Alcoholism, parents and dealing with both.
October 17, 2011 7:06 AM   Subscribe

My dad is 63. He's been diagnosed with pancreatitis, but there are a whole host of complicating factors, for that and for everything else. I'm at pretty much the end of my tether. Some advice?

A quick bit of history: my father is a long term – for as long as I can remember, and I'm 34 – alcoholic whose booze history involves weeks or months of being sober followed by usually a 2 or 3 week bender, followed by sobering up again, followed by a bender. Mostly he deals with this as well as can be expected: get pissed, spend a couple of weeks remaining so, and then a couple of days feeling like shit, before sorting himself out. There are various reasons behind his drinking, but chief among them is dealing with the death of my mother 12 years ago. They were childhood sweethearts and were married for just shy of 30 years. However, being a Scottish male of a particular age/class, this is just Something He Will Not Discuss. (Save for when he's drunk, which is pretty pointless, because then all the focus is on how he misses her, and not that he's monumentally depressed as a result.)

Two weeks ago he was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with pancreatitis, due pretty much solely to his latest period of chugging back a bottle of vodka a day. This was maybe the fifth or sixth time since his early 30s that he's ended up in hospital because of alcohol-related issues. Two days later he checked himself out of the hospital, against both professional medical advice and the pleading of me and my brother – there were tears, and declarations from him that he actually didn't give a shit what we thought, because it was his decision. This was a few hours after he'd been moved into the hospital's High Dependency Unit, which is where they move people whom they want to keep a much closer eye on. Since then, with the support of his GP, he's been at home, but he's not doing well. (He's much worse than when he came out of hospital.) Part of this, I suspect, is that he's combining the prescribed drugs he's on – diazepam for sleeping; thiamine to get him more vitamins – with a variety of self-administered stuff: he's chugging away on paracetamol, alka-selzter which contains aspirin, and some form of Panadol which is loaded with caffiene, which may help explain why, even though he's knocking back diazepam, he's not sleeping. He's got horrible muscle pains in his abdomen and left leg, and is so affected by them that he needs help to get from his bed to the bathroom. He's eating, just, but not nearly as much as he should be, which is affecting his energy levels and hence meaning he's spending all his time in bed. Which, in turn, is exacerbating the muscle pain.

The medical upshot of this is that basically, he needs to go back into hospital, whether he likes it or not, even though they won't let him smoke in the ward. What I'm having trouble dealing with is where we go from here. Myself and my brother have spent most of our life dealing with his drinking in various forms, and I'm coming to the end of my rope. It's horrible and upsetting to see him as sick and frail as he is; on the other hand, it's enormously frustrating to hear him say, to our faces, that essentially what we think doesn't matter, and if he wants to drink himself to death then that's his prerogative. (He has been told, by multiple doctors, that his options are either stop drinking now, or die within a couple of years, maximum. It's that stark.) Which, in a sense, it is, and I can grasp that on an intellectual level. But when it's your own father baldly stating that no amount of pleading from his own children will change his mind, this becomes pretty hard to digest.

I've been down the Al-Anon route before (as has my brother, and before she died, my mum), and while in some ways it was useful, it was in others pointless. Having looked at local groups, I'd rather avoid this. My dad has never been anywhere near AA and is not going to change on that front. Most other therapy similarly fails to meet his standards: having a degree in psychology and working mainly in that field until his 50s, he reckons they're all know-nothing muppets with whom he'd rather engage in intellectual jousting than let them help him. (And he's very good at this, which is one of the things that makes him so frustrating.)

I know that he can only accept help if he's willing to, but trying to convince him that he's worth that help is doing my nut. It's affecting me at work (I keep having to take days off and while obviously this is important, it's starting to affect my job so much that work are noticing it and I would rather not lose my job after two years of unemployment), it's not helping with my own problems – I've been dealing with depression in various forms, and coping in various wise and not-so-wise ways, since my teens – and most importantly of all, it's not doing my dad any good. But having felt like I've exhausted all the options over the past 20 years, I'm out of them.

Any advice – particularly from people who have been in similar situations – is much appreciated. What I want to know is this:
(i) How do I deal with this situation and stay sane at the same time?
(ii) How can I best encourage my dad to help himself, bearing in mind his background and his stubborn, snotty nature to anyone who, in a professional capacity, is there to help him?
(iii) In the absence of my dad doing anything to help himself, what can I do to help him?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (5 answers total)
So here's the thing, you can't save people from themselves. No matter how hard you want to, no matter how crazy you drive yourself trying to think of ways you can help, you can't save him from himself. You cannot control his behavior, you can only control your reaction to him.

In my case, I have a father who has cancer and he refuses to treat it despite the opinions of his doctors and every single member of my family. When he is pressed, he states that it's his body and he can do as he sees fit. He's right. It is his body, and it's his choice to make. I don't agree with it, but I don't have to agree with it, it's not my body. His choices regarding his own health and well-being are not about me, and I have to actively work to not make them about me in my own head.

I know how terrible this is, I'm sorry you're going through it.
posted by crankylex at 7:27 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

(i) How do I deal with this situation and stay sane at the same time?

Tough love and an intervention. You can't live with him this way and he won't live long without seeking help. But that's up to him.

(ii) How can I best encourage my dad to help himself, bearing in mind his background and his stubborn, snotty nature to anyone who, in a professional capacity, is there to help him?

You really can't. He knows everything. He's the expert...or so he thinks. He's an alcoholic who will lie to himself and you to keep his disease alive.

(iii) In the absence of my dad doing anything to help himself, what can I do to help him?

Again, tough love. You likely, for your own sanity, can't watch him do this to himself. Stop enabling him. Stop supporting him. Let him know that you know what he's doing and you will be there when he wishes to seek help and for nothing else until then.

Just be prepared for him to tell you to go to hell...and be ready to follow through with your threat to withdraw if he does continue to abuse his body.
posted by inturnaround at 7:31 AM on October 17, 2011

My father did clean himself up, when my wife and I made him a grandfather. I'm not suggesting that you produce a child, just pointing out that it may need to be something that earth shattering to have an effect. In my Dad's case, it was too little too late. 40 years of a life very similar to you dad's had already taken its toll. A couple of years into sobriety he was diagnosed with cirrhosis, then cancer. At that point he decided what the hell, and went back to drinking and smoking until he died a couple of years later at 54.

FWIW, I think I always knew, even as a kid, that his lifestyle was not sustainable for the long term, and that he would not be around as I got older. He saw me graduate college, get married, and he got to spend a little bit of time with his grandkids. I'm at peace with the fact that that is it, what choice do I have? I think you need to come to terms with the same idea. He's not going to be around long term, and just get what enjoyment you can from what time he has left.

I'm sorry you are going through this.
posted by COD at 7:32 AM on October 17, 2011

In answer to your first question, I'd have to say that you deal with it by taking care of yourself. You say you battle depression, and as a longtime caregiver myself to substance abusing elder adults, I will say that caregiving brings along with it a host of other issues in addition to depression. Look, it's possible to do for yourself what you intend to do for your dad.

When somebody outright refuses to help themselves, that's when the codependent in us kicks into high gear. "Well, I'm just going to prove to him that he's worthy of love." No you're not. You can't talk somebody out of self-destruction. You can't love somebody back to life no matter how hard you try. What you can do is get your own ducks in a row. Get a good therapist. If you're in the states, you might approach your company's HR department about using FMLA leave to care for your dad.

As far as your second and third questions? You already know that you can't live your dad's life for him. If there was a way to talk him into drying out, you would've already done it. Your job is to make peace with yourself.

Just so you know I'm not just talking out my ass (which I often do, but not this time): My own father came from a generation of drunken Irish layabouts; none of his parents' generation lived past 60. He's 75 (it's a miracle) now, and the thing that is slowly getting his attention is that none of his kids will come to the house. We've qualified him for hospice and hired home-care nurses for him. They wash his bottom for him, clean the kitchen so it doesn't stink, and never interfere with his drinking.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 8:38 AM on October 17, 2011

I'm so sorry you're going through this. It's a horrible situation, but there's nothing you can do to help. Anything that happens to your father will not be your fault but will have been his choice. Whatever happens, don't blame yourself.
posted by hazyjane at 10:40 PM on October 17, 2011

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