Sometimes a little bit of denial can be useful. Putting on weight? ‘That’s OK, everyone eats more in the winter’. Arguments at home? ‘It’s probably just a moment in time and will blow over’. Denial offers us a psychological buffer zone. Like the rubber bands that surround the bumper cars in Bray, a pinch of denial saves us being mortally wounded during every encounter with the hard parts of living.
Self Deception: The problem, of course, is understanding the difference between a little bit of denial and its more obnoxious cousins, self-deception and delusion.
Many moons ago, I worked with General Electric. One of the employees in the factory was an alcoholic. Because of his drinking, he missed lots of time from work, turned up drunk (to operate dangerous machinery) and was constantly hung-over. It was made more difficult by the fact that (in my experience) addicts become practiced liars. There was always a good reason for his absences, and ‘get-out-of-jail’ excuses for underperformance. He was a fundamentally nice guy, but a complete spoofer. After each incident (and there were many), we’d have a ‘come to Jesus’ conversation. He would be filled with remorse and promise to get his life in shape. Then, usually within a week or so, he would arrive into work pissed drunk and the merry-go-round would start all over again.
Get Real: Unsure of how best to proceed, I got in touch with the Rutland Centre, read a couple of books on alcoholism, spoke with the company doctor and touched base with my bosses and the union official. At that time this was new territory to me and I was not at all clear on how best to proceed (was this a medical problem, a performance problem, both?). The most important input came from an AA counselor who also happened to work for the company. He told me the following personal story.
Denial Ends: During his alcoholic phase, he was invariably cranky at home. He’d come home and find fault with his wife and kids, how food was prepared or the ‘state’ of the house. One evening he threw his dinner on the floor, with the line: “A dog wouldn’t eat that”. When he got up for work the next day, the dinner was lying on the floor. It was still there that evening and again the following morning. His wife, who, up to that point, had always pretended that there was no problem with her husband’s drinking, had decided enough. The dinner was left on the floor until he eventually cleaned it up. This particular incident became a catalyst in his journey towards sobriety. A trigger point, commonly referred to as ‘hitting rock bottom’, had been reached.
We eventually fired the alcoholic employee, got him signed into a full-time treatment centre and worked, for a time, with his family to provide indirect support. Then we walked away. The responsibility for taking control of his life, was placed firmly in his hands and the company were no longer co-dependant.
Ireland Inc: In relation to the country’s finances, we have reached a similar point. All the talk about Nama, restructuring the banks, the Croke Park deal driving public sector reform, changes in the tax code and introducing spending cuts is over. It has moved beyond our control. Someone has stepped in and shouted ‘Halt!’ We’ve hit rock bottom where De-Nile is not the longest river in Egypt.
If you accept the point that the first stage in finding a solution is to recognize that you actually have a problem, it’s good news that this point has been reached. So, I was pleased when the IMF show rolled into town. Now we have to face up to the problem and take the medicine. Obviously, it would have been much better if the economic problems had not emerged in the first place, but that ship has sailed. “Huston (Berlin?) we have a problem”. We now have to do something about it.
Paul Mooney PhD.