Setting healthy boundary with my highly functioning alcoholic mom
July 8, 2014 10:34 AM   Subscribe

My mom leaves far away. In another country. I speak everyday with her on the phone for 20 min. She is everyday drunk. I know by her voice. When she drinks and when she doesn't. However, alcohol did not affect her career, money, even she is still married to my dad- although not the best marriage, I still believe they get along well.

She is very caring with me, helped me a lot financially. However it hurts me knowing that she is drunk and she is slowly killing herself. I need to set up boundry. I do not want a boundary where I call her in the morning when she is not drunk because that would be just covering a pain. I want a boundary where I still call her the same time. What would be a healthy boundary? Like I said she is not hurting me I just can't talk to her and see her like she is destroying herself. Please help me
posted by barexamfreak to Human Relations (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
When you say boundary, it implies she is too involved in your life, but that's not what your question seems to be. What is it you actually want?
posted by Dragonness at 10:36 AM on July 8, 2014

You don't need a boundary, you want to talk to your Mom when she's sober. So you either catch her early in her day, or if you call her when she's drunk, you simply say, "Mom, I love you, but you sound drunk right now. I'll try and catch you when you're sober."

You can't make her stop drinking, you can't manipulate her into it either.

Check out Al-Anon go to a meeting or seven, see what other people do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:39 AM on July 8, 2014 [13 favorites]

There is a lot of good advice in your past questions about your mother.

Al-anon and individual therapy are both excellent tools in helping individuals craft appropriate boundaries. But I would pour back over the answers in those posts to look for information on how to craft boundaries.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:44 AM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

I guess this is you trying to navigate the answers we gave you last time, which is you have to decide what is and isn't possible for you to deal with, except you don't like that fact that these answers won't stop your mom from drinking.

The boundary is for YOU, not her. If it pains you to talk to her drunk, your boundary should be that you don't talk to her when she's drunk. That means you can call her whenever you want, but if you call her during her daily drunk time, then she's going to be drunk when you call.

That means you will never get to talk to her.

Calling her when she's not drunk isn't "covering a pain". It's making it so you don't talk to her when she's drunk.

Your other alternative is to actually tell her that you don't like her drinking and you insist that she stops right now. That isn't how you make people stop drinking, but you seem determined to learn that from experience. If you want permission to say that to her, you have it. It still won't work, though.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:45 AM on July 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

I am unclear about how you mean boundary also. I will take a stab at it with the awareness that I may be off base, if so please excuse. When you say boundary, do you mean a way to separate your negative feeling about her from your feelings of love and appreciation when you speak with her? Remember that alcoholism is a bad thing and sad thing, but alcoholics are not bad people (necessarily). Since you seem to want a relationship with her you may want to accept her as she is. If you want to play a role in her recovery, you need to talk to her about it.
posted by waving at 10:45 AM on July 8, 2014

Response by poster: I want her to know that I will stop my relationship if she doesn't quit and I want to feel better so that I go about my daily routine without thinking about her problem. I have a life too. And I feel stuck in her problem.
posted by barexamfreak at 10:50 AM on July 8, 2014

Sweetie, go to Al-Anon. Learn some things about addiction. You can't order your Mom to stop drinking and Hey Presto! She stops.

Are you really ready to cut her out of your life completely? If so, go right ahead. You won't stop thinking about her, or worrying about her or loving her. You just won't have any contact.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:55 AM on July 8, 2014 [12 favorites]

I want her to know that I will stop my relationship if she doesn't quit

There's no way of doing that without straight-up telling her.

I want to feel better so that I go about my daily routine without thinking about her problem. I have a life too. And I feel stuck in her problem.

Once you decide to do it, the key is to be absolute, no exceptions. You won't feel better or not think about her for a long time. However, if you stick to no-contact, it will eventually feel routine and you will be used to not having her in your life.

However, since you bring up "boundary", maybe it's actually you who needs it? You said she's not hurting you and that her life is otherwise fine, so really the question should be, why are you taking all this burden upon yourself? You can't fix your mom, and you shouldn't try. It doesn't sound like she's the one making you "stuck" in her problem; it's you.

I'm not saying your mom is fine, and if it's just too painful, go no-contact. But do yourself a favor and don't fight other people's battles.
posted by spaltavian at 10:56 AM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Here are your options:
1. Do nothing and continue to be upset.
2. Learn to be okay with it.
3. Change when you call her to earlier in the day, in the hopes she will not be drunk then.
4. Tell her if you call and she's drunk you will hang up the phone, and then do that.
5. Stop talking to her on the phone.

Any of these options is a fine solution, but probably not all of them will work for you, personally. You need to figure out which one of them is best. But before you do that, you're going to have to learn to face and accept the reality of your mom's alcoholism. You can't make it go away. You can't manipulate her into stopping. You can only control how much of it you see and deal with.

Al-Anon can help you so much. Please go.
posted by something something at 11:04 AM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

I want her to know that I will stop my relationship if she doesn't quit and I want to feel better so that I go about my daily routine without thinking about her problem. I have a life too. And I feel stuck in her problem.

If you are willing to throw that down, do it. "We will not have a relationship if you are still drinking"
But that isn't going to get you what you really want. She isn't going to stop drinking because you are not talking to her. If you cut her out- it's for you, not her.

If you feel stuck in her problem- you need to work on you.

for the 100th time- nothing you do can fix your mom. That isn't something you have the power to do. Go to some Al-Anon meetings.
posted by Blisterlips at 11:15 AM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I want her to know that I will stop my relationship if she doesn't quit and I want to feel better so that I go about my daily routine without thinking about her problem. I have a life too. And I feel stuck in her problem.

These are things only you can do. Until your mom recognizes her problem (which, she may never do. She may not see her drinking as a problem since it doesn't seem to actively affect her life) she won't change. Even if she does recognize it, she may never change. It is your choice to revolve your life around her problem or not. From your post it doesn't seem that she is affecting your life other than that you have to talk to her when she's drunk (I'm not minimizing that, it's a crappy thing to deal with) and that her drinking has you concerned. The boundaries need to be within yourself to not let this affect your life as much as it seems to be.

See a therapist. Go to Al-Anon. Communicate your needs with your mom. Communicate your worries with your dad. And, in the end, accept that the only person you have the power to change in this situation is you.
posted by picklesthezombie at 11:21 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

What changed since the last time you asked this?
posted by BlahLaLa at 11:43 AM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe the boundary is on your side - you can't control or manipulate or "positive-reinforcement" her into not drinking. This is a lifetime coping habit she has.

Your boundary is that you love her, and you are not responsible for her actions, ever.

Feeling stuck in her problem is like being psychologically enmeshed with her, and that is the boundary issue here.

If it hurts to see her drunk, maybe you need a break. Not a 'cut ties forever' break but just a time-out, until you get your sense of boundaries more clear.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:46 AM on July 8, 2014

Having an alcoholic parent splits you in two.. it's like a continual bereavement - they are there and not there at the same time. You might find it interesting to look up "The cycle of change" as a model of addictions thats very useful.

This is a useful organisation but I don't now how much info you can access (they post stuff out now and again) if you are not in the UK
posted by tanktop at 2:24 PM on July 8, 2014

and I want to feel better so that I go about my daily routine without thinking about her problem. I have a life too. And I feel stuck in her problem.

I guess people have different views, but I think the people we love are wired into us, for better or worse. Her problem is likely going to be your problem, one way or another, until she doesn't have that problem anymore (one way or another). It hurts when people you love hurt themselves, and that's it.

Compartmentalizing may help you get through the day, but there's no not feeling it -- her absence, your worry, those will be there, probably, whether you speak to her or not. We all have burdens, I don't know what to tell you.

If it were me, I'd probably just call her in the morning and talk to the mom I could reach. I'd express my worry whenever it came up, naturally. I would encourage her in any expressed desire to move in a more positive direction*. But addiction is very strong. Protect yourself as much as you can, love her the way you're able, and try to accept what happens.

*Motivational interviewing is a technique that has some evidence behind it for treatment of alcoholism by a professional (which you are not). It's simple -- helping the person get to caring and acting on something they like better than drinking -- and extremely hard, because people, especially alcoholics, aren't so logical. (Which is where the need for expertise part fits in. That, plus the fact that you're in the middle of it and have got your own feelings, so it's not fair for you to take on that job.) However, I think that if you could be genuine in any support you'd feel able to give around stuff she talks about in the morning or whenever -- whatever it is, losing weight, painting, anything -- it might be a helpful little drop in the bucket.

But her drinking is not a thing you can just fix, and you can't force her to stop for the hour you prefer to talk to her.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:06 PM on July 8, 2014

No one makes an alcoholic stop drinking except the alcoholic him/herself. Cutting off all contact with your mom is VERY unlikely to influence her to quit. She may not consider herself addicted and might resent your ultimatum. Tread softly, and do investigate your attitude since you can't change your mom's.
posted by Cranberry at 4:30 PM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

You've gotten the right advice. Go to Al Anon and learn about what you can do. You cannot fix her but you can learn to see this as her problem, rather than yours.

You can learn that and you can set phone boundaries of a sort. This is what I did. My son was alcoholic. He had not been functional for several years before he died. During that last year he phoned me almost every night in the middle of the night. That was harrowing but I did not want to lose contact with him because I knew he likely was dying and I kept hoping he might want to live. I did have to set one rule in order to be able to keep talking to him: If he began to speak to me abusively, I would have to hang up. This was difficult because I knew he was in pain but I did tell him and then hang up when he crossed the line. After a while, he would stop himself now and then and we were able to work through some of the pain that he needed to talk about. He went into the hospital and actually stayed sober for a few weeks and we had some time together although he returned to drinking and before the year was out he was dead. This was nearly thirty years ago and even more than the pain of it, it still feels like a completely sad, wasteful and unnecessary loss, his death. Someone I loved so much could not love his own life.

Alcoholism is a fatal disease. You cannot cure it. Your mother can, if she wants to badly enough and has some help, arrest it. You are aware of this but you have not yet learned to let go and detach with love. It is an exceedingly difficult lesson to learn but in it there is the only peace to be found for such unhappy relationships, I fear. Please go to Al Anon and learn. My very best wishes to you both.
posted by Anitanola at 1:12 AM on July 10, 2014

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