In this chapter of Caroline Knapp’s book she tackles the topic of denial…one with which we are all too familiar. How many times have we heard in a meeting that denial is not a river in Egypt? What we have also heard in the rooms is that denial stands for “don’t even notice I am lying” and that definition rings true, both in Caroline’s story and in the life of most alcoholics. Denial is the changing rule which allows us to claim that we are “not that bad”. That change happens ever so gradually.
I will never drink on a weeknight.
Well, I might drink on a weeknight, but I will never drink before 5 pm.
I might have a drink at lunch or in the afternoon, but at least I don’t drink in the morning.
I might be drinking in the morning but it’s only to settle my nerves.
I will never drink and drive.
If I am driving, I will not drink more than I can handle.
I will only drive intoxicated in order to get home
I will never drive drunk with my kids in the car.
I remember one evening having a bit too much to drink. I was still relatively young. I was at a club and I had been drinking and dancing and had not eaten. I went to the bathroom and thought, “Wow, I am really drunk”. I sat on the toilet lid and put my head in my hands, trying to figure out why I had done this again. A wave of nausea would overtake me. Stand up. Lift the seat. Always remember to stand back to protect my shoes. While I was throwing up, I would ask myself, “Why can’t I stop before I get to this point?” I would sit back on the closed seat with eyes closed to “collect myself”. After a few minutes, I would take a deep breath, leave the stall, walk to the sink, and look in the mirror. The girl looking back was bleary-eyed. Her mascara was smudged and her hair was partly plastered to her face. Little blood vessels on her face had broken from the force of the vomiting. “Who is that girl looking at me in the mirror?” I would wash my face, clean away the mascara from my cheeks, brush my hair, rinse out my mouth and put on a new layer of lipstick. As I smiled at that girl in the mirror, I said, “Okay, I’m better now”, and off I would go to start again. That is denial.
When we are addicted to a substance, whether it is alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, sex – no matter what we do while in the throes of our pursuit, we will find a justification. We will sometimes get a moment of clarity that comes to us like the click of a light switch. But the switch clicks again, and the clarity is gone. Later in my life, during the time when I was “controlling my drinking” I can remember moments of clarity as it pertained to my substitute addiction – food. I can remember being in the shower and thinking about stopping on the way to work to purchase breakfast. I would plan every detail. And still in the shower, I would plan ever particle of food I would consume that day. The switch would click. I would know that planning to eat the foods I was fantasizing about was insane. People don’t consume that many calories in one day. People don’t plan to eat that much food in a day. People do not stand in the shower and think about food incessantly. Something is very wrong here. Then the switch would click again. Well, at least I’m not an alcoholic. Today is going to be very stressful. It causes me high anxiety. I need to be able to eat. Besides, I work hard for my money. I have a right to eat whatever I want.
Years later, when I would wait until everyone was asleep so I could slip down to the basement and drink until I passed out, I would have moments of clarity. This is crazy. Normal people don’t stay up late at night just to be able to drink themselves to sleep. Normal people do not sit on the basement stairs and drink wine from a bottle. I think I may have a problem. Then that switch would click again. Normal people don’t have to deal with the stress I have to deal with. Normal people’s lives are not as miserable as mine. Besides, I work long hours and earn a good living. I have a home and two cars and pay my bills. I don’t have a DUI and I have never been to rehab. I certainly cannot be an alcoholic.
Denial. Don’t even notice I am lying. Click.