Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Deadly Disease of Denial

Alcoholism is a disease of denial. Alcoholics die from this disease every day. And so do Al-Anons.

It took me years to admit that I'd been affected by the disease of alcoholism. I grew up in an alcoholic home where there was violence, abuse and instability. At age 15, I tried to fix things by washing down a handful of pills with a tall glass of vodka. The pills were sleeping pills that belonged to my boyfriend's mother. He stole them a few at a time so she wouldn't notice. I hid them in my closet.

My boyfriend and I had a pact. We plotted a double suicide. We even set a date, a day when my mother wouldn't be home for an extended period. But my boyfriend changed his mind and called to try to get me to see things his way. I felt betrayed. As soon as I got off the phone, I pulled out the pills and got a glass of vodka. The next thing I remember was waking up in my room. I remember my mother telling me a friend was there to see me and I feeling too ashamed to see him. I made a decision then. I could continue to blame my parents for my problems, or I could take responsibility and make different choices. I took responsibility.

When I moved out of the house at 18, I thought I left all that behind. I refused to be ruled by my past. What mattered was the present.

Years later, another friend showed me a book about adult children of alcoholics. There was a list of qualifying questions on the back of the book. He asked if I recognized myself. I told him I didn't. I didn't have a lot of patience for people who wanted to blame their problems on the past. I refused to listen.

Still more years later, I found myself in Al-Anon at the suggestion of a friend. I had seen yet another romantic relationship crash and burn, and I was trying to figure out what my patterns were. She thought Al-Anon could help.

I enjoyed going to meetings, and I certainly qualified for membership based on my family history but I didn't think the problems I was having had anything to do with that and quit going. I only understood later, several years later when I tried Al-Anon again, that it had everything to do with alcoholism.

When my daughter started having problems, she used to tell me that I was the one who had the problem. She was fine. Of course, I didn't believe her. She was the one with the problem. Anyone could see that, right?

I've heard it said that Al-Anons act crazier than their alcoholics. I believe that now. But it took me several months of working the program in Al-Anon to see that my behavior had been at all irrational. After all, it seemed I was doing well. I attended college and got good grades, worked at a profession I loved and was good at. But I felt like a victim. I just didn't see that I was the one who was holding myself prisoner.

I don't know what the magic moment was when I realized my disease. It was more a process than a lightening flash. But I know it came from hanging around the rooms of Al-Anon long enough.

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