Working with alcoholics in denial is a task with no thanks, much of the time.
Family and loved ones see an individual spiralling into chaos, destruction, and serious consequences.
The alcoholic sees their life as entirely normal.
Family see colossal denial, uncharacteristic outbursts, and aggressive episodes.
The alcoholic wonders why everyone keeps pestering him with crazy accusations.
At Edinburgh Rehab Centre we help alcoholics and their families every day. We help folks see it from both sides: family members are busy living their lives, taking responsibility, and dealing with life’s issues. The alcoholic is an expert at pretending they do this too.
A family member can’t see how a “habit” could have gotten so out of control, but the alcoholic has relied on this one coping mechanism for so long, it’s become the *only* coping mechanism.
But to the alcoholic, the conversation about possible treatment, means:
- Me giving up my coping mechanism, that I've used to deal with life's issues (for so long)
- Me giving up the way I handle feeling ashamed, *about* not dealing with life's issues
- That the snowball of outstanding issues in my life has escalated to such proportions, that facing up to it (aka: taking responsibility) at this point is… unthinkable
In the big picture, we're asking someone to move from a place of zero responsibility in their lives, to a place of taking total responsibility. And this is what a functional person does.
But naturally, this is overwhelming for someone with a case-of-cider-a-day habit, whose daily focus is secret drinking, and making sure that the next drink is always available.
So let's break it down.
The thing an alcoholic most wants, at the point of crisis, is usually detox. It’s the physical withdrawal symptoms and emotional pain that go with that, that usually occur first.
An alcoholic in denial doesn’t have to agree to take total, complete, and one thousand percent responsibility for their lives from this point forward, they only have to agree to get help, initially.
They don’t have to be forced to envisage a life without alcohol (for most, they couldn’t even imagine)……yet. This will come later.
When you’ve seen enough of the real version of them, to know, that given a chance, they would commit to the process. That, given a better physical condition, they would embrace the chance to examine the underlying demons.
That’s all they need.
There is no other way to say it – recovery from alcoholism is a *lifestyle choice*.
By that, we mean, true long term recovery means examining and remedying, so many central fundamentals in life (social peers, family relationships, and yes, personal responsibility) that in the long term it is a redefinition of self, although the alcoholic doesn’t realise this yet.
It means changing everything from everyday behaviours, in order to avoid triggers, to removing the enablers in your life, no matter how painful.
Heck, that’s a huge ask, even *with* a crutch like alcohol.
So when you’re loved one asks for help – understand this thinking pattern. See through the external behaviour. See the individual underneath, who is afraid, and ashamed. And extend the hand of compassion.