How do I deal with my alcoholic mom
June 13, 2014 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Hi guys I live in us and my mom in Romania. We talk on the phone quite often- everyday being that I am the only child. But it hurts me so much when I talk to her to know that she drank, or that she is drunk. The way I suspect it is by speech. She is not that fluent, the words come out harder from her mouth. I know her, and I know if she drank just by listening to her speech. Obviously she denies like any addict. This thing kills me because I know it kills her. How do I deal with it? I told her repeatedly that I hate it. I was thinking to stop talking to her. Basically I was thinking that if one night I call and she is drunk then don't call for a week. Hopefully she can link her drinking to me not calling which she freaks out if I don't call. It might not work but at least I keep my sanity because after I see her like that my whole day is ruined.
posted by barexamfreak to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry you're going through this.

Hopefully she can link her drinking to me not calling which she freaks out if I don't call.

Could you tell her explicitly? Like, "Hey, mom, I don't want to talk to you when you've been drinking. I'll call back next week"?
posted by jaguar at 1:31 PM on June 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Hi, I am so sorry you are going through this. I have been there.

What you need to do is be really clear with her on what you're going to do and why. Don't just stop calling for a week without telling her what's going on - tell her what's happening and why and then don't let yourself get into an argument about it. When I was in a similar situation, for example, I told my dad, "I can't talk to you when you're drunk. If I call and you're drunk, I'm hanging up the phone." I wasn't mean about it, but I thought it was important that he be perfectly clear on why I was doing what I did.

It is also important to keep in mind that you are taking this action not to punish her, but to protect yourself. If your goal is to get her to stop drinking, that probably will not work. But your goal can be to keep yourself from having to deal with her when she's drunk - that is the only thing you can control.
posted by something something at 1:32 PM on June 13, 2014 [13 favorites]

First of all, I am very sorry you are going through this. It sounds awful.

Hopefully she can link her drinking to me not calling which she freaks out if I don't call.

That's not going to work. She's half a world away and she's going to drink if she wants to. If I were in your situation, I would just lay out a rule - that you make clear to her - that you're not going to talk to her on the phone if she's been drinking.

"Mom, I don't like talking to you when you've been drinking. It really upsets me, so please don't call me when you've been drinking. If I call you and I can tell you've been drinking, I'm going to hang up. Please call me when you have your wits about you, because I love talking to you."
posted by jbickers at 1:33 PM on June 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

You have my sympathy. It is very hard when someone you love is addicted.

There is an organization called Al-Anon, which is for people who are not addicted themselves but who are affected by the addiction of a family member, as you are. You can contact them or go to a meeting and ask for support there.
posted by gauche at 1:33 PM on June 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

Can you switch you daily calls to a time of day when she is less likely to be drinking? Like when she wakes up in the morning? This has worked for me for periods in the past when it was necessary.

something something's advice is spot on.

You can't get her to stop, all you can do is communicate to her how it makes you feel, but first you might want to think about why it bothers you. Is it because she is hurtful to you? Or because you believe she is hurting herself? The reason you find it upsetting may change your strategy.
posted by girlpublisher at 1:33 PM on June 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

You need to understand the difference between manipulation - "I won't call her for a week if she's been drinking as punishment, so maybe she'll stop drinking" because all you're going to get is pain and disappointment, and having boundaries - "I will set a boundary that we will not talk if she's drunk, tell her that, and follow through if she is drunk, because it's too painful for me to experience that."

If punishing people made them stop drinking, Alcoholics Anonymous wouldn't be so popular. Nobody would need to go to rehab.

She will have to decide when to get help when she wants it and is ready to quit. You cannot control that, and you will only hurt yourself if you try.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:37 PM on June 13, 2014 [13 favorites]

She won't link your calls to her drinking; you'll need to spell it out to her, preferably at a time when she's sober and will remember. Yes, she might get mad, but that anger is about you trying to take the alcohol away from her, and if she is addicted she can't really control that anger. I haven't spoken to my mother in several years because of her drinking. It started like you, suspicion that she's drinking but being unwilling to accuse her for fear of making her upset. I had to learn that any suspicion I had was pretty much definite proof; like you, I love my mother, but I had to set boundaries.

I deleted a long explanation of my boundaries, and how I didn't cut off contact immediately, but it wouldn't help you to hear my story. In my story, she increased her alcohol usage throughout, to the point that now we cannot speak to each other. I hope that doesn't happen for you, though.

But -- either way, whether your mother does stop abusing alcohol, or you have to cut contact like I did, remind yourself that the boundaries you make, like telling her you will not speak to her on the phone if she is drunk, is for your health. You cannot change her; you cannot make her stop drinking. The reason for the boundaries is so that her drunkenness doesn't start harming your life -- letting her continue causing you hurt so she can keep drinking doesn't help her, and it doesn't help you. Only she can decide to stop drinking; until then, you don't have to accept her hurtful behavior. Be strong, be firm, and remember you're doing it to keep yourself from being dragged down by her alcoholism.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:37 PM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

People can't stop someone from being an alcoholic but you can still have a loving relationship with one - maybe even more so from a distance. Call her only in the mornings if she is most likely to be sober then. You can have a more positive experience with her without the negatives feelings you get when you know she has been drinking.

I wish you the best, and your mother, too.

You may want to go to an AlAnon meeting. They might be very helpful to you.
posted by beccaj at 1:38 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I will never forget calling my parents -- drunk and hysterical over some disaster in my life -- at two in the morning, and having my mother say, "Don't ever call us again when you're like this."

I took her words to heart, and stopped doing that. I did occasionally call them while/after drinking again. That's hard to avoid when you are a 24/7 drinker. but I made sure that I was in a stable enough condition that wouldn't cause them confusion or pain. And the experience of hearing my normally loving mom talk to me that way was a big motivator towards getting sober, within a year of that ultimatum.

So, setting a firm boundary with your mother about when you will/will not talk to her can be a good start towards a healthier relationship. It may help move her towards quitting. It may not. Regardless, it will cause you less immediate pain than continuing to try to talk to her when she's drunk.

And, ultimately, taking care of yourself is pretty much all you can "do" in this sort of situation. What she does is up to her, and it's unlikely that anything you do or say will be the sole cause of any improvement that she makes. Certainly not punishment (e.g. just not talking to her, without explanation) or persuasion (e.g. begging her to stop). But this is neither; it's simply self-protection. What she's doing is hurting you, and you have a legitimate right to prevent that particular pain.
posted by credible hulk at 2:53 PM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hi, I've been where you are. I agree with everyone above - and especially Lyn Never - about setting boundaries. It's probably scary and uncomfortable to think about telling her you don't want to talk to her when she's drunk, but I think it's both important for you, and in the long run kinder to her.

And it may not work. It didn't work with my mom, not really. I was terrified of talking to her about her drinking, but for my own sake, I had to.

Al-anon also helped. I hardly ever talked in the meetings, but it was really good to see how not alone I was, and how I didn't have to be ashamed. Meetings tend to have different vibes to them, so if you don't like the first couple you go to, just keep trying different ones. They meet in many places and many times.

Good luck. Sorry this is so hard.
posted by rtha at 4:19 PM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

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