Merry-Go-Round of DENIAL
The following is condensed from:
Alcoholism - A Merry-Go-Round named DENIAL
by Reverend Joseph L. Kellermann
Alcoholism is a tragic three act play in which there are at least
two characters, the drinker and his family; friends; co-workers and
even counselors may have a part in keeping the Merry-Go-Round
The play opens with the alcoholic stating that no one can tell
him/her what to do. This makes it very difficult for the family to
talk about drinking and its results. Even when the drinking is
obviously causing serious problems, he/she simply will not discuss
it. Talking is like a one-way street.
The key word in alcoholism is "Denial," for again and again people
do what they say they will not or deny what they have done.
As the alcoholic drinks more and more, the "helpers" deny the
problem and increase the alcoholic's dependency.
In act one, the alcoholic kills all his/her pain and woe by getting
In act two, the alcoholic does nothing but wait for and expect
others to do for them. Distinct characters begin to evolve from
his/her "helpers." A person can play more than one character and
The Enabler is a helpful type, trying to rescue his friend from
their predicament. The Enabler wants to save the alcoholic from the
immediate crisis and relieve them of the unbearable tension created
by the situation.
In reality, this person is meeting a need of their own, rather than
that of the alcoholic, although the Enabler does not realize this
The Enabler denies the alcoholic the process of learning by
correcting and taking responsibility for his/her own mistakes.
The Enabler may eventually insist they will never again rescue the
alcoholic. They always have and the alcoholic believes they always
This may be the boss, the employer, the foreman or supervisor. The
Victim is the person who 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 alcoholic becomes completely dependent on this repeated
protection and cover-up by the Victim; otherwise he/his could not
continue drinking in this fashion. If the Victim stops helping, the
alcoholic will be compelled to give up drinking or give up the job.
It is the Victim who enables the alcoholic to continue his
irresponsible drinking without losing his/her job.
This is usually the wife or mother and is a key person in the play.
She is a veteran at this role and has played it much longer than
others. She is the Provoker. She is hurt and upset by repeated
drinking episodes; but she holds the family together despite all the
trouble caused by drinking.
In turn, she feeds back in the relationship her bitterness,
resentment, fear and hurt, and so becomes the source of
She controls, she tries to force the changes she wants; she
sacrifices, adjusts, never gives up, never gives in, but never
The attitude of the alcoholic is that his/her failure should be
acceptable, but she must never fail the alcoholic! He/she acts with
complete independence and insists he/she will do as they please.
This character might also be called the Adjuster. She is constantly
adjusting to the crises and trouble caused by drinking.
Act two is now played out in full. Everything is done for the
alcoholic and not by them. The results, effects and problems caused
by drinking, have been removed by others. The painful results of the
drinking were suffered by persons other than the drinker. This
permits him/her to continue drinking as a way to solve his/her
Act three begins much like act one. The need to deny dependence is
now greater for the alcoholic and must be expressed almost at once,
and even more emphatically. The alcoholic denies he/she has a
drinking problem, denies he/she is an alcoholic, denies that alcohol
is causing him/her trouble. The alcoholic refuses to acknowledge
that anyone helped them - more denial. He/she denies that they may
lose their job and insists that he/she is the best or most skilled
person at his/her job. Above all, the alcoholic denies he/she has
caused his/her family any trouble. In fact, the alcoholic blames the
family, especially the spouse/parent, for all the fuss, nagging and
Some alcoholics achieve the same denial by a stony silence, refusing
to discuss anything related to their drinking. The memory is too
The real problem is that the alcoholic is well aware of the truth
which he/she so strongly denies. He/she is aware of the drunkenness
and the failure. His/her guilt and remorse have become unbearable
and the alcoholic cannot tolerate criticism or advice from others.
Above all, the memory of his/her utter helplessness and failure is
more than embarrassing; it is far too painful for a person who
thinks and acts as if he/she were a little god in their own world.
The wheel goes round and round
The curtain never closes after act three, but instead the acts run
over and over again. As years go by the actors get older, but there
is little change in the words or the action of the play.
It is not true that an alcoholic cannot be helped until he wants
help. It is true that there is almost no chance that the alcoholic
will stop drinking as along as other people remove all the painful
consequences for him/her. The other actors find it difficult to
change. It is much easier and far less painful for them to say that
the alcoholic cannot be helped, than to go through the agony of
learning to play a new role.
If drinking continues long enough, the alcoholic creates a crisis,
gets into trouble, ends up in a mess. This can happen in many ways,
but the pattern is always the same: he/she is a dependent who
behaves as if he/she were independent, and drinking makes it easy to
convince himself/herself this is true. Yet the results of his
drinking make him ever more dependent upon others.
When his/her self-created crisis strikes, he waits for something to
happen, ignores it, walks away from it, or cries for someone to get
him/her out of it. Alcohol, which at first gave him/her a sense of
success and independence, has now stripped him/her of their mask and
reveals a helpless, dependent child.
The crisis is a way of reassuring the alcoholic that they have
control over the other players in the play.
The little god
No one has a right to play God and demand that the alcoholic stop
drinking. The reverse is also true. The alcoholic can only continue
to act like a little god, telling everyone what to do, while doing
as he/she pleases, if a supporting cast continues to play their
roles. Every player has every right and responsibility to refuse to
act as if the alcoholic in their lives were God whose every wish and
commandment be obeyed.
Ending the play
There is no easy way to stop the merry-go-round, for it can be more
painful to stop it than to keep it going. It is impossible to spell
out definite rules which apply to all members of the play. Each case
is different, but the framework of the play remains the same.