How to deal with a bipolar alcoholic sister
April 12, 2010 1:48 PM   Subscribe

My mother and step-father are going to Europe for a month, leaving my bi-polar alcoholic 25 year old sister alone in their house. As I am the only family member without a job that will be in town when they are gone, my mother has told me that I am responsible for keeping an eye on her. The problem is that I am a stay-at-home mom to a 2 year old daughter, that at the moment my husband does not want anywhere near my sister. What to do?

My sister has had problems with alcohol for the past 6 years. She has had 2 DUI’s, 2 stays in rehab and numerous detoxes and hospital stays for Pancreatitis. She has been relatively stable for the past month, but she tends to fall apart when my mother goes out of town. To make matters worse, during my mother’s absence she has a court date for her last DUI. As it was a Super-extreme DUI (she blew .43) things are not likely to go very well. It is possible that she will end up with 6 months of jail time in addition to numerous fines. From her last DUI I know that they do not send her to jail immediately, but assign a future time for her to report to jail. I am afraid that either before or after her court date, she will lose control and start drinking again or worse.

When she stops taking her bi-polar meds and starts drinking she becomes very emotionally manipulative. She lies, makes up emergencies and says that she is afraid that she is dying if I don’t drop everything and go to her when she calls. She is usually ok when I get there, but on rare occasions she has been genuinely sick (related to the alcohol) and I need to take her to the hospital. When I go and she is not in dire need of medical attention, my presence does nothing but provide an audience for her drama and a punching bag for her verbal abuse. I can’t ever get her to stop drinking (since she usually hides the bottles and denies the drinking) , eat or take her meds. The only thing I can do when I am there is drive her to the hospital. However when she calls, I almost always go - just in case.

My husband thinks that my mother is not being realistic or reasonable when she expects me to be responsible for my sister when she is gone. He thinks that the only thing I should do when my sister calls me is call an ambulance for her if she needs it. At the moment, he is forbidding me from allowing my child around her for two reasons. First, he does not want my daughter to get attached to her, as late stage alcoholics like my sister do not have a good prognosis or long life expectancy. Second, although my sister has never been physically abusive, he does not want her around my child when she is drinking and potentially verbally abusive.

From my side of things, she is my sister. I love her, and I can’t imagine what I would feel like if I ignored her call and she ended up dying. While I agree with his decision to keep my child away from my sister in general, I can’t assure him that I won’t take her with me if my sister calls over the next month. If I can I will drop my daughter at my mother-in-law’s but that is only an option at certain times. Other than that, I am her only caretaker.

I feel like I am so emotionally involved in this, I do not have a clear idea of what my responsibilities should be. In my mind, I don’t think a few visits over the next month will damage my daughter, and not going when my sister calls could cause more damage or even death. Am I being reasonable? Even if I am, is it ok to go against my husbands wishes on issues like this?

As far as other logistics go, one of my other sisters will be taking her to her AA meetings after she gets off work. The crazy sister will not have access to a car and there is no alcohol in the house currently (though she always seems to find a way to get some). The main issue is what to do when she calls me during the day.

I am sorry this is so long, I appreciate any advice or perspective.
posted by Lapin to Human Relations (41 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Of course there's no right answer to this - you and your husband must decide what feels fair and right to both of you - but if it were me I'd say to my husband that if he wants to create limits about your daughter seeing her aunt, then he must take responsibility for childcare when you're with your sister.

I also feel (and again, this is personal and there's no right answer) that a child's knowing an unstable person is not inherently harmful to the child. It can actually be a valuable learning opportunity as long as the primary care takers (you and your husband) are consistent, loving, and can clearly explain the unstable person's illness.
posted by serazin at 1:53 PM on April 12, 2010

Tell your mother that you are not responsible for your sister's care, that you are responsible for your CHILD's care, that your child comes first, and that she needs to either make alternate plans or stay home.

If your sister calls, you need to call her doctor or an ambulance or whatever you think appropriate.

I am so sorry you are having to deal with this.

(By the way, my grandmother was an alcoholic. My mother tried to keep me away from her when she was drunk but was not always successful. Being around her when she was drunk was incredibly frightening and traumatic for me as a small child. Don't minimize your husband's concerns.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:56 PM on April 12, 2010 [13 favorites]

As I am the only family member without a job that will be in town when they are gone, my mother has told me that I am responsible for keeping an eye on her.

You and your sister are adults, with your own lives to be responsible for. Your parents are not allowed to decide that their need to leave town trumps your husband's concerns about your daughter's safety and emotional well-being.

Discuss this with your husband, immediately, to determine what level of assistance you're willing to provide: daily visits at her place, daily phone calls, or emergency calls only. Tell your mother that your level of commitment extends only to whatever you and your husband decide -- you don't have to tell her why, that's none of her business -- and if that isn't sufficient to alleviate her concerns, she's going to have to make other arrangements.

Ultimately, you are all adults, and your emotional involvement should be about making sure she has the care she needs and that you, your husband and your daughter are not being dragged into something you're not comfortable with/equipped to handle. You and your husband should negotiate what you're willing to do as a family, just as you should be doing for other things -- but potential danger/damage to your daughter is a valid and important concern. Going "against [your] husband's wishes on issues like this" will likely cause problems for your marriage as well as your daughter.

Ultimately the one person who should not be attempting to set the tone of what you do is your mom. Leave her out of this, and make sure you're telling her what your family will commit to, not asking or suggesting. Don't back down; after all, you're a mother, too, and that gives you just as much power as she has -- you're equals now.
posted by davejay at 1:57 PM on April 12, 2010 [5 favorites]

Your husband is right about your daughter. There's no reason to expose a kid to that. Maybe reasonable minds could differ about how negative the experience will be, but it certainly isn't positive. Why waste the time?

Your folks totally dropped this in your lap. Whatever responsibility you feel toward your sister is self-created; nobody has a duty to ride herd on someone that won't control themselves. That doesn't mean you shouldn't help her where possible, but normal people call police and EMTs in an emergency and she should too. That's actually the better option: in a real emergency, an ambulance can likely get her to the ER (and EMTs can perhaps work to stabilize her) faster than you can pick her up and take here there.

Maybe your husband can take some time off and help you out?

The bottom line is that your sister is an adult. Your parents pick up the slack for her her, voluntarily, and in consequence they can't just throw that on you and make it your responsibility. You have your own life. Your daughter is a young child and is clearly your main priority, and that's to be commended.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:57 PM on April 12, 2010

Oh, and you and your husband may decide that you're not willing to provide support at all, given her penchant for lying and making up emergencies. That is also completely okay, don't let your mother browbeat you into believing otherwise.
posted by davejay at 1:58 PM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


My husband thinks that my mother is not being realistic or reasonable when she expects me to be responsible for my sister when she is gone.

Your husband is correct about this; the other things may be somewhat negotiable, but this is simply, factually correct.
posted by davejay at 1:59 PM on April 12, 2010 [10 favorites]

"When I go and she is not in dire need of medical attention, my presence does nothing but provide an audience for her drama and a punching bag for her verbal abuse"
You're not helping her by being at her beck and call. It sounds like she needs some tough love right about now. They say that alcoholics only realize what's going on when they're allowed to hit rock bottom, which they can't do when everyone else is picking them up.

Your husband is absolutely right to keep her away from your daughter. You ARE emotionally involved, and that is why you should defer to him here.. it's not his sister, so he is able to see more clearly. If it was his sister, you would be able to see how important it is to keep her craziness out of your boat and it would be him deferring to you. It's not because he's the husband, it's because he's the party who doesn't have that emotional bond that can cloud up your vision.

You can look into al-anon groups for help dealing with these issues.
posted by amethysts at 2:01 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

How heartbreaking. And your husband is right in that your mom is not really being fair, though most likely she's at her wit's end, also.

But here's the deal; she's not safe to be around and you owe your daughter safety. More than you owe your sister a rescue. If it comes down to brass tacks, I think your daughter comes first.

You might be able to avoid that choice by finding hourly drop-in daycare, or a babysitter you can call, or having your husband take your daughter if needed. But if none of that works, I would say yes, call an ambulance if it seems necessary and don't put your daughter in a dicey situation.
posted by emjaybee at 2:01 PM on April 12, 2010

my mother has told me that I am responsible for keeping an eye on her

Your mother can say anything she wants. That doesn't make it true.

You need to decide for yourself whether or not you can commit to taking this on, given your family responsibilities, your own mental health, etc. Then, inform your mother of your decision. It is then up to your mother to decide whether or not she is prepared to leave the country for a month.

If your question was "My mother wants to go on this awesome trip, and she's asked me whether I'm willing/able to look after my ill sister so that she can go," the tenor of my answer would be much different. But your mother can't order you to do something just because it makes her life more convenient.
posted by decathecting at 2:02 PM on April 12, 2010 [6 favorites]

1) Al-anon is a 12-Step based group that is for people in exactly your situation (dealing with an alcoholic and the people who are reacting to the alcoholic). It isn't FOR this, but it seems to work for people dealing with lots of kinds of dysfunctional, like mental illness. It might be worth checking out a few meetings because people there will know what you're dealing with.

2) I agree with your husband- you can check out of a lot of this if you decide to. For instance, if she calls up with an "emergency" it's completely reasonable for you to react the way you would if anyone called with an emergency, by calling 911. (Tell her you're doing it.) You are underqualified to handle emergencies (even if you were a professional, you're too close to the patient to be objective. Professionals call 911 too.)

3) At 25 your sister is an adult, even if she doesn't act like it. Even if your parents try to make it otherwise, only she is responsible for her own messes. If you decide to acquiesce to taking responsibility, realise that you're doing so, the same as if she weren't your sister.

3) Keep your children away from verbally abusive people, please please please.

You didn't cause it.
You can't control it.
You can't cure it.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:05 PM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

At the moment, he is forbidding me from allowing my child around her for two reasons.

Would you please clarify whether it is YOUR child, or your and his child? I can't get a sense of it, and frankly it makes a critical difference to me in terms of the appropriateness of his prohibitions as to who the child can and cannot see, and his responsibility in providing backup childcare so that you can attend to other family obligations, should you choose to. As you say "my child" I assume he isn't the child's father, and my own social normative values and the way I was raised would frown on a husband making blanket prohibitions of this type, with regards to a child not his own (and often, even if he were the father). YSNVMV (your socio-normative values may vary).

Am I being reasonable?

Personally, I think if you choose to allow your daughter to have brief exposure to your sister during which time you are present, that's certainly reasonable. I wouldn't let her babysit, etc., but supervised visits if you observe no danger seems perfectly fine. Leave if you see danger, etc. Child trumps adult sister in that regard.

Even if I am, is it ok to go against my husbands wishes on issues like this?

Since your husband is not your master, I would say it is always okay to go against his wishes if you have an important and valid reason for doing so, and you endeavor to reach compromise first.

I think the validity of your ignoring his stated preference is impacted by whether he is the father of this child (biological, adoptive or simply by actions and habit). That alone is not, however, solely dispositive of the question. If you feel your bringing the child to your sister's house would cause him an excess of realistic fear of danger, for example, you may want to consider his counsel. I certainly think that you have no obligation to check on your sister during your mother's absence, but I would applaud your decision to do so. Should you take on the obligation, you'll need either childcare help (which husband might have an obligation to provide if he strenuously opposes your child joining you on the trip) or to include your child in the visit. Small, short visits now might set a healthier stage for a guarded but existing familial relationship in future. On the other hand, I agree that it is unreasonable to ask you to take on the responsibility for your sister. My suggestion of checking in, is not intended to foist "responsibility", merely compromise.
posted by bunnycup at 2:11 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

this is heartbreaking and i'm so sorry to hear that you're in this situation. but i'll agree with everyone else here that your daughter comes first. your sister is a grown woman, albeit a sick one with a self-inflicted disease (alcoholism).

is there anyone else who can check in with your sister? friends, other family members, etc? ie cycle out / spread the "responsibility" so to say. i know it's hard because we always love our sisters no matter what and want to take care of them, but the fact of the matter is that in this situation, while your child is still very young and impressionable and needs hour to hour care, YOUR DAUGHTER COMES FIRST. agreed that she should not be exposed to your sister while your sister is still unwell- it will be traumatic and confusing for a child that young, especially one from such a stable household.

i also don't want to say that this is your mother's problem because your sister is more than old enough to take care of herself but it's very selfish of her just to suddenly dump this on you. not that she doesn't deserve a chance to travel and see the world, but she should have thought of other solutions than "oh, her sister isn't working and can take care of her". you should have a frank talk with her about other options as well as your responsibilities as a mother and hesitance to expose your child to your sister in this state.
posted by raw sugar at 2:13 PM on April 12, 2010

Your parents are leaving at the EXACT moment when your sister is about to be convicted of a crime with the potential for six month prison term? And they want you to take care of her if/when she is sentenced? If I were you I would be really fucking mad, but not at my sister (who, after all, clearly has some sort of illness and needs help) - I would be pissed at my parents for seemingly DELIBERATELY leaving me with a flaming bag of shit that they knew was coming. This is the height of irresponsibility/dickishness and I would not let them set foot on a plane/train/RV/boat without letting them no exactly how I felt and how angry their actions made me. When their daughter is sent to the big house for an extended stay, THEN they can take their vacation.

I'm sure your parents are very good people and that they deserve a break, but now is not the time and leaving you to clean up this potentially toxic mess is careless and classless.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:16 PM on April 12, 2010 [22 favorites]

You do have a job, you are the caretaker of your daughter. That is an incredibly important job. Put it first.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:17 PM on April 12, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'm so sorry that your parents put you in this situation.

I've got to say I agree with your husband on this one. Your sister sounds like she needs serious help of the live in rehab variety. It is not up to your parents to decide what you do with your time. Even if you didn't have a child they don't have any right to tell you that you will be the full-time on call care taker for your sister. Add in the fact that you are already taking care of a toddler and we're talking a major problem.

Just because they choose to take care of your sister doesn't mean that you have to. If they are leaving her in the house alone and don't trust her then they need to hire a nanny or some kind of adult caretaker.

I understand that maybe your parents really need this vacation, but they have no right to dump the responsibility of your sister on you. What happens if she trashes their house? Are they going to expect you to pay for the damages? This is not a path you want to go down.

"Mom, Mr. Lapin and I have talked it over and I'm sorry but I won't be available to take care of Sister. We aren't comfortable with her behavior and I will not accept responsibility for her. I won't expose my daughter to her. If she calls me when you're gone and claims to be sick I will call an ambulance. That is the extent that I'm willing to help. For my own mental health and the well being of my family I will not be responsible for her. You will have to make other arrangements."
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:17 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Sorry for the confusion - it is our child. I don't know why I wrote my instead of our. My husband was the one who actually suggested I post this to AskMe as he believes I am not thinking rationally on the subject and needed some impartial advice.

Thank you for the answers so far, it is helping me to see different perspectives.
posted by Lapin at 2:18 PM on April 12, 2010

he does not want my daughter to get attached to her, as late stage alcoholics like my sister do not have a good prognosis or long life expectancy.

A short life expectancy is not a valid reason to prevent a child from seeing someone. "Sorry baby, but grandma's going to die soon so you can't see her." Sounds insane when reframed like that, doesn't it?

IN NO WAY am I suggesting that this mitigates any of the other extremely valid reasons to prevent your daughter from contact with your sister. Best of luck with this difficult situation.
posted by Aquaman at 2:20 PM on April 12, 2010

Thanks for the follow up, Lapin. I asked only because without that key fact he sounded very controlling, but with it, and with your clarification that you are both using this AskMe in discussion and to further communication, makes me less critical of his view. In light of that fact, I understand his caution. Personally, my recommendation would be that you offer a compromise to all, telling Mom you can't take responsibility for Sis but will check in to make sure she is alive, has food, etc.. Perhaps you and Husband can agree that you will make every effort to avoid bringing your child but will need extra support for childcare, and that if no childcare is available your child might have to come along. Include proviso that if you arrive, and the situation as it exists then is not a safe, appropriate place for a child to be, you and child will leave immediately.
posted by bunnycup at 2:25 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are over 18, the response to being given orders by your parents is "no." Your mother must understand that, since you have your own family that comes first, anything she wants you to do will be treated by you as a request and therefore subject to refusal. She also needs to understand that you don't have to give her reasons. "I am unable to do this for you" is sufficient. Then offer to do what you can do, if anything, spelling out exactly what that will be.

This will undoubtedly cause some friction with your mother, but friction with your mother is infinitely preferable to friction with your spouse. Your husband is the one to whom you pledged your allegiance in a formal, public ceremony, after all.

Another person with whom you clearly need to set limits is your sister. She, too, must understand that your own family comes first, and that since you have a two-year-old child in your care, you cannot always stop what you are doing for her.

I believe that you are enabling your sister. Even if she does occasionally have an actual medical problem that needs attention, she has a phone. If she can call you, she can call an ambulance. She doesn't want to do that because of the consequences, whereas calling you is consequence-free. She needs to know that at the end of the day, she is responsible for her own welfare. Family helps each other out in emergencies, but family also does its best to make sure there aren't emergencies.

For the record, I agree with keeping your daughter away from the crazy.
posted by kindall at 2:25 PM on April 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have a mentally ill mother. I do not let my young children see her. It is not that she can physically harm them. She cannot. What she does do is say incredibly poisonous things that I do not want my children exposed to.

I think that your husband has set a reasonable boundary.
posted by DWRoelands at 2:35 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

You have a kid, and I don't think anybody in their right mind would judge you for prioritizing your kid over your sister who seems unpleasant. Tell your parents that your daughter comes first, and that if your sister starts drinking or abusing substances, that you'll call the police for a welfare check.

No one would blame you for keeping your daughter away from your sister, and I wouldn't blame you for just doing your best without overexerting yourself, no matter what your sister does.
posted by anniecat at 2:35 PM on April 12, 2010

Hmm, I'm a little concerned about the idea of you and your husband coming here for the "right" answer. I also turn to askme when I need a little perspective, but the fact is, this is a very complex issue and people's answers are heavily influenced by culture-based value systems, personal histories, etc, that may not apply to your individual decision making. If the majority sides with your husband for example, is that evidence that his position is "right"? I think what's important is finding a workable solution for you and your family - not some external value of correct behavior.

I think a theme that's come up in several answers that is worth weighing with whatever decisions you make is that you might consider who has the say in this matter. Does your mother get to tell you what to do here? Does your sister? Does your husband?

You get to decide what you do in your own life. Obviously, this effects other people too, but even clarifying the specifics of what you want in your own head may help you to have discussions with your mother, siblings, and husband.

Good luck with this tough situation.
posted by serazin at 2:52 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sometimes when I am really worked up about something and not thinking clearly, I ask my partner what to do, and I do what he says. Not because he's the boss of me, but because I recognize that sometimes he sees things much more clearly than I do, because he is steady and rational even at times when I am running around freaking out with anxiety, and because I trust his judgment.

Might this be a situation like that for you?
posted by not that girl at 2:53 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

This might not be a possibility, but could your sister stay with your family, where she wouldn't have access to alcohol?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:54 PM on April 12, 2010

1.Ask your mother what she actually expects you to do? Even if you moved into their house, there isn't much you can do stop your sister if she decides to self-destruct short of a mandatory admission to a psych ward if she is threatening or trying to kill herself.

2. It sounds like the main help you provide is listening to her on phone and going to their house if your sister decides it is an emergency. If it is, then you give her a ride to the hospital. If not, then your going only makes things worse. So, if she needs a ride to the hospital and you believe it is a true emergency, call 911. If it is a health crisis but not an emergency then call a cab or let your husband drive her (since he will show up and give her the choice to taking the ride to the hospital or he leaves.

3. Your sister and your parents need to work out some emergency plans in advance, put them in writing and give everyone a copy. She should have both a therapist and an AA sponsor available to help. A crisis hotline number might be a good thing too. If she has a serious emergency, she should call 911. If she needs an urgent but nonemergency ride, then she should have some options (eg. call a cab, maybe your husband, at any rate people that will just show up and take her to the hospital or leave if she doesn't want to go. If she calls you, remind her what her plan says.
**She really, really needs a plan for what she is going to do on her court date and afterwards. I would suggest going to an AA meeting with her sponsor right after the court session is finished and perhaps spending the evening with sober supporters from AA.***

4. Loneliness and social isolation could be major triggers for her to destabilize. Again, your sister and parents should be making a plan for her. What does she do all day now? What is she going to do all day when she is home alone? Don't let them assign you anything you aren't willing to do. (see next point)

5. If your sister is able to stay stable (sober and on her meds), you might well want to maintain social contact to help her out. However, if she starts drinking, there is really nothing you can do for her that will help - she will drag you into her drama and yet you won't be able to make things better. Time to stay far away and let her deal with the consequences of her own behavior while you take care of your family. (This might be very hard - AlAnon is a good resource and support system for you in this.)
posted by metahawk at 2:55 PM on April 12, 2010

Apologies if this is epically long and more than a bit raw; this is a very personal subject for me. It's commonly said that alcoholism is a family disease, and I think what you're experiencing is a direct result of that. Your sister has the disease, but you've all got symptoms. When someone has an addiction they aren't dealing with, it's incredibly common for everyone that loves them to make dealing with it their number one priority. This leads to all kinds of unhealthy behaviors and compromises. Everyone wants to manage the situation and keep the addict safe no matter what, and you've all been doing it so long, it feels normal. You've probably all been taking care of her for so long, you don't really realize all the tiny ways you've sacrificed your own emotional health. It's affected the relationship between you and your mother and is now causing stress between you and your husband.

But the thing is, it isn't normal. Your sister is manipulating all of you. The disease loves the power and attention. Every time you all change your schedule or make excuses or fix her problems, it makes it stronger. She will never stop as long as keeping her as happy and safe as possible is your number one priority. Your mother is willing to treat you like a child and tell you what to do, no matter how it makes you feel, because it's easier than not enabling your sister.

Your parents deserve to go on vacation. You deserve not to fight with your husband about whether or not to expose your child to someone who might scare or damage her. You deserve not to watch someone you love kill themselves by slow degrees. It can suck you dry if you don't make a change.

You may not feel like this is the right time to start drawing some boundaries with your sister and parents. You may not feel ready. You're scared she might die if you don't say "How high?" every time she says "Jump!" And she might, no matter what you do or don't do.

Acting out the unhealthy behaviors of taking care of her makes you all feel normal and safe because it's so familiar. You can't fix her or change her. All you can do is try to come out on the other side of knowing and loving her with as little emotional damage as possible. You must protect yourself, your child, and your marriage. My mother (who was married to my alcoholic/addict with bipolar symptoms father for 10 years) says "We don't change until the pain to change is less than the pain to stay the same." This might the moment when you can start that change.

Don't let the disease spread farther than it already has. A lot of damage has already been done, but even if it's terrifying and painful to change you owe it to yourself, your family, and even your sister to take care of your needs. I'm so very sorry you're in this situation and having to make these hard choices. Good luck.
posted by mostlymartha at 2:58 PM on April 12, 2010 [19 favorites]

I would be pissed at my parents for seemingly DELIBERATELY leaving me with a flaming bag of shit that they knew was coming. This is the height of irresponsibility/dickishness and I would not let them set foot on a plane/train/RV/boat without letting them no exactly how I felt and how angry their actions made me.

Absolutely...times 10,000. I would also tell them in very uncertain terms that it was THEIR decision to take care of your sister in their home, and not yours, and so you will not be babysitting her.

I have a lot of mental illness and alcoholism in my family, so please believe me when I say that I understand what you are going through. Please also believe me when I say you have become enmeshed in a co-dependent mess and it's going to take a lot of effort on your part to extract yourself. Ask yourself, what is the difference between calling an ambulance from your home and calling one from your parent's home? What is it that makes you feel that it's necessary to come running every time your sister calls you with an "emergency?" Why do you stay to have her verbally abuse you when you know it's not a real emergency? Why have you allowed your parents to make you the caregiver for your sister while they go on a MONTH LONG VACATION?

I know you love your sister, but you have to love yourself more. Consider this your big test, and don't fall into the trap your parents have set for you. It won't end here, believe me, and when your parents decide that it's time for YOU to be the primary caregiver of your sister - in your home - with your kids (and this will happen) you will wish that you had drawn the line when you had the chance.

I wish you luck - it's so very hard. Please accept your husband's support in this.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:22 PM on April 12, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm very sorry you're having to deal with this situation. Even if your parents are in desperate need of a break, your sister is their daughter and they are the ones who should be responsible for taking care of her in their absence, not laying all the responsibility on you.

I have a sibling who was a drug addict, went to jail multiple times and was a compulsive liar. I say "was" because this sibling is not completely free of their addiction but they have been able to hold down a job, take responsibility for their actions and realize the consequences of failure. Your sister may feel like the black sheep, that there's no way she can ever be one of the good daughters, that the bottle is her only real friend. It's a sickness.

You love your sister, it sounds like you would like her to know your daughter but understandably (and I agree with other people who have responded) your sister is not a healthy person to be around right now. You also have a right to your opinions, even if you feel you're being manipulated by your sister. If there's no way to get out of the responsibility that your parents have given you, pull in all the support you can whether it's other friends or a hotline.

When they get back, you need to sit your parents down and tell them that you DO have a job, your job is taking care of yourself and your daughter and it's not OK for them to throw this at you.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 3:56 PM on April 12, 2010

I can’t assure him that I won’t take her with me if my sister calls over the next month.

The fact that your sister's erratic and abusive behaviors stem from mental illness and addiction does not change the fact that you need to protect your child from her. If you can't do what your mother is demanding without bringing your child along, you can't do what your mother is demanding. It doesn't make you a bad daughter to tell her no, and it doesn't make you a bad sister to prioritize your child. It means you're choosing to act on behalf of the person in this situation who can't make make adult decisions (such as going on vacation or cooperating with medical treatment).
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:30 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Your parents are leaving on an exceptionally long trip as modern life goes; granted they deserve (and may need) a vacation but this is a whopper. I'm shocked they would leave their responsibilities to others for such a period. Your sister is such a responsibility, even at 25, or they would not support her at home. Double so, if they know your sister gets worse when her mother is away.
2. Your other siblings who work have phones at their jobs, no less than you do at the place (home) that you work (taking care of your child). While you may feel it is fair to do your share of helping, being on call every day 9-5 is a far heavier burden than after-work car service -- and of course it comes at a time when your childcare makes it virtuallly impossible for you to do more than talk. (Your siblings at work may actually be far less pinned down than you.) Can you arrange something more balanced, where you would help sometimes only, and at a time when your husband can be looking after your child?
3. It also seems entirely reasonable, given (1), for you to say you can't take this on for a full month, either. Family harmony requires more than sacrifices, it requires compromises. If you feel you should help -- some -- your mother and stepfather can also help -- some -- by going for a shorter time.
Good luck.
posted by Bet Glenn at 4:41 PM on April 12, 2010

I haven't read all the answers above, but mine is brief.

Q: How many legs does a dog have if you call a tail a leg?

A: 4. Calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg.

More directly: your mother saying that you are responsible for your sister does not make you responsible for your sister.

Of course, this is easier said than done. These kinds of difficult and irration situation (with the added bonus of violence) caused me to separate from my family as a teenager. I don't envy you in navigating this conversation with your mother, sister, and others.

I suspect that any path you choose will have uncomfortable implications, but I agree with previous posters who say that your child (and husband, to a lesser extent) have priority.

Feel free to me-mail if you have any other questions, or need an ear.
posted by bilabial at 4:52 PM on April 12, 2010

Thank you everyone for your answers. They really are all best answers, but I marked the ones that have some specific advice about the actions I need to take.

Originally my sister's trial was supposed to be in March, but she got a deferral to mid May. There really was no benefit to her deferral, she seems to have done it to disrupt my parent's vacation. So my parents originally did think she would be in jail during their trip, however I am still angry at them for dumping this in my lap. It isn't an isolated incident, they have done it before, but not for so long and not since I have had a child.

It has really helped me reading this. My husband comes from a fairly normal, very stable family - I do not. I am realizing that my background has somewhat colored my view of normal family boundaries and responsibilities. I talked to my husband and we are going to talk to my parents together tomorrow and set some clear plans and boundaries for their month away. The plan in the past has always been "hope for the best", obviously that isn't working. I have agreed to keep our child out of this mess and away from my sister until she shows clear signs of recovery. My husband has offered to go to my sister himself if there is a clear need, since she can't manipulate him they way she does me.

I will also look into AA meetings, I never realized that they helped those hurt by alcoholics in addition to the alcoholics themselves.
posted by Lapin at 5:04 PM on April 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not that finding an open AA meeting is a bad idea, but Al-anon is more focussed on what you're dealing with. It's a separate (but related) organization.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:15 PM on April 12, 2010

Prepare yourself for your parents to be very unhappy with you tomorrow. They're not trying to make you take care of your sister out of spite; they're doing it because it solves a problem for them -- a really scary and difficult problem. I don't know how they're most likely to react when you refuse to be the savior they expect you to be, but I can't imagine it will be pleasant. Maybe they will be angry, or maybe they'll try to convince you that taking care of her is no big deal, or maybe they'll accuse you of being uncaring. Maybe they'll blame your decisions on your husband and try to frame him as a bad guy. Whatever the particulars, their response will almost certainly be intended to get you to do what they want, for their comfort. Forgive them for this; they're in a tough spot. But hold your position on whatever decisions you and your husband have made ahead of time -- it's the only way anything will change.
posted by jon1270 at 6:20 PM on April 12, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ah, I thought al-anon and AA were the same thing. Thanks small_ruminant.
posted by Lapin at 7:12 PM on April 12, 2010

Just FYI, every Al-Anon meeting is different. I do agree with the posters who say you should try attending. Al-Anon has been extraordinarily helpful to me at times, when dealing with family members who are addicts and mentally ill. But if you go to a meeting and find it not your cup of tea, try attending a different one -- every meeting has a different vibe, and it may take you two or three to find one you like.

Hang in there. You're in a tough situation, but it sounds like you're really getting your head around the fact that you can neither control nor save your sis. I realized the same thing about my drug addicted, mentally-ill sister. She's since sobered up, gotten control of her mental stuff, and can be very fun to be around. But she did all the work -- she had to do it herself. Had she died, back at the depths of her illnesses, it would have been tragic. But it would not have been my fault.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:15 PM on April 12, 2010

Too irritated to read the entire thread. Your mother/parents are totally messing things up for both you and your sister. If your parents want to go away for a month, they should first boot your sister out of the house and change the locks. Sounds cold, I know. Of course a part of me screams NO about that. But it's true.

Your mother/parents are only enabling your sister to continue on her path of self destruction. They need to detach, you need to detach, your sister needs to be responsible for herself. She'll never do that so long as you and your parents make it easier for her to act out over her emotions, and get drunk and have someone help her deal with being drunk.
posted by Goofyy at 11:44 PM on April 12, 2010

My husband thinks that my mother is not being realistic or reasonable when she expects me to be responsible for my sister when she is gone. He thinks that the only thing I should do when my sister calls me is call an ambulance for her if she needs it.

I think your husband might have a better read on this situation. He's not as emotionally involved as you are. If your sister calls and says she is dying, call an ambulance. Meet her at the hospital.
posted by amicamentis at 8:02 AM on April 13, 2010

I also just wanted to say that I totally get why you would feel that if your sister died, you'd take on some guilt. But it would not be your fault. I know I cannot get that into your head. As others have suggested above, you would benefit A LOT from the support of others that have been through this. I have a brother in a very similar situation, and have attended Al-Anon myself. They can help you understand the dynamics of this disorder and how to care for yourself. It sounds like your entire family has lived your lives centered around her since the beginning, and it hasn't helped. Maybe try something different? Maybe your parents leaving right now is PERFECT timing.
posted by heatherly at 9:29 AM on April 13, 2010

I wanted to follow up in case anyone checks back.

A few days after the post, we had a family meeting with my mother and other sisters to make a plan and place some boundaries on our level of involvment with the alcoholic sister. This was unfortunately facilitated by the fact that my sister had a meltdown and had already started drinking again before I posted the question, unbeknownst to me.

Because of her recent actions, my mother didn't feel comfortable leaving us responsible anyways, so she ponied up money for another round of rehab for the duration of the trip. My sister agreed to go because she thinks it may lessen her jail time. My only involvment now is visiting her in rehab weekly - without the baby.

While I would have been off the hook anyways, I did have a talk with my mom about expectations and boundaries for the future. She took it surprisingly well - I think because she already knew her expectations weren't fair but was hoping I would just go along with it all anyways.

I hope Rehab sticks this time, but from her attitudes at my visits so far, it seems unlikely.

I want to thank everyone for their help and support. I have been to one Al-Anon meeting so far and it has really helped put things in perspective and hopefully will give me the tools to cope with this all in the future.
posted by Lapin at 12:54 PM on May 5, 2010

Thanks for the update! Good luck to you and your family, Lapin.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:41 PM on May 5, 2010

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