If you’ve been lied to by an alcoholic, don’t take it personally. Denial is the cornerstone of the disease. And believe me, no one is getting lied to by an alcoholic more than the alcoholic himself. We don’t want to do it. It is not in our DNA. It is not a sign of spiritual deficiency. It isn’t a choice, either. In fact, when I was in active addiction, and expending massive amounts of energy hiding my predicament, I swore to my wife that I never lied, and that I was the most honest person in her life. And I believed that to my core.
Denial is a powerful tool. Sometimes, when we feel trapped and alone – out of options and staring the stark and bitter reality right in the face – denial is all we have left.
Sometimes, often really, denial is what keeps us drinking.
I wish I had bookended my college career with success and achievement. Maybe I could have started as a freshman with advanced placement credits to reduce the number of classes I needed to graduate. Maybe I could have ended my four years by graduating with honors. You know, some shiny braided adornments on my gown. No one really knows what that flare means, but when we see a picture with a dozen smiling graduates on graduation day, it is easy to pick out who the educational institution designates as the smart ones.
Instead, my college bookends were brushes with the law. Right there, decades later, I am still denying, to an extent, as I type this. What the fuck is a brush with the law, and how did that phrase make it into our commonly adopted vocabulary? I got arrested. Twice. As a wet-behind-the-ears freshman, and as a shiny new graduate. I didn’t have a brush with anything. I followed my budding alcoholism into situations that were illegal, and I got caught.
As a freshman, I accompanied my new friends to the liquor store, eager for the one with the fake ID to help us get the party started. Before I even knew their last names, or who owned the car we were in, I knew where the liquor stores were, and the first names of a few McLovin predecessors who could make this happen.
The under-cover cops were smart. They didn’t bust our friend with the fake ID when they watched him use it. They waited for him to drive away in the car with a bunch of minors so they could have a brush with us all. I’m not sure what happened to fake ID guy. I don’t remember ever seeing him again after that night, so maybe he flunked out of school after a punishment significantly more severe than that of his innocent alcohol coercion victims. Or maybe the incident scared him straight.
We (the rest of us without fake IDs) just got minors in possession, expunged after pre-trial diversion. A removable blemish. So unnoteworthy was our brush with the law that I had all but forgotten about it by the time of the next law brushing four years later.
Was it a sign? Should I have considered the priority alcohol was becoming in my life? Was the fact that I was doing something that our society had officially deemed inappropriate, while winking and grinning and muttering phrases like, “boys will be boys,” even a blip on my radar screen? No. My freshman-year arrest was nothing more than bad luck and a minor financial inconvenience. As I recall, we thanked the officers for our citations, promised to comply with our court dates, and found a different way to get shit-faced that very same night. Bloomington Indiana was crawling with McLovins in the early 1990s.
Four years later, about a week after graduating from Indiana University with a 2.99 GPA (such a perfect numeric marker of my underachievement – I’m glad it wasn’t really the 3.0 I told everyone I earned), I was arrested for running from the police. Let me tell you something…handcuffs hurt when the cops “brush” them on behind your back so they can “brush” against your wrists while you sit on them on the bumpy ride downtown.
I was at the pub where I bartended for the last year and a half of my college career. I was not working that night. Instead, I was drinking heavily, having just taken the drug and alcohol screening insisted upon by my new employer, my first “real job” after graduating. With the cup-full-of-piss on its way to the lab, I had some serious catching up to do.
The bar was busy that night, and fighting through the crush of end-of-school-year celebrators to get to the men’s room seemed like wasted effort. Instead, I went outside and peed on the front of the bar. The two cops sitting in their well-marked car ten feet from my makeshift urinal wished I had not so brazenly drawn their attention only slightly more than I eventually did. They called to me, and I ran. The cops ran too. I scurried in the back door of the bar, stumbled through the crush of fellow drunks, and made it to the front window of the pub just in time to feel my wrists snapped together from behind.
My public intoxication wasn’t my problem that night. Neither was peeing on the front of the establishment that had employed me for the previous 18 months. As the manager explained to the officers that I was a harmless idiot, and she wished not to press charges as she pleaded for my release, the cops explained my only real offense for practical purposes. “He made us run, lady. He’s coming with us. If you make a cop run, it just isn’t going to end well for you.”
They were right. That was a bad night, especially after I flailed around so much, once inside the drunk tank, that I knocked my glasses crooked with my hands still cuffed behind my back (I got to keep the handcuffs on because of my relentless commitment to belligerence). The five days of community service I was granted was pretty bad, too. The two days spent at the town recycling center were particularly memorable. After smelling badly curdled dairy wafting from thousands of plastic containers in the 90+ degree heat for 16 hours, I’ll never not rinse our family’s empty milk gallons before depositing them in the purple receptacle.
Memorable? Yes. Thought provoking? Ramification considering? One single solitary second of concern generating? No, no and no. I made a mistake. I got arrested. The signs that I might have a drinking problem were so completely and easily deniable that I never even saw them flashing before me like the lights on the top of that police car.
Every time a celebrity gets a DUI, he goes to rehab. I often thought how ridiculous that was…for the celebrity. As a drinker myself, I was never concerned about the lives the careless celebrity put in danger. I was angry because I believed that getting drunk was not an indicator of addiction. I did it all the time, get drunk that is. And I wasn’t an alcoholic, so why did a partying Hollywood big-wig have to suffer through 30 days of lecturing by sad-sacks just because he made a mistake and drove his Bentley when he shouldn’t have.
I didn’t get it. It was right there, and I couldn’t see it. Denial. I was encased in a thick coating of denial.
Is everyone who gets a DUI an alcoholic? Of course not. But if you are an alcoholic, do your chances of getting arrested for driving under the influence increase substantially? Of course they do. As an active alcoholic myself, I couldn’t wrap my mind around that. It wasn’t cause and effect. It was circumstantial evidence. The problem was, when I was drunk a big chunk of the time, the circumstances had repercussions. But I just denied those, too.
The internet is flush with 20-question surveys to help us determine if we are or are not alcoholics. As I’ve heard said too many times to accurately attribute the sentiment, if you are asking the interwebs if you have a drinking problem, you probably already know the answer (if you can fight through the denial). If a gorilla rips your arm off and beats you with it, you probably don’t waste time asking Google if gorillas are dangerous. Yet, despite the trauma, pain, despicable behavior, and utter dysfunction we experience at the hands of our beloved drink, we have to turn to the wizard in our pockets to confirm the obvious. And even then, most of us don’t believe it for a ludicrously long amount of time.
Denial is a powerful tool. Alcoholism couldn’t survive without it.
I’ve spent a lot of time blaming society for our warped relationship with alcohol, and I’m not about to let our cultural obsession with booze off the hook now. The obsession makes us oblivious. But our society has willing accomplices. We are, individually, willing and eager to keep the lie alive. Because when we stop denying that alcohol is a problem, we are left with only one viable option. We have to stop drinking alcohol.
No one wants that.
Even when it becomes necessary. Even when we are out of options. Even when we can no longer believe our own bullshit. Even when it’s killing us, no one wants to stop drinking.
So if you’ve been lied to by an alcoholic, don’t take it personally. We’ve told ourselves exponentially more lies than you could ever dream of hearing. I’m not making excuses for the denials and lies. But maybe if you better understand the origin, and the inescapable pervasiveness of the correlation between addiction and denying addiction, maybe you won’t take it as personally.
If you’ve ever been lied to by an alcoholic, it isn’t about you. The truth is undeniably out of reach.
If the truth is becoming an option for you, and you are ready for support from fellow high-functioning alcoholics in early sobriety who can deny the truth no longer, join us in SHOUT Sobriety.