What came before, GERD or the alcoholism? Vertigo or the weed?
September 12, 2020 3:22 PM   Subscribe

I live with one person (not a partner). They have declared they have GERD and vertigo with bad migraines, and they take prescribed medication for these issues. OTOH they also consume heavy quantities of alcohol (at least 2 beers every day at home, spends 5+ a night at a bar) "socially/to relax/for fun" and smoke weed (100% THC) every night "for their vertigo". IANAD, I know y'all ANDs either: I just need some help to form my own opinion about the situation: How likely it is that this is completely non-problematic behaviour? (behaviour details below)

Please understand that I'm not seeking to "label" them or in any way cause trouble for them with anyone anywhere. It is, strictly speaking, none of my business. I am asking this here for my own peace of mind, because it's a place they'd never look, and less than a handful of my own acquaintances even know I post here.

This person and I got along famously during the first two months of cohabitation, but now I'm troubled by what appears to be heavy substance abuse and some (mildly?) abusive patterns. I considered this person a friend, and I have been distressed by their suffering, and invested in their well-being. I've spent a lot of time and energy trying to be a supportive friend. They had already confessed they had had a hard year, and were "in a funk", and I worried about them. Now, for my own peace of mind, I need to understand whether they are lying about their health. I need to understand what is true and what is gaslighting. I need to know whether there is actually an elephant in the room, or whether I'm imagining this.

It took a sharp turn the night they injured themselves while heavily intoxicated. At around 1am, they appeared at my door knocking insistently. They'd fallen on the way back from the bar. Their cheekbone and eye were bruised, their palms and knees were scraped. The next day they realized their rib was bruised. At my door they appeared helpless and very distraught, crying, repeating how stupid and embarrassed they felt, and so sorry to bother me, that they didn't know what to do. They hadn't woken me up, so I said don't worry at all, that's why you have a roommate, I tried to calm them down "oh, it happens to everyone, join the club, hahaha" and tried to be reassuring, cleaned their wounds, etc. At their request, the next day I went to the pharmacy to get more bandages for our shared first-aid kit.

The first couple of weeks we did drink a lot together at night during weekends, but at the time of their accident I had already stopped working in the same room with them during the daytime, though we were still socializing at night. Evenings were fun and easy, but during the daytime I felt like I was walking on eggshells: I started feeling very self-conscious about what I said or did. You probably get the general picture, but I've added extra, optional detail below. I did start trying to keep track of their alcohol consumption and I'm afraid that, even if they drank nothing at the bar, what they have at home is consistently above the recommended limit for a person of their gender.

Optional detail:
- A week or two after the accident, they injured their foot after breaking a glass at night in the bathroom. I heard it happen, also the clumsy sweeping up of the mess. Sizable shards were still in the bathroom the next morning, at which I asked to please be more thorough next time "and use the vacuum cleaner to be sure, even if you think it'll wake me up: I'd rather be woken up with the noise than risk having my bare foot injured". They claimed to have tried so hard and looked everywhere. And they probably did, just couldn't see.

- The morning after the tripping accident, the version was "I was tipsy" and "stupidly tripped over my own feet, and I'm truly puzzled about how that even happens, etc". We were working from home, but they called in sick that entire week, sat on the couch all day watching shows, because of their rib. They didn't want to go to the doctor. The first day or two I tried to be more attentive to their needs, but by the end of the week I was quite overwhelmed with life myself. I'll admit that, at that point, I also wasn't taking them as seriously anymore. I didn't say it to them, but I judged: You can't be seriously ill and refuse to get medical attention (care here is virtually free). Also, I didn't feel responsible to solve their need to get groceries if, by their own admission, they didn't want to go themselves because "they didn't want people to see their eye". But I would've done it, because why not, except at that time I was exceptionally stressed out myself and just did not have time to go get my own groceries.

- I proposed we have a conversation about it the week after: I said I didn't like the way they'd treated me and my friends, who'd visited that weekend, and noticed their mood and door banging, talking to me rudely, etc. My roommate said what was bothering them was that they felt judged by me. As in: they feel like I judge their taste in movies, books, etc, and that I judge their life decisions. That's a very plausible, I get this a lot, so I told them that and apologized, that I really didn't mean to make them feel that way (and to please call me out next time that happened). That I truly liked them and enjoyed living with them. I also added that I admired and respected their strength, how they were so dependable at work (which they absolutely are, unlike myself), and their intelligence, because they know their subject area so well, etc.

- We have tastes in common, so I've tried to emphasize that and share the movies and shows that I knew they'd also like. The issue is, I feel like my likes are also judged, like they are out of place and how dare I suggest something so obviously not to their liking. We're just really different.

- But I do judge them, every day a little more. Understanding better will help me find compassion while also protecting my own feelings and my autonomy. Currently, I feel like I can't engage with them closely and honestly without falling into a toxic, manipulative/controlling pattern (very likely bringing out the worst in both of us), where they're always a victim, and I'm pretending like I don't see what I see.
posted by ipsative to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What is the question here? This person sounds like they have an issue with alcohol and it's encroaching on your ability to enjoy your home. This has been a tough year, people are managing it in various ways. Your roommates management of their issues seems maladaptive.

So, speaking as someone who was the child of an alcoholic, here are some things that may be helpful.

- You can't control this and it's not worth a single bit of your time to keep track of how much they are drinking unless it's some part of an accountability-to-me-in-public sort of thing (like "I will only go to the bar with you if you do not have more than two drinks" and even then, this is not a road I would go down)
- They will lie or, at best, not be able to recall what is actually happening during times they are seriously drinking and can not make any deals with you about what they will do when they drink so don't even try.
- They will externalize their problems which will put them more "on you" than is appropriate. The situation with your friends? It doesn't matter what the fuck is up with them, they were still shitty to you and at best that should be a "mistakes were made" situation (i.e. you both take some responsibility and it balances) not where you somehow are responsible for them treating your friends badly.

This is a pattern that is glaring to someone who has to deal with people with substance abuse issues; it can seem like a kinda-weird-but-ok thing for people who haven't been on this merry-go-round 1000 times.

If this person were your partner, I would tell you to go to Al Anon. If this person is a non-partner roommate I would tell you to draw and maintain strong boundaries and have a plan with yourself for what to do if they violate them.
posted by jessamyn at 3:41 PM on September 12 [40 favorites]

Alcohol is pretty bad for GERD. If they smoke the pot, that's also bad for GERD. It sounds like they are not in control of their drug and alcohol abuse; that meets my definition of addiction (though you did not ask) and clearly not taking good care of themself.

My advice would be to set good boundaries, limit time together, limit favors. Addicts can easily consume all available resources - money, emotional effort, energy, time. People who are a bit obnoxious to others often respond well to being more assertive towards them, rather than nicer, as they will take advantage of nice, and be respectful of assertion. Compassion is good, Covid is really kicking people's butts, emotionally, silence on the issue of their substance use works. If they are lying about their health, they are lying to themselves, then to you. There are different approaches to substance abuse, it's likely they are not interested in dealing with it, but if they show any intent to deal it, be supportive.

Take care of yourself; it's very easy to get sucked in to other people's drama in ways that help no one.
posted by theora55 at 3:42 PM on September 12 [5 favorites]

You may want to look at the resources put out by groups like Al-Anon. A lot of what you write in this question remind me of things I hear from family and friends of alcoholics.
posted by basalganglia at 3:43 PM on September 12

So, quantity of alcohol used is only loosely correlated with problematic behavior around alcohol. It's more about how their alcohol use affects their life.

In most ways that's not for you to judge -- and you can decide that they aren't compatible with you as a roommate without judging whether or not they drink too much.

How likely it is that this is completely non-problematic behaviour?

I'm not sure what you are getting at here... are you wondering if it's a problem for their long term health? A problem for you that your roommate behaves this way? A problem you have to tell their family or someone about?

They hadn't woken me up, so I said don't worry at all, that's why you have a roommate

It sounds like you have gotten a lot closer to this person than just "a roommate", how you proceed here really depends on exactly what your relationship is (in the sense of any sort of interpersonal relationship between two people having nuance).

Personally I don't think this person sounds like a great roommate for you if that's all they are in your life, but it's possible that the person might mean something more to you than "just" a roommate and you want to be there for them -- if that's the case, go to Al-Anon, it's for people facing situations like yours.

Also - Sounds like you are outside of the US (the virtually free health care!), and I don't know what your virus situation is there, so this might not apply -- but if you were in the US my advice would be: many roommates would not be OK with you having friends come stay at your apartment for a weekend social visit, and those who are will likely be people who are interested in going out and "not living in fear" themselves and will probably have some annoying behaviors where consideration of others (like a roommate) isn't topping the list of considerations. So in the US if you were to want a roommate who would allow you to have friends come stay in your apartment you would probably have to put up with some not so great behaviors on their part like going out drinking 5x a week and the drama that goes with that, or some OTHER set of not so great behaviors from a new unknown roommate. That probably sounds really weird if you are living someplace you don't have to worry about a pandemic, but you didn't say that you weren't so there it is.
posted by yohko at 3:56 PM on September 12 [5 favorites]

Whatever their other health issues may or may not be, whether they are caused or exacerbated by alcohol use or not, it’s irrelevant. Whatever health issues they may have do not make their behavior OK. Their alcohol use is clearly problematic. They are repeatedly getting drunk to the point of repeatedly falling and hurting themselves, and causing dangerous situations for you (the broken glass they couldn’t clean up), and wanting you to solve the problems they created for themselves (being embarrassed to go out for groceries when they had injured themselves and wanting you to go for them).

I would not continue to live with this person if I had a choice, quite frankly. Their behavior is unlikely to change. If I wanted to continue a friendship with this person after moving out, I would seek help and support about being friends with an alcoholic — Al-Anon is most accessible, but a therapist is also an option.

As others have said, this is a really well-worn pattern with alcoholics and people who care about them. You’re always helping them, saving them, fixing them, taking care of them, counting their drinks for them. It’s exhausting. It isn’t just you, and you aren’t out of line to feel that something isn’t right. Check out the resources that others here have linked.
posted by snowmentality at 4:00 PM on September 12 [10 favorites]

Is this someone you sincerely consider a friend and care deeply about, or are they a random person who you feel like you "should" care about since you live together?

In the first case, seek resources for friends of alcoholics, as suggested above.

In the second case, set clear boundaries with your roommate and disengage as much as possible -- this isn't your responsibility. If things get "really bad" you could consider contacting this person's family or people who are closer to them, to let them know that this person needs additional support.
posted by mekily at 4:06 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]

This person is an alcoholic. They are unable or unwilling to stop drinking even though they have had alcohol- caused accidents which have disturbed their housemate. They likely have been told GERD can be caused by, and is definitely worsened by, drinking any amount of alcohol. Even drinking much less alcohol than you report. They don’t want to go to the doctor with accidental injuries because the doctor is going to know they had yet another accident while drunk, and try to get them into alcohol treatment. They don’t want to go out while showing the injuries for the same reason.

This person is physically dependent on the alcohol. They act like an ass during the day because their body is withdrawing from alcohol overnight and until they start their heavy drinking in the evening. The withdrawal is very uncomfortable and depression causing until they load up again with alcohol. They are probably also malnourished because this amount of alcohol prevents certain vitamins from being absorbed, ex. folic acid. ( Alcohol withdrawal itself can be fatal, don’t let them try to go cold turkey at home—it has to be done in a hospital or detox center.)

I don’t see accepting this reality—that this person is an alcoholic who is avoiding medical treatment and causing you problems—as judging them. You are just noticing what is happening in your living space. You are also vaguely becoming aware that this situation could get worse. With this level of drinking and drug use, this housemate could lose his job and be unable to make rent. They could have a much worse accident that leaves them completely disabled and dependent. Worse, they could have that accident in front of you. I once saw a completely sober person’s skull cracked open like a melon with blood spurting out like a fountain. They only fell from a standing position to the ground. Now they need 24-hour care.

It is not good to be the housemate of a person experiencing this level of alcohol addiction. It is not judgmental to express to your housemate that you are not up for the level of life disruption his alcohol addiction is causing you, and one of you needs to move. Please don’t wait until something really bad happens. Good luck to you in extricating yourself.
posted by KayQuestions at 4:14 PM on September 12 [14 favorites]

I have GERD and migraines and to be honest, it can be pretty depressing when you're having flareups of them, even in a normal, not-2020-hellscape year. Both of these conditions are significantly more manageable when I am practicing self care, and significantly worse when I am not. But blaming the way my body reacts to my behavior has never been helpful or healthy for me, doubly so if people in my life have tried to step in and judge me.

On the other side, I've also lived with and been close to people whose self destructive behavior was scary for me, made my life difficult when I was in its presence, and in general inflamed my anxiety. Being in close proximity to self destructive behavior, even when I am not participating in it, is also not very healthy for me, I've learned.

So, what can you do with this knowledge and information? I would advise you to stop trusting your friend to prioritize your health and safety in your home, because they aren't even prioritizing their own health and safety. I would also advise you to stop judging your friend, because it's really not very useful, and they can probably sense it.

Al-Anon is an excellent resource if you need some guidance here beyond what Mefites have to say.
posted by pazazygeek at 4:39 PM on September 12 [4 favorites]

Gently: you sound enmeshed with your roommate. If you were my friend, I would encourage you to reflect on why you believe labeling your roommate’s behavior will bring you peace of mind, and suggest you move out as soon as possible.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 5:55 PM on September 12 [14 favorites]

jessamyn: This is a pattern that is glaring to someone who has to deal with people with substance abuse issues; it can seem like a kinda-weird-but-ok thing for people who haven't been on this merry-go-round 1000 times.

That's exactly what I'm after, as I have not been on this ride before and I've been struggling to make sense of what's going on.

I'm sorry you all have had these experiences. I'm very grateful for your perspective, it is really helpful to me.

Why do I need this? I need to clarify this for myself because that's how I judge what is a reasonable request from a fellow human being, and what isn't; it's how I work out which boundaries I want to set.
posted by ipsative at 7:05 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]

The drinking does sound problematic. And your interest in their drinking sounds problematic too. (I say this as a child of an alcoholic.)

They might be drinking too much because their GERD is making them miserable. Or their GERD might be worsened by drinking. Or both! But who cares? Either way, you have a person who is both responsible for their behavior and also subject to outside forces; you have a person who's suffering and coping maladaptively; you have someone who's driving you a bit nuts.

The right question isn't "should I be compassionate, or have stronger boundaries?" (The answer to both is YES.) The right question is "is this behavior making me unhappy in my own home?" The right question is "is the way I'm living right for me?"

I'd work on moving out.
posted by hungrytiger at 7:23 PM on September 12 [4 favorites]

Now, for my own peace of mind, I need to understand whether they are lying about their health. I need to understand what is true and what is gaslighting.

nobody listening to a secondhand report of your feelings about your roommate has any hope of giving you a better judgment on their health conditions than their prescribing doctor(s) who have actually met them. How sick they REALLY are, when they choose to call in sick to work, is not only not your business, it also wouldn't be "gaslighting" if the details weren't fully shared with you. I hope you are not under the impression that you are not allowed to call in sick to work unless you are so sick or injured you need to go to the doctor. On top of that, it is not "gaslighting" or even irrational to affirm that you are in great pain but deny that you want or need to go to the doctor. If they are a woman (or even if they're not) and had a nasty black eye, it also makes some sense that they didn't want to go outside because it would look like someone had hit them.

Of course they're a terrible roommate and an alcoholic, and they have no right to burden you with all these needs. but that wasn't the question.

you don't say what troubles you about them falling down, but since you bring up "gaslighting" I am very tentatively guessing that you think they fell down because they were drunk, and not because they have diagnosed vertigo? or the other way around, they said it was because they were drunk but you secretly suspect it was the vertigo? this is weird. or do you think, what, that they didn't fall down at all and actually got beat up or something?

they are, again, a bad roommate and a sloppy drinker if not an alcoholic (the bit about how you weren't just counting their drinks but carefully measuring the total against a chart "for their gender" bit casts some doubt on this. but only some; they probably are an alcoholic.) But it is you, who effusively and falsely reassured them you weren't judging them but then confided to us that you actually are, who are the only one who could be accused of gaslighting.

now--sometimes denying the obvious reality of a situation, telling someone their own senses are lying to them to make them doubt themselves instead of you, is honestly the best way out of an awkward situation. that's what you did, it's what I would have done, and I think it's fine. if it were me I'd keep up the lying until I found myself a new roommate situation. but it's also what gaslighting is.

being a big baby who drinks too much and falls down is, on the other hand, not gaslighting. though in a roommate, many would call it worse.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:28 PM on September 12 [13 favorites]

Why do I need this? I need to clarify this for myself because that's how I judge what is a reasonable request from a fellow human being, and what isn't; it's how I work out which boundaries I want to set.

You might want to rethink this. Boundaries come from inside yourself and are an honest acknowledgement of your own needs. They don’t depend on what pale in the world think is “reasonable,” they come from you alone. If you are asking to benchmark whether your boundaries are unusual, that’s one thing. But that doesn’t involve needing labels for someone else’s behavior. You can just describe the behavior you want a boundary around. The focus is on you.

When the focus creeps off of you and onto the other person- when you’re monitoring their behavior, checking up on their stories, trying to manage them ahead of time, and allowing your mood to ride or fall based on what’s going on with them- you may have crossed over into a form of dependency. As their behavior responds to yours, you can develop a codependency. You may want to read up on condependency because you seem at risk of it here. Al Anon is a great help with this.

Keep the focus on yourself. Figure out what YOU need to be safe and secure - then, those needs can inform your boundaries. Other people will make their choices based on that. Don’t make your boundaries based on other people. You can’t control them.
posted by Miko at 7:51 PM on September 12 [13 favorites]

I will say as someone who doesn't drink anymore and who used to drink like a fish, I wouldn't discount health issues as being legitimate health issues. I had bad GERD before I was a drinker, I had bad GERD as a drinker and I have bad GERD now. I like myself when I'm not drinking. I hate to use the term "excuse" to drink but I legitimately did feel better drinking as it would numb or alleviate the pain from GERD and would also help deal with any sleep issues caused by GERD. This was a horrible feedback loop because alcohol solves those problems then also exacerbates them. So quitting drinking sucked as I couldn't sleep well for a couple weeks at least.

My advice is spot on with what Jessamyn said. You cannot stop them from drinking or get them to do anything. Have an exit plan but there's no need to be dramatic about it. It sounds like perhaps you drank quite a bit with this friend/roommate too. There's no reason to feel guilty about it. One thing I would say is move out when you can, again don't be dramatic about it and no reason for drinking to be the issue. Just say you're moving on. Don't judge their drinking, don't mock them or otherwise try to help them unless they ask and only if you have boundaries set. Just move on.
posted by geoff. at 9:15 PM on September 12 [3 favorites]

Why do I need this? I need to clarify this for myself because that's how I judge what is a reasonable request from a fellow human being, and what isn't; it's how I work out which boundaries I want to set.

This jumped out at me too. I understand from this that your logic is something like "if it's their fault, then I don't have to help them with their problems; but if it's not their fault, then it would be selfish to set the boundary"?

That is a popular way of looking at a lot of things, but as was pointed out above, it's not going to help you here. "Fault" isn't the issue. The issue is the effect on you. You're the only one in the situation who cares about advocating for you. You need to decide what you need. Nobody else will.

It is necessary to draw one's own boundaries, regardless of what the origin of someone else's encroaching behavior is.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:40 AM on September 13 [4 favorites]

There's a reason people who have alcoholics in their lives but who are not themselves alcoholics have their own 12-step program.

You can't fix, manage, or control your roommate's problem drinking. Trying will make you crazy and bring you harm. You need to extricate yourself from this situation, pronto, or your roommate will take you down with them. Blood stains on carpets from broken glass that you're suddenly responsible for cleaning or you lose your deposit? Railings broken? Holes punched in walls? Barf stains? "How did this get here, I wasn't that drunk?!?"

The only thing linking you to this person (according to your question) is your lease. It's a piece of paper. Save yourself and nope right out of there, and try out a few Al-Anon meetings to get yourself resilient again. You might not need to stay but they can help set your balance back. The "counting their drinks" is the thing that tipped me over into advising you this - it is textbook brain changes in you that are caused by their drinking. Not everyone in a relationship with an alcoholic is lucky enough to be able to just walk away, it is our mothers, our spouses, our children. Yours is a housemate. Get out of there while you can.
posted by juniperesque at 9:00 AM on September 15 [5 favorites]

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