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I saw mommy kissing an alcoholic neanderthal...
July 17, 2009 1:25 PM   Subscribe

I am deeply concerned for my mother, and hate her boyfriend.


My mother, an historically level-headed and intelligent woman has taken up with a man that really is far beneath her.

First, some back story. The poor woman really did go through a lot in the last few years: a particularly dramatic and acrimonious divorce from her second husband (not my father), a bout of West Nile (the bad kind... not that there is a good kind, per se, but she had all of the encephalitis and macular damage and is still somewhat foggy-memoried), and the death of her father (to whom she was very close).

I was happy to hear that she had started dating again, since she had frankly wallowed for a while in a sort of exaggerated victimhood in the wake of her West Nile experience. She has always been the type of person to pick herself up after anything that comes her way, dust herself off, and continue on her path.

For the last 15 years, she has been active in AlAnon, and served as a sponsor to many members. She works for Hospice assisting the terminally ill, and she has a generous spirit and always gives very sage advice to her friends and family.

Turns out the guy she's dating, though, is just a creep. He's 20 years younger than her, has been unemployed for over a year and shows absolutely no sign whatsoever of getting any sort of job in the foreseeable future, moved in with her 5 months ago (after losing his own apartment), drinks himself into a stupor every day at the sort of bar that caters to professional alcoholics, is a staunch new-Earth creationist (adding this point only as the rest of the family, Mom included, place a high value on science and are also alarmingly secular to the point of functionally being atheist...so it's a strange sort of pairing), has all the social grace of a cave troll (example... I purchased my mother a very nice chef's knife for Christmas, and this clod proudly proclaims, "That knife's so pretty, if it had a pussy I'd fuck it!"). He does absolutely disgusting things like refer to her not by her name, but as "lover" -- even when talking to her family *about* her (..."when lover and I were out at..."). For the sake of this discussion, we'll call this lovely and endearing specimen "Joey".

Since Mom has been dating Joey, she has stopped sponsoring AlAnon, and she now closes the bar every night with Joey. Her work performance has slipped off, and she has been functionally demoted. Her once-pristine and well-tended house is now a complete, smelly disaster area wherein Joey's persian cat and dachshund freely defecate. She and Joey are looking for a new house together (she's buying, he's just living there like a lump). She has become withdrawn, as none of her family or friends can really tolerate Joey.

Now, aside from all of the irritation of having what is essentially a freeloading, alcoholic mooch living with your parent, I have (until now) mostly adopted an attitude of "It's not my relationship. I am not dating Joey. Leave it alone, and if he makes her happy in whatever strange way he does, then it's her business."

The problem with that, though, is in how immaturely she has handled that attitude. When I didn't want to talk to her about Joey (can't say anything nice? Don't say anything at all), she got offended and turned on the waterworks and the passive aggression. When I broke down and talked to her about Joey, I became the enemy. We made up, and I tried to give Joey another chance which ended in an unmitigated disaster. I have since reiterated to her on more than one occasion that, while I love her dearly and she is always welcome in my house, I do not really want to spend time with Joey. She has said that Joey is the last man she ever wants to date.

The thing is, I'm actually getting worried about her. She has never been like this! The drinking is bad enough, but if you had told me even two years ago that she would ever take up with an jobless alcoholic, I would have laughed in your face. Not a single one of her friends or family like this man and instead of listening to frank and honest discussion, she instead gets more withdrawn.

She hardly even speaks to me anymore, and I am becoming more and more aware that she has essentially picked this neanderthal over her entire former existence, children included.

I thought I was doing well here, but honestly... How the hell do I approach this? I am having the damnedest time attempting to balance my desire to stay out of another person's personal affairs with my honest concern for my mother's alarming recent behavior.

Please hope!
posted by kaseijin to Human Relations (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
but she had all of the encephalitis and macular damage and is still somewhat foggy-memoried),

I think she really, really, really needs to see a doctor. This is very serious behavior change.

Seriously. I'm not one of those 'ask a doctor' people, but really. Seriously. A doctor.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:32 PM on July 17, 2009 [16 favorites]


Sounds like she might just be afraid of being alone (especially after a health scare like what you described). Can you spend time with her, without Joey, doing something that he'd have no interest in (a museum, flower show, antiquing), and try to bond a little bit more? Maybe if she can really understand that you (and your siblings?) will support her and keep her company as she gets older, she can start to internalize that Joey's not who she wants to be with.
posted by oinopaponton at 1:37 PM on July 17, 2009


Does she have her own AlAnon sponsor? Is there someone else in that community who could convince her that the situation is a problem starting from the fact that she's started drinking again? I certainly don't mean to imply that there aren't other big issues here, but that's a problem that she has previously acknowledged and that she has experience discussing with people.
posted by ecsh at 1:38 PM on July 17, 2009


Seconding A Terrible Llama. Someone who has been a stalwart of AlAnon taking up with an active alcoholic is such an extreme behavior change that it does open the possibility of something neurological going on.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:38 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


ecsh: Al-Anon is for family and friends of alcoholics (usually spouses), not for alcoholics themselves.
posted by elsietheeel at 2:29 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


There COULD be an underlying medical problem that has spurred the behavioral change, but chances are, after a lot of trauma, she has found an easy out by instead of fighting against what she knows is bad for her, she's giving in to her base attraction because it actually feels good on some level. Obviously, this guy is a loser. No doubt. But unfortunately, for people who are attracted to alcoholics (as her Alanon past has proven), there is a sick emotional 'reward' when you are in this situation.

So what can you do? That is really hard. Your mother is going to have to come around on her own and it is really difficult that you can't force her to see the light. Oinopaponton's suggestion of spending more time with her is good. From experience, I can say that the really good times spent with friends and family highlight what you are missing in a toxic relationship, and it may help her to see that this man is not the best thing for her. You can continue to express concern, but really, just being there for her and giving her 'an out' is the most important thing you can do.
posted by Eicats at 2:57 PM on July 17, 2009


Oh god I wish I was not speaking from experience when I say that there is really nothing you can do here other than to continue to try and be a supportive and constant presence to your mother regardless of what mistakes she's making. That way when the inevitable "HE LOVES ME MORE THAN MY OWN FAMILY YOU NEVER EVEN GAVE HIM A CHANCE" starts happening with insane frequency you will at least know in your heart of hearts that this is really, really not true.

I would like to chime in with oinopaponton and say that her decision-making probably stems from a fear of growing old, a fear of her illness, and a fear of being alone. She's essentially in denial all over the place. The thing about denial though is that it can only be overcome from her side of the glass. You can't reason with her, you can't appeal to her, there's nothing you can do but hope that the Bad Thing shocks her to her senses happens really soon, and isn't too bad.
posted by hermitosis at 3:01 PM on July 17, 2009 [5 favorites]


there's nothing you can do but hope that the Bad Thing that shocks her to her senses happens really soon, and isn't too bad.

That's what I meant to say.
posted by hermitosis at 3:02 PM on July 17, 2009


Not to turn this into a story about me, but I think it may be really relevant because your story sounds eerily familar.

My mother took up with a man closer to my age than her own. He was a morbidly obese, borderline (if not raging) alcoholic, sometimes working electrician. He was stupid, crude, and mean. My mother quit her job and moved to another country to live with him. She married him after they had been together I guess 9 months. None of our family attended the wedding. Now my mother was highly educated and for lack of a better word, a bit of a snob. She was also pretty religious and more than a bit of a prude, but he moved in after only 3 weeks (I wasn't allowed to watch Friends when I was in high school until I promised about 10 times that I wouldn't learn from it that living together was ok, when obviously it's a highly immoral activity). My mother would generally not let someone like this into our house when we were alone, let alone marry him. Me and mother had countless screaming and crying phone calls about this man.

3 months after she married him the doctors found a tumor the size of a tangerine in the middle of her brain. Because of prior brain scans, it probably started growing no more than 3 months before she met him.

I honestly can't say this is entirely to blame for him (although that's my entire family's story and they are sticking to it) as my mother no doubt had a lot of self esteem issues from my parents' divorce and he was probably the first man to really show her any attention, but still her judgment must have been compromised in some way.

Considering your mother had a serious illness prior to going out with this guy, I would really consider that as a cause for her bizarre behavior. However, I don't know if identifying the cause is going to actually help you. I'm guessing your only really option here is to just be there for her when it all falls apart. And if your mother is anything like my mother you'll just become the enemy if you criticize him, so I would just never bring it up and avoid him as much as possible.
posted by whoaali at 3:46 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm on the same page as hermitosis. For years my siblings and I have watched my mom, who is an incredibly talented artist who renovates antique homes as a hobby and began her retirement by spending three years in Morocco teaching craft/business courses for the Peace Corp, among other accomplishments, continue to date one total loser after another. Alcoholics, ex-cons, failed businessmen, con men, boy toys younger than me looking for a green card (what a head trip that was)... I don't have an answer for you, but here's what I have learned:

1) If you can, be brutally honest once, maybe twice, and then let it go. I'm the youngest, so I can get away with saying "your boyfriend is a loser, and here's why. You should dump him." If my older sister were to try it, hell would break loose. But after a while, she doesn't want to hear it any more from any of us. She knows what I think in very certain terms. It's up to her to make her decisions after that. You have to trust that her common sense will eventually kick in before things get too bad.

2) Most single men above the age of fifty seem to be complete zeroes. I really think there's something to the idea that there's probably a good, but not nice, reason that a man would be alone at that age. As I get closer to that age, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to avoid being like my mom's boyfriends.

3) Stay in touch, but don't belabor the boyfriend issue. Once she knows you don't care for Joey, it's going to be a tempting excuse not to talk with you. Make sure you keep communicating with her, but also make a point not to bring up the boyfriend unless she does, and don't jump on the opportunity to agree if she has a complaint about him.

4) She'll probably say she's going to break up with him many, many times before she actually does. Mother Ga$money spent three years breaking up with one particular lowlife.

With all her experience in AlAnon, I'm thinking on some level she knows what she's doing is a dead-end street. If you think she may be developing a problem with alcohol of her own, that would be the thing I would focus on. Once she's thinking clearly again, her experience will catch up with her. Take all of the above for what it's worth, and good luck. I sympathize.
posted by ga$money at 3:49 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have a totally different view of this. Are you aware of her bank accounts, real estate property, etc being secure? He will likely make a move at some point to get control of those items. You should be sure not to avoid thinking about it. Boozers are noted to attempt to acquire anything that ensures their well being. She is at risk for many reasons.
posted by JayRwv at 3:56 PM on July 17, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm reading this over, and I just wanted to mention this:

I understand how Joey could seem like the issue, with his knuckle-dragging and his you've-got-to-be-kidding, but I think you should consider that he might be a red herring.

When you look at your post, that's a very detailed and impressive list of radical behavioral change. Animals pooping in the house? Al-Anon member dating an alcoholic? Science-based person dating creationist twenty years younger? Problems at work?

I just wanted to stress how disturbing that looks to an outsider--you might be disturbed about Joey, and that's perfectly understandable, but from an aerial view, from space, that looks like a lot of neurological concerns: impulse control, short-sightedness, the memory problems you mentioned, and radical personality change.

I don't know. And I don't know how to get her to a doctor, other than by flat out telling her that this is weird and telling her why. But to me at least, these look like symptoms of a neurological problem or neurological damage that could potentially be addressed. By all means consider that her experiences have led her to this point in her life, but I would sincerely suggest ruling out a physical cause before pursuing any other.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:53 PM on July 17, 2009 [7 favorites]


Put Joey at the bottom of the list. When you offer to help your mom, point to the other facts. Sure, the guy is a hideous creep that she wouldn't have even looked at a couple of years ago. But the drinking, problems at work, filthy home, West Nile aftermath, and possible emotional effects of her father's death -- all of these paint a dire picture. Focussing on the boyfriend will only make the two of them defensive. The other real problems in her life will continue to send her health downhill, and will devastate her financially They need attention from every family member who will be in a position to support her later in life.

If you can, tell her you respect her right to choose her own friends. Definitely tell her that you love her and will offer whatever emotional support you can. And contacting AlAnon friends, or attending meetings yourself, would be a great idea.
posted by wryly at 4:53 PM on July 17, 2009


This is risky, since your mom will see it as betrayal, but I'd be inclined to call her doctor and tell him/her these things. They can't talk to you but you can talk to them.

It's not that Alanon's can't relapse, and a complete self-destruction does have appeal sometimes, but putting everything together it does seem like there could be something medically wrong with her.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:14 PM on July 17, 2009


-->I think she really, really, really needs to see a doctor. This is very serious behavior change.

Yeah, I agree with that assessment, but I don't really see how anybody can force her to go. It's actually been brought up, and she was seeing a psychiatrist for a bit in the wake of her father's death, but she has stopped going and discontinued taking the medication he had prescribed.



-->Can you spend time with her, without Joey, doing something that he'd have no interest in?

Oh, man - I would love to. I live in a different city, though, which makes it somewhat difficult. I have encouraged her to visit me, however, and she has...and I have managed to visit her some on her own when in her neck of the woods as well.



-->Does she have her own AlAnon sponsor?

She *did*. A longtime friend and former business partner of hers. In the last year, however, she has basically removed this woman from her life. I don't believe they have any current contact.



-->Boozers are noted to attempt to acquire anything that ensures their well being. She is at risk for many reasons.

Believe me, it has crossed my mind. He has actively been pressuring her to marry him, probably since they had been seeing each other for about three months. At least her judgment is intact enough to stand her ground thus far and declare that she would never marry somebody without their own source of income. But yes, this is most certainly a concern.



-->That way when the inevitable "HE LOVES ME MORE THAN MY OWN FAMILY YOU NEVER EVEN GAVE HIM A CHANCE" starts happening with insane frequency you will at least know in your heart of hearts that this is really, really not true.

Oh, that has already begun, I am afraid. But I totally get where you are coming from, and I think it's very good advice. Thanks!



-->I just wanted to stress how disturbing that looks to an outsider--you might be disturbed about Joey, and that's perfectly understandable, but from an aerial view, from space, that looks like a lot of neurological concerns: impulse control, short-sightedness, the memory problems you mentioned, and radical personality change.

I don't know. And I don't know how to get her to a doctor, other than by flat out telling her that this is weird and telling her why.


That's been troubling me too, Llama, and the macro view of things has not escaped me, though I hadn't really dwelt on it too much, or considered that such a personality change may be linked to her West Nile experience.

I sincerely doubt that I (or anybody) would be able to get her to a doctor without her wanting to go, so I suppose that the question then becomes something along the lines of, "given that this appears to be my parent's new personality, how the hell do I deal with it and reconcile this new parent with the parent that I knew previously?"

To everybody else: There are some wonderful suggestions and bits of advice here, and thank you so much for sharing your own personal stories. They provide some valuable insight here. If I could, I'd like to steer more away from "get her to see a doctor" (not because I don't agree, but rather purely because I don't think I stand any chance at all of making that happen), and more to a direction of "how do I deal/cope with this, and what directions should I take in my relationship to my parent." Unless, that is, you have ideas or suggestions as to how to get her to a doctor. I'm certainly not opposed to that line of thought, I'm just not sure that I have the ability to bring it to pass. :(

Thanks again, hivemind!
posted by kaseijin at 5:22 PM on July 17, 2009


This is risky, since your mom will see it as betrayal, but I'd be inclined to call her doctor and tell him/her these things.

That's a thought, but I am not sure that she has a regular physician. Alternately, I have actually thought some about talking to her brother (my uncle) about all of this....but she would surely see that as a betrayal, as well, and so I have held off. Would that be a wise thing to do, perhaps? Align the family to a certain degree? Or would it stir up crazy drama?
posted by kaseijin at 5:26 PM on July 17, 2009


On the face of it...it almost appears that there needs to be an "intervention" of sorts--but that is next to impossible to do if there are aren't enough people telling her that her behavior is alarming.

One query...are you sure that your Mom is as unhappy as you describe? I was thinking perhaps she is "dickmatized" (good sex after years of either bad or no sex)--but from your description she doesn't seem happy. Take a hard look at this and make sure you aren't just wishing she is a mess (because you dislike this guy so much). You can't be blamed for not liking him...that pussy comment! i-yi-yi.

Are you the only offspring? How old is your Mom and how old is the boyfriend?
Who was the family member who was an alcoholic (previously)? Does your Mom own alot of property?
posted by naplesyellow at 5:34 PM on July 17, 2009


Alternately, I have actually thought some about talking to her brother (my uncle) about all of this....but she would surely see that as a betrayal, as well, and so I have held off. Would that be a wise thing to do, perhaps? Align the family to a certain degree? Or would it stir up crazy drama?

I think you should. When I couldn't deal with my dad anymore, I ended up reaching out to his family. They had no idea how bad things were for him (and me) and really stepped up to help. I know with my dad, he really didn't take me seriously because I'm a "kid". Sure I can help him with his computer, but I know nothing about "life" and was therefore, unqualified to understand what was going on with him. Telling my uncles what was happening helped immensly because they were "adults" in my father's eyes, and he actually listened to them (to some extent). At this point, how can reaching out to your uncle hurt? He's her brother, and would presumably be interested in his sister's life.

Whatever you decide to do, I wish you lots of luck- it is very hard to deal with this sort of thing and takes a lot of strength.
posted by dogmom at 5:45 PM on July 17, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you ask her, she will tell you she is happy, but I have never seen her *act* so characteristically unhappy in my entire life.

Unfortunately, I am an only child -- so I really have no siblings to confer with or rally together. Gotta go it alone. I really did wring my hands for a good, long time over whether or not I was merely seeing this train wreck only because of my distaste for him ... or even to what degree I was maybe seeing something that was really there, but seeing it through Joey-tinted glasses.

I would probably still be worrying about that, too, had I not gotten a slow trickle of confirmation in this from her co-workers and friends (my girlfriend, being in the same business, knows several of the same people), and various family members. It seems that everybody pretty much harbors the same feelings here. Even so, I don't think an old-fashioned intervention would be possible, though.

For reference, she is 60, he is...um...40, I believe, and I am 34.

(...and that comment about the knife? Tip of the iceberg. The first time I met Joey, he brought up his $3000 porn collection, and began a comment about my mother with, "when I'm inside her..." Ick. Ick, ick, ick. And who amasses $3000 of porn in the age of the Internet? To clarify some on the drinking, as well, just because "drinks a lot" is entirely subjective: He starts drinking at about noon and is drunk by 4:00. They stay at the bar generally until between 10:00 and 2:00)
posted by kaseijin at 5:51 PM on July 17, 2009


I would approach the uncle. Just having him get involved might help your Mom realize that the family is worried.
posted by fshgrl at 6:00 PM on July 17, 2009


How to get your mother to the doctor:

You need an accomplice. Someone who lives in the same city as your mother, is close to her emotionally (your uncle or one of her good friends) and has semi-regular contact with her. If your mother's psychological changes have an underlying physiological cause there will almost certainly be physical symptoms as well. Maybe her hands tremble slightly, or her skin is a little yellowish, maybe she's not sleeping well or she's sleeping too much. Your accomplice needs to identify a physical symptom and start commenting on it. "Kathy, you're looking a little pale. Have you been to the doctor lately?" "Kathy, are you alright? Your hands are shaking. Maybe you should see a doctor."

Ideally it would be you making these comments, and ideally you would accompany her to the doctor. It's going to be difficult enough for her doc to identify the problem without having 90% of its symptoms undisclosed, but you do what you can.

By focusing on the physical abnormalities your accomplice can get her to a physician without raising your mom's guard.
posted by philotes at 6:13 PM on July 17, 2009 [2 favorites]


kaseijin, see if your Mom would agree to a meeting with you. Print out this thread and show it to her. If she isn't having neurological problems this will be an effective way of showing your Mom that "regular" people find her recent behavior unusual and of a great deal of concern. Tell her you are worried about her being abused by this man. To the objective bystander...it sounds like your Mom is not as well off as she was before "Joey" came into her life. She may be defensive...but on the other hand, she may agree that she has made a mistake and be willing to discuss it with you. Open the doors of communication and keep them open.
Good Luck. You are right to be concerned.
posted by naplesyellow at 11:55 PM on July 17, 2009


I don't mean to detract from any of the previous advice, but here's an additional tactic: Remind her of her life before. Perhaps emphasize how uncomfortable you have been feeling - without how it directly relates to her - and maybe re-open some of those previously familiar familial channels which have lain dormant under all this drama. Something along the lines of - Mom, I miss you, and this is really hard.
posted by setanor at 12:30 AM on July 18, 2009


If you could make a convincing argument that she is a danger to herself or others, you and one other person could sign the papers to have her committed for observation (I think, although this might vary depending on what state you're in). If she has health insurance she could go to a private mental hospital who could sort out whether her behavior has any underlying physiological cause.
posted by hazyjane at 2:08 AM on July 18, 2009


Limbic encephalitis is worth looking into.
posted by brevator at 5:13 AM on July 18, 2009


"It seems that everybody pretty much harbors the same feelings here. Even so, I don't think an old-fashioned intervention would be possible, though."

I obviously don't know all the details about why this wouldn't work, but it seems like if everyone in her life has these concerns, an intervention should be possible--especially given her AlAnon background and, presumably, former friends there who would be willing to help. Have you considered calling her AlAnon sponsor and asking for ideas?
posted by PatoPata at 8:13 AM on July 18, 2009


She must have had a neurologist at some point, I would speak with that person about the personality changes and see if they have any advice.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:59 AM on July 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


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