1.2 Denial

Denial is the key to alcoholism. People in denial, alcoholics in denial, are all around us. It’s always a disease that you don’t realize, or won’t realize, that you have. Denial is a common human response to adversity: therefore many people deny symptoms and disease whatever the cause. In the long path the alcoholic takes toward mental, physical and moral decline, usually the first thing to go is honesty. There are little lies at first. And first of all, they are lies the drinker makes to himself:

 I only had two... I haven't had a drink in a week... I don't drink as much as...[Tom, Jose, Sergei, Svetlana, Sarah...]

This then progresses to lying to those who are around him. Any attempt to raise the issue with him is dismissed or met with a refusal to talk about it. Sin isn’t faced up to. Now straight away we are up against a moral issue. Lying is a sin, in this context. And as we know from Scripture so well, the unregenerate heart is deceitful (Jer. 17:9). The ‘devil’ of our own self-talk is a deceiver; we deceive ourselves into sin. Rarely do we simply harden ourselves in revolt against God and His ways. We justify our actions, pleading to ourselves that we are a special case, that in our case, our behaviour is justified. So alcoholism starts with lying, to oneself, to God, and then to others. The alcoholic gets into this state of living a web of lies partly because those around him often end up supporting him. They lie about how much he drinks, cover up for him, make excuses. Unconsciously, he builds up a support network that enables him to continue drinking. This doesn’t mean that those around him are guilty. They have found themselves caught up in the frog syndrome- a frog will jump out of boiling water if thrown into it. But if he enters cool water and the temperature slowly rises, he remains in the boiling water, even though it is destroying him. Or her. What is needed by the sober members of the alcoholic’s support group is recognition that this is indeed the situation. Reality has to be faced if there is to be progress and any return to a normal life, or at least life as God intended. Yet a particular danger of the disease of alcoholism is in that it works very hard not to let reality interfere with the problems it causes. The alcoholic will focus on specifics- “I didn’t eat the children’s food as you accused me of...I really didn’t...you have some money in your purse right now...I was drinking beer not vodka...”; yet this is just a way of avoiding seeing the awful bigger picture, and fleeing reality. ‘Coming to the truth’ in the wider sense of the phrase is what cure is all about. Alcoholism is effectively a sickness of the soul, a breakdown of the personality; curing it is a reforming of the personality after God’s image.

As the disease progresses, so do the lies, and more and more people are pulled in to that web of being untruthful. This is why alcoholism is the serious sin which the Bible makes it out to be. For untruth and deception are the very opposite of the way of thinking which the Father seeks. He sees us right through, and therefore if we believe this, we ought to be transparent before Him. The alcoholic is always scheming to ensure the cash and alcohol will be available, and the times and places to get drunk. Lies hide the schemes, and then more lies are needed to make those lies plausible. The lying lifestyle often results in them lying about things they don’t even need to lie about- it becomes compulsive. It is all this peripheral behaviour that must be addressed in curing the alcoholic- it’s not just a case of ingesting alcohol and needing to stop that.

A classic mistake amongst carers is to extract a promise from the alcoholic never to drink again. Alcoholism is about self-deception, lies, repeated failure. It’s part of alcoholism that the alcoholic doesn’t keep promises like that. Until he gets over the denial stage. Further, the result of the broken promise is that it feeds the alcoholic’s guilt complex and self-loathing; and these are fundamental reasons why he or she drinks in the first place. It only prolongs the problem.

Alcoholism is hard to explain in terms of “why” it happens. The causes for it elude us. Yet we generally tend to be better equipped in dealing with problems if we know “why” something happened. The very ‘mystery’ of alcoholism is one factor in making it hard to accept one has the disease. This may need to be lovingly pointed out to the alcoholic. On one level, we must forget ‘why’. On another level, if the causes of the alcoholism are at least partly known, such as unresolved childhood abuse issues, these also need to be tackled at the same time as the alcoholism - otherwise, where alcohol abuse is used as a coping mechanism, it could simply be replaced by a different one, equally as destructive. But the reality is, the alcoholic is an alcoholic. Accepting the unexplainable straight away throws the alcoholic onto faith in God, the vague ‘higher power’ which Alcoholics Anonymous speak of in their ‘12 steps’. The mystery of alcoholism forces one to turn to God; the unexplainable has to be accepted. This is surely why the atheistic psychiatrist Carl Jung admitted to being unable to treat alcoholism. It is beyond medication and beyond psychology. Experience of struggling with the sin / disease teaches that truly “the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). And this explains why even unbelieving alcoholics often appear to have some heightened spiritual awareness during their struggles. What we need to do is to harness God’s truth to the task of taking these struggling men and women upwards and deeper in their confused sense of a need for God and His Truth.

As an endnote- remember that alcoholism knows no boundaries. It has affected from president to peasant in Russia [and all stages in between]. There is a stereotype that more men than women are affected, but this is increasingly becoming less true even in Russia. In the U.S.A., roughly 50% of alcoholics are female. And it has been observed that because women alcoholics face a greater social stigma than men, they find it far harder than men to get out of the ‘denial’ phase. Their families will need to be sensitive to this fact.

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