The Denial Behind the Denial

Downtown Portland

Recovery is  a lifetime process and trying to have an kind of balance is essential. I am not a balanced person by nature. My giftedness is extreme in some areas and woefully absent in others (like I do not have the math gene. I traded down for the alcohol gene).

Thus it is an easy swing of the pendulum from either self-loathing to grandiose thinking. The disease likes and feeds off both for a reason so obvious that one can easily miss it entirely.

Self-loathing is the more dangerous of the two, but that is a lot like saying that one type of cancer is preferable to another. It may be true, but it is still not good.

The man who runs this program at CityTeam is a straight shooter on just about everything. Quiet, thoughtful and only confrontational when needed. I watch him skillfully direct, drawing every bit of good out of the AA program, ignoring or critiquing the potential missteps of the program and filling them in with a richer content.

Thus the other day he mentioned that alcohol was just a symptom and that the real disease was self-centeredness. Then he pointed out that in the Big Book they stop after a short while talking about alcohol at all! By then you are on to going to the heart of the matter: the Self and its demands, or what novelist Walker Percy called “the suck of self” that we all suffer from.

Well as I was walking over the Burnside bridge into downtown I was reflecting on how long I had been in some form of denial about my alcoholism (just the same as every other alcoholic…my defenses were classic) before  I realized that was just the front line of denial.

The command center of denial is Selfishness and narcissism.

Of course, to anyone who knows me this is no surprise. But I am not sure even they see how deep and pervasive it is.

We are not just One Thing

Roger is quick to point out that this selfishness and pride is at the heart of every human being. And today, if you listen as a dispassionate observer (pretend to be a sociologist) note how most conversation is really about US. Even the things we say about others is often to belittle them in some way so as to place ourselves above them.  I did this yesterday and was horrified. It made me want to run off to a monastery where no one speaks…including me of course.

“This is why I said ‘let your words be few’” came a mindful whisper.

This feels right.

Of course this is also why I write. I can process in an open fashion and others get a front row seat that may be entertaining and, at times, instructive as I am “schooled” by life.

So the first Denial is that I am not an alcoholic. That dropped a few years back…say five.  But now I am dealing with the Denial behind the Denial: my utter selfishness and self-absorption.

While endemic to the human condition it is publicly more obvious and sophomoric in the alcoholic. Only if he or she has significant means, power or social status can, or will, this be passed off or downplayed. It may even be lionized in a few (like the Good Doctor, Hunter Thompson, or Hemingway).

Or it may be sadly commented on by those looking upon those who so suffer who have always lacked either talent, brains or means and who end up swiftly dead or debilitated.

Otto Rank once said that the difference between the “neurotic and the artist is basically talent.” The same holds true here. But why not keep the talent and lose the neurotic response? Certainly we have seen examples of this from famous alcoholics in recovery: Anne Lamott and Brennan Manning come to mind. Others who had to deal  would be folk like Malcolm Muggeridge and quite possibly the great C.S. Lewis but no one would ever call their arguments crazy.

I think this is because we are not JUST one thing or the other. Anyone who has spent any time with me at all the last few years knows that it is like dealing with two different people: one rational, calm, good humored, mature, silly and warm. But the other guy, while not classically angry, abusive or violent (or if he is, it is to himself) is distant, self-absorbed, defensive, aloof and duplicitous about alcohol.

The Importance of Checking In and Not Out

Now I have been accused recently of checking out or “running”. I understand the objection comes from past dealings and the disappointments of my past relapses. But this does not take into account the process.

Alcoholics, upon learning that a brother has “gone back out” often shrug to each other and say “I guess he needed to do some more research.”

They know he will either be back, or die. But it’s his life to do either with. It is not rocket science.

Still, I now have my honorary Masters in Humiliation. No more research is necessary.

Last night we had our hour and a half “check-in” where we talk about life. Roger was brilliantly simple and clear about the real issues being between our ears once the physiological craving dissipates (which has for all of us).

One brother, after the whole discussion  said in a confused voice (as if he just awakened and realized he was in a room with people) “Well, I think it is the body that craves it right? I mean it’s not like it is something n your head first.

If the man had not been so brain damaged there might have been laughter, but there was compassion (and some eye-rolling) and I thanked God that Roger was leading.

The roots of the diseased exposed on my walk over the bridge, I asked God earlier that day “what is the answer to this?”

“Remember the two simple commandments?” came an impression.

“Ahhh…love you whole-heartedly and then love my neighbors. Back to love again eh? Yeah, yea…that sure covers it.”

Suddenly I became wonderfully weary of writing about my own situation.

I thank you for taking this journey with me. I will still write here again but I sense a new turn.


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