Should/Can I help my ex and his mom?
September 24, 2018 9:11 PM   Subscribe

Urgh. Didn’t think I would be asking a question about this person again, but a certain ex who I’ve asked about before is in terrible health. I know I’m not obligated to help, but I also feel like I should help in some way. Suggestions?

This is about cake is a lie Ex. Looking back through those answers pains me but I’ve grown a lot since then! Thanks everyone. Current socky would tell 2 year younger socky to get a grip and get out of that relationship years ago.

It has been about 2.5 years since that breakup. Since then, at about a year mark, I received a long letter from Cake Ex. The letter was basically seeking closure for himself, semi-apologizing, but also letting me know that I abandoned him in a time of need. He said he was very sorry for not acknowledging my birthday, and he knew he was shit, and he was very depressed and thought since we were talking about marriage, “in sickness and in health” would apply and basically I didn’t stick to that. He also admitted that he was abusing alcohol heavily during that time.

This I wasn’t entirely aware of. I knew he drank a lot during our relationship, but we had just left college and college drinking standards are something else. It wasn’t until the time he fell all the way down the stairs and passed out due to a day of weekday drinking that I realized there was a problem. He is a high functioning drunk. I focused on the depression however and tried to help him seek help, but that didn’t work out. He went back home and I broke up with him after that.

After receiving the long closure letter, I was upset. I didn’t see the point of me reading that. But I also didn’t have it in me to respond angrily. I just said we weren’t married, I tried my best, but I was tired and didn’t want to stay in the relationship. He said he understood and left it at that.

Later, I found out through mutual friends that he had been complaining about me on Reddit. That he had recently checked into rehab and his ex girlfriend didn’t even care but said she was tired of him, and thus that’s why he’s in rehab. He never mentioned rehab. Just that he was an alcoholic. I decided to just leave it alone because it wasn’t worth responding to in my mind.

Fast forward to today, a year after the letter. I received a text message from Cake Ex’s Mom. We were never super close so I was really surprised to see the text. She asked me if Ex abused alcohol while we were dating. I replied that he did, but I wasn’t fully aware of it until our breakup, and asked if everything was ok.

Basically, my ex has been hospitalized twice, left rehab, and now is in the ICU due to DTs and they’re not sure about what’s going to happen to him. Although our end of relationship was bitter, this really saddens me. It sounds like they’re really concerned about losing him, and I find myself shocked and upset to know he may pass away. I’ve known and dated him from 18-22.

His mom did mention that throughout the year of alcoholism, he’s blamed the drinking on me breaking up with him. I wasn’t sure if this meant she believed him, so I tried to clear it up with explaining my side. She said she appreciates the honesty, and to please keep in contact with them. She asked me not to contact him now but maybe in the future it may help.

I’m not sure if I should help in some way. Is there any thing I can even do to help? The thought of him dying, or just in this terrible state, struggling with alcoholism is terrible. I never hated him and would never wish that on someone. I know I’m not responsible. My strongest feeling is to somehow comfort his mom. She asked if I could check up on *her* and I know if ahe’s Asking me that, she’s gotta be in a real bad place. Should I reach out with a “I’m sorry for everything and wish you the best.” I’m not the right person to be the shoulder to cry on for my ex and his family, right? Sigh. Advice much appreciated. X
posted by socky bottoms to Human Relations (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, god, this is terrible, but: no. Do
Not entangle yourself. You have grown, do not move backwards.
posted by tristeza at 9:20 PM on September 24, 2018 [88 favorites]

No no no no no no. It has been so long. Free yourself of both of them. They are trying to pull you back into this addiction cycle. None of this is your fault. Your ex lying about you on the internet is a sad problem for him but nothing to you. His mom is being inappropriate. Block both of them in all ways possible. You can't save them. Live your best life, you did nothing wrong.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 9:21 PM on September 24, 2018 [30 favorites]

Get on with your life. Leave mistakes in the past where they belong.
posted by crw at 9:30 PM on September 24, 2018 [10 favorites]

Your shoulder is not the right shoulder for this situation. Don't put the mom's possible needs above your own. Don't bother trying to explain that to her, either.
posted by RainyJay at 9:47 PM on September 24, 2018 [14 favorites]

The best way you can help is by staying away. If you're contacted again, say "I'm sorry, but I've done everything I can, good luck." And then never respond again. Being in contact with you will make him worse, not better. You being in contact with him will DEFINITELY make you worse. You are not responsible for his decisions or his illnesses. It's sad that he's in a bad situation, but there is literally nothing you can do to make it better except stay away and let him handle his life.
posted by brainmouse at 9:49 PM on September 24, 2018 [15 favorites]

She said she appreciates the honesty, and to please keep in contact with them. She asked me not to contact him now but maybe in the future it may help.

Uh, no. Tell them all not to contact you again. People don't drink themselves to death at age 25 because their college girlfriend broke up with them. This guy was broken long before you met him and Mom is probably part of the reason why. If you are close to your parents ask them to contact Mom and tell her to back the fuck off. If not have someone else do it. Then repeat "this is not my fault" 100 times. This guy has a screw loose, you dodged a bullet there.
posted by fshgrl at 9:50 PM on September 24, 2018 [60 favorites]

Absolutely do not contact him or initiate or engage in any contact with his family. None. He was a cruel boyfriend who never took responsibility for himself and chose to blame you for his troubles and addiction.

Working through this with a therapist and/or some AlAnon meetings would help you. He needs help and a his family could use support but under no circumstances should it come from you. Leave all this behind and continue working on healing yourself. He is being treated by professionals and his mother has other people in her life to help. There's no reason for you to be involved at all.

Good luck.
posted by quince at 10:07 PM on September 24, 2018 [9 favorites]

She is a monster. I’m someone’s mother, I am qualified to tell you that his drinking is NOT your fault and how fucking dare she dump her fear and grief on your shoulders.

She is toxic. He is toxic. They are both adults and are making super bad choices, CHIEF OF THOSE BAD CHOICES IS THEY ARE FOISTING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR CHOICES ON TO YOU.

I’m sorry for the all caps, but they are high level manipulators with zero shame. I’m sorry for them, but you are a blameless near stranger in this situation. Oh my god, how could she? How could he? No. This is not any of your doing or your fault.

Block their numbers, email, and any social media. Do not read any letters, throw them in the trash unopened. Never ever listen to anything they say. If you have mutual friends, be wary.

Even if you contact them, he will continue to drink AND blame it on you. I’m sorry. If you have any friends that are social workers, therapists, or in recovery they will confirm this for you. Please stay safe, stay far far away.
posted by jbenben at 10:49 PM on September 24, 2018 [45 favorites]

PS, any advice to reach out to the mom to tell her never to contact you is wrong because that will stir the pot and draw her attention towards you. She’s looking for someone to blame. When she asked you to stay in contact, she’s asking you to be his victim and her victim at some point down the road. Block their ability to contact you. They’ll get the message you don’t want to be involved when they can’t get in touch to involve you. It’s how you deal with these types. See also the book The Gift of Fear.
posted by jbenben at 10:58 PM on September 24, 2018 [24 favorites]

I would not take any proactive steps at this time. I would play it by ear. If you hear from Cake Mom determine what she is telling you or asking you for and then decide if you want to respond and how. If her next contact is to say that he passed away, of course you should send a condolence note saying positive things about him. Attending the funeral is your call, but I would not as you have no idea how you would be viewed.

I would not unilaterally cut them off although I do agree that she/they are trying to suck you back into the whirlpool. Be careful, but be open. At this point, I would do nothing further. I would not be proactive.

If you do speak to Cake Mom again, no need to explain yourself or be defensive no matter what she says. I would keep repeating that you are focusing on the future, but wish Cake Ex the best.
posted by AugustWest at 11:16 PM on September 24, 2018

There is not really anything you can do to help, no. You have given her factual information that might I suppose possibly be useful, that yes he was drinking during his relationship with you. Beyond that - what can you say? You don’t have any more information that could help.

The only thing you could do (and what it seems she is asking of you) is provide sympathy and friendship. While this may seem in the abstract like a kind and generous thing to do, it is not good in the context of a man who already blames you for his alcoholism. The idea that his mother thinks this would be appropriate and helpful suggests that she does at some level agree with him that his alcoholism is something you can affect. It is not, and not only can you not fix it, but playing along with his or her belief that you can affect this somehow might actually be supporting him in false beliefs which will actively hinder his possible recovery.

You did not cause this. You cannot fix alcoholism by being nice. You are not the reason he drinks, you are not the reason he left rehab, you are not someone who can fix him.
posted by Catseye at 11:39 PM on September 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

If I could raises practical question here: How confident are you that the texts came from your ex’s mother? Because my first thought reading your question is that the texts sound less like they came from a concerned parent and more like your ex posing as his own mother in order to elicit a response from you.

I mean, even if the texts were from his mother you shouldn’t have any more to do with this, but it doesn’t feel to me like they were.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:47 PM on September 24, 2018 [18 favorites]

It didn’t exactly occur to me your ex could be posing as his mother... Did you speak to her, or just text? Can you reverse lookup the number?

If you determine these texts were not from his mother, I strongly urge you to contact a domestic violence shelter, go stay on a safe friend’s couch, and do whatever the dv people tell you to do. I’m sure impersonation in this context is some sort of misdemeanor, at the least, but you’d have to confirm the laws in your jurisdiction. Which is my way of telling you to take protective action if you find out it was your ex and not his mom that contacted you. Stay safe.
posted by jbenben at 12:31 AM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

It was wildly inappropriate for her to involve you in this. Wildly. But yeah, if you didn't actually recognize the number as belonging to her from prior contact with her, this is... suspicious. Winding up in the ICU for alcohol withdrawal in your mid-20s is certainly not impossible, but it would be very unusual. It's not so much the single improbable thing as the combination of them: that he would not just be hospitalized but in intensive care, that he would wind up in intensive care from withdrawal when he was supposed to be doing a rehab program where they know how to medically manage those things, that his mother would even have your number, that she would consider it appropriate to contact you about this, that at her age she would think first of texting in a circumstance where someone's potentially dying... I could probably go on.

So just... think about what you know about these people and your ex and how all of this fits together. But either way, even if it is his mom, this is completely unacceptable to involve you in this. Yes, even if he's dying; you broke up multiple years ago and you split up at age 22, you just aren't a part of his life now and you definitely aren't a part of hers. But man does this scan as fishy, especially when combined with the fact that he's recently demonstrated that he was still hung up on you.

Definitely stay safe, and trust your gut if you don't feel safe, but at the very least I think no-contact is appropriate.
posted by Sequence at 12:37 AM on September 25, 2018 [12 favorites]

Yes, I think you should block her and him if possible.
posted by buttonedup at 3:08 AM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hi everyone, thank you for the advice. Just stepping in to say that yes, it’s definitely his mom. I have no doubt about that due to it being from her number and other details she shared that I didn’t post on here. So I’m not worried about that. It’s believable to me that he’s in the ICU because he at baseline has very poor health, and the amount he would drink was...a LOT at times.

Thank you again. I won’t be initiating any contact I don’t think.
posted by socky bottoms at 3:09 AM on September 25, 2018 [8 favorites]

This is one of those questions where viewing it through the lens of emotional labor and the differing expectations we have for men and women about the amount of it they'll do makes things very clear. This sounds to me like a guy who basically refused to do any emotional labor for you, got into a snit that you didn't perform more emotional labor for him than you already were (and complained about that to Reddit and his mom) and his mom actually suggesting that not only should you have performed more emotional labor for him then, that you should continue to perform emotional labor for him now, when you're not even dating. Screw all of that, seriously, and reject these people's attempts to guilt trip you.
posted by peacheater at 3:39 AM on September 25, 2018 [22 favorites]

Hey, OP, I know how hard this is, because I was in a relationship of much longer duration where I "ruined" my ex's life (didn't matter that I was saving my own, did it?) by leaving and he told people lies about me. There was a lot of manipulation and crisis-creating to try to get me back, including threats of suicide and one attempt that ended up with him in the hospital. It feels awful because you care about the person and you are not a bad person without empathy.

BUT. Everything everyone is telling you here is right. This is not your problem. It is not appropriate for them to reach out to you in this way. I got mad when I read about his "closure" letter, what the hell??? You broke up, it was years ago, this is not something you should be involved in.

Your instinct that this is wrong is corect.
posted by tiger tiger at 3:43 AM on September 25, 2018 [12 favorites]

She might not be a monster or master manipulator, she might be a mom who in normal times is pretty decent, but is having a kind of temporary lack of appropriateness out of wild overwhelmed fear and grief that her young adult son is possibly dying of alcoholism and she didn't know he was even an alcoholic. If your past experience of her was not that she always transgressed boundaries, and it doesn't resonate that she's some kind of calculating horror, then in your mind you can give her the benefit of the doubt that she's reacting in a kind of emotional splash back. Not the strongest way to be, but not necessarily a conniving bad person. A mom in this situation can feel like she has to do something, anything, to help her kid because she feels helpless. You can feel some sympathy for this, but thinking of her as a decent but flailing mom STILL doesn't mean you can help, nor that you should be involved in any way. You can't do anything to help, as everyone is saying. It's very sad for them, and for you as you were once attached to this guy and he's part of your history and the story of your younger self. But you've moved on and getting re-immersed can't fix anything, as everyone here is saying. I'm sorry you had this news. Keep your boundaries and the progress you've made.
posted by nantucket at 3:49 AM on September 25, 2018 [31 favorites]

His mom did mention that throughout the year of alcoholism, he’s blamed the drinking on me breaking up with him.

No no no. The drinking is because he's an alcoholic.
posted by thelonius at 4:17 AM on September 25, 2018 [23 favorites]

It sounds like she's new to alcoholism--or because it's her son she's forgotten everything she knows about it. She's not a monster, she's panicked, drowning, and grabbing for anything that looks like it floats. The kindest thing for all involved is for you to bob out of reach. You can't hold these people up, and they need to learn how to swim.
posted by Don Pepino at 4:36 AM on September 25, 2018 [30 favorites]

If you want to take some kind of action, make a donation to or volunteer with an organization that helps people with substance abuse. Just make sure that doing so won't put you in contact with them or create any "reason" for them to contact you.

Not as penance, just as a way to scratch the "need to DO something" itch if that's a problem.
posted by bunderful at 4:43 AM on September 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

Came in here to say that it's ok that you feel saddened, shocked, and upset by learning that he's critically ill and may die. Even when the relationship is 1000% over, hearing that someone you were close to is in a bad place, can bring back feelings of guilt and grief. Society, at least 21st century North American society, doesn't make space for that.

When I was going through a re-grieving process, I found Edna St Vincent Millay's "If I should learn, in some quite casual way" very comforting, in its acknowledgement of unspoken anguish.
posted by basalganglia at 5:01 AM on September 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

but said she was tired of him, and thus that’s why he’s in rehab.

And not because he has an actual problem, or anything.

And a hundred thousand SOs of alcoholics are nodding in recognition.

Yup, you’re doing the right thing. *hugs*
posted by Melismata at 5:36 AM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'm a mom and I'd do just about anything to help a kid of mine in these circumstances but I just literally can't imagine trying to blame something like this on my kid's long-ex girlfriend. Not because of the morality of it - I get that her first and only priority is her kid's welfare - but because casting blame and responsibility onto an ex that way is so extremely sabotaging to any hope of recovery.

Anyway, please don't let yourself get sucked into renewed contact with these people. The guy is a black hole of toxic, and yeah, if mom is the sort to blame a stranger for her own son's alcoholism and shamelessly call them up and tell them so, then she probably had a role in making him that way.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:00 AM on September 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Do not accept blame for this situation. You sound a bit as if you wonder if you could be to blame. Especially because 2 people are placing blame on you. But be strong in this one thing: do not accept blame for this.
posted by Doc_Sock at 7:02 AM on September 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

Worst case scenario, jbenben is right-- there's a big ugly history of abusive dynamics here that you're being drawn into, and you probably should try to mentally prepare for that to be the case. I think it's also possible that the mom is inappropriately contacting you and trying to pull you into fighting your ex's terminal alcoholism because she is desperately trying to make sense of what is happening to her son, trying to get someone else's version of the story of how he ended up in this state, and she's reaching for whatever threads she can find. It sounds like he has been obsessively fixated on you for the past several years, and she's reaching out to you because you, and your relationship, are something that offers her some sense of connection to him, when her ability to hold on to him-- and to hold him to this world-- is so tenuous.

But whether or not the mom is seeking you out to blame or abuse, that obsession is ipso facto reason enough that you cannot be in contact with him or with his family. Even assuming she's a good person and his extreme addiction issues are the result of brain chemistry that she didn't cause and doesn't understand, it's not safe for anyone in this situation for you to be enmeshed with this family. The way your ex has been more or less stalking you for the past 3 years via reddit, his delusional letter claiming your college relationship was somehow a marriage, the fact that his obsession with you makes up a big enough part of his mental landscape that his mother is contacting you about the breakup-- this is all very bad. Like everyone upthread is saying, absolutely none of what is happening to your ex is even remotely your fault-- you did not cause his profound mental health or addiction crises, and you can't fix them, and are not responsible for making an attempt. In fact it sounds like any resumed contact would not just be dangerous for you, but a huge trigger for him. If he makes it through this hospitalization, and his mom wants to help him, she needs to understand that his fixation on you is part of his sickness, and encouraging this horrible delusion by contacting you is only going to do more damage.

It's up to you whether or not you want to tell her, with compassion, that you cannot be in further contact with her or anyone else in his sphere, but staying totally away from your ex and his family is the only sane option you have. To answer your question of whether you should or can help your ex and his mom-- the only possible way you can do this is by setting a hard boundary and refusing future contact with them. I'm so sorry-- good luck.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 7:30 AM on September 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

You broke up two and a half years ago. It's not like you just broke up and are still enmeshed. Sounds like he's told himself a story about you to help explain his alcoholism, and his mom's buying it. I feel for both of them and obviously you do too. But as others have said, there's nothing you can do.

In fact, I will go a step further and say that if you accept the fictional role they want to cast you in, you can do actual damage to his recovery (and hers as the parent.) The essential part of recovery is facing reality. Propping up his delusions will interfere with that process.

I also agree that explaining this is not going to be productive. Best to be unavailable to them. They have to get through the whole rest of their lives without you, and the sooner they face this, the better for everyone.

Good luck. This sounds hard. Make sure you take care of yourself.
posted by kapers at 8:33 AM on September 25, 2018 [8 favorites]

His letter was step nine of the 12 steps. This is not a real step nine letter. This is a "for show" letter. This was not true amends. Hence, failure of rehab.

No, do not get involved. Block his number and block the mom's number. I know you know the terms codependency and enabling, but spend some time reading about those concepts. Consider going to a couple of Al Anon meetings. Do not allow yourself to be sucked back into this dynamic. Thank your lucky stars that you were strong enough to get yourself out of this, and walk away. Forget this person ever existed. Sounds harsh on paper but walking away is the true definition of self care.

Walk away from his friends that are sharing news about his social media posts too. It may look like they're letting you know because they "care about you" but true friends would simply defend you and not drag you into drama.

You did not bear this man-child. He is a grown-ass adult and he is not your responsibility. EVEN IF YOU WERE ACTUALLY MARRIED TO HIM RIGHT NOW it would not be your responsibility to fix him. You cannot love someone enough to make their problems go away. Ask me how I know.
posted by vignettist at 8:59 AM on September 25, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'm a mom and I'd do just about anything to help a kid of mine in these circumstances but I just literally can't imagine trying to blame something like this on my kid's long-ex girlfriend

My mother blames everything that goes wrong in my brothers lives on their wives or girlfriends, or now that they are older daughters even. And they eat that shit up. They are middle aged men who have real problems with women because of her. People are trying to be nice by saying give her the benefit of the doubt but I wouldn't. She is a type and the OP sounds like she half believes her bullshit as it is.
posted by fshgrl at 9:22 AM on September 25, 2018 [12 favorites]

Burdening you with this is a way to spread the misery around. You don't need it. It's not your mess to clean up or even acknowledge. Follow advice above and cut them off. Even if you were an expert on the subject, your past with them requires that you recuse yourself.
posted by Enid Lareg at 9:34 AM on September 25, 2018

The mom is maybe thinking, "If only you'd gotten married to him, I bet you could have straightened him out." This is victim blaming nonsense that places the bad behavior of men on the women who are 'supposed' to control them. Fuck that. Do not get involved.
posted by corb at 12:19 PM on September 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

I think you're getting really good advice here, but I just wanted to say that I remember your original question so clearly that I didn't even have to click on the link for a refresher, and I am so SO glad you broke up with that guy.

I totally get why you're having Feelings about all of this. It sounds like you had a productive conversation with the Mom when you got this news. I think you're ABSOLUTELY allowed to go on with your life and don't worry about checking in with her. She is an adult; presumably she has friends and a support system that is taking care of her in this difficult time. Your instinct that you're not the right person to support this family through this is totally correct! (His recovery is NOT your responsibility, but I'd even argue that re-entering the picture is only going to make things worse for EVERYONE, honestly. Her inviting you back into this drama is wrong-headed.) This whole thing is sad and upsetting and it's normal for you to be sad and upset about it, but your emotional responsibilities to this family have been dispatched.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:25 PM on September 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m not sure if I should help in some way. Is there any thing I can even do to help?

No, there isn't. Not anything that would help you, and not anything that would help any of them.

If he was heavily abusing alcohol during your relationship, bear in mind his memory of how your relationship was and why you left him might not be very accurate. He might really believe what he's saying, but there's nothing you can do about that, frustrating as it is. Stay away.
posted by wondermouse at 7:05 PM on September 25, 2018

she was tired of him, and thus that’s why he’s in rehab

And his boss was incompetent and fired him to hide his own incompetency, and his friends were all disloyal bastards, and his neighbours were out to get him, and the police fitted him up, and and and...

This is literally what alcoholics do all day. I think they must hand out a phrasebook or something, it is such a cliche.
posted by tinkletown at 10:57 PM on September 25, 2018 [11 favorites]

Agree with everything else: this guy is a mess, and his mom might be a wonderful person (or not) but both of them have terrible boundaries. It’s up to you to have your own back in this and stay out of their toxic mess. Getting involved won’t help them and could harm you very much.

Block both of them and get on with your fabulous life. If you feel the need to do something, a donation to a rehab centre or alchoholism research program could help him and others like him.
posted by rpfields at 2:08 PM on September 26, 2018 [2 favorites]

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