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Dealing with parents who are "problem drinkers"

Old 05-09-2013, 02:44 PM
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Dealing with parents who are "problem drinkers"

Hi all,

11 days sober and have been doing well this time around, learning from past mistakes and feeling more calm and secure in my sobriety.

After having lived abroad for years I moved back home a couple of weeks ago, since I couldn't manage by myself anymore, dealing with a number of issues out of which binge drinking was a big problem. I decided I wanted to commit to recovery, properly, and that I needed my family close in order to do so.

I am now staying with my mother and her husband, as I don't trust myself at the moment living on my own. I am close to my mother, but it is a complex relationship. I won't go into any details, it is a long story, but what I am struggling with at the moment is the fact that she does not handle alcohol well. Like me, she doesn't know when to stop. Unlike me, she gets confrontational and obnoxious when drunk (I would do crazy things, but was always a "friendly" drunk).

It is difficult, because my mother can be very supportive and a calming influence, but at the same time her problematic relationship with alcohol has, I believe, affected me negatively from an early age. She has never admitted she does not handle alcohol well. She has apologised a few times for her behaviour the day after, but most times she pretends as if nothing happened.

I haven't told her the full extent of my own problem, partly because I am ashamed to admit it but also because she does not want to hear about it. She downplays my problem when I try to talk about it and when I tell her I want to quit permanently she says things like: well that sounds a bit too dramatic, you don't have problems with alcohol, just take some time off etc.

She is very sensitive to criticism, in general, and especially regarding alcohol or when she has been drinking. She gets very defensive, plays the "martyr" and often answers with criticism. How can I tell her that the way she behaves when drinking makes me anxious, tense and upset? That I worry about the way she drinks and that I don't like who she becomes when drinking?

I want to be more upfront with my family and not withhold things from them, but I am so used to suppressing, pleasing others, turning things inward, keeping a good appearance and pretending everything is fine, I don't know where or how to begin... I don't want to sound as if I am accusing or blaming anyone for my own issues. I just want "healthy honesty" and a respectful and open dialogue.
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Old 05-09-2013, 03:33 PM
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We have two forums just for those issues. I'll give you the links.

Friends and Family of Alcoholics - SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information


Adult Children of Addicted/Alcoholic Parents - SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information


I hope those forums can give you a bit more help and insight. You have a lot on your plate right now.
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Old 05-09-2013, 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by least View Post
We have two forums just for those issues. I'll give you the links.

Friends and Family of Alcoholics - SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information

Adult Children of Addicted/Alcoholic Parents - SoberRecovery : Alcoholism Drug Addiction Help and Information

I hope those forums can give you a bit more help and insight. You have a lot on your plate right now.
Thank you for your kind support! Hugs
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Old 05-09-2013, 09:51 PM
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Hi Sobreia, thanks for posting this---it is very similar to my relationship and thoughts about my own mother. I do not live at home with her but am expected to visit fairly regularly and have been hedging and making excuses not to go because I know I am going to confront someone with the same behavior as you're describing above with your mum. My mother has generally been supportive of my decision to get sober but when she drinks she gets confrontational or plays the martyr and it brings me to a slow boil. I have had a hard time being around people who drink, period, since I have gotten sober but my mother has been particularly trying as she says similar things like, "This isn't forever, right?" and "You really can't take just one drink...EVER?" or "This is a phase, I got past it at your age, so will you."

Her birthday is next month and already the guilt trips about visiting have started so I also need to be brutally honest with her soon although I am loathe to start an argument at the moment. Or incur the inevitable implication that because I have chosen to stop drinking I am passing judgement on her as well.

Oh well, not sure if I have any answers either but I did want to let you know that you are not alone on this one and I appreciate you posting about it. Helped me get a grip on my feelings as well.

Best to you and congrats on your 11 days! Despite mothers and others, it is still a wonderful decision for your own health and sanity. Hugs!
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Old 05-10-2013, 03:35 AM
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Originally Posted by Ptcapote View Post
Hi Sobreia, thanks for posting this---it is very similar to my relationship and thoughts about my own mother. I do not live at home with her but am expected to visit fairly regularly and have been hedging and making excuses not to go because I know I am going to confront someone with the same behavior as you're describing above with your mum. My mother has generally been supportive of my decision to get sober but when she drinks she gets confrontational or plays the martyr and it brings me to a slow boil. I have had a hard time being around people who drink, period, since I have gotten sober but my mother has been particularly trying as she says similar things like, "This isn't forever, right?" and "You really can't take just one drink...EVER?" or "This is a phase, I got past it at your age, so will you."

Her birthday is next month and already the guilt trips about visiting have started so I also need to be brutally honest with her soon although I am loathe to start an argument at the moment. Or incur the inevitable implication that because I have chosen to stop drinking I am passing judgement on her as well.

Oh well, not sure if I have any answers either but I did want to let you know that you are not alone on this one and I appreciate you posting about it. Helped me get a grip on my feelings as well.

Best to you and congrats on your 11 days! Despite mothers and others, it is still a wonderful decision for your own health and sanity. Hugs!
Hi Ptcapote,

Thank you very much for your post and for sharing your experience. I am sorry to hear you have similar problems with your mother, but glad we are able to talk about it here.

I finally fell asleep at 3am, after devoting a few hours to 1. thinking about my complex relationship to my mother and how it has affected me (not one of my most brilliant ideas, but this is apparently what I like to do in the early morning hours when sober) and 2. Trying to figure out a way of talking to her about how her behaviour affects me, and especially her reactions to alcohol, without triggering the martyr act by sounding too critical or having her withdraw or attack because I've unleashed her defence mechanisms.

I can't say I reached any final conclusion on either point, but I felt more resolve to open up with my family in general, and my mom in particular. I am not out to put the blame on them for my problems, but I do think it would be helpful to try to initiate a respectful and honest dialogue with them - once I am more secure in my sobriety.

I've spent so much time being the "well-behaved but troubled daughter", pretending everything is fine and when they notice it is not I've blamed depression (which I do suffer from), but in a way so that my problems can be completely separated from the circumstances in which I grew up and the difficult experiences I have been through. As if depression and anxiety was like a flu, something I've just happened to catch, irrespective of social context and life events. I am an expert on downplaying problems and pretending I am working through them on my own.

Committing to sobriety this time, after two relapses, I realise that my problems are not "out there" compartmentalised into neat little categories, "my alcoholism", my problematic relationships with men", "my career", "my living circumstances", "my relationship to my mother" "my anxiety" etc, but these are all interlinked and related to one fundamental issue: negative patterns of thinking about myself, and the destructive actions that follow from this, in all areas of my life.

I would often think, "if only I get my relationship/career/living circumstances under control I will be able to stay sober" or " if only I stay sober I will be able to have healthy relationships with men/a more successful career/better living circumstances etc" but unless I deal with the negative patterns of thinking I have developed over the years, and the image I have of myself and the role I feel I need to play in front of others, I will just continue the same way I have for the past 16 years or so.

My way of thinking has also undermined any attempts to resolve problems with others - my mother included - and to confront people in a constructive way when I feel they have treated me badly or when they make me feel uncomfortable, because I have felt I don't deserve to be listened to, that my problems aren't important enough/not as important as other people's problems.

I believe being more open about what I think and feel with my family and those close to me is an important part in the recovery process. But it is hard to know where and how to begin, the only times I ever really talked about myself and my issues was when I had a few glasses of wine! And I always felt awful and disgusted with myself afterwards.

Now, when trying to open up I feel as if I am learning a foreign language, trying the sentences in my head, not being sure about the grammar, afraid of saying the wrong thing which can be interpreted the wrong way, and eventually just giving up and remaining silent...

This is becoming awfully long. I think what I wanted to get to, while taking a bit of a detour, is that perhaps we won't get the responses we need or want when we confront our mothers, but being open and realising that we deserve to be heard may be an important step in recovery. I have tried avoidance and keeping my mouth shut, but I think that creates even more tension as my mother can sense I get uncomfortable around her and that in turn aggravates her drinking and confrontational/martyr tendencies. Better to get it out in the open...

I hope you have a nice day. Congrats to you too! I am glad to have met you here. Do stay in touch. Hugs, S
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Old 05-10-2013, 07:12 AM
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That sounds a lot like my own internal dialogue regarding my mom (and dad), who were both alcoholics when I was growing up and living at home. I think it's well and fine to say exactly what you said here:

the way she behaves when drinking makes me anxious, tense and upset? That I worry about the way she drinks and that I don't like who she becomes when drinking
However, from my experience.. it wont change anything. It might make you feel a little better, but it might not, especially if she pulls the martyr role (my mom would do the same) and becomes upset, and continues to drink as normal.

In alanon (I haven't gone..), you learn how to establish boundaries, to protect yourself from the active alcoholism of loved ones. It's super complicated since you live with her, and I hope you have a plan in place for that to change as well. Mostly it's up to taking charge of your own self care, and your new recovery. Finding support outside of your family, and among other recovering alcoholics or professionals experienced in working with us.

I remember those "talks" with my mom all too well. I cried, I threw things, I threatened to never speak to her again.. nothing made a difference until SHE had enough, and thankfully she (and my dad) got sober when I was around 19 years old. I became an alcoholic, and didn't achieve recovery until I was 34, but I *still* carry around the effects of their alcoholism.
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