"Hey could you be sober for a night or two? I'd really appreciate it!"
May 15, 2013 8:46 PM   Subscribe

Is there a polite way to ask my alcoholic parent to please stay sober for my college graduation, or is this an inappropriate subject to broach this late in the situation? Any tips for handling a visibly intoxicated relative without being rude or putting them on the defensive? Help!

I have an alcoholic parent. I've spent my entire life making excuses for their weird behavior at anything that took place after approximately 3 in the afternoon, but now I am fed up. My college graduation is at the end of this month and I am worried that my parent will embarrass me at both the ceremony itself as well as a reception held the day before, where some of my professors will be present (this is a very small school, so if my advisor or other professors are there social interaction is inevitable). I've never been able to bring up my parent's drinking without them getting enraged and defensive, but I really desperately want this to not be a worry during my event.

I know from experience that, barring a serious conversation (although this has never worked before), them drinking is almost inevitable. From the embarrassment and the stress of dealing with this parent, I get incredibly grumpy and easily upset when they are drunk around me, and as I am extremely sensitive to their drunkenness I'm really worried that this will ruin a milestone event for me. Is there a way to approach an alcoholic about their drinking that won't risk ruining everything even more in advance? Because I am now of age and drink occasionally, their new tactic is to accuse me of being the one with the problem (I drink mostly socially although sometimes alone after an exceptionally stressful week, but it is not an alarming amount), which is wearing me down even more. If their drunkenness is inevitable, what is a good coping mechanism? I'm afraid that everyone will think I'm the weirdo with the obnoxious parent, as I've been my whole life. What do other people do to survive big events with alcoholic family members?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Why is your alcoholic parent attending your graduation? I don't expect you to answer publicly, but please think it over. Mine isn't.
posted by teremala at 8:54 PM on May 15, 2013 [56 favorites]

First, have you considered bringing this question up at an Al-Anon meeting?

Second, I would make this the occasion during which you tell them that you will have campus police escort them off the premises if they arrive drunk or even slightly buzzed, and that if they don't want that to happen, they need to be 100% sober. Explain that you love them, but your graduation is more important than their need to drink (yes, it really is), and if they can't handle that, they don't need to be there. Tell them what you said. "You may not ruin this milestone for me, and I will not forgive you if you do. Your needs are not more important than mine." If they get upset, stick by the first line, and have them escorted off of campus. Seriously. Enlist friends and other family members to make this happen if you need to.

Additionally, there is no shame in having to tell professors and other friends, "You know what? I am really sorry. My parent has a drinking problem, and I had hoped it wouldn't be an issue today, but it looks like it is. Thank you for your patience."
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:56 PM on May 15, 2013 [37 favorites]

No there isn't. I am sorry. I have been there.

I answered a very similar question about someone who was hoping to manage alcoholic family members at a wedding. I'll summarize here.

- you can not manage the unmanageable, even though I know deep down you feel that you can
- the stress you are feeling is more like misplaced stress at keeping your stupid alcoholic parents' secret for them, and things will be easier if you either
a) don't invite them to the reception or the graduation, potentially
b) come clean about the fact that they have drinking problems, people will not blame you for this, they know this is not your fault
- a good way to cope is to not feel that they are your responsibility, have a friend or ally who you can have be responsible for YOUR good time (and hey you are graduating, go you!) and make a pact with this friend or with yourself that if your parents start being awful you will ask/tell them to leave or you will leave.

This sucks and I am sorry. Having parents who should be proud of you and there for you and stoked for you and all you're worried about is how to not have them be mad at you when you are considering asking a totally reasonable thing of them on your special day is a shitty position to be in. Get some therapy (al-anon can be really helpful), get some distance from them, try not to make the same mistakes they made and are continuing to make, and try to get to a place where you can just feel bad for them and not worry about being made to feel bad by them. Congrats on graduating, go live your new life!
posted by jessamyn at 8:57 PM on May 15, 2013 [33 favorites]

I'm sorry but I don't think asking will do anything. I too had a parent with issues - although not alcohol related.

If you want a stress free graduation, just don't invite them. Go out to dinner with them on your own to celebrate your graduation. Tell them you just want to spend time with your graduating class, friends, and professors at your reception and graduation, but you want to grab dinner afterward.

And/Or invite them to the tail end of graduation if they want to take photos with you. That's when all the hustle and bustle is anyway so their odd behavior might go unnoticed.

But hey, this is also from a person who chose not to walk for graduation and had to find out from a classmate that she graduated with honors. If it realllly means something to you to have a parent there, then try to ask or try to cope with their actions, but you have to determine what is best for you. Stress free graduation and dinner after, or stressful graduation while trying to explain or ignore an alcoholic parent.

Please try to get yourself some help and suggest help for them if you can.
posted by Crystalinne at 9:08 PM on May 15, 2013

It may be too late but I would not even tell them when the graduation and reception take place.

If they've already been informed, I would ask them not to come drunk. "Please do not come drunk to my graduation. If that's not possible, stay home." Repeat as necessary. Don't discuss the topic or explain or get into a argument about it. Just repeat, "please do not come drunk to my graduation, stay at home if you can't do that." No matter how defensive or angry they get, keep repeating it. Walk away or hang up the phone.
posted by shoesietart at 9:13 PM on May 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Go to an Al-Anon meeting, please! During the meeting, they will ask if any newcomer want to speak. Please do so - in the words of Al-Anon, you have a " pressing problem" and they can help.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:14 PM on May 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Can you un-invite them? Not give them a ticket to graduation? The drinking is more important than you, so banning them from coming is the only way.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:16 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Let go of their potential behaviour. Their being drunk doesn't need to wreck your day more than them having a bad flu or diabetes. Let go that they can choose to respect you by not drinking this one time, because they are in the thrall of alcohol, which it is easiest to think of as a disease (with the judgement-free neutrality that comes with most illnesses).

That detachment and compassion leads to you treating yourself well, and not taking their behavior as yours to manage.

That's what I'd recommend. That or not inviting them. Have the big talk some other time, on your own terms; graduation should be a day where you celebrate you.
posted by zippy at 9:24 PM on May 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Make them a deal. You won't drink if they don't drink. Anyone drinking has to stay behind. At the dinner afterwards, they can get as Shit faced as they want.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:37 PM on May 15, 2013

+1 for what jessamyn says, but I would probably not make excuses or warnings if these functions also involve other grads whose right to have these events proceed without outrage or awkwardness is equal to your own.While people will understand the problem and not blame you for its existence, they might blame you if something happens. Leaving the parents at home and making excuses for their absence rather than potentially boorish behavior is far better.

Besides, these days belong to you. You earned them. You should enjoy them without stress or worry.
posted by Hylas at 9:45 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with the first poster. You have a right to graduate and not feel worried your alcoholic parent will cause a scene. Don't invite them. I assume you have to get tickets and give them to family, right? Don't give them to the alcoholic who might ruin your graduation.

Maybe if people stop coping and start setting boundaries, the parent would take a look at his/her fucked up behavior and start to change. And maybe they won't, but at least it becomes their problem and not your problem. Seems it's been your problem long enough -- you've dealt with consequences from their behavior instead of them facing the consequences. Sometimes support can give someone the strength to change, but you said talking to him/her about it doesn't work. Might be time for action -- time to lay down some boundaries and consequences. I know of plenty of people who didn't stop doing drugs until they got arrested, didn't stop drinking until their family kicked them out, etc.
posted by AppleTurnover at 9:46 PM on May 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

What do other people do to survive big events with alcoholic family members?

Some of us make sure those family members never know about the big (or even the little) events. We find non-alcoholic friends and over the years those people become our family.

One of the great lies in life is that blood is more important than anything else. This is horseshit. It's not more important than respect. Don't let the "Well, they're family" rationalization ruin your life. If the drunks in your life are not respecting you, carve them out of your life and move on. You'll hate yourself for a while, but it's better than hating your life for the rest of it.
posted by dobbs at 9:56 PM on May 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anon:
First things first - congratulations on this big milestone, and well-done! I sympathize, anonymous. My mom was an alcoholic. If you're "out" to any close friends about your parent's alcoholism, I'd suggest asking for help. I did, at my college graduation, and my roommates and best friend (who were fellow graduands) were terrific. They made a few key members of *their* families aware, and with all the tact in the world and none of us saying anything about alcohol to my mom, we basically got through the weekend as a group, and they basically corralled my mom in serial conversation, so that no matter how weird she got, she wasn't really in contact with anyone who would be upset. It was a huge relief to feel like I had allies. My mom was mostly okay, too.

You can't control your parent, and if s/he could reliably control the drinking on request, s/he wouldn't be an alcoholic. The average alcoholic can pull it together for a short time, but not under stress and not if it's not a really important priority. If your alcoholic parent also happens to be kind of a jerk, or just self-absorbed, which is not as uncommon as one might hope, then s/he isn't going to be able or willing to keep the leash as tight and short as needed to guarantee sobriety for two full days and nights.

Even if you can't get allies on board, I hope you will remember that you are not the weirdo, here. Your parent is going to do whatever he or she does, and it's not your responsibility. You are not the person who should be embarrassed, here.
posted by jessamyn at 9:59 PM on May 15, 2013 [5 favorites]

Congratulations, I hope you are very proud of your accomplishments--You should be!

As others have mentioned, you just might not be able to prevent them from drinking if they attend.
Keep in mind that they will be nervous and feeling out of place--which will give their alcoholic brain the excuse to start drinking.

I am so sorry that you have to deal with this--everyone deserves parents who are present and proud on special days like this.

I hope that you have a few friends with whom you have shared your background. As others have said, they might be good "secret service agents" who can either guide the parent out of the situation OR just make sure you are having a good time and are being taken care of.

Take care of YOU during this special time; you've probably been taking care of your parent or at least this situation long enough. Take care of YOU.
posted by calgirl at 10:23 PM on May 15, 2013

My mom was drunk at my high school and college graduations (but sober for my law school graduation, so there's always hope. She's been sober for 16 years now). it wasn't so easy, I'll be honest with you. In my college graduation picture you can tell something is wrong. My sister in law kept telling my brother to tell her to eat something (very passive aggressively).

So here are my thoughts:

1. I'm still glad she came to both even though it was upsetting and embarrassing. Because well she's the only mom I have and it would have hurt beyond anything to not be invited. So if it were me, I wouldn't go the you can't attend route. Your mileage will vary.

2. When my mother quit drinking, she called me up on Christmas and said, "my Christmas present to you and your brother is that I'm neve going to drink again. I promise." She's kept that promise through some unbelievably difficult times. I tell you this because there was some part of my mother that loved us very deeply and that part helped her stop drinking. So talk to your parent honestly about this. They'll scream, yell and say hurtful things. That's okay. Ignore it as best you can and talk to the best part of your parent, the part that loves you. It probably won't work this time I'll honest because they have to do this for themselves when they are ready. But you can help remind them that there are lots of good reasons not to drink.
posted by bananafish at 11:24 PM on May 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

I just want to respond to one thing you said:

I'm afraid that everyone will think I'm the weirdo with the obnoxious parent, as I've been my whole life.

The older you get the less others will judge you (and the less you will care if they do) about things like this. By the time I graduated college, I - and my friends - had seen enough of each others' families to truly understand that everyone's family is weird / dysfunctional / imperfect in some or many ways. While it's always possible (or even likely) that friends will gossip about other friends and their families, in my experience, it's more of a commiserating type of gossipy sharing and less of a judgey thing. Most people will sympathize with you; even if their family's particular brand of crazy isn't alcoholism they will certainly be able to relate to your feelings of "my parents are weird / messed up / embarrassing because of X!"
posted by hapax_legomenon at 11:42 PM on May 15, 2013 [6 favorites]

Honestly, i'm with teremala on this.

One of my parents is a waxing and waning, but serious alcoholic. They have literally been the grinch that stole christmas before by absolutely ruining a big multi-family christmas day party i had at my house, the first year i had my own place in college(which is a story that's sometimes hilarious, sometimes sad to me depending on my mood).

I wouldn't set up some kind of hoop to jump through like calling the cops over if they show up drunk, that will just create a bunch of drama that will always be a blight on your memory of that day. I would just sit down and really fucking think: "If i ask them not to be drunk for this, will they show up drunk? will they show up "not drunk, just tipsy" or some bullshit like that but obviously slurring their speech, and just slightly less drunk than usual? is it a realistic expectation for me to think they wouldn't be drunk?"

I would be leaning towards not inviting them at this point, rather than trying to create some kind of complicated plan amounting to the president visiting a hotel or something with lots of If-Thens and fallbacks.

I mean just really think about it, this is YOUR event. Do you really want to be filling your entire headspace, and resulting memories with "Eagle 1 is at position bravo" kind of "oh shit they showed up stage left leaning on the wall and they're obviously hammered nowhatthefuckdoido".

And i will say, i've had some great events/milestones/etc without them. It sucked, and i felt like shit after making a point of not having them come to certain things/banning them from events at my house for almost a year/etc, and was guilt tripped hard. But you know what? it was a hell of a lot less stressful, and a lot less just... depressing.

Anything with your drunk parent ends up being about them even if it was supposed to be about you. Wrangling them will take it over, and piss all over any enjoyment or(gasp) fun you were intending to and deserve to have.

If you really want them to be there, i would pretty much write off any expectations of them being sober and just prepare yourself for "oh yep, that's my mom, she's just like that". Trust me, you'll get a lot more "oh yea, fuck, i know how that is" type of responses than you'd expect. I'm not saying they won't create an embarrassing situation necessarily, but at least in my group of friends, quite a few people have alcoholic parents that they're just used to dealing with.

And seriously, i know how hard it is to just lean back and go "eh, they're an adult, they can be drunk and stupid and i don't have to take care of them" especially when they're trying perpetually to have loud conversations with you about shit. Which is exactly why i was leaning towards not inviting them.
posted by emptythought at 12:57 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

I too am in favor of the "don't let it be a possibility of happening, to whatever extent you can" approach. Like, he has to sneak in and make a huge scene and get arrested, but otherwise there's no way I'm allowing him to participate and fuck this up.

It took me a long time to get this way and I haven't had to struggle with such a close relationship to an alcoholic, but I have many many years of being nice and approachable and having horrible people want to glom around me and embarrass the crap out of me around more important people. My father-in-law and I are not close really, but he was a constantly drunk for most of his adult life and she basically shielded from me at all times.

The first time I met him he swaggered up to me and threatened to break my legs if I ever hurt his daughter and I wanted to shatter him over it, immediately thinking he had to be abusive to everyone in the house, and had to figure out how to diplomatically establish trust with my future wife that I really really was sure he didn't beat her. Part of this was an old-school "ha ha tough guy" mentality but he was a total dick and I could see why she arranged for us never to be around him.

Having an alcoholic roommate for a year basically taught me over time that it was never worth taking him anywhere, whether just the roommates, or with friends, because it was a completely anxiety-ridden babysitting experience and it's horrible to spend time you want to enjoy dealing with that. I cared for him and he was likeable when he wasn't plastered, childlike but interesting most of the time, and had pity for him but he never had a positive impact on my life when he hit the bottle.

Life's too short. I can't imagine feeling comfortable at all even if he conducted himself amazingly and unexpectedly.
posted by lordaych at 1:08 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your professors (and I know a lot) are real people who have had similar situations or friends with similar situations, or students with similar situations. If you decide to let that parent come, it will not reflect on you, excepting that your professors will think to themselves that you are a loving and compassionate child.

I would feel uncomfortable in equivalent circumstances (I did have something similar) and i chose not to participate in the graduation ceremony. I am a trifle disappointed, but not hugely.
posted by b33j at 1:59 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Why is your alcoholic parent attending your graduation?

I fully second this.

Something to realise is that despite your best wishes and efforts, at the end of the day, it is their choice and behaviour that is the problem. If, based on past experience, they generally do not comply with your request not to drink and behave appropriately, that is their decision.

Your decision is how to respond to that continuing pattern of behaviour. It's actually quite a simply decision. (A) If you invite them to your graduation, (B) they will probably drink and act generally poorly. As you have no control over (B), the only thing you can control is (A).

I've been close with a few alcoholics in my time. If your experience is anything like mine, it involves years of broken promises, and perhaps the acceptance that this is who they are. Maybe you make a lot of compromises for them, stuck between accepting their shenanigans, and wanting better for yourself. But you cannot bring yourself to realise the truth – that they have provided you with a choice. It's either you or them. And you make the choice for them every time, because after all, that's just who they are.

But there is another choice. If they are going to constantly demonstrate that they do not care about the impact of their behaviour on you, you can choose to not to associate with them. It can be very painful to accept that reality about significant relationships. When you care about someone, your mind will often go to great lengths to accommodate them and give them the benefit of the doubt. The alternative may feel selfish, mean, something that one cannot bring themselves to do.

In my experience, almost without fail, the decision to break the cycle and excise the person from significant events has been overwhelmingly positive. It's not easy, but the results have been very good. It's not only more enjoyable in the moment – not having to worry about them and monitor them – but also empowering to make a decision for one's self.

In an alternate world, you attend your graduation without your parents. There is a twinge of sadness when you look at the crowd and realise that they are not there. Yet, for that moment of sadness, every other moment of the day is filled with authentic joy, rather than muted joyed mixed with an ambient anxiety of "what if...".

This is the opportunity to graduate from two things. One is school. The other is your acceptance of this behaviour, and the power it has over your life. It's not a decision to remove your parents completely from your life. It is a decision to say that if they will not respect you, they will not have the opportunity to disrespect you.

Most likely, you will have to make a decision like this at some point. Maybe it's graduation. Or a wedding. Or a birthday. Or a partner/child's birthday. Or a professional honour. There are going to be a lot of significant events in your life. You can either go through each one of them with that feeling of dread, or act decisively. As mentioned, when you do make the decision, chances are that the sense of relief will quite quickly overwhelm any sadness.

Good luck.
posted by nickrussell at 2:25 AM on May 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

If possible (but I know, it may be too late for this), don't invite them to the reception, just the graduation ceremony. The reception will likely be a smaller event, where individual behavior is more obvious plus yeah: there'll probably be booze served. The graduation ceremony, with the bigger crowd, will absorb more weirdness, plus there isn't going to be a bar. Which isn't to say Parent couldn't haul in their own alcohol, but it *would* limit the amount accessible at the event.
posted by easily confused at 2:36 AM on May 16, 2013

To answer your question as posed:

1. There are many *polite* ways of asking your alcoholic parent not to drink for a period of time, but none of them is likely to be effective.
1a. There are many rude ways of asking the same thing, all of them just as ineffective.
1b. In these situations, separation of concerns gets a lot of emphasis, for good reason. You can control how polite you are, and I agree that you should be polite. You can't control whether your alcoholic parent drinks or not. He can't even control it, you sure as shit won't be able to.

2. Even if he did lay off the drinking for a day or two, it might not help. Many alcoholics are meanest when they *haven't* had a drink, and even if that's not your experience, at this point in his addiction it's absolutely no guarantee of civil or respectful behaviour.
2a. I hate to say this, but your dad might look to you like he's doing all right, because he's not drunk, and you could be too far along in the frog-boiling process to notice him alienating people left and right even without being drunk.
2b. Your concerns about the impression he'll make are completely realistic. I think you should be very worried not only about his ruining your day, but about his causing you embarrassment that will follow you into your career.
2c. Now if I saw your dad acting up I would think "that's his dad, and not him, poor guy for being saddled with this alcoholic dad" but I would also be wondering why you didn't have the good judgement to exclude him from the ceremony. If I subsequently hired you, part of me would be wondering if your dad was likely to call up the office and distract you with his alcoholic brouhaha, or even worse show up for some reason.

3. Don't tell your alcoholic parent the date and time of your graduation.
3a. If they already know, and have accepted an invitation to attend, you have a problem. In this case, I'd contact the college office and lay your cards on the table, with a minor white lie included: say you had invited your dad to your graduation but he has "started drinking again" and you think it's highly likely he'll disrupt the ceremony, and therefore you would like them to take him off the guest list. They will probably advise you as to what to do in terms of notifying the campus police/security if he turns up anyway, but if they don't, you should ask them and if necessary get in touch with security yourself.
3b. After doing this, explain to your dad that you're asking him not to attend because of his drinking.
3c. If he shows up and makes a scene, you will at least be on record as having done what you could. You will have to apologize to your advisors and professors and explain that you did all you could and he is there without your permission.

It's that bad. Please don't tell yourself that tel3path is being too strict and exaggerating how bad it is, because I'm not. I wouldn't suggest this to you if I didn't think you really needed to do it, even though I know you'll hate it.

If your dad attends, then his misbehaving will be a worry. It will be a worry even if he swears to you on a stack of Bibles that he will not drink for 48 hours preceding the event, or whatever. You know it will. The only way you won't have to worry about this is if he's not there.

Sorry, it sucks.
posted by tel3path at 2:43 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sadly it sounds like you need to establish boundaries and this is as good a time as any to start. I know of what I'm talking, my dad, while not an alcoholic is emotionally, verbally and physically abusive and my mother simultaneously denies and condones it. He's completely unpredictable (he has some kind of mental disorder, we just don't know what to call it, Assholitis, maybe?) and is completely enabled by the rest of the family so acts like a total asshole at will.

Anyway after he did something particularly bad, I eventually drew a line in the sand and when he ignored it, I cut both my parents off. This entailed not talking to them for almost a year, in which time, they missed the birth of their grandchild and any inclusion or information about him, family events, my presence at their 70th birthday etc etc. When we finally reconvened, at the behest of my brothers and sisters, I lay down the law and told them their behaviour towards me and my family would not be tolerated. The next time my dad stepped out of line would be the last time he ever saw me.

Things are civil now at best, I still don't really want anything to do with them but both are on their best behaviour when I do see them (rarely, we live interstate at least in part because I can't stand to be around them.) Best of luck. This is very difficult to do and takes massive strength but is so so worth it.

So in short, I wouldn't invite them, I would explain why and let them know that unless they get their drinking under control they will have less and less to do with you. They need to make a choice about what's important and you need to start protecting yourself.
posted by Jubey at 3:03 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

If your alcoholic parent has been drunk by 3PM every day for the last 10+ years, as you suggest, just immediately stopping drinking for 24-48 hours is probably going to make them even more unbearable, make them feel incredibly sick, and possibly lead to severe health implications from withdrawal symptoms.

You say your graduation is at the end of this month. So about 2 weeks away? If you really want your parent to be there, you have to act fast: Sit down with them, explain you want them there, but you need them to be sober. Then tell them that you will support them and be there for them if they want to seek an out-patient detox plan, which would involve them telling all to a doctor, taking a lot of tranquilizers (Valium) for a week or so, to replace the booze, taper of the valium over a week or so, and not drink at all.

If they refuse to do that, tell them they're uninvited.
posted by Diag at 3:06 AM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

As the only adult in the relationship with your parents, you will have to stand firm, be strict. Let them know through email or text that you have given their spot at your ceremony to a friend with a video camera. Ask them to stay away from the event. When they call you to yell, scream, cry, rant, calmly tell them that their drinking is intolerable to you and you don't want to be around it. If they promise to not drink, then hold them to it. Ask them to stop right away to be clean for the night. Set up an appointment with their doctor so that he can handle the medical end of it. Be firm, be strict, remove yourself from the emotional part of it and try to show them a cold side of you that can not be manipulated. You are the only adult in the relationship with your parents. Don't let yourself down.

Also, as a child of alcoholics, you should not drink at all, not even socially. It's too slippery of a slope. That is the one thing your parents were right about. Please consider agreeing to a family detox.
posted by myselfasme at 5:35 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another vote for disinviting them. Caveat: I come from an alcoholic family and there are people I pretty much only see at special occasions. Two guys in particular had been under pressure from family for years to be sober or at least presentable at these events. Guess what? Sometimes they were, and sometimes they would fall on the floor or wander off and have the police enlisted to help find them. They're both dead now.

If you want to try an intervention or whatever for their drinking, I think that should be separate from big events. The pressure of those events-- plus pressure from family to be sober-- really seems to drive the alcoholic over the edge at times.
posted by BibiRose at 5:58 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can ask, but they may or may not oblige.

There are plenty of great people who come from not-so-great families. I mean, watch any taping of the Oscars, some people thank their parents, some people don't.

The thing you have to remember is that the rest of the world also realizes this. If people look at your parent and say "geez that person is such an alcoholic" that doesn't reflect on you. If you doubt this just ask them something like "It sounds like you're saying my parent is an alcoholic, does that mean you think his/her family is crummy too?" The answer will likely be no. No one expects you to solve your parent's drinking problem. You are a diamond in the rough.

Relative to the ceremony, if you have already invited your parents, make a point to hang out mostly with your friends at graduation. Go out for a meal with your parents once (preferably breakfast) and don't stay in the hotel with them. Yes it might be a not so fun and seemingly embarrassing graduation but the important victory will be that you and your friends will have graduated and you will still be a graduate if your parent behaves poorly.

Also please consider talking to a therapist or counselor. They can help provide you with breathing, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques for dealing with situations like these. Your school might have one that you can see for cheap.
posted by donut_princess at 6:19 AM on May 16, 2013

Well, I don't know. My parents are both long-time alcoholics. (One is now sober 8 months and counting...fingers crossed). To be 100% fair to them, they are annoying, overdramatic, weepy, incoherent, speech-slurring, unsafe to drive drunks at stuff like graduations. But they save staggering drunk for family parties.

My mother was a complete fucking mess at most graduation-related events. But she wasn't falling down. My father had probably had a lot more, but he hides it better.

They are my parents. They PAID for college. A falling-down drunk I wouldn't invite. A speech-slurring, embarrassing drunk, well, that's Mom and Dad.

Are you standard college age? 21 or 22? This is coming from my own calculus, so you don't have to agree. They were assholes in a lot of ways, but, at age 21, they had raised me for 6/7 of my life.

It depends on the level of drunk that you suspect they will get to WITHOUT your saying anything. If you say nothing--how drunk will they get? See if you can live with that.
posted by skbw at 6:28 AM on May 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Put another way. At 21 it seemed like 18 was the final end of home and family and my previous life. At 21 I felt like a free agent (we're talking emotions, not money). Obviously, 18 and leaving home was a huge break.

Looking back from age 35, although my parents could not have been more hostile and nasty about everything I did in college, though trips home were a nightmare, though indeed I stayed away as much as I possibly could, at 35's perspective, the years 18-21 were less the beginning of adult life than the very tail end, the coda, of home life, despite taking place many miles away from my parents' house. This is just my perspective now. I don't expect you, OP, to feel that way at the moment, because everything HAS changed for you and you don't have the additional years.

I would think about going to Al-Anon a couple of times to get some perspective and then gritting your teeth and suffering through your parents one more time, per usual. At your wedding, future graduations, etc., at that point, then you will call the tune, but this is, in many ways, the last time they will.
posted by skbw at 6:41 AM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

You have a lot of choices, but none of them is pleasant.
Ask parent not to drink. Not likely to be successful. Likely to cause confrontation.
Invite/not invite parent to reception. Possibility of confrontation, if parent learns of it.
Invite/not invite parent to graduation. Likelihood of success depends on the school's graduation setup. Likely to cause confrontation; parent knows you're graduating.
Tell parent not to come to graduation if they drink. Likelihood of success depends on parent. Likely to cause confrontation.

I would not invite parent to the reception, for reasons already noted - there will likely be alcohol served, there's more socializing and more opportunity for bad behavior. If there's any discussion, I'd be honest about why, but not willing to argue about it. If the graduation is early in the day, and also if parent paid for school, I'd ask parent to graduation. You can make a restaurant reservation for the time immediately after the ceremony; most people don't hang around much.

I recommend Al-Anon or Adult Children of Alcoholics. It helps to have a group who has similar experience supporting you. You are at an age where people are way less likely to judge you by your parents' behavior. You can get help separating your sense of self-worth from your parents.

Things I learned:
You can't control the alcoholic.
You can confront the alcoholic, tell them you love them, and ask them to deal with their serious illness. Or you can choose not to. You aren't responsible for your parent's drinking.
You can opt out - dinners, holidays, etc. Don't go. Or make a brief appearance and leave. I moved a thousand miles away. I missed out on some trips, lots of holidays, parties, etc. That was kind of not fun, but I also missed the alcoholic dramas at holidays, the guilting and the manipulation. And a lot of mean-spirited drunken accusations. When I did visit, I always, always, had a backup plan, and implemented the plan on occasion.
You can define the relationship. You don't have to stay on the phone/ in the room, etc., when your parent is behaving badly, regardless of alcohol status. It's hardest when you start changing the relationship; my alcoholic parent was relentless in trying to maintain the status quo. I persevered, and though the relationship was never ideal, it got better, and I got a lot healthier.
It got a lot easier as my siblings recognized the alcoholism.

Good luck and congratulations.
posted by theora55 at 9:03 AM on May 16, 2013

"Parent, this is an extremely important day for me and I'm celebrating my accomplishments and it would mean so much to me for you to be there. However, if you cannot be sober, you cannot come."

Simple as that. If it gets to be an issue, remind them that they will not be in the pictures, but you'd gladly print them out for them.

Yes it can turn out great, if they're willing. But it can also turn out horrible. Would you rather have them not there and be slightly bummed out but have a fantastic night all about you? Or, take the gamble and invite them and they can't keep it together long enough and all you remember on the day of your graduation is the negative associations because they embarassed/harrassed/humiliated/whatever etc.?

You're more important, always, especially with an incapacitated parent. So try to see it from that perspective.
posted by lunastellasol at 11:18 AM on May 16, 2013

I don't really remember if I asked my mom not to drink at my graduation but she understood that she shouldn't. My friend ended up sitting with her at the ER for the whole afternoon because her withdrawal was so bad. So if you parents are drinking that much, I don't think it's realistic to ask them to be sober. You probably have some friends who aren't graduating that day, right? Ask a couple of them to just be on the lookout, maybe talk to them and guide them through the day.

Yeah, it sucks and it's totally enabling but two weeks before your graduation isn't the time to start re-drawing boundaries and acting all like you "should".

Great job on finishing school! Good luck!
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:16 PM on May 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you get someone to act as a handler? (Preferably somebody burly with military, police, or security experience.) Ideally they would be able to calm your parent down or extricate them from sticky situations, but if necessary they could hustle them out/suggest they retire to the nearest bar instead?
posted by Soliloquy at 1:26 PM on May 16, 2013

I know from experience that, barring a serious conversation (although this has never worked before), them drinking is almost inevitable

So, in other words, their drinking is almost inevitable, and talking to them about it and asking them to refrain for a particular event won't help.

There is not some magic polite way to ask that will help.


If you don't want to deal with them being there and drunk, don't have them there.
posted by yohko at 1:37 PM on May 16, 2013

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