The power of denial

In 1982, I listened intently to a 28-year-old man sincerely explain to me why he simply couldn’t be an alcoholic because he “only” drank beer. I had been asked to convince him that he was, in fact, an alcoholic and that the hospital’s treatment program was available to help him get sober. Being only a few months over a year sober myself, I could only tell him of my own addiction, desperation, transformation and sobriety.

Medically he was not in great shape. He was in kidney failure and his liver and stomach lining were equally impaired.

I watched as his family tearfully begged him to enter the treatment program and I thought of the looks in my own family’s eyes when I came home ‘loaded’ again. Why could we all see the obvious and he couldn’t (or wouldn’t)?

Denial is based in not having any other answer for the feeling of emptiness, loneliness and inadequacy that alcohol so readily and consistently eliminates. I knew why he didn’t want to admit the obvious… he didn’t have a solution to this dilemma.

Paradoxically, until he would quit the alcohol and surrender to another course of emotional relief, he was doomed – just another “hopeless” alcoholic.

Four days later, he died. A friend had snuck some beer into his hospital room. His family was now absent their beloved husband, father, brother and son.

Certainly, denial is influenced by shame, control, and other factors, but, ultimately, the alcoholic/addict just doesn’t have any other vehicle available to get them from Point A to Point B, discomfort to comfort.

I still can’t help but wonder what the outcome would have been if he had joined me (and so many others) in pursuit of a fulfilling, complete, immersion in the promises that recovery offers.

Life and death twist so delicately on those moments of decision.

Rocky Hill is the director of Hill Alcohol & Drug Treatment. Questions may be directed to him at (951) 676-8241 or visit

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