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How to keep a relationship with a Dad who won't avoid being drunk for visits?

Old 03-15-2011, 08:03 AM
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How to keep a relationship with a Dad who won't avoid being drunk for visits?

Hi,

This is my first post here, and it ended up being a lot longer than I figured, sorry. The summary is that I'm trying to find some way to maintain at least a bare minimum relationship with a Dad who won't even stay not-drunk for brief visits first thing in the morning.

The back story here is that when my Dad retired about 10 years ago he started drinking. He had never been much of a drinker before that. It got more and more over the years, and he refused any offers to help deal with it. About 2 years ago he reluctantly went to a few AA meetings but said he didn't get anything out of them and he wouldn't go back (he's always been pretty introverted and won't talk about anything so I wasn't surprised).

Fast forward to a year ago and he is rushed to the hospital for multiple surgeries because of internal bleeding - his stomach blew a hole from the alcohol and lack of proper nutrition. He spent a month on life support and then another 2 months in the hospital recovering. Obviously, we were hoping almost dying would be his rock bottom, but soon after being released he started up again. My Mom kicked him out about 6 months ago and I've really been struggling to figure out how to maintain some kind of relationship with him.

It would be a big stretch to call him a "functioning alcoholic" in that he seems to be barely surviving. My Mom still makes food for him, which I'm conflicted about because on one hand it's enabling him to have more money to spend on booze, yet I don't know if he'd put in the effort to eat enough otherwise. My Mom feels like his doctor should place him in a care facility, but it's honestly not that he can't do any of these things for himself. When he's sober he talks perfectly lucidly, we play cards, etc, I just don't think he cares. I don't think he's ever cleaned his apartment, his clothes are a mess, and he goes out once a day for smokes and wine, and that's it. I'm not comfortable doing any chores for him because I feel like that'd just enable him to keep living just to drink (I might help if he asked though?).

I used to try to go see him once a week for dinner after work, but gave that up after he was consistently drunk whenever I'd show up. I switched to trying to go in the mornings on Sundays, but I could probably count on one hand how many times he hasn't been drunk then either.

To be clear, I have discussed this with a councillor multiple times and feel OK in that it's not my responsibility to fix him, or anything like that. I'm pretty much past feeling hurt by what he does (or doesn't do) but I do still find it frustrating, in the sense that I'm trying to find a way to maintain some bare minimum of relationship with him, but I can't do that if he won't even avoid being drunk at 9am.

I have discussed with him many times that I'm not comfortable being around him when he's drunk. He's not violent or beligerent, rather stumbles around and doesn't really talk at all. Aside from finding this depressing and frustrating, it feels like a huge waste of my time that I could be spending with my own family. He always says he'll be sober for a visit, but isn't very often. I've even given up asking him to be sober and ask him to just not be drunk.

My councillor did suggest that sometimes providing relationships with people can be an incentive for an alcoholic to stay sober. Clearly that hasn't worked for just me, in that he feels comfortable being drunk around me, but I've been trying to set up get togethers with his siblings and my family. After finally getting one setup he bailed a full 2 days beforehand, I assume for being nervous after not seeing them for so long. He hasn't seen my daughter since getting out of the hospital; I've told him I'm not comfortable with him being drunk around my kids, and he has yet to show the ability to not be. (I don't care if he's had a drink, but definitely not drunk). Further, he still hasn't met his 3-month old grandson, which is a big part of why I want to maintain some relationship so my son can at least have met him. If my Dad keeps going I don't expect he'll last too much longer, in that I'm sure his stomach will fail again and he probably wouldn't survive those surgeries again - he just barely did last time.

So, I'm not quite sure what I'm asking, but does anyone have advice for how to maintain a relationship under these circumstances? I've generally tried to be non-confrontational with him, in that my parents relationship was pretty bad, so I don't want to be another person bickering with him. But, I have reached the point where I'm sick of wasting my time to visit him when he's drunk so will probably tell him I'm done until he tells me he's willing to not be drunk to visit (and obviously follow through). I need to be able to follow through with it though, as saying I'm done would probably be more stressful for me than him, since I'd start worrying how he's doing. I'm conflicted because the odd time he will be OK for a visit, so that makes me feel like I should keep trying.

Anyways, just writing this out has been helpful, but any tips would be appreciated.

Thanks!
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Old 03-15-2011, 08:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Friedman View Post
he feels comfortable being drunk around me
Originally Posted by Friedman View Post
I have reached the point where I'm sick of wasting my time to visit him when he's drunk so will probably tell him I'm done until he tells me he's willing to not be drunk to visit (and obviously follow through). I need to be able to follow through with it though, as saying I'm done would probably be more stressful for me than him, since I'd start worrying how he's doing. I'm conflicted because the odd time he will be OK for a visit, so that makes me feel like I should keep trying.
One of the things we talk about here are "boundaries." Boundaries are not attempts to control another person, just ways for us to keep ourselves safe and healthy in spite of the "diseases" around us.

You basically have to decide what is acceptable and unacceptable to you, place your boundaries, and then stick with them. Right now he feels comfortable being drunk around you because you have not given him any reason or requirement to stay sober. You have told him that you will only visit if he is sober, but when he is drunk you visit anyway.
Boundaries are only worth something if you follow through with them.

That said, if you go to visit him, and he is drunk, you can leave, and politely state that you specified you would only visit if he was not drunk. It is okay to stick up for yourself, and your requirements.
This does not guarantee that he'll be sober next time, but the more you enforce your boundaries, the better a likelihood that he'll pay attention to them.
Eventually you may need to decide whether or not you want to continue the relationship at all, but in the meantime all you need to do is decide where your boundaries are, and then enforce them, kindly (when possible) but firmly. See what happens.

(It is harder than it sounds, and I recognize that, and it's okay to make mistakes sometimes. The more you stick up for yourself and your personal rights, though, the easier it will be. Progress, not perfection.)
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Old 03-15-2011, 08:59 AM
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Hi Friedman! Welcome to SR!

It's so hard to know what the right thing to do is. And to be honest, only you can know what's right for you.

Starcat has summed it up perfectly. You need to set boundaries - decide what is and isn't acceptable to you and then decide how best to honor that.

I have been married to my alcoholic husband for 7 years and going to Al-anon for the past 6 has helped me figure out my boundaries and how to stick with them.
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Old 03-15-2011, 09:16 AM
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Thanks all.

I have been inconsistent on the boundaries. For a while I was just trying to "be there" for him, since he has no other real social contact, and I suffered through some bad visits. But, the second last time I went he was drunk so I left right away. The next time he was OK, and maybe I'm too cynical, but honestly I don't think it had anything to do with what I did - I just made sure to go early enough in the morning that he shouldn't have had too much time to drink.

It seems especially bad to me that he has so little control, or so much desire to drink, that he can't avoid being drunk at 9am. Is that considered extreme? It may be incorrect, but I have this impression of "functioning alcoholics" as having some drinks through the day but not really getting drunk until later in the day (after work, for example). I realize there's a whole spectrum, I'm just curious where this might fit.

I'll keep working on the firm boundaries, as I agree that's probably the only thing I can really do. It just really sucks knowing my son may never meet his grandfather.

Thanks again.
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Old 03-15-2011, 12:43 PM
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"Functioning alcoholic" is a term that we argue about here, upon occasion.
We generally believe it is either a stage of alcoholism, or the mask that an alcoholic can show to the rest of the world until the disease progresses too far to hide it any more.

My XABF (ex-alcoholic boyfriend) would drink in the morning, although he was rarely drunk until the afternoon, when he'd have about a pint of whiskey in a timespan of about 20 minutes. But that's just him - everyone is different.
I will say that among alcoholics, no drinking pattern is "unusual" - it's all whatever they can justify to themselves.

I know it's sad, but it is your father's decision, not yours, not your son's... And your father is still in the grips of the bottle, so the alcohol is doing all his deciding. It has nothing to do with him valuing alcohol more than valuing a relationship with you; it has everything to do with the power of the disease.
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Old 03-15-2011, 01:38 PM
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The really hard part about comparing it to other people's drinking... is there is no "normal". If you look hard enough, you could find someone who drinks more - "OH, it's not as bad as that! There's nothing to worry about until it gets to that point." And you could find situations that involve less drinking, "Geez, it's worse than that! I should be concerned!"

I remember coming on here 6 years ago, reading some posts and saying, "Geez, I'm grateful my husband doesn't do that!" But alcoholism is progressive, and gets worse without active recovery... and now, I find myself typing my story and knowing that someone out there is reading and saying, "GEEZ! I'd never let it get to that!" But you do. It sneaks up on you.

Functioning or non-functioning doesn't really matter. The degree to which he drinks doesn't matter either. What matters is that alcohol is causing problems in his life. He can't control it, and neither can you.
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Old 03-15-2011, 02:21 PM
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Right, my goal with asking about "functioning alcoholics" and how extreme he seems wasn't to make myself feel better that he isn't so bad, it's more "Holy crap, he's so bad I'm not sure how he's still alive." That's not just because of the alcohol though, it's also that he just doesn't care, I believe. It's like he's content to live out the rest of his days in a haze to numb the loneliness, depression, etc.

The unwillingness to care for himself is very difficult for my Mom and myself, in that there's guilt no matter whether we choose to help him or not. I keep trying to remind myself that he's a grown man who's perfectly capable while sober. But, were he to die tomorrow from malnutrition, it'd be hard to avoid the guilt of "if I had just taken him some food..." If I took him food tomorrow the disease would kill him some other way though; I can't be a life support system for someone who doesn't really want to live.

As his son, I wish there was something I could do to help, although realizing it's not my responsibility to. I've usually tried to be positive with him, but I may also try being more blunt with him in an attempt to make him see how bad he has become. I've been somewhat blunt with him. But, for example, I've avoided letting him know that he has wet his pants while sitting drunk in front of me, because I've been afraid the extra embarrassment might just make things worse, but maybe it would help.

Anyways, thanks for the thoughts and advice.
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Old 03-15-2011, 04:25 PM
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You and your mother's story is so very heartbreaking.

You said it yourself. "You can't be a life support system for someone who doesn't really want to live."

I encourage you to read, Beyond the Influence by KatherineDetcham and William Asbury. It will tell you what's going on the brain of alcoholics and what's happens to them physically over time. It answered a lot of my questions.
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Old 03-15-2011, 04:38 PM
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Has your family considered a Marchman Act?
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Old 03-15-2011, 08:38 PM
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Verbena, I actually do have Beyond the Influence on the recommendation of my councilor. I haven't gotten very far yet. I just got it back from my Dad actually, he had agreed to read it months ago and I bought it for him, but he never touched it. I asked him if I could borrow it to read myself.

TheEnd, I don't know if we have something like that where I live (Canada), but I'll look into it. He had agreed once to think about going into a detox, but said no when I followed up. I've been meaning to ask again. Maybe I'm too pessimistic but I haven't figured there would be much chance at success for this since he spent a full 3 months in the hospital and so had completely gone through detox (which was one of his complications). But, I guess that doesn't mean it couldn't work next time.

Thanks again all.
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Old 03-15-2011, 09:43 PM
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just say no.
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