Living in Denial

If you're not familiar with the above clip, you should really just go and rent Midnight Run rather than ruin the surprise now. It's one of the greatest films of the past thirty years and it still holds up well today. I remember watching this in the Modesto theater with my dad in 1987 and this was one of his favorite scenes. I didn't really understand what made it so funny at the age of seven, but at the age of thirty-two I'm really beginning to get the gist of it.

There seems to be a lot of "living in denial" going on around us right now. Mitt Romney's advisers and strategists must have been living in denial.  They thought they were actually going to win despite dozens of polls in swing states showing them otherwise. Those are just the statistics of biased pollsters! Don't listen to them! Go out and buy $40,000 worth of fireworks because we're going to win this thing! By reading this morning, it seems that many NFL fans are living in denial. The fact that starting quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Michael Vick, and our own Alex Smith are out with concussions right now is just a funny coincidence according to a majority of poll participants. It has nothing to do with the fact that our football culture as a whole celebrates and worships the big hit at the expense of the players. In fact, if you read the comments, many fans think Alex brought a vicious helmet to helmet hit upon himself by sliding incorrectly! That's just part of the game - getting concussed by a helmet to helmet hit because you left yourself vulnerable. They'll be fine. Just walk it off. I don't want to miss out on the game I love because these guys are too whimpy to keep playing it. You need to think about me, Alex. I'll do and say anything to justify the status quo.

Before bed last night, I was watching Rehab with Dr. Drew and it's amazing to see what addicts will do to justify using. One of my best friends from childhood is still the same way with prescription pills. There's nothing you can do or say to make him understand that he's killing himself. The most chilling part of this particular episode was the presentation from Audrey Kishline, a former alcoholic who became famous for her moderate drinking program in the mid-90's. She wrote a book, landed on Oprah, and cultivated a following for her claim that alcoholics didn't need to be 100% sober in order to manage their disease. She was quite a credible source for this point of view, countering AA with her own MM (Moderation Management), until she relapsed, got behind the wheel, drove the wrong way down the interstate, and killed a father and his daughter in the process. It's not always easy to admit you have a problem with alcohol, especially when you really love the taste of it, but this had to be the worst possible way one could have it spelled out for them.

Going back to the scene from Midnight Run, what makes the dialogue between Jonathan Mardukas and Jack Walsh so entertaining is the tremendous seriousness with which Charles Grodin's character analyzes Robert De Niro's every move. He might as well be discussing concussions or alcoholism with the weight of his words, but in reality it's just a simple man trying to enjoy his plate of fried chicken. While Jack Walsh isn't the healthiest individual with his chain-smoking, high-stress lifestyle, it's not clear that this one act is going to forever doom his arteries. When asked why he would eat the fried chicken, despite the knowledge that it isn't good for him, he answers, "Because I don't think about it." When Walsh turns the table on Mardukas and asks why he would steal mob money and give it to charity, he says, "I didn't think I'd get caught." 

Ultimately, our unhealthy decisions in life boil down to the above logic. We either choose not to think about the consequences or we think the rules somehow will not apply to us. We can let our egos believe that we're the exception to the statistics, but the numbers don't often lie. We can act like concussions are not a big deal, but yet we sit back and watch as more football players commit suicide from trauma-related brain injuries. For those of us who enjoy and promote alcohol usage, we have to make sure that we don't live in denial of abuse and addiction. For as much as I imbibe, I'm very careful to watch for any warning signs of possible addiction - both in myself and in those around me. The decisions we make not only affect us, but they can affect others who have nothing to do with our enjoyment of liquor. Make sure you think about this before you get out your keys after the annual holiday party.

It's better to be living in denial than to be dead and realistic. 

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll