Stare down the emotional pit or look elsewhere?
September 30, 2011 8:18 AM   Subscribe

How do you deal with difficult family situations without imploding?

This is a follow-up to this question. Your answers were all so helpful that I'm back for more.

My brother is now home from jail and engaged in a terrifying cycle of alcohol, pot and med abuse, shoplifting, irresponsible sex, and terrorizing my parents. His felony vandalism charge was reduced and he was released on condition that he pay a court-ordered fine of $1000 by October 31. My parents have agreed to allow him to work at my dad's company to earn the money, but he is constantly too high/wasted/hungover to work or refuses to do so. It has come to my attention that he is threatening my mom that he will flee the country or kill himself if they don't just give him the money, which they are refusing to do. He is unpredictable, manipulative, and very mentally unstable.

I guess my question boils down to this: how do you deal with situations like this in a helpful way without imploding? I live 1,000 miles away and am still dealing with my family's legacy of abuse and drama in lots of therapy and the occasional Al-Anon meeting. My family is a LOT more functional these days, but the fallout in my life has been severe...I'm a depressed, compulsive eater who struggles with establishing appropriate adult boundaries.

That said, I'm also the only person in my family who appears to be thinking reasonably. My parents are on a 24-hour survival cycle, though they are attending NAMI meetings, and are totally flummoxed by my brother's behavior. My two siblings have both broken contact with my brother and my parents are very upset about their outspoken opinions about his behavior and refusal to attend family functions where he is present. As for me...I try to focus on helping them find resources, but I am having trouble sleeping and the situation weighs on my heart and mind more than I can express.

I want my brother to get help, but I know he needs to participate in order for it to work. I want my parents to get a clue and kick him out, but I feel the same fear they do that the consequences will be dire and he will end up homeless or dead. I worry that by even expressing my opinion, I will alienate my increasingly tired and confused parents, but at the same time I can't bear the constant stream of depressing, anxiety-producing news about my brother. How can I be helpful in this situation without compromising my own sanity or boundaries?

TL;DR: What experiences, tactics, and techniques have you used to get through difficult family situations?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like for the most part, lending an ear and taking care of yourself are the most helpful things you can do.
posted by michaelh at 8:29 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best case scenario: Brother engages in his own treatment and works toward getting better.
Second best case scenario: Parents bite the bullet, kick Brother out of the house, and refuse to engage until he shows evidence of the above.
Third case scenario: Brother and Parents continue to spiral through ingrained pattern of anger, co-dependency, and abuse.

Notice there aren't mentions of you in any of these scenarios? You can't fix any of this. Listen when they want to talk. Be grateful for the 1000 miles between you and them. Take care of yourself.

You say you can't bear the constant stream of depressing, anxiety-producing news, but unless you intend to cut off contact, you're going to have to deal with it. The most helpful thing you can do is listen.
posted by dchrssyr at 8:42 AM on September 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

You can set boundaries with your parents about what they discuss with you. If it's upsetting to you to get news about your brother, ask them not to discuss him with you.

If they do, then try to be as calm and rational about discussing his situation with you, and stop the conversation when it gets overwhelming. Your parents are adults, as is your brother, and while it's a tough situation, they're going to do what they're going to do with or without you worrying about it, especially given the geographic distance between you.
posted by xingcat at 9:03 AM on September 30, 2011

I think your brother should go back to jail since it seems the safest place for someone so dangerous to himself and others. Jail with rehab, but basically, your brother needs to be incarcerated. Full stop.

The next time your brother is physically violent, your parents need to call the police and press charges.
posted by jbenben at 9:04 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is more about maintaining boundaries, but one thing I do to help myself is to listen to them, agree it's hard, and then hang up and go do something for myself.

Exercise, work toward a personal goal, pay the bills, cook a healthy meal, talk to a friend about my own life/work/what have you. It helps to remind you of the boundary, of the fact that you have stuff of your Own to pay attention to, that you and your needs are important, that yours is the only life you can save.
posted by ldthomps at 9:06 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

As it turns out, there is a deadline on this: October 31st. Isn't the best-case scenario here that he is actually incarcerated? If that's the consequence of your parents not giving him $1,000, is that so bad? You can bring this up with your parents. Three-hots-and-a-cot (and suicide watch, and mandatory detox) sounds pretty good. In other words, when they call you, you can say, "Hang on. Just one more month. None of us are equipped to get him the help he needs, but he will get it. Just one more month. It will be okay."

Variations on this include, "Mom, dad, I know in your hearts that you would pay $1,000 and more if you could to get him some help. But in this case, NOT paying him $1,000 will get him some help. Hang in there." and "Mom, I know it's hard. But you can make it one more month if you keep your resolve up." and "Dad, you're a good father, and even though brother can't see it, we all know you're trying to help him under insurmountable odds. Just hang in there one more month and he'll be incarcerated again, and can get the help he needs."
posted by juniperesque at 9:09 AM on September 30, 2011 [8 favorites]

In direct answer to your question about how not to implode...

I think you should join your siblings in taking a hard line against your parents while they enable your brother.

Your parents are actively minimizing a truly dangerous situation. Deep down I'm sure they are terrified of your brother. What they need is a sophisticated house alarm system and a restraining order. Their lives are directly in danger, and yet they are in denial.

You help your parents by refusing to go a long with their denial and choice to put themselves in mortal danger.

Urge them to seek out a lawyer for a restraining order and a security system for their home. It sounds like your brother is always on the verge of going back to jail, your parents need to stop standing in the way of that.

Your parents' are not helping your brother by "helping" him. The time to make this clear is now, not after someone ends up in the hospital or dead.

You handle this situation appropriately by treating it like what it is.
posted by jbenben at 9:34 AM on September 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Does your brother have a caseworker you could notify?
posted by adamrice at 10:10 AM on September 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

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