February © 2004
by Bridgette Mongeon
When I was a girl, we had this huge polka dotted pink elephant that took residence directly in the middle of our living room. Now even though this elephant was annoying and affecting the view of each other, we never talked about it. It affected everyone in our home, but no one dared speak of it. Each of us, my brother, my sister, my dad, and myself arranged our lives around the pesky pachyderm. I am not sure why conversations about its presence were an unspoken taboo, but everyone knew that it was. Because of the shame that was brought on by this bothersome boarder, the members of our home rarely, if ever, invited anyone to our house, and when we did, we each had our own set of excuses to distract the visitor and to explain it away.
It has been a long time since I had thought about that elephant, almost 30 years. The memory of it was brought back to me by my interaction with a very young courageous girl of 13. My girlfriend's granddaughter, Brandey, was embarking on the acknowledgment of her own huge polka dotted pink elephant that was resides in her home. I was just her age when I too began to acknowledge my own elephant. I discovered that many other kids my age were experiencing the same thing. You see this taboo subject and huge obstacle that sat between all my family members was brought on by a disease that gripped the family - Alcoholism. My mother was an alcoholic.
Alcoholism is a disease. It is a disease that affects the entire family. Even though it affects everyone, no one talks about it; it was like a huge polka dotted pink elephant sitting right in the middle of our living room.
I remember how wonderful it felt, so many years ago, listening to other kids who revealed their own stories. In their experiences, I could see my own life. The shame, fear, desperation, and hopelessness were replaced with understanding, action, and hope. Finally I found a place where others not only had huge pink polka dotted elephants, but they were also willing to talk about them. This place of such enlightenment was called Alateen.
Alateen taught me that I was powerless over the elephant, the alcohol, and my mom's drinking. I· couldn't make mom sober, but I could help myself. Her drinking wasn't my fault. I learned how to cope with my problems and build a life filled with hope.
A teenager who had a father that was an Alcoholic developed the program of "Alateen in 1957. The Alateen program is patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA has had great success with helping alcoholics obtain sobriety. Alanon was developed for spouses or family members of the alcoholic and. Alateen developed for the teenagers. All of these programs have helped many family members to understand their family disease. Since attending Alateen 30 years ago Pre-Alateen has also come into existence. The motto for all of these branches of AA is "It works for you if you work the program."
I found a local Alateen meeting for Brandey. There we both met Brittany, a most impressive young lady who shared her experiences with Brandey. I know the two of them had an instant rapport. How could they not, they were both the owners of huge polka dotted pink elephants. Brittany 13 and her younger brother 12 have both been "working the program" for 8 years.
I marveled at the grandmother who religiously took these kids to meetings. I don't know if anyone can possibly know the long-range effect that this can have on children. You see, when one becomes emotionally healthy, it opens your life to all possibilities. And, research has proven that children with alcoholic parents have a greater chance of becoming alcoholics themselves.
This mental health help and Alateen may save their lives' I believe it saved mine. So if you are a relative of a teen who may need help, please take the initiative to help in finding and driving these kids to meetings.
If you are not sure if there is an elephant in your home Alateen has put together a list of questions. It can be found at http://www.al-anon.org/ twentyquestions.html. There is a similar list for those wondering if Alanon is for them.
Let me assure you there is hope. My mother has been sober for 30 years. What alcoholism robbed from us in my early years has been restored a hundred fold. She has grown into a woman that I not only admire, but also deeply respect!
If you would like to talk to someone about your huge polka dotted pink elephant you can find meetings in your area by calling 713-683-7227 or searching the local Alanon web site located at http://www.hal¬pc.org/ alanontx/. Let me encourage you to keep trying the contact.numbers. Don’t give up, if one does not work encourage people to give you another, or go to the next on the list. You might also want to call the numbers in off-hours. Some people may only answer the phones before and after meetings, just before 7:30 p.m. or after 9:00 p.m.
If your elephant goes by another color or name, there are many different organizations that are helping individuals with all sorts of problems like; low self-esteem, gambling, sex addiction, drug addiction, and many others. All of these programs are patterned after AA, and have proven to be highly effective. I have found a list of them located at http://www.council-houston.org/recovery.htm. Once again be persistent in calling and in seeking help.
All of the programs are free and many offer free literature. With a little work you not only will be able to recognize your huge polka dotted pink elephant, but you will soon be able to function better, feel healthier, and see your family members a little clearer in your life and from across the living room.
Bridgette Mongeon is a writer and artist who lives in the Heights area www.creativesculpture.com
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