Alcoholism and Denial: Calling All Sponsors!!

Discussions related to 12 Step Sponsors, 12 Step Sponsoring, Working with others using the 12 Steps, for AA's, NA's, Al-Anons, Nar-Anons, OA, and others using the 12 Steps.
Scott: Alcoholic
Posts: 31
Joined: Mon Aug 07, 2006 5:50 am

Alcoholism and Denial: Calling All Sponsors!!

Postby Scott: Alcoholic » Fri Aug 11, 2006 7:15 am

Dallas, I appreciate that you have the AMA 'definition' of alcoholism here on the site; I read this dissertation earlier in the year [somewhere else] and it got me to thinkng on something that I heard at a meeting one night. That definition is here:

NOTE: The following is an unsolicited opinion not found [entirely] in the book, 'Alcoholics Anonymous' (a.k.a. "The Big Book")

Well...I have a gripe with the 'denial' portion of this thing - and most any other time that the word 'denial' is used in reference to a practicing alcoholic's ability to reason rationally. And I suppose -while thinking on this again- that this would also apply to a sober/dry alcoholic who has not taken the Steps. Why?

It's simply not possible [by any definition] for an active alcoholic to be in denial because Step 2 [page 59 of 'Alcoholics Anonymous'] infers that we need to be restored to sanity; this means that before taking the Steps, we are not sane. And in order to be in denial, one must know the difference between right and wrong. Not really possible if sanity -or the lack there of- is the issue.

I've come to find that the more fitting word would be 'delusional'...not denial. Delusional and insanity go hand in hand...denial requires foreknowledge that the Big Book clearly shows us we do not have. My experience has shown me that there is more delusion than denial before [and even after] Steps 4 and I'm looking for some feedback on this one from folks who have been active in getting people through the Steps from the day that person walked in the door - that is where I am picking up my sponsees, so this information is rather specific and valuable to me.

Looking at Step 2 and what the first 164 pages of the Big Book have to offer us over all, I wonder what your thoughts are on this...? Personally, I have stripped the use of the word 'denial' from my package completely.

Thanks for considering the question and Thank you for the opportunity!!

Scott: Alcoholic

garden variety
Posts: 750
Joined: Fri Aug 04, 2006 7:39 pm

Postby garden variety » Fri Aug 11, 2006 2:00 pm

Hi Scott,

Wow Scott...ruff road ahead! "Denial" probably is the right word at many times to describe a new guy being blind to something obvious, it's a word that seems like nobody believes their doing. Nobody! Taking it out of your vocabulary is probably the best thing. I know I can't use it's a useless word. Aint that a fine kettle of fish? Everybody, I mean everybody, will DENY being in denial. But like you said, understanding "denial" comes after you get your sanity restored and you know right from wrong, truth from lies, fact from fiction. In other words, when I stop being a legend in my own mind.

I like how the Big Book describes it even in more detail than "delusional". Its in How it Works on page 62 and goes like this:

"Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate."

Holy cow! This hits hard and to the point. It's also in the PRESENT TENSE which means it applies to me and you, too, and it will keep on happening if I don't do step 3 every day. That describes any of my sponsees before, during, and after! I got a guy with 16 months that is right there still, but he's making progress. The key word there is "Driven"...God yes DRIVEN...motivated by...put into action by! If that's how I'm "driven", everybody better get out of the road fast or it's crash dummy time! Wreckage all over the place.

When that "motivation" or "driving force" gets transferred from "taking" to "giving", then everybody can see and appreciate the change.

I don't know how many guys you work with Scott, but you gotta keep repeating things over and over and over again. And you gotta let them know that the crap they always whine about NEVER goes away, it gets "transformed" into something that another alcoholic can get help from. You know the drill, "Turn it over", "Acceptance is the key".

In my own life I seen it happen...I have to make friends with the defects. I get joy and appreciation because I know what kind of a jackass I am, and when I don't act that way more often then not, I always say and know that "I'm doing better than I deserve". Grace and Mercy saves me from myself...what a blessing!

Site Admin
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Postby Dallas » Fri Aug 11, 2006 3:58 pm

In the first paragraph on page 30, Big Book, it appears to present the concepts of denial, delusion and illusion.... all within the same paragraph.

The second paragraph on page 30, Big Book, indicates "We learned... that we had to fully concede... to our innermost selves that we were alcoholic. This is the first step in recovery."

If that statement is true... (and, I believe that it is), we might want to consider "how" we are using the definition of insanity.

1. If we're operating on the assumption that a person must be insane to be an alcoholic... then, about all we could do for them is to pray for them and lock them up somewhere in a nut house. Some alcoholics are insane. Most are not insane.

2. Depending on "how" we're using the term insanity... "how" could an alcoholic learn something if he is insane?

3. Depending on "how" we're using the term insanity... "how" could an alcoholic concede the truth?

4. Depending on "how" we're using the term insanity... "if" sanity is not returned until the 10th Step... then, how could we ask the alcoholic to take the first Step of recovery? Or... Steps 2 through 9?

5. Depending on "how" we're using the term "insanity"... in relationship to our definition of "alcoholic"... and our definition of "recovery"... we could almost exclude the possibility of the alcoholic having the ability to be "Honest Open-minded and Willing."

As I read the second paragraph of page 30, "The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed.".... I believe that this delusion is in regards to "drinking alcohol." And, I believe that the "insanity" that the Big Book refers to, is the "insanity of picking up the first drink."


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Postby anniemac » Fri Aug 11, 2006 4:37 pm

My uneducated opinion is that the term "insanity" is used quite loosely in AA and that by its true definition, most of us were not insane. As the AMA definition states, we had distortions in thinking. That is not the dictionary definition of insanity.

Of course, I could be wrong, wouldn't be the first time! :shock:

garden variety
Posts: 750
Joined: Fri Aug 04, 2006 7:39 pm

Postby garden variety » Fri Aug 11, 2006 4:50 pm

I think you're right Dallas. I don't think it means I'm clinical insane. The "insanity" thing to me is not how "crazy" you are or your mentally ill, but its that "peculiar mental twist" that all us alkies have in common. You know where the BB says we can be otherwise normal in everything except when it comes to alcohol, and there we are incredicbly selfish and dishonest.

I think the best thing that brings out the "insanity" of alcoholism is BB story where the guy who goes to the tavern out in the country, then he gets the idea that mixing a shot of whiskey with his milk will somehow not be a dangerous thing after months of sobriety. Boy I could relate to that one.

But the Big Book has lots of good reminders about that insanity thing. I don't know if I have this memorized or not, but it says something like "there is always this curious mental phenomenon that there runs parallel to our best reasoning, some insanely trivial excuse to take the first drink. Our best reasoning failed and the insane idea won out." That reminds me about the whiskey in the milk idea the car salesman had.

You know, like one of my things was "don't mix wine with beer, and you won't get sick". But if I drank 6 bottles of wine, or 35 beers, I would get sick. Now that looks insane too if I think about hanburgers. Nobody in their right mind, including an alkie, is going to Burger King and eat 20 Whoppers, 15 orders of fries, and 12 cokes all in one night. But when it comes to drinking alcohol, 20 beers, 15 shots of whiskey, and 12 peppermint schnapps seems like a normal thing to do, and I'll bet any "real alcoholic" reading this is laughing out loud because you done it never even thinking it was an insane idea. Its like the book says, when it comes to everything else, we might be pretty much normal or average, but with alcohol, we are "unlike normal men".

Then their always talking about "strange mental blank spots" and "queer mental conditions" and the like, but they add up to what you said Dallas that I somehow think if I repeat the same experiment with picking up the first drink, somehow the end result is going to be different. But it never changes. I like how they say it, and I use this in my lead, that its like I don't have that bodily defense that keeps me from putting my hand on the hot stove. That's how it is with drinking and why I have to be reminded because I don't have those defenses that tell me the stove is going to burn. I get that "queer mental thing" that makes my mind say "this time it won't burn".

The hardest thing to swallow is that I'm still that way today. If you take away meetings, prayers, and relying on a Higher Power, somewhere I'm going to get the bright idea tomorrow that I can drink like normal men, and over time I'm going to lie to myself and believe it, and I will drink again. No doubts.

But the more sober I get, my mind gets to healing. Then I can do things like speak in complete sentences, and I understand the right and wrong things again. I think thats when Scott means I then become responsible for understanding denial. But see with those "Drivers" inside my mind that I mentioned before being driven by a hundred forms of fear and self-delusion...I can still be that way after many years. And to me that is not the same "insanity". It means I'm a social dork that hasn't figured out how to grow up because my brain has been soaking in alcohol for 28 years.

Now I don't know what the question was...I must be rambling...sorry.

Buck V
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Joined: Mon May 01, 2006 5:15 pm

Postby Buck V » Fri Aug 11, 2006 6:03 pm

I hope you guys don't mind a lowly sponsee chiming in, but y'all have piqued my interest. Also it might be good to get the impressions of someone fresh off the streets rather than with a gazillion years of combined sobriety.

First, for me, just stepping into the rooms was my first step in regaining my sanity. I woke up one morning and realized I had a problem and knew I had to do something about it. I ceased to deny I was an alcoholic or delude myself that wasn't. For those who are "forced" to come (court order, treatment center rules, etc.) this may not be so and they may or may not get it. But for those of us who honestly seek help realize we have a problem...we're starting to regain some of our sanity. Some of those (like me) embrace AA, others either cannot or will not.

Second, Denial, in the sense discussed here, is a psychological defense mechanism in which confrontation with reality is avoided by refusing to admit the truth or reality of a problem. Delusion is a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary.(Merriam-Webster). So I DENY something I know to be true, but DELUDE myself that something does or doesn't even exist. For me, I had no delusions that what I was doing with alcohol was not normal. Like GV said, I don't know anyone who drinks a case of 12oz pepsi's every day. But for a long time I did deny that I couldn't control it.

Lastly, Getting rid of the word deny or denial from my vocabulary TODAY makes a lot of sense, But I never want to forget how I used denial in the past. To remind me of how easy it is to do so.

Thanks for letting me share.


Scott: Alcoholic
Posts: 31
Joined: Mon Aug 07, 2006 5:50 am

Postby Scott: Alcoholic » Fri Aug 11, 2006 8:35 pm

Hey ya'll!!

This is exactly what I was hoping for here. I am really grateful for all of the activity in this thread and I thank you all, those to come - and I look forward to more responses...I just want to sit back and 'listen', as it were.

Just to give a sense of where this thread started...

In my immediate area, it just doesn't seem possible to have an exchange like this; though I have tried on many occassions and the usually course of conversation [on the 'man side' of the room] degrades to nonsense. I know there are many reasons for this, but won't get into that here.

I've found that going out of my area really has it's benefits; fresh perspective and hearing those 164 pages, from someone else's reading and understanding, helps me to round out my understanding and always pays dividends in the quality of the message I carry to others. This is of paramount importance to me, because I not only pass the message to sponsees in AA, but to most anyone interested [practicing these principals in ALL of my affairs]. This forum offers a really nice 'round table' to work over ideas...this is cool!

I guess that in my 21 years of 'sobriety' and the numerous, awkward, personal moments of recovery within those 21 years, I feel that I have wasted quite enough time. I've found it very helpful to get other views on many things in AA - not limiting myself to those folks with a bazillion years of sobriety either. Much of what I have been able to learn and change in myself -over all- has been through seeking help and insight from relative newcomers too. I find people working a program of action and spiritual foundation and 'scope them out'...their 'time' in the program is not nearly as important to me as the quality - their actions speak the message that they deliver and if they are on the move, I am moving with them. Sitting around talking about the Steps and the vital elements found in them means very little to someone who has 'heard it all before'. :)
Action is the magic word!

Thanks again for all of the viewpoints here - keep them coming!!

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Postby Banjoman » Wed Sep 13, 2006 9:36 am

I love reading all messages. I love and respect all AA Sponsors. These special people take time out of their own lifes to help a fellow Alcoholic.

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