How can I manage a group of active alcholics at a wedding without losing my mind?
May 19, 2012 8:11 AM   Subscribe

My brother is a problem drinker at best, probably an alcoholic. We're heading to our small home town to watch my alcoholic father marry his prescription drug addict girlfriend. oh, the snowflakes. I'm trying to figure out how bad this is going to be, and if there is anything I can do to keep it smooth for the wedding. I would like to hear other people's experiences to help me think positive.

First- I'd like confirmation that I am not being crazy. I think my brother (Alan) is in over his head. He lives in another state, and we talk regularly. I suspect he's been out drinking at least four nights this week- and I suspect he's blacked out at least twice- probably three times. He's been making drunken phone calls at five am, and then either not remembering or lying about "pocket dialing by accident." Last winter he quit drinking the hard stuff to try to slow down. He lost his phone on Saturday night, and lost his bag last night. Alan says he's fine- and that he's just been getting lit because of the recent stress. I think his ass is self-destructing. I'm not crazy, right? Other than try to directly confront him on it, is there anything else I should be doing? I'll be doing that after the wedding.

Second- the wedding.
My other brother (Alden) is living in small town, and going through a rough time. He's depressed, and angry at his recent lack of success. When he's not depressed- he can be a mean sonofabitch, holding grudges and being incredibly judgmental. He likes to bait Alan, because Alan desperately wants to be friends. Alden thinks he is a pathetic fuck-up- and constantly makes cutting, loaded statements in order to "teach us lessons." His mean-spiritedness is directed mostly at Alan when he's around, but he's happy to teach me (or anyone, really) a lesson or two when needed.

My father and soon-to-be stepmom are going to be manageable. My father is a functioning alcoholic- and has already made plans for a taxi for the whole evening, as well as making sure anyone who might be too uncomfortable with the level of inebriation will be gone before he becomes too much of a mess. He doesn't get violent or aggressive, and his fiancee will most likely be blissed out or passed out before ten. Dad won't, however, be in a position to calm anyone down if Alan and Alden get riled up.

The plan is this so far- I'll (obviously) not be drinking in order to be on top of the game. Keep Alan and Alden away from each other as much as possible. Alan has promised to stay dry in order to babysit the happy couple and to dodge the daggers from Alden. If Alan starts drinking and Alan and Alden get into any altercations- I have a relative on stand-by to take me to a hotel. If there seems to be a cease-fire I'll be staying to make sure no one chokes on their own vomit, since I am the only one who will be sober for sure.

Right now I'm trying to think of any other thing I can do to make this run smoothly- I'm pretty experienced when it comes this kind of harm-reduction, but the last time there was a fist-fight after I had left- so I am a little nervous.

Other pertinent information:
1. Alden has been a problem drinker in the past, but has seemed to be fine for the last five years. He is, however, enabling Dad.
2. Dad and Alan are both "don't get me started" drinkers, able to go for months as long as they don't have the first beer, but Dad has been drinking nightly for at least six months- Alan for who knows how long.
3. I suspect my dad's brain is getting to the point where he has diminished capacity even when he is sober. is there anything to do about that?
4. Dad and Alan both believe that they just like to get drunk, and there isn't anything wrong with that. Though of course each believes the other probably should quit. sigh.
5. Dad's Fiancee is fragile emotionally and gets hurt easily- so I'd like to try to keep her out of the loop as much as possible since she would become another thing to manage if she realized that there could be trouble.
6. The three children are all around thirty years old.
7. This will be my only opportunity to see any of them for possibly a year or more, and I'd really, really, really like to have this be a pleasant experience.
8. All this worrying could be for nothing- we've had family get-together in past years where everyone just happily passes out.
9. The other relatives that will be attending are elderly. They don't know about Alan, and can't help with Dad. They will be keeping their phone on in case of emergencies, but that's it when it comes to support from other people. anybody got any advice?

please don't bother saying I shouldn't go. I love my family very much and a possible bad outcome isn't going to keep me from my dad's wedding. They are all good people.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Honey, they may well all be good people, but I am baffled as to why keeping them on good behaviour is your responsibility. They are all adults; you don't actually have to protect them from their own crappy choices, oh peace-keeping-middle-child.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:17 AM on May 19, 2012 [38 favorites]

anybody got any advice?

Yes. As the adult child of an alcoholic, one of the characteristics that I see in myself and that I see in your question is the incorrect belief that if you just plan and prepare well enough, people who are essentially unreasonable and unmanageable will somehow become managed and disaster can be averted through sheer force of (your) will. This is not true. It is not your job to keep people alive at this event, nor should it be. It is not your job to keep people from fighting at this event, nor should it be. One of the things that is absent from your question is how will you manage to have a good time at this event and who is responsible for you? I hope you have a partner and ally or a confidant who can be on your team and help you get through this event to the best of your ability and I hope you can relax and see your father married off and then go back to your not-this-dysfunctional life and realize that these people, while they may be in the throes of addiction and maybe could not be considered to have "chosen" this path per se, they need to decide to do things differently, not just stumble through life letting others pick up the pieces.

Don't drink. Bring a friend. Arrive not-too-early. Leave not-too-late. Be happy to see everyone publicly. Reconnect with other relatives as well as your immediate family. Be privately sad that they are not doing well (if so) or publicly proud that they seem to be doing well (if so) and concentrate on your own role as an individual who, as an adult, is not responsible for the behaviors of other adults who should be managing their own nonsense. Sorry about this, but you're trying to steer a boat that doesn't (currently) have a rudder and any time you spend obsessing about how to deal with other people who aren't managing themselves is just falling into the tarpit that is sadly familiar to most people who have alcoholic family members. This is not your battle. Go, be gracious, but then just live your life, not theirs.
posted by jessamyn at 8:26 AM on May 19, 2012 [75 favorites]

Don't try to manage them. It cannot be done. They are all adults who are making their own choices, and nothing you do that night will steer them away.

Act with calm. Protect yourself. Leave before you think you need to.
posted by moira at 8:26 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, because he's said he does want to go: please don't bother saying I shouldn't go. I love my family very much and a possible bad outcome isn't going to keep me from my dad's wedding. So with that in mind, my suggestion is to go and be joyous. When it starts getting crappy, wish everyone well and then leave. The alternative is to try to manage all of these choices and all of the these actions from all of these other people and to take responsibility for all of the possible outcomes. You are just not that powerful.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:26 AM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Think this through: Someone chokes on their own vomit. What then? Do you obsess over how you could/should/would have prevented it if... only... only what? Only knocked the drink/pills/whatever out of their hands? Tied them down? Been there to call the ambulance and rush them to the emergency room and stand guard all night? You are not responsible for them. You cannot make their decisions for them. You cannot make them behave like adults.

While this is your family, you are NOT the host for this event. You are a guest. You should behave like a guest. Arrive. Be happy to see everyone. Enjoy the events. And when people start misbehaving, have the graciousness to leave them to do that in private.

If I were you, I'd book the hotel room now and stay there. It will offer you a safe port to get out of any storm. And even if there is no storm, it will be a good exercise for you in boundary setting.

Someday in the future you might mention to your family members that you're concerned about their substance abuse and that you want them to know that you'll be there for them if they ever decide to get help for their problems.
posted by jph at 8:39 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe you can make time for an Al-Anon meeting. If not, how about next week or next weekend? The drinkers and the drug addicts in your family are out of your control, and no amount of planning or negotiating will alter that. It's nice that you've decided you want to be present for this family event, but all of the outcomes are out of your hands and not your responsibility.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:42 AM on May 19, 2012 [3 favorites]

The plan is this so far- I'll (obviously) not be drinking in order to be on top of the game. Keep Alan and Alden away from each other as much as possible.

Stop looking at this as a responsibility of yours. Let them do what they're going to do. Do not engage. Mind your own business. The less emotionally entangled you become at this stage, you'll be in a better position to offer real help later on if it's needed.

7. This will be my only opportunity to see any of them for possibly a year or more, and I'd really, really, really like to have this be a pleasant experience.

I know, and I sympathize. It's not in your control. The more you invest in trying to create a pleasant experience, the more hurt you'll be if things don't work out that way. Think about that.
posted by hermitosis at 8:45 AM on May 19, 2012 [5 favorites]

Do not manage them. Let them be who they are. Call the police if it gets bad, or extra taxis if that's what is needed. That is all you can do.

An Al-Anon or ACOA meeting may help you stay resolute in the face of whatever is going to happen.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:51 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can't fix them. They are not your responsibility. It is admirable of you to be so very compassionate but you not big enough to fix any of this. It's almost like you are trying to blow a full size sailboat across a lake. You just don't have enough wind for that.

Go to the wedding as a guest. Speak pleasantly to everyone there. Ignore slights and insults as best you can. If a fight breaks out, call the police and let them handle it. Do not make bail. Do not admit to calling the police. If it looks like anyone is in danger of alcohol poisoning, call an ambulance. Do not help pay the medical bills. Do not admit to calling the ambulance.

By protecting our loved ones from their own failures we keep them from learning from their mistakes.

Drink if you want to. Leave early to miss the drama if you want to. You can't fix this. You don't have to fix it. They don't want you to fix it.

Try to have fun.
posted by myselfasme at 8:59 AM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Everyone involved is an adult. They can handle themselves, or not. This is not your event, and they are not your responsibility. Go to the wedding, attend as you would as a guest at anyone else's wedding, and don't try to change or alter the behavior of other adults.
posted by xingcat at 9:16 AM on May 19, 2012

I suspect my dad's brain is getting to the point where he has diminished capacity even when he is sober. is there anything to do about that?

I'm sorry, but no.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:30 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think what you are asking is whether there is anything you can do to help make this special day with your family one that is memorable and happy for you. That's an entirely reasonable thing to want. I have a few special snowflakes in my family too, so I know where you're coming from on a deeply personal level.

For the reasons mentioned by others already, there is precious little you can do to control the choices and the actions of others.

Be there for your family. Enjoy the day. Focus on the good things, and if the drinking starts to get in the way, plan for an early exit.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 9:37 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best advice I can give you is: Leave early. Leave with the rest of the non-drunks and hook back up with the family later the next day. You cannot and should not try to control your brothers, this is just that family co-dependent crap that seems to come free with every alcoholic family. It's not your wedding, it's not your problem and you won't come off as any type of savior if you put yourself out to try and fix things. Disengage!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:48 AM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your question is essentially "how can I simultaneously make everyone attending this wedding be entirely different people than the ones they have been for decades?"

Rephrased like that, the answer is obviously: you can't. You cannot control a single one of them. There is nothing you can do to make them everyone alter their own highly individual web of impulses, instincts, feelings, habits that drive their behavioral patterns. You are not a referee who can make everyone play by a set of rules; the wedding isn't a chess game in which you can figure out a strategy to put all unpredictability in check; you're not a manager who can fire people from your family if they don't follow your plan.... whatever the metaphor that might ring a bell with you, what I'm saying is that events are going to unfold pretty much as they unfold.

I am suggesting that you come face-to-face with the fact that you simply do not possess the power to fix this situation -- not now, and not ever. This is not some sort of intellectual/logistical puzzle that you can solve with just the right application of strategy and brain power. You are not in control of the event or of anyone else in your family. You are only in control of yourself and -- more specifically -- your own choices. If things start to get crazy, you will likely experience a whole flood of feelings (anger, panic, disgust, fear, sorrow, etc.) -- that's fine. You can't control the feelings, nor do you have to. You can simply decide ahead of time what you'll do next. As others are saying, I think the basic plan to have in place is to go, enjoy yourself as long as its enjoyable, and make a gracious but swift exit if and when things start to go off the rails. You're all adults, even if you're the only one who acts like it.
posted by scody at 10:50 AM on May 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

You're a guest at this wedding. It is not your wedding. You're not responsible for anything that happens there.

The situation at this wedding is not your fault. It's also not your problem to solve.

Disengage yourself from the event emotionally. Pretend that you're attending a stranger's wedding, or a work-related event, or a professional conference. Leave as early as is polite.

Plan a treat for yourself when you get home for the night, whether it's a Netflix movie or a slice of tiramisu or a hot bath. You deserve it!
posted by ErikaB at 11:14 AM on May 19, 2012

No. you're not crazy. Not even close. In an addicted family the sanest one is often the one who often feels most crazy. My guess is that you feel crazy because you see craziness everywhere and the crazies are the last people on earth who are going to agree with you that they're crazy. Since no one agrees with you and no one sees or admits to seeing what you do, you're the one who feels crazy.

Crazy in this sense means you can't trust your own perceptions that something is deeply, terribly amiss, painful and destructive. You can. Something is happening in your family that is deeply painful and destructive.

What scody and jessamyn said exactly. You have elaborate plans to take care of everyone else and don't mention any plans to take care of yourself. Not drinking is a good idea, but you frame it in a way that suggests to me that's it is so you can stay on top of the situation, not yourself.

The compulsion to jump in and manage everyone else is a huge characteristic of addicted families. No one knows how to take care of and manage themselves, so everyone else does it for them. No one knows how to deal with their own feelings, so they manage their feelings by managing others' behavior.

So plan to take care of yourself. Not drinking is step one - it will keep you clear headed enough to pay attention to what you're seeing, feeling and doing.

I do well with my nutty family when I give myself a few "if this, then that" plans.

If I feel _______ (embarrassed, pissed off, sad, ashamed)
If I want to jump in and play director....
I will instead_______ (whatever action you know makes you feel better that does not require they crazy-makers to do anything differently).

Another approach might be to think about what you need in order to have fun at the wedding and start tinkering with how to do that. Fun is a great multitasker, it pulls you away from the g-force drama and it loosens the desire to dive into the g-force drama.

Don't fret too much right now about disengaging emotionally if you don't think you can. It might be too much to ask at a wedding (!!!) with all of the crazies in one place and when you're first experimenting with how to physically disengage.

It might be easier to come to grips with the fact that you can't manage or control these people at this wedding than it is to accept your non-control over your your whole family. You can control you at this wedding. Baby steps and all.

Good Luck. Have fun. You're not crazy.
posted by space_cookie at 12:10 PM on May 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Please do, after this is over, go to alanon. A dear friend of mine goes and wishes she had done so earlier.

You can't fix and shouldn't try to fix any of this. Sometimes people really do need the consequences of their choices in order to learn to make better ones.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:34 PM on May 19, 2012

anybody got any advice?

Everyone has said so many good things that there's not much to add -- though there's this Al-Anon slogan, which a friend says has helped her deal with an alcoholic husband:

The Three C's of Al-Anon: "I didn't cause someone else's drinking, I can't control it, and I can't cure it."

Right now I'm trying to think of any other thing I can do to make this run smoothly ... (emphasis added by me)

Any time you ask this question, and you're talking about influencing behavior other than your own, the answer is: No, I'm afraid that there isn't anything else you can do. I'm sorry.
posted by virago at 1:16 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my opinion, imagining you can keep a positive attitude and/or control your family under these circumstances is a recipe for personal suffering.

You know that expression about how pain is mandatory, but suffering is optional? Well, I'd say the mandatory pain here is that your family, who you love, is likely to get into a bunch of contentious trouble. The suffering would be trying to avoid that pain (either by trying to force yourself to think positive/stay supernaturally calm about stuff that is crummy, or by trying to manage your addicted family members' behavior).

What if you just went, knowing that things might go a little crazy, and knowing that parts of it might suck, but also knowing that you love these people and that you want to be with them on this special day?
posted by feets at 1:45 PM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with all of the above, however, it sounds as if Alden's behavior toward Alan might be the most problematic. My only suggestion is for you to interact with Alden while Alan is busy elsewhere, and if Alden becomes abusive, perhaps it might be appropriate to steer Alan toward someone else/another group or to ask if he'd like to leave early with you. If you have a friend that could run interference, that might be helpful, but neither your friend or you are responsible for anyone's behavior, happiness, or sobriety. Take care of yourself.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:06 PM on May 19, 2012

Honey, I am so, so sorry that you are dealing with this. I've been there, and it sucks. You are a strong, good person.

Everyone has already said everything that I want to about going to alanon and about how this shit is not actually your responsibility, so I'll just state my agreement for the record.

Oh, but also-

do yourself a favour. Don't go to the fucking wedding.

If it's going to turn into you falling into the babysitter role, because it's habitual, and you can't help it, and you wind up being miserably stressed and on edge, and your efforts to keep shit contained are entirely likely to fail anyways- don't go. Catch a "stomach virus" instead. Take the phone off the hook, have a nice dinner. Hell, go to a hotel and pamper yourself. What is the worst thing that could happen? They'd be pissed at you. They'd have to cope without you. Maybe that would be a good thing. I mean, I know weddings are important. But, even though it's your dad, this one doesn't sound worth it. You have permission to opt out if you need or want to do so.
posted by windykites at 12:15 AM on May 20, 2012

I'm sorry- I didn't see the part of your question where you said that you weren't interested in the suggestion of not going. I'll read more carefully next time.
posted by windykites at 12:22 AM on May 20, 2012

Enjoy the wedding. Be as happy for them as you can be. Visit with family, take pictures, etc. When/if somebody's behavior gets bad, due to drink, nerves, general craziness, then it's time to go. If that happens 10 minutes into the reception, ooops, awkward, or late in the evening, it doesn't matter. You can love your family but you can't control them. All you can do is avoid the crazy.
posted by theora55 at 1:33 PM on May 20, 2012

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