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Alcohol doesn't solve your problems, it compounds them.
May 5, 2010 4:03 PM   Subscribe

My mother is depressed, and I suspect she's abusing alcohol. I'm doing the best I can, but looking for suggestions as to what I should actually be doing to help.

Brief backstory: history of depression, my grandmother suffered from both anxiety and depression and was hospitalized multiple times for it. My mom fell on hard times when my grandparents became ill and passed away over the course of about 2-3 years, during which time she dropped everything and moved back in with them. During that time she started to abuse alcohol and sleeping meds, which escalated to the point of an involuntary stay at an inpatient treatment center for addiction. Prior to the rehab, she was regularly waking up in different states with no memory of how she got there. She got into car accidents, was likely mistreated by some of the shady characters she leaned on during that time, and my brother and I received about half a dozen phone calls from hospitals in different states. She ended up with some memory loss, but after treatment seemed much better. She moved into the same city that my brother and I live in (my brother is older than me and is married with kids. I am 22 and finishing my undergrad degree at a local university) and took a job that she hates. Admittedly, it's a depressing job. But she's held on to it for about 3 years now which is fantastic, and has just recently decided to quit and try to move somewhere new. Anyway, that brings us up to the current situation. So now she's telling me how lonely she is. She hasnt been with anyone in years, and the most recent relationships she's had have been enablers-- not the best friends to have for someone who struggles with addiction.

So, here's what I told her. I said, number one, I can't fix your problems and I can't fix your life. You're the only one who can do that, and you have to make choices which will bring you closer to the kind of life you want to lead.

I suggested that she join a group or a club or AA (an idea she hates), start doing some online dating, stop drinking, see a therapist and start journalling. I told her that was the best advice I had to offer, and that I have a strong feeling these changes would help.

My question is, am I doing too much? Not enough? I really want her to be happy, but I truly believe that I can't make these changes for her. I just kept quoting Ghandi "Be the change you wish to see in the world", yet she doesn't seem to be getting it. I'm concerned that if she's not able to kick herself out of this rut she's found herself in that she'll revert back to the level of substance abuse she was at prior to rehab, which devastated her life and all of her relationships.

"I just don't know how someone could get this depressed and lonely...?" She said. "Years of practice," I told her.

I feel all alone in this, given that my dad doesn't speak to either my brother or my mom, and my mom and my brother have such a rocky relationship fueled by years of built up grudges and unresolved fights... I feel like I have to shoulder all of this, and it's up to me to fix it. My brother doesn't even know the extent of it, and I don't think he wants to know. Even if I told him he would likely condemn my mother and that would just make everything worse... I'm at a bit of a loss. At the same time I feel like maybe I'm being wrong in assuming things about my brother... he's just so wrapped up in his kids that he hardly has time for a phone call or a quick lunch, let alone a serious "what should we do" type of conversation about our mother.

...Help?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total)
 
There's a lot of contradiction in what you wrote. There's this:

I can't fix your problems and I can't fix your life. You're the only one who can do that, and you have to make choices which will bring you closer to the kind of life you want to lead.

and then this:

I feel like I have to shoulder all of this, and it's up to me to fix it.

I think you know which one is correct - that you can't fix her - but you WANT to fix her nonetheless. I, too, am an adult child of a currently drinking alcoholic and I can't tell you how much I understand that feeling and empathize with where you are right now. It's very, very difficult to let go of the hope that you can save someone you love. But the reality is, you can't. Anything you do to prop her up or try to solve her problems only makes it easier for her to continue living the life she is living right now. She has got to find her own way.

The only thing you can do here is decide how involved you want to be in your mother's life, given that she very well may not make any decisions to improve her situation and that it may even get worse. I highly recommend finding an Al-Anon meeting and going at least a few times. Those rooms are full of people just like us and they can help you figure out how much of yourself you are willing to give.
posted by something something at 4:22 PM on May 5, 2010


She needs a lot of things, but you can't help her unless she decides she wants to change and works to make those changes herself.

So, focus on you. You need to go into therapy to deal with how hard it is to feel like you need to be a parent to your own mother. If you keep yourself strong and in a good place (not co-dependent) you'll be better suited to help her when she's ready.

So, the answer is go to therapy yourself.
posted by jardinier at 4:34 PM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Help her find a therapist. But nothing else.

When you're at the bottom of a hill that it took years to get to, it's going to take time to climb out too. There are no quick fixes; she needs this pointed out, but not her nose rubbed in it.

When you're at the bottom of a well it looks pretty damn dark. And thats how she feels. She doesn't even know how she got there. It's not your fault shes there; you can nudge her in the right direction- support her, but don't carry her.

She's the only one who can truly improve things.

You don't have to shoulder it- you're barely getting into your own life. You probably ought to see a therapist yourself to talk about some of the abandonment and guilt issues.

The only tough love would be to tell your mom that you don't want to hear about things unless she does something positive for herself too.
posted by filmgeek at 5:01 PM on May 5, 2010


You are strikingly mature and have exactly the right logical perspective, but emotionally you are not caught up. There is no magic way to save your mom, or even a way to try without going nuts. A therapist could help you, but there is also Al anon! Go to an al anon meeting! You will be surrounded by folks in strikingly similar situations. They can help you navigate.
posted by pazazygeek at 5:18 PM on May 5, 2010


Al-Anon, definitely. It's free, and it's eerie how similar people's stories are. There are meetings especially geared toward adult children of alcoholics (usually one day per week).
posted by selfmedicating at 5:46 PM on May 5, 2010


I feel like I have to shoulder all of this, and it's up to me to fix it.

I would hesitate to brand this pure codependency, as many (most?) adult children particularly daughters, seem to feel this way about their parents. Most of us feel at least somewhat responsible to help those whom we love and care about.

That said, your mom is an adult. You can't - no one can - make her go to therapy, stop drinking, or what have you. You cannot help an adult who does not want help. I recommend therapy, support groups, Al-Anon, a spiritual practice, anything that can help you "detach with love." You can love your mom without having to fix her.

It's a twelve-step saying that sometimes addicts have to hit bottom before they can accept help. This is often much harder on the friends and family of the addict than the addict themselves! Your mom will only accept help when SHE is ready. In the meantime, realize that just because you can't fix your mom doesn't mean you don't love her.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:37 PM on May 5, 2010


Unfortunately, misery loves company as they say, and with alcoholics that company comes in the form of a bottle. Something that's often repeated is addiction is a disease, and one which you have no control over. The inpatient detox is only one phase, preventing relapse is where therapy comes in, whether AA, NA, CA, psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, friends, family, doctor, medication for the reasons she drinks, getaway, whatever works. But, she has to want it. What are things she used to do, or new things she wants to do, that alcohol interferes with? There has to be motivation on her side.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 8:51 PM on May 5, 2010


I've been there. The really short but difficult answer is that she won't change until she's ready and there's nothing you can do about that. It's enough to say, "Mom, I think you have a problem and I wish you'd get help. When you're ready, I'll be there to help you." That's all you can do. The other thing you can do is joint Alanon or a similar group. It might help you to talk about it. I wish there were an easier answer. Good luck.
posted by bananafish at 12:00 PM on May 6, 2010


So, here's what I told her. I said, number one, I can't fix your problems and I can't fix your life. You're the only one who can do that, and you have to make choices which will bring you closer to the kind of life you want to lead.

I suggested that she join a group or a club or AA (an idea she hates), start doing some online dating, stop drinking, see a therapist and start journalling. I told her that was the best advice I had to offer, and that I have a strong feeling these changes would help.

What you've told her are exactly the correct things to tell her. You are right on target.

My question is, am I doing too much?

If what you are doing is telling your mother what you've told us in the sentences I've quoted above, you are doing the exact right amount of things, not too little and not too much.

And, for you -- AlAnon. Whether or not you like the whole thing or not, there are people in AlAnon who know what you're walking. There is strength in numbers; people can do together what they cannot do on their own -- walking with others who have this going on will help you hold to the right path for you.

It's brutally hard sometimes -- I have a friend who is just about exactly in your situation. She's highly competent in all areas of her life but is finding this really difficult; given what she's said about her situation, I cannot imagine her being able to do this without AlAnon.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:27 PM on May 6, 2010


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