I don't want Dad to be a drunk!
December 1, 2008 8:48 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with a parent who seems to be developing a problem with drugs/alcohol BEFORE we end up on "Intervention"? Long story inside.

My dad has struggled with anxiety/depression for as long as I can remember (he apparently attempted suicide sometime before I was born), but recently he's going into a complete tail spin like I've never seen before. I think he's developing a serious problem with drugs and alcohol (he is prescribed klonopin for anxiety but I think he's abusing it) and I want to help him. My sister is also in recovery and agrees with me, but we're not totally sure what to do. We have noticed him being drunk and high over the course of the last week, so it seems to have all developed very quickly.

Aside from his existing problems with depression, the source of his current despair is pretty easy to pinpoint. My sister is currently involved in a messy custody battle with her (abusive, violent, general bastard) ex-husband. About two weeks after the last court date, my father was arrested. Apparently, the ex was accusing him of assaulting the ex-husband with an axe (yeah, seriously) and now my dad has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. For the record, this never happened and is ridiculously untrue. Now my father isn't allowed near my sister's son, and has moved into a hotel about 20 minutes from our family home (where my sister, her son, and my mom live). He used to work out of state as a nurse, but since being charged, he can't leave the state and lost his job. My mom also works out of state until the end of December (at the same job he used to have) so she is only home 3-4 days a week and she stays at the house so my sister doesn't have to be alone with her son (my sister is still afraid of her husband and doesn't like to be alone much). So Dad basically sits in his hotel room, drinking and using, puttering around. He's told my sister and I both seperately that he feels suicidal, and wants to die and feels hopeless. I don't know if he's said the same to my mom. He's also confessed to my sister that he's been gambling a little online "to relax" and that he hid it from Mom so she wouldn't be upset. The one time I've visited him at the hotel, the place was a wreck and I think he'd pooped in the bathtub since it reeked of feces. This is a sad, pathetic state for a daughter to see her father in...and I don't know how to react.

Obviously, being charged with something so serious based on some dickweed's lie is going to make anyone feel despair, and the longer it drags on, the more hopeless my dad feels. I truly, truly empathize with him, but this is not the way to handle it. I'm so angry with him, and resent him for neglecting his responsibilities. I also struggle with depression (in treatment for it and on antidepressants) and I have been suicidal (as recently as 2 weeks ago) but I don't get to get high and drink and ignore the world. I get yelled at when I do that. In a weird way, I'm almost jealous.

The living situation is, in my opinion, a HUGE part of the problem. My father and I are similar in that, when we're alone, we dwell on negative things and work ourselves up into a frenzy until we're going crazy. Being alone in a hotel room all the time isn't his fault, and not helping. I suggested to my sister that we find a three-bedroom place together elsewhere in the city so Mom and Dad can live at the family home, and then we'll take care of my sister's fears of being by herself and my parents can go back to a slightly more normal married life. I haven't brought it up to my family, but I also want to live back at home because I'm intensely lonely and depressed in my current city, two hours away. So the move would be beneficial for me too.

I know I need to put the anger and resentment aside, but once I do that...now what? I feel helpless, like a drain on my family's dwindling resources (my sister's divorce has cost us close to $80k so far), and like I want my parents to be here for me in my struggles and not the other way around. I'm worried he's suicidal, I'm worried he's abusing his prescription, I'm worried he'll lose his job permanently (he's in the medical field and I'm pretty sure abusing prescription drugs is no bueno for that). Can/should I have him committed as a danger to himself? Ignore it? Tell him all the stuff I put here and hope he wakes up and stops?

FWIW, some background info: Mom and Dad are married, both in their early 50s. My sister is 24 (her son is 2 1/2) and I'm 22 female. We are both students, taking next semester off to work and make some money for the family. I also have an older brother who lives in the same city but he and his wife just had a baby (the same day as my father's arrest) and are slightly preoccupied.

Also, I am not involved in the legal situation at all. He and my sister are both lawyered up and that will all HOPEFULLY work out for the best, the way it should. I'm sorry about the length; some of it is cathartic and some I just feel like I need to fully explain the horrible messiness of it to get good advice. :)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think you hit the nail on the head with the living situation. I'm sure many other people will address the mental health and substance issues you talk about, but I think finding somewhere else for your father to live is absolutely imperative. He appears to have gone into a tailspin and while being depressed isn't out of character, this level self destructiveness is. Could your brother take him in? I realize he just had a baby, but it appears the situation could be life or death, not to be melodramatic, so it may simply be necessary. Alternatively I would find a sublease for you and your sister and her child asap like you suggest. It sounds like you are on the right track, now you just need to be the one to take the bull by the horns and make it happen. It sounds like everyone is sort of in shock and paralyzed by the situation, you need to start looking at apartments and make things happen.
posted by whoaali at 9:49 PM on December 1, 2008

Do you have a therapist? I suggest talking to them about how to handle talking to your family. Maybe you can practice a few different scenarios with them. A close friend could also provide a sounding board but it sounds like you are a little far away from your friends. In the meantime perhaps your Dad could come and stay with you for a week or so? You guys could keep each other company.
posted by fshgrl at 10:01 PM on December 1, 2008

Fix the living conditions first as whoaali said, which may stop the slide.

I don't think you two living together is a good idea if you are both prone to depression and negative thoughts. His addiction problems might infect you (your jealousy of his oblivious state might indicate this is likely), and you definitely need to be in working order to help sort this out.

A therapist (or Al-Anon) is likely a good idea for you just so you have someone to talk to, I don't know what approach might work best for your father, but try and rope in any other organizations or friends that can help. Has he been to AA or NA before?

Having him committed will not help the legal accusation problem. Telling him what you've posted here can't hurt, but it might help coming from a trusted third party - it's really difficult for kids to tell their parents anything.
posted by benzenedream at 10:28 PM on December 1, 2008

Can/should I have him committed as a danger to himself?

In my opinion, this is the last thing he needs. Look at it like this: He and your mom had a house, a marriage, and three grown children. Suddenly, his daughter has moved back home, he's been arrested and charged with a serious crime, he's lost his job, and spent a good portion of his retirement money paying for her custody battles. And, he's been kicked out of his own home, to go sit in a hotel by himself. Heck, I'd be depressed and drink, too!

I suggested to my sister that we find a three-bedroom place together elsewhere in the city so Mom and Dad can live at the family home, and then we'll take care of my sister's fears of being by herself and my parents can go back to a slightly more normal married life.

I think this is a better solution, but really only half of a solution. Yes, your dad should be allowed back into his own home! If this means his grown daughter and her children need to find their own place, well, that's normal isn't it? Just be aware that, until she settles her custody battle, she's going to be carrying a lot of drama and bills with her.

This is just a guess, but I think what really needs to be fixed is your sister. She's 24, with a 2 year old child, and she's still in school and living at home. She's also passing along her debts to her parents, and allowing a custody issue to break up her parents' home. You say little about your brother -- I wonder if he feels the same about your sister?
posted by Houstonian at 2:05 AM on December 2, 2008

I'm so angry with him, and resent him for neglecting his responsibilities.... I know I need to put the anger and resentment aside....

To stop being angry with your dad, take a new perspective. You and your sister are grown-ups now. Your parents will always love you, but they have no responsibilities here to help clean up messes. Despite that, he's given his home, his marriage, his job, his money, and his happiness to help your sister. I can't see that he's neglecting his responsibilities -- in fact, he's shouldering more than he's required, by far. Really, what else can he give?
posted by Houstonian at 2:24 AM on December 2, 2008 [5 favorites]

Aw, I just feel so much for all of you in this. If it helps any, I think the crazy allegations that have put the cherry on the turd that is this situation will help you in the long run. It's pretty clear that the only reason her ex would do this would be out of sheer spite... and I can't see how it would do anything but bite him on the ass when it comes to resolving the custody issue. Interfering with a man's livelihood is in a completely separate league than the normal sorts of "looks at me crosseyed" sorts of he said/she said custody stuff.

Just talk to your dad, let him know you love him and respect him for what he's done for his family. Maybe he's feeling like it's all been in vain. It hasn't... and reinforcing that fact can only help. Maybe he's drinking because he's bored? What can he do to get back into the swing of things? Any chance he could go over and help your brother and his wife with their new baby? Take the other kids out? Help fold laundry? Pick up groceries for them? Anything you can do with your dad, yourself?

Seconding Houstonian - you need to come to grips with why you're angry with a father who has, from what you've presented, been living up to his responsibilites and then some. He's been incredibly supportive, and is paying a heavy price. As are you. Which responsibilities is he neglecting, exactly? Maybe if you look at it objectively, you might come to some sort of peace about things. That's what your family could use more than anything right now... some peace.

Best of luck
posted by Grrlscout at 3:08 AM on December 2, 2008

Were I your father, I think the best thing for me would just be lots of support and encouragement. "Don't dwell on the bogus charge against you. It's clearly BS, and that will come out soon enough, if you keep yourself together in the meantime. If you continue with this you may just 'prove' them right that you're a bad person. After it's done, you'll get another great job. For now, just try to work anywhere you can - the grocery store even, to keep yourself occupied (this would be important for me, as it probably is for him)." Do try to do something to make the living situation better so you can maximize the support you can offer each other and minimize the extra effort it takes. Don't have him committed. That is a last resort ideally for those who are supremely unstable and harmful to themselves or society, and who can not be taken care of by those in their safety net. An outpatient program is much more reasonable. You might look into one to see if you think it will help. For now, support each other (sounds like Dad is not the only one needing a lot of support), and think positively. A family counselor also sounds like it may be a good idea. When more than one member is dealing with depression and the family is in a situation like yours, it may be hard to support each other and easy to get angry instead. An outside party, with experience in these situations may be a great help.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:57 AM on December 2, 2008

If your Dad is suicidal, he needs immediate mental health care. Allow a mental health care professional to assess whether he should be hospitalized. If he's self-medicating, then his meds need to be adjusted. Again, mental health professional.

Meanwhile, he needs good legal representation for what is a very serious charge. As a nurse, he should be able to get temp work quite easily. Working helps people structure their time, and provides a lot of positive feedback. While he's unable to live at home, visit really often, bring videos, music, books. Gambling can suck a person's finances dry in no time at all. He sounds badly bored & depressed. Again, mental health professional.

As a student, you should have access to counseling. You would likely benefit from talking to someone, and it would be a good outlet outside the family. Your family is in the middle of a crisis; this is when you really need professional help.
posted by theora55 at 6:47 AM on December 2, 2008

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