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Thursday, August 18, 2011

"In Denial" or Victims of Our "Delusions"?

There is a fundamental difference between the meaning of "denial" and "delusion." Often used interchangeably in discussions, they are not used interchangably in A.A. literature. In fact, "denial," which appears to be oft-discussed in treatment centers (for example, in the sense of denying the effect that one's alcoholic addiction has on others), is not even discussed in the 'Big Book' of Alcoholics Anonymous. On the other hand, three particular delusions are discussed at some length in A.A.'s basic text.

Denial, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is merely "a statement that something is not true," although in its psychological sense, it can mean the usually subconscious "suppression of an unacceptable truth or emotion." Thus, being unable to accept the truth of the harm one has done to others over the course of active addiction, for example, one may deny (consciously or subconsiously) the truth that any harm has been done. In this instance, one is either lying to others (if the denial is conscious), or lying to one's self (if it is subconscious).

Delusion, on the other hand, is defined as "a false belief or impression," while, in its psychological sense it is viewed as "a symptom or form of mental disorder." Irrespective of whether something is true, such as the reality of one's addiction, there is a delusionary but honestly-held belief that it is not true. One is not, in such instance, lying to oneself. Rather in this instance, the alcoholic addict is mentally delusional.

Recalling that the 'Big Book' is explicit in pointing out that "the problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind," and that both alcoholism and addiction are classified as mental illnesses by the medical profession, what is likely to be the reality of the crap floating around in our psyche? Are we simply "in denial," as some like to think; or, are we, in fact, "delusional"?

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

There are three specific delusions - each dealing with aspects of the First Step - that are discussed in the 'Big Book.' Two of these instances are discussed on page 30, while the remaining is discussed on page 61.

In the first paragraph of page 30, we read: "The ideas that somehow, someday he will be able to control and enjoy his drinking again is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death." Although he or she may honestly believe that it is not true at the time, in recovery we come to see that, in fact - despite our knowing or believing it at the time - we were obsessed with controlling and enjoying our drinking, just as much as we physically craved alcohol itself once we started drinking.

In the following paragraph - new idea, new paragraph, new meaning - we read that "(t)he delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed." This, of course, can have two meanings. First, it can mean that because of our physical "allergy" to alcohol we will never be able to drink normally. But, second, and more importantly, it also means that as a result of years of addiction, we are quite literally "not like other people." Other people, we will read later, are also like actors who want to run the show (see pages 60-62), but whereas other people may also be selfish and self-centered, the alcoholic addict (thanks to years of practice honing these traits and way of thinking) "is an extreme example of self-will run riot." Others are self-centered, we are extremely so. That is our natural propensity, and it is not going to be overcome without a struggle.

Yet, while the selfishness and self-centeredness of the alcoholic addict may differ in degree from the so-called "normal" person, we share a common delusion: "What is (the actor's) basic trouble?" we are asked. "Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well?"

Life is inherently unmanageable. We admit this in the second-half of Step One. Problems arise because we get sucked into the delusion that we both have to, and have the ability to, manage life - all of it - even with other self-managing "normal" people pushing back against our arrogant and desperate efforts to manage the whole affair with all their might.
"The description of the alcoholic, the chapter to the agnostic, and our stories before and after," we read at page 60 of the 'Big Book', "make clear three pertinent ideas:
(a) That we were alcoholic and could not manage our own lives.
(b) That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.
(c) That God could and would if He were sought." (Emphasis added.)
Just to the extent that we entertain the illusion that we will "control and enjoy our drinking," we will continue to drink. Just to the extent that we entertain the delusion that "we are like other people, or one day will be," we will continue to suffer. Just to the extent that we entertain the delusion that we can "wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world" if we manage well, we will become insufferable - both to others, and to ourselves.

With true recovery we overcome all these delusions. We realize that we could not and cannot control and enjoy drinking; that we were not and are not like other people; and, we did not and do not need to control and manage life. On these terms, life becomes acceptable to us on its terms - no matter the circumstances - and we find that we can respond to life's circumstances and people instead of blindly reacting to them.

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