Elephant in the Room


Article by Will Piper

I remember going to a therapist in the mid 90s to explore my relationship problems. I was going through lots of anxiety with my partner at the time, worrying about everything, feeling jumpy and insecure. I was fully prepared to be asked about my relationship with significant others, particularly my mother, who had always had and would continue to have a domineering presence in my life, full of drunken resentment toward me – a resentment she was unwilling to talk about when sober.

I let the therapist know how much alcohol influenced my mother’s aggression toward me, and he suggested I refuse to see her when she had a drink. As that meant me not having a drink too, I didn’t think that would be possible.  I needed a drink when I saw my mother and there was no way I was going to remain sober, whether she was drinking, or not, and besides I knew she wouldn’t accept such terms anyway.

As far as I was concerned no problem of mine was so great that I needed stop drinking for it. Alcohol was part of the cure, for me anyway. Hypocritical though it was, I nonetheless thought it was a good idea that my mother should be encouraged not to drink, as it was she who got aggressive, not me – not until I had been provoked enough and then we’d be arguing for hours. I didn’t start the arguments. But no way was I going to stay off the booze just so that she did too. That was asking too much.

I didn’t return to the therapist after that, because I wasn’t prepared to address the alcohol issue, which wasn’t the problem I had gone to him about anyway, so I dropped the whole thing and didn’t go back to him.

The thing was, my mother’s aggressive drinking lasted 25 years, but I always drank too whenever I saw her. My sister died in that time, from mental health issues, and still the drink went unchecked. I didn’t think it was the central problem.

Alcohol was the proverbial elephant in the room. Neither of us thought we had a problem ourselves although we probably both thought the other needed to cut down. Most importantly, neither of us wanted to lose our best crutch. So we kept drinking.

When I eventually stopped drinking 3 years ago, I did so without any real turmoil. I did it because I was ready to, and I did it on my terms. What a difference that makes.


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