He ain't heavy...
March 21, 2014 7:28 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with an immediate family member with substance abuse problems at my upcoming wedding? When do I put my foot down?

My brother is 33 and has a history of alcohol abuse and substance abuse problems. In the past, he's pulled stunts that have required me spending multiple nights in the ER and flying across the country. He is currently staying with my parents, and I was just informed that he is (once again) going through severe withdrawl and has been stealing from our parents in order to buy alcohol. This has been going on for almost 10 years. I am getting married in a few months and the reception will have an open bar. My parents write a lot of his behavior off as "isolated incidents" and "he's trying." I, quite frankly, am 200% done with this. I have told my parents that if he is stealing and drinking, he is no longer invited to the wedding. I do not want myself (or them) to have to babysit him the entire night. We're not a particularly close family, and while his absence would be felt, I don't find myself feeling particularly broken up about it.

My fiance and I have already decided to inform the bartenders not to serve him under any circumstances. I want to give him a chance (he is my brother after all, and my only sibling). He is not a loud or aggressive drunk, and he's not violent or prone to fights. He just drinks to excess and experiences crippling withdrawl. The stealing is what is bothering me the most. I don't want to be side-eyeing my own brother at the gift table.

My question is, at what point to I make the call to ban him? And how do I go about that? Approaching him directly has never yielded great results (he simply shuts down and uses the confrontation as an excuse to drink again), and my parents seem incredibly blind to the severity of his behavior. My relationship with my parents is already strained and I don't want to push it further, but I also don't want to have to worry about this on my wedding day. They have also contributed a lot of money towards this wedding, and I don't want to appear ungrateful. I'm sort of at the end of my emotional rope.

FWIW, I have a history of addiction myself (8 years recovered), so I am not unsympathetic to what he's going through, but I am also frustrated that he is only making face value efforts to recover.

Throwaway: wedding_questions (at) yahoo (dot) com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Having the bartenders not serve him won't do a lick of good. He'll ask others to get him a drink or bring his own. For someone who is not actively in recovery with established sobriety, an open bar wedding is not a good place to be. Can you talk to him about it? Tell him that while you love him, given the current state of his addiction and his history, you think it would be best if he didn't attend the wedding. He may not handle confrontation well, but that doesn't mean that he's not hearing what you're saying. You are not responsible for his response to your conversation.

Explain to your parents that you love brother, but that his addiction is in full bloom and that it's not healthy for him to be there and that he's likely to not be able to conduct himself well. Tell them that you want them to support your decision and that your decision is not being made out of anything other than sympathy and understanding of where he is with his struggle with addiction.

If, by chance, you are having a wedding where there's a marriage ceremony in one location and the reception in another, you may want to consider not having him at the reception while allowing him to be at the ceremony.

You have every right to have a wedding without a disruptive and worrisome family member there.
posted by quince at 7:51 PM on March 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I know an alcoholic who was eight years sober and the bridesmaid at her best friend's wedding. She, of course, had no ill intentions, but drank some champagne with the bride early in the day. Things quickly went downhill and by the time of the wedding she was dead drunk. There are pictures, video, and everything of the maudlin scene. They still don't talk and this was years ago.

I might approach him from the vantage point of: I want you at my wedding, but I can't accept your drinking. Even the possibility of your drinking would cause my wife anxiety at her own wedding, and I can't do that to her. I love you too, and think the best thing for you is not to go to something like this until you've been sober for a while.

I would tell him as quickly as possible. This is likely to be the kind of thing where there will be some hurt feelings or drama at large in your family. You want to be sure everyone's had time to calm down and get over it.
posted by xammerboy at 7:52 PM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

You haven't invited him, right?
posted by oceanjesse at 7:55 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are not going to get straight information from your parents.
In your question you state that "I was just informed that he is (once again) going through severe withdrawl and has been stealing from our parents in order to buy alcohol."
There is your answer.

NOW is the time to let him know that he will not be invited; he is currently stealing and buying alcohol. He will find a way to drink at your wedding; your only chance would be not to serve alcohol. He would then probably bring his own.

Don't be surprised if your parents put up a stink, just keep repeating, "He is not sober, he is stealing and he is using alcohol. I would support him in rehab but cannot support him drinking. I would support him in rehab but cannot support his behavior or the consequences of his behavior."
Keep in mind that your parents ARE supporting his drinking, his behavior, and the consequences of the same. Do not trust their assessment of your brother's behavior.
posted by calgirl at 8:07 PM on March 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

"They have also contributed a lot of money towards this wedding,..."

Is it possible to refund your parents part of the money and elope? I would take just such a drastic step to insure that brother is not at the ceremony. As far as the reception, most elopees simply don't have one (or a small party later.) Have your small party; friends only, no family.

I'm sorry about this sticky situation. But I would do everything in my power to insure he does not attend your wedding. Do please consider eloping.

I have a non-existent threshold for public drunkenness.
posted by BostonTerrier at 8:35 PM on March 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Nthing BostonTerrier....my suggestion would also be to hire security to escort your brother out if he shows up.
posted by brujita at 8:42 PM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

"My fiance and I have already decided to inform the bartenders not to serve him under any circumstances." I am a bartender who often works weddings. I would be very annoyed at this kind of request and probably wouldn't be able to honor it even if I wanted to.
posted by lester at 8:44 PM on March 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

I was at a wedding once where the bride and groom knew a family member was going to have trouble with alcohol. They told a friend what to look out for and, once the family member drank a bit too much, the friend helped the family member away from the wedding and put them to bed. The newlywed and the other guests didn't notice a thing.

Now, this may be a very different situation that what you're facing. In the wedding I was at, the family member had agreed to this process ahead of time and was 100% on board with it. They knew they'd have trouble and, because they really didn't want to screw up the wedding, thought this was a great alternative to either ruining things or being uninvited. They were also a very agreeable drunk who would go wherever the friend asked them to. As for the friend who enacted the plan, it was no more onerous than being a groomsman ( which they also were).
posted by eisenkr at 9:07 PM on March 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Separate wedding from reception. He is welcome at the wedding. He is not welcome at the reception.

It just has to be what it has to be. He can't be at the part of the wedding with booze and gifts.
posted by 26.2 at 9:35 PM on March 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

Maybe have your groomsmen literally take turns babysitting him? That's part of the gig. They are there to handle stuff like this because you can't be everywhere at once.
posted by 99percentfake at 9:36 PM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you are super worried about it, then let your parents know you won't be inviting him and bear the strained relationship. If it would be too awkward to use their money for the wedding, then maybe find some way to pinch a little and return their money, and they should no longer have any say in who you invite.

If you decide you want to take a chance on having your brother there (and keep the wedding money and relationship with your parents), I'd say to hire at least one security person, maybe two, to keep an eye especially on him. I think you can tell your parents, "I really hope that brother will not cause any disruptions at the wedding, since I love him and would like him to be there, but if there are any issues, I will have to let security handle it if you cannot get him under control."

And this might be a stupid idea, but tell the bartenders to water down all his drinks? Or give every guest a set number of drink passes, and they have to present that to the bartender to get a drink. So that he can only get 5 drinks that night as opposed to 20.
posted by madonna of the unloved at 9:36 PM on March 21, 2014

If he's already invited, I think you need to level with him in a non-confrontational way. Tell him you love him, you really want to see him there, but you know he's been dealing with staying sober lately so you want to encourage him to keep up at it because you don't want to have to worry about his drinking on a day that is supposed to be your special day. You can deliver the ultimatum that if his alcoholism isn't under control, you won't have him at the wedding, for both of your sakes. I don't know if that would send him over the edge or not, but if your brother can't show you he loves you enough to at least try his best to be altogether on your wedding day, how can you feel OK with inviting him? The ball is in his court.

I do think the advice to separate the wedding from the reception is actually a good idea, if you can still do that.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:50 PM on March 21, 2014

When do I put my foot down?

Right this instant is when.

Your brother will not attend either the wedding or the reception. This is not a request. This is not negotiable.

There won't be any babysitting by the groomsmen or the bartenders or anyone else because your alcoholic brother and his disruptive behavior is not their problem.
He's not your problem, either. You're the bride. This is your day. You may have 99 issues on your list but destructive drinky bro isn't one of them.

You will instruct Mom & Dad that your brother will not attend either the wedding or the reception. He will not by his presence or actions be allowed to disrupt your wedding.
They are his parents and they have chosen to shelter him and enable his addictions. Your brother is their problem and they will deal with him.
You bet someone will babysit your brother - at a remote location where he is denied the opportunity to cause any trouble.

The father of the bride pays for the wedding. Your father will also ensure that his troubled son is not allowed to spoil his daughter's wedding day.
posted by Pudhoho at 11:13 PM on March 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm about the same age as your brother and although I got clean from the coke and pills over 12 years ago (and even that took a prison sentence to accomplish), I still go back and forth in my ongoing battle with alcohol.

Do not invite this man to an open-bar reception if his drinking is to the point of stealing and all that.

Either he's not ready to stop- which means he will get out of control drunk and do a lot of stuff you don't like; or he's thinking about stopping but now all of a sudden he's in the middle of the biggest most magical get-together your family is likely ever to have done... and there is an ocean of free alcohol.

Ask yourself: what is the best possible outcome here? An argument with a bartender who tells him no? An argument with whoever is babysitting him? What's the worst possible outcome- even without considering him drinking from a flask in his sock or in the car?

It's your wedding. When he gets sober for real he will understand why he couldn't be at the reception, and probably thank you for not inviting him. In the meantime he might get mad but so what.
posted by Hiding From Goro at 12:05 AM on March 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have told my parents that if he is stealing and drinking, he is no longer invited to the wedding. I do not want myself (or them) to have to babysit him the entire night. We're not a particularly close family, and while his absence would be felt, I don't find myself feeling particularly broken up about it.

Brief the Best Man. Don't fall for the fallacy of the missing middle. For example, invite him to the ceremony only. The Best Man might have some suggestions on how the groomsmen might keep an eye out for you guys if you feel like an invite to the reception is required. There's enough groomsmen who can do shifts, even. This is why you have people stand up in the wedding. Ceremonies require some help.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:06 AM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

A large part of addiction is the shame that comes from being addicted [I know this the hard way].

He probably both does and does not want to be at your wedding. Is there any way you can provide "cover" for his non-attendance? i.e. talk to him and agree to some excuse for his non-attendance.

Congratulations on your recovery.

Fuck it and elope.
posted by vapidave at 1:27 AM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have told my parents that if he is stealing and drinking, he is no longer invited to the wedding. [...]
My fiance and I have already decided to inform the bartenders not to serve him under any circumstances.

You can't really involve others in disinviting him or conveying the information. You said that confrontations go poorly, and while it's not the least bit fair, it would be even more unfair to make anyone but you the messenger here. And certainly not the bartenders.

I think you have to do it soon. Maybe look up tips for firing someone. There are suggestions you might be able to use: be brief and factual, remember he's unlikely to hear much of what you say beyond "I need you to not attend our wedding". Ideally have another family member with you. Don't negotiate, just keep saying, I'm sorry, that's not going be possible. End the discussion quickly. Have an exit strategy.

See if you can find someone who can do something with him that day - maybe an old friend? Who could help occupy his time so his isolation wasn't so obvious to him the day of, and would keep him from surprise visits if he gets drunk and decides to show up anyway.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:30 AM on March 22, 2014

Can you hire someone to be his chaperone for the day? Maybe an off-duty cop or a private detective, who'll show up to the wedding dressed as a guest. His responsibility will be to ensure that your brother doesn't get near the booze, and he doesn't get paid if he fails. It might cost you a packet, but it'll be worth it to have a wedding that's not ruined by a drunk.
posted by essexjan at 4:12 AM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

You are setting yourself up for major disappointment if you think your brother can come to the wedding and not drink. He's an addict, he's gonna find a way. No bartender or babysitter or ticket system will prevent it. I think you only have two realistic options- disinvite him, or just let him come and ignore him (but hire somebody to guard the gift table). You are not going to win in a battle to control him, you can only control how you're dealing with him. I'm sorry. Good luck.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:43 AM on March 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

Don't have an open bar at your wedding. Seriously.

If that's not going to resolve the issue, if your brother is going to show up drunk or three sheets to the wind, it's time you had a sad talk with your brother. Not a confronting talk, not an angry talk. A sad talk.

If you can remember a time before the alcohol, from your childhood, when you two were close, a time when he really came through for you, even if it was just for a moment -- address that brother. Tell him you miss him. "I'm not inviting you to the wedding. I can't. I can tell you that I will miss you. But I've already been missing you for so many years. I loved you and you walked off with Alcohol and never looked back. I always miss you."

If none of what I'm saying here is possible-- if he's too volatile or you're too angry, then you just have to make it short and sweet. Write him a letter, explain that you're not inviting him, and that you'll miss him. Don't involve your parents, don't reference any info your parents gave you, don't give them a heads up, and if they ask, tell them you've already written your brother and it's between you and him.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:23 AM on March 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

I nth just not having an open bar. He may not be the only guest who has challenges with alcohol, and the problems that arise from wedding guests drinking too much fill volumes of sad family stories. I would definitely want an open bar at my wedding, too, but not to the point where I'd cause so much family drama, risking a scene or a schism.

Plus, open bars are expensive. Save the money and use it on your honeymoon.
posted by Capri at 6:03 AM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

He's either in or he's out. Your wedding will live with the consequences either way. He's an adult and an alcoholic. You can either have him there or not, and that is the sole amount of control you can exercise.

There is no babysitting, no controlling—nothing. That will result in strife and drama and nerves and possibly fights.

Here is my experience from my own wedding: BAN ANYONE YOU DON'T WANT THERE. Treat it like Twitter. Heh. Block, unfollow and don't have anyone at YOUR wedding that YOU don't want there. Be authoritative and decisive. No one DESERVES an invitation to your wedding. Full speed ahead. Start mercenary with your list, then end with a little bit of kindness.

Anyway, in this case, ideally the staff would not serve any wedding guest to excess, but they have no power or authority when dealing with a belligerent guest. All they will get is yelled at a wedding and then perhaps by their supervisors. At worst, fired. Weddings and catering don't work like that.

There is a good resource for family members of alcoholics, if you Google. :)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:38 AM on March 22, 2014

I'm seeing two different tones in this thread: folks who say just stand your ground and have a firm conversation with him and your parents, and folks who are recommending physical ways to either mitigate or restrain or prevent a confrontation.

I guess I'm on the physical side, because I don't understand how saying "you are not invited" will actually physically keep him from coming to the wedding. It's like taking away someone's driver's license. Yes, it means you get in more trouble if you drive and get caught, but it doesn't actually stop you from driving if that's what you want to do.

You know your family best. If you think that talking to him and your parents will solve it, go for it. But if he is the type to do what he wants regardless of what people have said (see "stealing"), I really think you need to consider the physical suggestions listed above.
posted by CathyG at 7:49 AM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think open bar vs. not open bar solves anything. He can still bring money or bring his own and get drunk.

Also, in my experience, having your wedding day ruined is a resentment that will last a lot longer than a spat about not being invited.

Just tell him he's not invited.
posted by ctmf at 7:57 AM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

One other thing leaps out for me, and I'm not sure it's been mentioned. In addition to the drinking issue, there's a stealing issue. Women at weddings leave their purses at the table as they mingle/dance/whatever. How will you feel if you find out he's taken a purse or something from a purse? To me, that's a whole new level of temptation to add to the problem.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 9:06 AM on March 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

My question is, do you want just the event to go smoothly, and not to annoy your parents who are footing the bill , or are you concerned about fallout afterwards? You can ban your brother or elope, but neither option in any way would reduce drama or resentment on your part or someone else's.

You should know that addressing addiction just takes the time it takes, if it happens. It's an accumulation of insights and shitty events that might incline an addicted person or people enabling them to wake up. You don't seem to have been able to make an impact on your parents. You could maybe use your wedding to force it, but is that really what you want? The whole thing would be tinged with resentment.

If he's going to sit quietly and stealing is the stated issue, I think the friend chaperone, plus maybe yes, not open bar, and then just deciding to forget about it, is one way for you to have a day closer to what you want.

He's in the full throes of addiction, you definitely can't expect him to fix it on your schedule. Putting high stakes on the day might guarantee his failure, especially with an open bar.

There might be a better time for an intervention with your brother or parents than this, is what I'm saying.

Most people have a person in the family with troubles, few are untouched by burden.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:14 AM on March 22, 2014

Like if your parents disagree with you about the severity of the problem, and you cut him out, I'm not sure you banning him would make the case you want. Blame might go to you (too sensitive, critical, just doesn't want to ruin her day, doesn't love him/ us) and threaten your relationship with your parents. You might have a stronger position when it's not perceived that you have something huge at stake.

I think it would be good if you could find a way to get through the day feeling drama is managed (stealing, by trusted chaperone/s), accepting you can't control your brother, and focusing on your other relationships and other aspects of the day.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:37 AM on March 22, 2014

Approaching him directly has never yielded great results (he simply shuts down and uses the confrontation as an excuse to drink again

I think it's best to be direct, and not put your parents in the role of go-between. Speak one-on-one with your brother. Let him know that his *behaviors* -- stealing and drinking -- have led you to the difficult decision that he can't attend your wedding. You can tell him he is a good person with bad behaviors, and it is not a fundamental rejection of who he is, just a rejection of some of the choices he makes.

And then let him react as he will. If he uses it as an excuse to drink, so be it. An addict will use ANYthing as an excuse to use, so don't blame yourself.

And actually, you never know: perhaps this will be the incident (you showing strong boundaries, and modeling healthy behavior to your parents and your brother) that will change the family enabling dynamic in a good way. Not that that is your responsibility; but just keep in mind that what you think will be a negative/damaging conversation might ultimately have a positive effect.
posted by nacho fries at 9:41 AM on March 22, 2014

Probably not feasible, but have a dry reception. No booze. May have to cut it a little short, but then invite the guests that want to drink later to go to the bar of their choosing - at their expense, and without your babysitting.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:00 AM on March 22, 2014

Whether or not you have a dry reception, or even bar him from the reception, he'll probably bring his own alcohol. You know, like my husband's friend did to our no-alcohol reception at the no-alcohol park, in front of multiple kids (three of his own) and someone else's family.

At this point, it's not about you. I'm sorry.
posted by Madamina at 10:29 AM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you have a dry reception (not recommended unless you want to disappoint your guests who are able to drink reasonably), and your brother knows that will be the case, you can probably count on him doing some serious pre-gaming (drinking before the wedding) to "compensate". (I say that without judgment -- that was my m.o. back when I was in your brother's shoes.)

Even though he's not an unruly drunk, and therefore may not disrupt the proceedings in a public way, my guess is that it will make you very sad and stressed to have him there. And since he does have a history of causing you to take extreme measures (the ER trips, etc.), who knows if this will end up being another situation that escalates to drama?
posted by nacho fries at 10:44 AM on March 22, 2014

Many people suggested he attend the ceremony only, and if you do go that route I suggest having no alcohol served until the cocktail hour/reception. Pre-ceremony drinks probably won't be missed too much by your guests.
posted by inertia at 11:38 AM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

How consistent is your brother? If he is seriously addicted he may just not show up even with an invite.

Other things you can do is put the ceremony far away/ inconvenient and load your parents car up with stuff so there isn't room for your brother or ask them to come way early so your bother will be without alcohol if he chooses to come for quite awhile. So he just won't come That is assuming your brother won't drive drunk to your wedding.

I'd hate the babysitting approach. It's a lot of work for someone to attempt to manage the unmanageable. And also there may be some resentment built up to whomever gets that job on both sides.

The drinking doesn't bother me as much as the stealing. I'm much more afraid he'd steal gifts, money or other people's belongings.
posted by AlexiaSky at 12:56 PM on March 22, 2014

Upon further reflection, I think that the separate dry ceremony and wet reception is a good idea. Maybe frame it that 'lots of people are only going to the ceremony'.

If he crashes, it may be overkill, but is it possible to call the authorities on him to get him trespassed?
posted by spinifex23 at 1:37 PM on March 22, 2014

I had a situation where a brother was using drugs and nobody in the family would tell his ex-wife -- their child was visiting their dad regularly, and I believed the mom needed to know about the drug use. My parents did everything they could think of to dissuade me, and then continued to be angry with me afterwards, and poured on the guilt. The same happened every time my brother relapsed. It's normal...they're part of a dysfunctional family system.

If you decide not to invite your brother to the reception, be prepared for the rest of the family to make it hard for you. But your fiancé/spouse is your primary family now. You're going to have to put your birth family lower on the list on a lot of matters in the future. It can be very, very hard to do -- but you need to do it.

How about going to an Al-Anon meeting, telling about your situation, and inviting people to chat with you about it after the meeting. They will give you support in doing what you believe is best. I believe that you do an addict a favor if you're clear with them about how their alcohol/substance abuse is affecting you, and refuse to enable them.
posted by wryly at 2:18 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Tell him yourself that he is not to come. But not because you're punishing him for being a drunk! Because you know a party like this is a dangerous place for him, and you're going to make the decision that is going to make this easy, safe, and fun for everyone. You love him but you're realistic, and you will celebrate with him another time, that isn't full of booze. Don't make this a confrontation, just a regretful set of firm instructions, and you can tell your parents the same thing.

If your parents object because they want him to be able to see all the assembled family or whatever, then they can host a family brunch in their backyard the next day.

If you find yourself faltering, think of everyone's purse out on the table and how you'd feel finding out that a bunch of people had been stolen from at your wedding.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:00 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

He will find drinks. Other people will get him drinks, he'll swipe them from tables, he'll cajole or bribe the bartender... whatever.

"I'm sorry, but due to your past behaviour you won't be welcome at our wedding. I wish you the best of luck in your recovery, and will be happy to help you find rehab services."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:38 AM on March 23, 2014

If he is there, you will worry and constantly have one eye on him, no matter what measures you put in place.

You can have a dry bar, but he can bring his own, too. A dry bar just punishes the other guests.

The potential for him to act out by drinking and stealing from you or your other guests would be too high for my peace of mind.
posted by Amy NM at 6:08 AM on March 25, 2014

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