Denial is oxygen for alcoholism. It’s what gives it the power to destroy. Denial is a psychological defense mechanism; a reflexive lightening quick mental maneuver used by our psyches. The goal of a defense mechanisms is just that, defending our minds from pain. The irony of using denial as a defense mechanism is that, over time, it produces its own pain. That’s why we want to first expose denial as a defense mechanism, and then try and use other defenses.
Everybody currently residing on planet earth uses defense mechanisms. If we didn’t have them we’d be overrun by reality and left babbling somewhere on a psych ward.
There are many defense mechanisms available to us. Denial, when employed by the alcoholic manifests itself in the following non-exhaustive list of thoughts:
I’m not an alcoholic.
I can control my drinking.
I’ll just cut back.
I’ll just stick to beer.
I’m not as bad as [insert name of that guy who’s REALLY a lush here].
I’ll quit on [insert future date].
I’m only going to have [insert prearranged number of drinks here].
I’m only going to drink on holidays (or weekends, or every third thursday].
I could pull these out of my ass all day long, but you get the point. Step one for getting better from alcoholism is admitting your an alcoholic. That first step is a real bear. Many alcoholics never get to this stage. In AA, before you say anything, you introduce yourself. Specifically, you introduce yourself by saying, “I’m Joe Blow and I’m an alcoholic.” The creators of AA figured this denial thing out. Recovery from alcoholism starts and stops with this basic admission; this acceptance.
Are you with me so far? You either accept you’re an alcoholic or you don’t. If you’re not an alcoholic you don’t need to read any further, unless you’re just morbidly curious about how alcoholics get better.
You’ve now reached the frequently horrific and painful conclusion that you’re an alcoholic. Should you want to get better, you now have to decide if you want to stop or not. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s really not. Experienced substance abuse counselors really take their time with clients to determine if he/she wants to stop drinking. These counselors aren’t personally invested in your stopping, rather they feel you out to see where you’re at with it. If they decide you really want to stop, then there’s work to be done. If, in the end, you aren’t ready or willing, there’s not much they can do for you.
Many alcoholics know they’re such but they have decided to live out their days accompanied by the only person who really understands them: Jack Daniels. Frequently, the first thing the alcoholic does when they realize their state is they go on a real good bender. They pop their heads out of the ground, gopher like, see what’s waiting for them and say, “fuck that!”
Assuming you want to get better, you’ve so far admitted that you’re an alcoholic and decided you don’t want to be a practicing drunk. You should know there is no cure for alcoholism. Sorry. We don’t have a cure for diabetes either, only ways of living with the disease. We can live quite happily and healthily with alcoholism just as we can with diabetes.
The next step is getting help. Cops tend to really struggle with this one. We can have one of our arms blown off, have shrapnel wounds in our forehead and be bleeding out, but still we’ll say, “I’m good, I’m good.” It’s cop hubris.
Hubris (also hybris; pronounced /ˈhjuːbrɪs/) means extreme haughtiness or arrogance. Hubris often indicates being out of touch with reality and overestimating one's own competence or capabilities, especially for people in positions of power.
While there’s no cure for alcoholism, there is a cure for hubris: humility. Humility happens when we allow ourselves not to know; when we permit ourselves to be lost and vulnerable. We simply cannot pass to the next stage until we humble ourselves. This can take much time up to and including forever.
If we reach that humble stage we can then open up to getting h-e-l-p. If you can honestly say the following out loud, to another person, you have passed: “I need help.” For a lot of people, and especially cops, saying “I need help,” leaves the taste of shit in your mouth. Let me suggest the taste of shit in your mouth is a small price to pay for getting better from this disease.
If you’ve gotten this far, things start to open up a bit. Now the only step left is availing yourself of the help available, and there’s a lot of it. What follows is a list of options. I would recommend starting with a visit to your primary care doctor and spilling your beans about your drinking.
[This is a convenient place for denial to poke back up in the form of something like “hell no I’m not talking to my doctor about that...it’ll get back to my department” or some other such thing. To this, I call bullshit. I call excuse, I call denial. I would talk to your union rep. if you have doubts. If you don’t want to talk to your union rep. for the same reason I again call bullshit. If in denial you probably won’t see one of your departments peer counselors, or EAP or anything else out there...if this is you, with love in my heart I say go back to step one.]
Your doctor should be able to determine how advanced your alcoholism has become. Depending on that here’s what you could do for treatment:
- In patient alcohol detoxification.
- Out patient intensive alcohol treatment.
- Substance abuse counseling.
- Alcoholics Anonymous.
I could say a lot more about what each of these look like, but for the sake of brevity I’ll leave it at that. You can’t stop drinking for your children or your spouse or to save your career. You can only quit for yourself. I remember going to the liquor store with my dad when I was small. Back in those days the only non-alcoholic form of beer they had was called “Near Beer.” I clearly remembering seeing Near Beer in the refrigerated door and knowing what it was. After pops got the good stuff and we were in the car, I said, “Dad why don’t you get Near Beer?” He quietly said, “It doesn’t taste the same.”
We gotta make a decision
We leave tonight or live and die this way (Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car”)
What’s your decision?