I was in complete denial about my alcoholism for a long time. Denial is a very powerful and very subtle aspect of the illness of alcoholism that affects many alcoholics. I went to my first AA meeting on the suggestion of an alcoholic friend of mine in 2001. I left the meeting saying to myself I’m glad I’m not like that lot and said goodbye to my friend. I immediately went and bought four cans of Special Brew and two litres of cider and got drunk. As far as I was concerned I wasn’t an alcoholic. I didn’t even consider that I may have a drinking problem. It was another seven years before I took the First Step and fully accepted that I was an alcoholic.
Three months after that first AA meeting I was in my British army sleeping bag on a park bench in sub-zero temperatures in another city banging my fist on the park bench saying to myself, “How the hell have I ended up homeless again. Thank God I’ve at least got a carrier bag full of Tennent’s Super to keep me going.” I was in tears because, believe me, being homeless in winter on the streets is tough, especially when you throw in the emotional torment that alcohol causes, such as the paralysing fear and paranoia. It would have been blatantly obvious to an observer that I was in that position as the direct result of my drinking but alcohol was at that time my only friend. It was the only thing that gave me comfort and a sense of hope for the future.
Two years later I was homeless again, hallucinating from alcohol withdrawal, and was offered a room in a home run by a charity to help alcoholics and drug addicts. One of the house rules was that I had to attend AA meetings. I immediately argued with the house manager that I wasn’t an alcoholic and I didn’t need to go to AA; such was my denial. But I went to AA as I wanted a roof over my head. At my first meeting I was given a Newcomers’ Pack and I went home and completed the questionnaire that was inside. I ticked yes to nineteen of the twenty questions. At the end of the questionnaire it said that if I answered yes to three or more questions then I was almost certainly an alcoholic. My conclusion was that I was ALMOST an alcoholic. That was how severe my denial was. In fact looking back the answer was yes to all twenty questions as I had forgotten that I had been in hospital because of my drinking. I considered myself to be just a problem drinker. If I sorted out my problems I would be ok and would stop drinking heavily. After a few more meetings I thought that maybe I was an alcoholic and so I did the Twelve Steps and stopped drinking.
I convinced myself after nine months of sobriety that I wasn’t an alcoholic after all and left AA. I just could not and would not accept that I was an alcoholic. I managed to control and moderate my drinking for another three-and-a-half years. Then my drinking became the worse it has ever been and I knew that homelessness or prison was just around the corner as my life was rapidly falling apart at the seams. Finally the day came when that utter denial was over as I remembered the book ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’ saying that alcoholism is a progressive illness and that we always get worse, never better. I took the First Step fully and completely and I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since.
Today I was doing service in AA for the Probation Liaison Service for my local AA Intergroup, which is part of carrying the message of recovery to offenders that may be alcoholics at my local magistrates’ court. I was with a fellow alcoholic from AA and he said thank God for Step One after we spoke to a homeless alcoholic that wasn’t interested in coming to a meeting after receiving his fine for yet another alcohol related offence. This got me thinking back in time to a lady that came to my home-group in 2003. She came to meetings for two weeks and then she stopped coming to meetings. I saw her soon afterwards in a government building and we were both waiting to be seen so we had a chat. She told me she had severe liver damage and was told at hospital that if she continued to drink that she would die within a matter of weeks. She was in fact very lucky as the liver tissue was healthy around the main artery that supplied blood to her liver and she would survive if she stopped drinking but would have to have a massive change in diet and lifestyle due to the severe schirosis to the rest of her liver. She seemed happy and was telling me about her new positivity and felt she didn’t need AA anymore. A few weeks later I told another lady in my home-group that I had bumped into her and asked if she had spoken to her recently. She said that this lady had drunk regularly again and died shortly afterwards. That is denial in its extreme and I have since had several friends that have died under similar circumstances. I wish I had tried to encourage that lady that died to come back to AA as I stayed silent letting her take her own path in life.
I don't see other alcoholics as losers because they have left meetings, I see them as suffering from intense denial.