There is an Elephant in my Living Room


A little over 36 years ago, I would have never dreamt I would have married an alcoholic. Back then, I was in my ‘late teens’ and I had no idea of what an alcoholic was.   Alcoholism, for me, was not the picture of my blonde hair, blue eyed athletic looking ‘soon to be’ husband. Today, I remain married to this amazing man who has weathered his disease through years, alternating between active practice and stages of recovery. I have several remarkable children who have , and continue to, weather their own personal storms that range from alcoholism,  ADHD, eating disorders, depression/anxiety and the repercussions of PTSD.   Life has not been easy for them.  For myself, I have been on an endless quest to figure out this enigma.  I am the co-dependent in my family and as my husband often says, “I just don’t get it”!

I do believe this, addiction, like most things in life, is ever changing.  We all have good days and we all have bad days.  Some days, what is little becomes big like an elephant, and what is big can be little.  It is all in how we look at it. Perspective! Humor! Knowledge! Understanding! Love! Hope!  Just a few words that, when put into practice, give peace.



El  the Elephant

I do not understand addictions. I have been around addictions on the outside, sideways, around the side,  any way you can think of,  but not inside the head of the one who is addicted.  I cannot know or comprehend the inner turmoil, self-loathing, pain and suffering of those who are dependent on a substance or behavior.   The more I think I know, the more I don’t know.  My knowledge and understanding of this myriad of vast dependencies, called ‘addiction’, comes from what I have learned by personal experience (on the job training, otherwise known as flying by the seat of your pants), as well as within my profession that I continue to work in.  I am the outsider looking in.  Within my family I am called a ‘co-dependent’. At my job, I am a listener.

There is a vast spectrum of addictions.  The definition of various addictions seems to evolve as time passes.  For me, what was valid 35+ years ago, is no longer applicable.  Maybe it is my conceptualization of what an addiction is that has modified over time.   No longer do we think of those individuals as a pitiful, homeless person, whose body habitus is emaciated, the physical presentation disheveled and dirty (in the mind of the ignorant, such as me). By all appearances, many individuals who harbor an addictive lifestyle, range in age and represent an array of professions.  Today, there  is not the stigma placed on people who openly take ownership of their addiction.  More people with addictions are stepping forward, acknowledging their disease, along with the effect it has had on them, their family/friends and jobs.  How many high profile people have opening stepped forward, sharing their disease and have sought treatment.   In the past, addictions were hidden, shameful and not talked about.  What is ‘newsworthy’ today?   Dysfunction!  After all, pain and suffering sells. We see this in the reality shows, a funny sitcom, the ‘self-help’ talk shows and in the news.

Have you ever heard the story of the elephant?  Addictions are the elephant.  The story is of a group of blind men and an elephant. Through the years, it has been interpreted in diverse ways. Regardless, it provides a metaphor.  With the story telling, insight to an individual’s perception of truths and the impact of perception are gained.

The synopsis of the story is the tale of a group of blind men who touch an elephant to learn what it is like.  Each one feels a different part, but only part, such as the side or the tusk. They compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement. They all differ in their story. As result, conflict evolves.

How does this relate to an addiction?  Where a person is at in their addictive behavior and/or recovery, impacts an individual and his/her happiness and of their family.  Like the elephant story, addiction is ever changing.  Addictive behavior can be a downward spiral or an upward continuum towards recovery, which is constant process, never complete, and ever changing.

Addiction in my family and the effect on all of us, is like the elephant.  Together, we have gone through more than one treatment program, not all for the same person.  The elephant, El (for lack of a better name), lives in our home and at one time, took up the entire house.  We all stepped around this huge, obnoxious ‘animal’ and acted like it was not there.  Today, El remains in our home, but has become an open source of dialogue.

How big is the elephant in your home?


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