Saturday, September 18, 2010

Recovery and Nature - Elephants

Have you ever heard the phrase, "Elephants never forget?"  Have you ever heard someone say at a meeting, "I have to keep coming back because I forget that I am alcoholic" or "how bad it was?"  I have heard both, thus, the inspiration for this post.  Let me first tell you a little bit about what I learned about elephants and their memory.

Elephants remember each other.  One of the stories I came across describes two elephants becoming very animated and excited upon meeting one another for what was thought to be for the very first time. 

 "There was this euphoria," sanctuary founder Buckley says. "Shirley started bellowing, and then Jenny did, too. Both trunks were checking out each other's scars. I've never experienced anything that intense without it being aggression."
Curious about this unusual interaction, Buckley did some research and discovered that these two elephants' paths did cross - twenty three years ago when they both performed in a circus together for just a few months!

Not only do elephants remember other living animals, including humans, they also remember events. 

The scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in New York City reported in Biology Letters that pachyderm groups with matriarchs, ages 38 and 45, left the parched park, apparently in search of water and grub, but the ones with a younger matriarch, age 33, stayed put.
Sixteen of 81 calves born in the park that year died in a nine-month period, a 20 percent mortality rate, much higher than the typical 2 percent; 10 of the dead were from the group that remained in the park, where feed and water were scarce.
Researchers concluded that the older elephants recalled a drought in the park that lasted from 1958 to 1961, and how their packs survived the slim pickings by migrating to lusher areas a distance away. None of the elephants that stayed behind were old enough to remember the previous dry spell.
Isn't that amazing?  I think so.  So, how does this all relate to recovery?

Well, like Shirley and Jenny (the two elephants that hadn't seen one another in 23 years) checked out each others' scars from the abuse they endured in the circus, do we not recognize the scars of alcoholism in others - emotional, mental, and spiritual and sometimes physical.  Is it not such a relief to find out that we are not the only ones who feel the way we do or the only ones who did what we did; that others have the same kind of scars we do?

In fact, I wonder if Shirley wasn't simply reacting as we do when a newcomer enters a meeting for the first time - excited that our friend found her way to the "sanctuary" of AA and out from under the three-ring circus of active alcoholism.

Unless I continue to go to meetings, read the literature, the Big Book, the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions book and then listen to others share their experience, strength, and hope as it relates to the information or story we read, my disease will tell me that I am different; that maybe I am not an alcoholic; that maybe I have enough knowledge about myself and alcoholism at this point to successfully stay sober and well on my own.  Unlike elephants, I will forget that I am an alcoholic no different from any other alcoholic out there.  I will forget that knowledge alone will not keep me sober.  I will forget that I cannot stay sober on my own.

Furthermore, I need to learn from the older "matriarchs" where to find "lusher areas" in my spiritual life via working the 12 Steps.  If I do not keep going to meetings and being reminded by those who "remember the drought" or how it was being out there drinking, unlike the older elephants, I will forget and stay where I am.  If I stay where I am, a dry spell will come (ever heard of a "dry drunk?") and I will be like those young elephants in the park where food and water were scarce and I will die. 

Be like an elephant - NEVER FORGET that alcoholism is "cunning, baffling, and powerful.  Without help it is too much (AA Big Book.)" 

Thank you for helping me stay sober tonight.

Link to elephant photo and information


  1. One reason I keep going to meetings is to be reminded of what happens to people who don't go to meetings.

  2. I really like this analogy. I love elephants. I have learned to have compassion and love for the alcoholics. I am so grateful for a program of recovery that teaches me about loving others and also myself.


Thank you for sharing!