By Ned Wicker
During one of his recent sermons, my pastor Mike Frans put up a slide for the congregation to examine. It was a photo of a corporate conference room, with a dozen people seated around a large table. In the room was an elephant. Nobody was paying any attention to it. Whether intentionally, or unintentionally, no person in the conference room wanted to deal with the fact of the elephant.
For me, the elephant in the room was a good visual for recognizing “denial.” Maybe if I ignore it, the elephant will go away. Perhaps if I appease it by offering a few peanuts it will have the good sense to understand my needs and allow me to continue my work. Nobody else is saying anything about the elephant. Maybe they don’t see it. In that case, I’ll say nothing. Then again, it may not be there at all if I close my eyes. It could be a baby elephant. That wouldn’t be so bad.
Denial is a brutal enemy, because it doesn’t allow us to confront the problem, find a solution, or give us any hope of recovery. A while back a woman was trying to convince me that denial was relative. She insisted that a person who doesn’t see a problem isn’t in denial because they don’t believe there is a problem. No amount of evidence makes any difference. If my life is out of control, my relationships are broken or damaged, my job is gone and I am having health problems as a result of my drug use, and if I am the only person that doesn’t see it, that’s denial. Addiction Denial isn’t subjective, it’s objective.
People always think they can handle it. They can quit any time. They will not become addicted. They deny the problem. That’s why the first of the 12 Steps starts out by stating, “We admitted…” Step 1 is about getting over denial. I see the elephant in the room, I acknowledge it and I realize that if I don’t remove the elephant in the room, cleaning up the mess will be a major task. After all, you have to feed the elephant and its droppings are not pleasant. Still, denial is powerful and people will actually choose to live with the elephant rather than admitting its existence.
Denial robs us of opportunity. Let’s say your “elephant” is tiny, a new-born. By not admitting that the problem is there, that your control is slipping, that the potential for disaster is looming around the corner, there is not way you’re going to address the issue and find a strategy to deal with it. Addictions, like elephants, can grow in to very large problems. Denial is also myopic and arrogant. I don’t see it, so you’re wrong. You can’t possibly be right, because that would mean that I’m wrong and we can’t have that.
Denial stunts personal growth. Health issues aside, by feeding the elephant instead of our soul, we stagnate as a person. There is no room for reason, for stretching one’s understanding or reaching out to others. There is no room for development. Addiction keeps us trapped in one place, to feed the elephant and limits human potential.
Sometimes one of the people in the room exclaims, “Let’s get rid of the elephant.” Others may agree and say, “Yes, the elephant is getting in the way and we don’t want to deal with it.” However, if the elephant is yours, you say, “Oh no, you’re wrong. You’re being hateful. Stop judging me. You have no right to say there’s an elephant in the room.” If denial takes a strong foothold, they you and your elephant may be asked to leave the room.
Overcoming denial leads to restoration. It is the beginning of the process, and the beginning of a new and exciting period of self-discovery and examination. You don’t need the elephant. Nobody else wants the elephant. Get rid of your denial elephant and get back to your place at the conference table.
Ned Wicker is the Addictions Recovery Chaplain at Waukesha Memorial Hospital Lawrence Center He author’s a website for addiction support:
Drug-Addiction-Support.org or Drug Addiction Symptoms
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