2.2 Denial

Let’s begin with a well known story. There was a mother and her son who lived in a single room with a huge elephant. The elephant was so big, he took up most of the space, and they moved around between his feet with difficulty. Whenever the phone rang, the elephant snorted so loud they were embarrassed and couldn’t hear what the other person was saying. All their money went on feeding the elephant. They were scared that the elephant might get up one day and push the ceiling in, so that the neighbours upstairs would come crashing down on them. It was hard to have guests in the home. Sometimes the elephant slept and things were sort of OK. Down the years, the mother always told her son: ‘don’t you dare ever tell anyone about the elephant we have, OK?’. And he enthusiastically agreed. He didn’t tell anyone. When his friends came round while the elephant was asleep, he covered the elephant with sheets to try to hide him, and acted like it wasn’t there. He and his mother became obsessed with fear, that someone might find out about the elephant and think they were both crazy. They pulled the curtains carefully at night, hung up the phone when the elephant was snorting. Worrying about the elephant, fearing what ever he might do next, drove them to a life filled with worry. They were dominated in every decision by fear of the elephant and how embarrassing it would be if anyone found out about him. But everyone knew the elephant was there! But it took years for the mother and son to realize this. It took a really long time for them to realize the most obvious fact- everybody knew they had a huge elephant in the room! Now this is rather what living with an alcoholic can be like. Nobody must know. It must be covered up. Obsession with the alcoholic makes the family blind to obvious realities, and distorts their relationships with others. Coping with the alcoholic comes to dominate the lives of those he or she lives with. The whole situation can’t go on. It’s damaging for all involved. There has to be a facing up to the nature of the problem, and a realistic effort made to do something about it. Acknowledging that the elephant is there, big, massive and real, beyond your personal power to cope with, is the start of resolving the problem in the families of alcoholics.

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