Tuesday, February 5, 2008

The Merry-Go-Round of Denial

At the meeting last night, we talked about how alcoholism sets up a Merry-Go-Round of blame and denial. There are three types of people who ride the Merry-Go-Round with the alcoholic.

One is the enabler who is impelled to rescue the alcoholic from the disease. The enabler by trying to save the alcoholic also is meeting a desperate need himself. What happens when the enabler steps in is that the alcoholic is denied the process of learning from mistakes. Instead, the alcoholic learns that someone will be there to come to the rescue.

The other individual on the Merry-Go-Round is the victim. This person is responsible for getting the work done, if the alcoholic is absent due to drinking or is half on and half off the job due to a hangover. The victim essentially tries to protect the alcoholic. And the victim can also become a real emotional victim who feels shame, disappointment and eventually rage over the behavior of the alcoholic. This is a role that I played for sure. I absorbed injustices, endured social embarrassments, accepted broken promises, and was broken in spirit. My reaction was to spew out hostility, anxiety and anger. And I was as sick as the alcoholic.

The provoker is another individual who usually lives with the alcoholic. This person is generally hurt and upset by the drinking. As a result the relationship with the alcoholic becomes one that is filled with bitterness, resentment, fear and hurt. The provoker tries to control and force changes. But the provocation only brings about anger and blame from the alcoholic. And here is another part of me that I could see.

Because of these behaviors by those around him, the alcoholic's dependency increases. Others have cleaned up the mess and suffered the consequences of the alcoholic's drinking.

Here's where this really ceases to be a Merry-Go-Round but more like a House of Horrors with a revolving door. The alcoholic denies that there is a problem. And begins to blame the family for nagging and creating problems. I know this one well too.

The real problem is that the alcoholic is well aware of the truth which he so strongly denies. He is aware of his drunkenness. He is aware of his failure. His guilt and remorse have become unbearable; he cannot tolerate criticism or advice from others.

Everyone in the family of the alcoholic vows not to repeat their insanity but they continue to do so. And the alcoholic will continue to drink unless the cycle is broken because those associated with the alcoholic decide to change.

Thus, the Enablers and the Victim must seek information, insight and understanding, if they plan to change their roles.

The Enabler must make a decision that he is powerless over the alcoholic and let the alcoholic suffer the consequences of his drinking . By doing so, the Enabler allows the alcoholic the dignity to fail.

The Victim who is often a spouse becomes crushed, empty and nearly destroyed. By seeking help through therapy or Al-Anon, the spouse will change roles and not be the victim anymore. When that happens, it may get the attention of the alcoholic. If the non-alcoholic changes, this may make the alcoholic seek help. But there are no guarantees of that.

There is no easy way to change behaviors. Some find it more painful to change than to just keep things the way they are. I found that if I didn't change, I would be sinking so low that my life no longer mattered. I decided that I had to break that cycle of the downward spiral. Thankfully, my wife entered AA at the time that I went to Al-Anon. I think that we both realized that the life we had wasn't really living.


  1. I have seen myself in all three. Thank God, I am no longer there. Great post, Syd.

  2. Whew!
    That was really well written.

  3. When I came to Al-Anon only a month ago, I knew something had to change. My reactions to the alcoholic in my life weren't helping me or him. If only I'd found Al-Anon earlier! So much could have been different, at least in my life. Better late than never though. Thanks for the good post on denial.

  4. That was one hell of a read. I fit..

  5. All stuff I've read before, BUT all stuff I HEARD this morning. I recognized a big piece of truth this morning in your writing. I needed to see that, it's a little piece of me. I hope I have the courage required to look at it closer. Thank you Syd...and I mean that heartfelt.

  6. You know, you asked the other day if my friend was an alcoholic. To tell the truth, I have no idea. I'd tend to say no, but I don't have a clue about his drinking since he lives in Japan. And I would not be shocked to find out if he were. He has said he drinks more when he is feeling low. However, your description of the alcoholic behavior and the one of the provoker and the alcoholic sounds just like our relationship lately.

    Again, I wonder if I wouldn't benefit from Al-Anon as much as AA too. I think I often see more of myself in Al-Anon, maybe because of my childhood.

  7. Having just started reading blogs out of desperation to find some help or someone else who understands what it's like to live with an alcoholic, I find this post very educational. I see myself in all three descriptions. And it irritates me to no end. One question, as the enabler I'm filling some need of my own by trying to save the alcoholic - what is that need? Do I want to be the hero? Do I want the credit? Accolades? Do I want to be the martyr? I so hope not - I really hate that kind of behavior! But I can see I am seeking information so maybe that will bring about change. I need that. For me. Even if it is difficult (so I say anyway...) Great information - thanks for sharing Syd!

  8. my favorite very favorite pamphlet!
    I'm chairing tomorrow nite--I believe I might have a topic now


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