How to stop a trainwreck
August 2, 2005 12:50 PM   Subscribe

How do i convince my mother to change her life?

Al-anonfilter: My moms an alcoholic and im pretty sure she already hit her rock bottom 8 years ago or so. i moved from home 6 years ago and find ignoring the situation the easiest way to stay sane. i never call home because calls turn into me trying to convince her to change her life. since my other siblings moved out she has no one to take care of or live for (not that she was rather good at it before) so she has picked up a charity case boyfriend who is far less intelligent than her and who has been in and out of jail to boot. sibilings even said they would spend more time with her if she removed him from her life. and she chose him. news from home is never good. there is no money for rehab (again) and shes lost her right to drive so that issue has been out of the picture for a while (and jail didnt even change her behavior). i almost feel like the alcoholism is second to the zero self worth. so basically, how do you truly convince someone that certain aspects of their life (convict boyfriends, alcohol, 2 pack a day smoking addiction) are NOT getting them anywhere (when they deep down know it themselves)?? anyone have any similar experiences or sucess stories or is my family doomed?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total)
I have a fairly similar story, or at least one with a couple of the same major elements. And, in my experience at least, the harsh lesson was that you can't make a person change if they don't want to change. All you can do is grind yourself down trying to convince them. It sucks, but that's the way it shook out.
posted by COBRA! at 1:00 PM on August 2, 2005

I'm not sure if you referenced Alanon in your post because you've gone, or because you haven't gone, but my advice is to go and go again.

Adult children of alcoholics have a long-standing need to protect their alcoholic parents from their life choices. You can't. You are powerless to change her, and that's a harsh and very scary thing. Alanon will provide you with a community of people who can help support you in making this very difficult change in your life.

Go to the self-help section of your local bookstore and browse the ACA books. Find one that speaks to you - Claudia Black was one of the first to write about this subject.
posted by jasper411 at 1:21 PM on August 2, 2005

Unfortunately you've pretty much layed out the problems and the lack of solutions. What's absolutely necessary is for your mom to want to change, although it doesn't have to be for her. She doesn't want to change for your sibs, it sounds like, what about grandkids, or something else? I'm sorry it's so bleak, but there is no magic solution. Take care of yourself, at the very least.
posted by OmieWise at 1:31 PM on August 2, 2005

The above comments are good ones, but I wanted to echo them and say that it's true: you can't change her. It can be a sad and scary thing to admit, but she absolutely will not change unless she wants to. You can't take care of her, but you have got to take care of yourself.

I think going to AA meetings is a great idea.
posted by Specklet at 1:40 PM on August 2, 2005

I think going to AA meetings is a great idea.

Specklet : For whom? Surely not for anonymous, unless s/he has a desire to stop drinking. Attendance at closed AA meetings is limited to people who want to stop drinking.

I echo what others have said - unless your mother wants to change, there's nothing you can do to make her change.

Go to Al-Anon.
posted by essexjan at 2:22 PM on August 2, 2005

No, of course I meant Al-Anon.
posted by Specklet at 2:26 PM on August 2, 2005

I've seen a couple of similar cases where the only solution was drastic measures. Think kidnapping and imprisonment of an adult against her will. You probably don't want to go down the road. Perhaps the question isn't what's the best thing you can do for her, but rather what's the best thing you can do for yourself. At this point, you've probably already done everything that could be reasonably expected of a son. Rather than let this continue to eat you, and potentially increase the damage of your mother's drinking, you need to start thinking about yourself and your siblings. If your real concern is your family and not necessarily the well being of your mother, then no, your family isn't doomed. Salvation just doesn't come in the form you hope.
posted by nixerman at 2:43 PM on August 2, 2005

Right, you can't make anyone change. You can only set up the conditions that will facilitate the results you want, but even then you might not get what you want.

I'd stop trying to convince your mother to change her life. She has probably heard all your arguments and they have not swayed her. You're just going to frustrate yourself and her and damage your relationship if you keep it up.

What to do instead? Well, try setting some limits in what you will or won't do for your mother. If you really can't bear this boyfriend of hers, tell your mother that although you want very much to spend time with her, you aren't willing to spend time around him. Offer to do things like picking your mother up and bringing her to your place or a coffeeshop or wherever for your visits.

Is she expecting you to listen to her complain endlessly? Ask her not to talk about those things anymore. Tell her you have tried to help her fix her life, but you can't. Tell her if she really needs to talk about her life with someone, she can always get some counselling. Surely there are resources out there that are free or affordable. Offer to research contact info for her. Otherwise, don't push this issue - just hold the line about her not using you as an unpaid counsellor, because it's very wrong to let a relative or a friend use you in that way. If you can't keep a telephone conversation pleasant, end the call, telling your mother you'll call again in a couple of days.

Otherwise, enjoy your mother's companionship as much as you can. Find activities that you both enjoy. She won't be around forever, and she may never get it together, so don't throw away whatever decent opportunities you have.

And leave the rest to her.
posted by orange swan at 5:00 PM on August 2, 2005 [1 favorite]

To accept the things I can not change, i.e., your mother's choices about her life.

The courage to change the things I can, i.e., yourself.

And the wisdom to know the difference.

You can only stop your own trainwrecks, not other people's.

Go to your meetings.
posted by abbyladybug at 7:32 PM on August 2, 2005

Isn't Al-Anon (and Narc-anon) a Scientology front? Or am I thinking of something else?

The short story: You probably can't help her.

The more hopeful story: What is it that's missing in her life that she's replacing with alcohol? (And I don't mean you and your siblings.) What dreams did she have, if any? Creative aspirations? What makes her happy? Encourage those things. But either accept her for who she is and chooses to be, and if you can't, don't be in her life, for your sake and hers.

If her own children can't accept her faults, how is she supposed to be able to accept her faults and progress from there? (That might sound like blame-placement, but it's not.)
posted by loquacious at 3:06 AM on August 3, 2005

Narconon is the Scientology front. Al-Anon and Alateen are related to AA --for family and friends of alcoholics. Narcotics Anonymous is NA for short.

For my own best interests, I told my mother three years ago that I wanted nothing more to do with her. I had had enough of the verbal and emotional abuse (even though the physical had stopped, she was still making threats).

If you don't want to be around your mother's boyfriend, you don't have to be. I told a friend of the family that I would like to continue seeing her, but I refused to be around the man for who she left her husband--two birthday dinners with him was enough.

Repeating what others said--you can't change her. Let her know that you love and care about her--using "I messages"--but set your own boundaries.
posted by brujita at 8:35 AM on August 3, 2005

People have been saying in this thread that you can't change someone who doesn't want to change.

Not true. Put someone in solitary confinement for a few months, make them live in their own excrement, regularly interrogate them - pulling out fingernails when they give ideologically wrong answers - Chinese water torture them. Ration out their social contact until they're willing to say or do anything for a little quality time with someone who believes the way you'd like the subject to believe. Eventually you can make most people change their beliefs and even their life-styles.

Most folks aren't willing to do this to their own mothers, a sentiment I heartily applaud. Unfortunately, it means you instead need to wait for her to want to change. From your description I see no sign that that's even on the horizon. Quite the contrary, in fact.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:25 PM on August 3, 2005 [1 favorite]

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