless bird.  We all feel like that – denied the soaring others pull off.  Neither is the grating step-by-step sound effect accidental. Real life is one step at a time and arduously incremental compared to the smooth bliss of intoxication. Even the images’ barren simplicity reflects the stark focus of addiction. An animation teacher at Harvard, Hykade chose a simple line drawing over every state-of-the-art visual effect at his disposal.

NUGGETS

Kiwi addict

.

So many of us never escape that final darkness.  If you have, take a moment for gratitude.

.

scroll

* Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, p.153

Post to Facebook

4 Comments

Filed under Addiction, Afterlife, Al-Anon, Alcoholism, Denial, God, Near Death Experience, Recovery, Sobriety, Spirituality

Denial and Ego: Addiction’s Minions

People suffering from a potentially fatal disease normally want to know what it is and how to get better. If it’s diabetes, you alter your diet and take insulin. If it’s cancer, you follow whatever regimen you’re dictated. But if it’s alcoholism, you say, “Um… actually, I don’t have that!” so you can get even worse.

Denial: it’s built right into alcoholism – which why in the rooms we talk about “the disease that tells me I don’t have a disease.”

Here’s an official alcoholism definition hammered out by the Journal of the American Medical Association. A 23-member (how many?) committee of the National Council on Alcoholism and American Society of Addiction Medicine researched and bickered for 2 frickin’ years (how long?) to spell this thing out:

Alcoholism is a primary, chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with the drug alcohol, use of alcohol despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial.

I’d like to thank whichever committee members lobbied to squeeze in “most notably denial.” Under great pressure to be concise, why bother naming that particular distortion? God knows alcoholic thinking distorts right and left: Everyone else is the problem; I drive better drunk; I didn’t like that X anyway. But woven through every distorted thought of an active alcoholic is the thread of denial – outright refusal to acknowledge the fact that we need to get wasted despite whatever price it’s exacting from our lives.

evil minions

Self-centered ego is denial’s evil twin, likewise a mainstay of alcoholism.  A great description, penned by Anne Wilson Schaef in When Society Becomes an Addict, runs as follows (excerpted):

Addicts are notoriously self-centered. They may claim to care about the people around them, but their fix begins to overshadow everything else.

Another aspect of self-centeredness puts the self at the center of the universe. Self-centered people do not know where they begin and end and anyone else begins and ends. Because there are no clear-cut boundaries, two things happen: the self spreads out, and the world rushes in. Everything becomes ME, and everything starts coming at ME and is perceived as either for or against ME.

During active addiction, alcohol is FOR ME.  It’s on my side – the only ally I can trust.  If I’m lonely, I invite my buddy alcohol over to keep me company, and we hang out together in a cozy refuge against a world we both tell to fuck off.  On the other hand, if I need to socialize, alcohol becomes my Iron Man suit.  It empowers me to converse freely, lovin’ life and knowing I’m absolutely invincible.  Either I’m so freakin’ charming that everyone admires me, or I’m such a boss rebel I could give a rat’s ass what any of those assholes think.  Either way, my self-centered ego feels impervious.

Anything against my alcohol is, by definition, against ME.  I fight as if my life depended on it: You can take my job, my relationships, my health, my home, my self-respect, even my hope that things will ever get better – but don’t you dare touch my buddy, alcohol.  That’s my lifeline, bitches!

Doctors, therapists, friends, spouses or partners – when they turn against our buddy, they all have to be shafted.  It’s unfortunate, but inevitable.  And what about our conscience, that repentant whiner who, filled with morning self-reproach, promises not to drink (so much) again?  With a sigh we hit the trap door switch and drop them to the alligators.  Sorry.  No way around it.

Denial and ego conspire together as addiction’s minions. Demon quarterbackDenial says I don’t have a problem, and ego says, Whatever – I do what I want!  Together they block the world like offensive linemen, protecting addiction from tackles by reason and emotion so it can launch just one more play for a great time.  This time, it’s gonna be awesome!

But then one day, if we’re lucky, we reach that magical combination –our life’s shot to shit and alcohol quits working – and we hit bottom.  Death is lookin’ real-ly good by this point.  No more anybody expecting anything from us.  No more failure.  No more loneliness and hating ourselves.  Just peace.  That incomprehensible demoralization blasts away denial’s excuses, flattens ego’s games.

Without their cover, we can finally glimpse the actual face of addiction, and we understand that it’s a demon. For a short window of time, we get that it’s killing us. The question is whether we can find help, whether we can be shown a way out, before that window of clarity closes. If we make it to AA, we can look at Step 1 on the wall and sigh, yes:  We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.  Others can show us the way out.

But that’s far from the end of it!

The inner addict doesn’t die.  Recovery only incarcerates it.  And guess who’s constantly plotting and conspiring to spring the boss out of prison?  You got it: those loyal henchmen, denial and ego.

“You know, maybe I never really had that big a problem with alcohol.  Maybe now that I’ve got my shit together, I don’t have to bother with AA meetings.”  Just as cancer mimics and perverts the miracle of cell growth, so addiction mimics and perverts the goodness of self-care. “You deserve a drink!  Don’t be so hard on yourself!  You’ve totally cleaned up your act – why not enjoy a little reward?”  Both diseases kill the host.

In sobriety I know of only one deliverance from the minions’ head chatter: god.  That’s why the 12 Steps exist.  For me, god can be found only when I wrench my focus away from all my thinking and look to my heart, where my sense of goodness lives.  Goodness runs deeper than knowledge; it’s my very foundation of living, god dwelling in me.  I pray for direction and new thoughts come: call a sober friend; get to a meeting; be of service to others.  Whenever unselfish love flows through our system, it flushes out the disease’s crud and nourishes our core.   The minions lose.

But they’ll be back tomorrow!

scroll

Post to Facebook

4 Comments

Filed under AA, Addiction, Alcoholism, Denial, Recovery, Sobriety