Facing lifelong denial

Trusting in God has often taken me to places I would not have taken myself. Let me tell you of one example. I was writing a story on the topic of enabling; only I didn’t think I knew much about it. I went on-line and searched for content and definitions on enabling. I was surprised to learn not much information existed, but I did find Al‑Anon under resources. As I read from the Web site information, I discovered an office was located about three miles away from my new home. I looked up the hours and found there was a weekly meeting at 6 PM. I decided I would stop by after work, see what I could learn from the discussion, and ask someone for some information on enabling.

I attended the meeting, thought it was interesting, but not for me. After it was over, I browsed the literature and asked a woman about resources on enabling, letting her know I was doing research for a project at work. We chatted a little bit and she told me I was welcome to come back. While I felt a bit nervous about telling my reason for attending, her kindness seemed sincere and I really did believe it was okay for me to come back for more research and to gain more understanding about enabling. So, I continued to return as I prepared my project. As I listened to people tell their stories of experience, strength, and hope, I started to hear bits and pieces of my life in the words. I rarely spoke, but that wasn’t a concern to anyone in the room. Someone always seemed to say to me they were glad to have me and to “Keep Coming Back.”

I bought a daily reader titled, One Day at a Time (B-6) because it had some short, insightful lessons in it as well as spiritual references. I used the daily reading as a means to draw closer to God. I later bought Hope for Today (B-27) and read some of the old Forums, which were made available to take home, read, and return at a later meeting. Some of the situations seemed so similar to how I felt. Some of the stories seemed so similar to mine. Some of the literature really seemed to speak to my personal challenges. Months passed.

I started to ask myself, “Could alcohol really be a source of such confusion?” and “Wouldn’t something so harmful and toxic be a controlled substance with a dosage label, after all, even Tylenol has a dosage on it?”

It didn’t make sense. Although I could talk logically and professionally with people about the effects of alcohol, I had such a deep rooting of denial from years of environmental and cultural denial that I did not recognize in my life what some people might clearly see.

By environmental denial, I mean the culture in a family, which suffers from misuse of alcohol, but has not received help to move toward recovery. I did not know what to call the issue of alcohol in my family since it was not identified as an issue. While people in the family suffered from asthma and high blood pressure, no one had ever spoken of anyone who suffered from alcoholism. By environmental denial, I mean a culture of college and workplace acceptance that alcohol use is a part of a norm instead of an abnormal means to cope, entertain, and socialize. My cultural denial continues to receive support in alcohol advertisement, commercials, movies, and television shows that glamorize drinking as a means for building relationships and a good time. The denial, I didn’t know I had, became in essence an acceptance of a level of tolerance that would otherwise be intolerable in an environment or culture of wellness.

The denial was so deep, it was an embarrassment to speak the words in Al‑Anon meetings, so I would often have internal thoughts about how the characteristics seemed so similar to the family in which I had been raised and co-workers I had encountered. Yet, I couldn’t seem to accept it because surely someone would have labeled my family and called it what it was by now, after all I was already in my late thirties.

Getting a new perspective on it all was a challenge, because of the learned unspoken rules of “don’t speak, don’t feel, and don’t trust.” It has taken nearly three years for me to start to undo what has taken thirty years of learning to tolerate and hold close. Getting past denial is something that has happened gradually for me. I believe God has given me what I can handle little by little. He has opened my eyes to see people for what they are, which is human; and, to see the effects of alcohol misuse for what they are—disease and masks.

As I have listened and learned to separate the alcohol from the person, I have grown in my ability to accept people whom I thought were trying to hurt me as people who are actually hurting themselves. As I have allowed myself to learn about the disease of alcoholism, I have learned how to have compassion for people who are suffering and experiencing loss of control. I have noticed the compassion has come as the denial has passed.

If you had told me four years ago I would find fellowship and compassion for family and friends who suffer with the disease of alcoholism, I would not have guessed God was taking me down that path when I walked into the Al‑Anon meeting that first evening to gather research. What a wonderful gift Al‑Anon has been for me to face denial as I “Keep Coming Back.”

By Jennifer D., Virginia
The Forum, October 2012