Perspective: The Elephant in the Living Room

by Sarah S.

Well, I figure I’m reacting like most people who are invited to contribute to TGIF: OMG. I don’t have time. I don’t want to go there. But, if I’m honest, I know it’s good for me to go there because perhaps I’ll learn something about myself through the process. (I’ll let you know at the end!)

My father was the alcoholic in our family. I didn’t know that he was an alcoholic until I came into contact with Renascent in my 30’s. I just assumed he was a heavy drinker – like most of the people on my street and like every family for whom I babysat.

I met and married my husband in my early 30’s and he’s an adult child of two alcoholic parents. If you had told me then that it was no accident that I was drawn to him, I would have smiled politely but thought inside, “You’re crazy.”

And if you had told me when I was growing up we – my dad, mom, brother and sister – all played predetermined roles to help sustain my father’s addiction, I would have been “gob-smacked.” I’m not sure how I would have processed that nugget of information.

But as my dad chased the bottle, my mom chased my dad and we kids took on the roles of hero, scapegoat and adjuster. Everyone was, in fact, taking care of the bottle and no one was taking care of themselves.

As a kid, I had no one outside the family with whom I could share. My family was not able to name the elephant in the living room, but it lived large in our lives. Secrecy, shame, blame, stuffing emotions, helplessness, not wanting to bother my parents with expensive field trips, being a parent to my younger siblings (and, at times, my parents), overachieving but always feeling like an imposter, walking on eggshells, defending my siblings, being angry at my mom for blaming me for the arguments instead of seeing the situation for what it was …

As an adult, I can see how beneficial a Children’s Program would have been in my young life – for me and everyone else in my life living in bondage to addiction. Knowing what the family disease of addiction does and what I can do to liberate myself from it would have changed things for me. I would likely be in a difference place today.

But I’m grateful to be here – on the road to recovery – as it’s never too late to begin to untangle how this disease has infiltrated my life. And how I can inspire and be inspired to incorporate recovery into my life, one day a time.

So time to share a recent story that highlights how recovery is beginning to help me make different choices.

A few days ago. I was building up some good old-fashioned resentment for my husband. We both work full-time and we’re generally exhausted by work, kids, aging parents and life. But when it comes to “projects” I always take the lead and do the heavy lifting. I began to manifest the four M’s (managing, mothering, manipulating and martyring) – something I heard at an Al-Anon meeting.

Not good. Left unchecked, really not helpful in maintaining a loving and respectful relationship.

Thankfully, I became aware of this growing discontent before I exploded – something I know ACoAs do often (thanks to Tian Dayton). It’s challenging to find 4-6 on the volume dial as often the default setting for ACoAs is either zero (stuff it) or 11 (explode). I find it helpful to visualize this volume dial and, when I feel myself tending to one extreme or another, I ask myself, “What would 4 look like?”

I did a reality check on my expectations. I was being unreasonable with what can be achieved with such limited free time. In fact, I could take a page from my husband and carve out a few moments daily to do something for me – practice a little self-care instead of tackling an endless list of projects.

I also took the opportunity to find some alone time with my husband to share how I felt and to begin to talk about the things we each want to do – self-care, going on dates, life priorities – and even projects.

I’m a work in progress. I’m no fricking monument to recovery (adapted line from the movie Moonstruck) but I’m grateful to have an awareness of how this disease found me. And, as painful as it is, I am aware that my children will inherit the genes and behaviours of this family disease, so there really is no time like the present to honour my recovery as an Adult Child of an Alcoholic.

P.S. I learned something: I probably should have gone to an Al-Anon meeting instead of writing this article. But I only learned this through the process of writing, so all is good.

A gem from our TGIF vault, originally published in April 2012.

About the Authors

Renascent Alumni
Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email