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My Mum, Alcohol and Me

(17 Posts)
Timeforabiscuit Fri 30-Nov-12 17:33:49

My mum has been an alcoholic since my dad died as far as I can tell, so since I was 4 years old.

She had held down a professional job, but drank as soon as she got home and didn't stop until she passed out.

She had a nervous breakdown when I was 12/13, then the drinking accelerated so first thing would be a glass of wine when she woke up, and then didn't stop.

My younger brother was diagnosed with dyslexia and had some behavioural problems and went to a weekday boarding school once he was secondary school age, there was social services involvement (and they funded the place) but I have no idea how much they knew of our home life.

She has been very depressed much of her life, my brother and I used to joke that it would be a relief when she finally killed herself - then he would go back to school and I would sprint back home from the bus stop because I'd got the feeling she was hanging from the hallway balcony. She used to pack a suitcase and walk to the train station to run away, i'd catch up with her and convince her to come home - I never told anyone about this, everyone I knew already knew about her breakdown so I thought it just went with the territory - I just hoped she'd die so she wouldn't be miserable any more.

I was never a rebel, kept in line at school and spent most of the week at every club going during my teens. I left home for university at 18 and have only spent 3 days maximum in a row with her since.

DH has picked up on things like I can never end a conversation with her on the phone, that I turn into a completely different person who cows to her and completely changes any preferences I might have to accommodate her - I can't answer any of that because it's how I have to be, if I do something wrong something horrible will happen - it's so hard wired I can't shake it off.

I have a visit planned - I've been able to fob her off with it not being the right time to come down for a couple of years, and her health isn't good enough to come here.

But I feel like I can't do it, I have two dd 5 & 2 - Neither me or DH drink in front of them let alone see us drunk, my mum isn't a bad drunk she is just absent and then falls asleep.

Does anyone have any experience or strategies to help with this? - there is usually an almighty row between DH and mum, she can be fairly obnoxious and used to her own opinions - he can be very assertive and likes a challenge and it ends up she cries and threatens to leave.

I don't want this to happen, if my girls were affected by anything she says i'll never forgive myself - but I can't not visit her!!

CogitOCrapNotMoreSprouts Fri 30-Nov-12 18:02:13

You've clearly spent your whole life believing you are responsible for your mother and are still worried, as you were all that time ago when you sprinted home from the bus, that if you do or say the wrong thing, she'll kill herself. You can no more deliberately abandon or upset her than you would your DDs... That's the problem in a nutshell, really. She's the child and you're the parent in a kind of malignant co-dependence.

However, you're not her parent, you're the parent to your DDs. You should come first in your life and your immediate family - the genuine dependents - should take priority over anyone else. The readjustment you're going to have to make, therefore, is to re-cast her as an independent adult (albeit a very damaged one) responsible for her own behaviour and decisions. And I think you're going to need professional help to achieve that because it's going to be very, very difficult.

Have you ever been in touch with Al-Anon?

Timeforabiscuit Fri 30-Nov-12 18:09:10

I haven't even considered them blush I always assumed they were there for those actually trying to turn it around.

Just spoke to dh about my worries and he said what's the worst that can happen - if it kicks off we'll just go to a hotel, so he doesn't exactly get the issue

janelikesjam Fri 30-Nov-12 18:18:47

"My brother and I used to joke that it would be a relief when she finally killed herself - then he would go back to school and I would sprint back home from the bus stop because I'd got the feeling she was hanging from the hallway balcony"

Reading that made me feel incredibly sad on your behalf.

Its wonderful that you now have a husband and two young children of your own and I agree with Cogito that they, along with yourself, are really your no. 1 priority.

I can only speak from my own experience, and that is with difficult family members and that is to (1) keep contact brief and (2) with an easy escape route/exit. How about staying at a fancy hotel near your mother (you fancy a spa-day). Or returning your children early for some important reason, or even leaving your children at home? Treating your mother to a restaurant meal, but then going to hotel, going home, etc?

(I don't always follow my own advice though - last xmas I invited my mother to stay and it was pretty disastrous, never again).

The crucial thing is what you what do you want to do about it? You say you don't want to meet her but this is what you have arranged. These days, if I am not sure about something I find it useful to ask Well What Do I Want to Do About This? Sometimes the answer is nothing, sometimes a very sensible active suggestion, either way the answers I am getting are often v helpful.

Timeforabiscuit Fri 30-Nov-12 18:37:56

Thanks Jams - I've used most of those myself grin and they've worked well, but this year she seems focussed on having this family Christmas that I've put off until new year.

She has a large Victorian type house and has bought bunk beds for the girls so it's not at a point where I can roll back plans without some sort of fall out - and it's fallout I'm actually doing my utmost to avoid.

Your last paragraph is ultimately how I'm stuck - keeping an even keel or path of least resistance is going to be the most helpful, but long term I can't see how I can let her gently see there is no way in heck she is having them for summer holidays or the other things she is planning.

I'm wondering how long I can stall her for

janelikesjam Fri 30-Nov-12 19:01:03

hmm...

buying bunk beds seems a strange thing to do, perhaps you have more idea what that is about?

i can really see your dilemma - it feels like you have gone along with it already to some degree, and are now trying to change direction, is that right?

i don't know. you could go for one day and one night - xmas eve and xmas day? Or so as not to potentially ruin your own xmas day - find a sensible reason (the kids love staying at home staying for xmas which is often true anyway, you or your husband need to work, whatever) change it to boxing day evening and the following day? just suggestions.

xmas can be an emotional time. dysfunctional people seem to struggle even more then and IME can ruin it for everyone. my mother ruined mine and my son's xmas day and boxing day last year. i have not invited her this year.

if you do decide to go ahead - i would reiterate above (1) keep it brief and (2) have a quick exit plan.

AttilaTheMeerkat Fri 30-Nov-12 19:08:36

You are still caught up in codependency and show all the characteristics of being an adult child of an alcoholic. You feel very responsible for her don't you?.

Some or perhaps most of the following applies to you:-

1. Adult children of alcoholics guess at what normal behaviour is.
The home of an alcoholic or addict is not "normal." Life revolves around the addict and most family members must learn to keep their family going, as they know it. Children of alcoholic or drug-addicted parents do not live the same life as their "normal" peers. Therefore, the child and later the adult must simply do their best at maintaining normalcy, as observed from friends, television, or simply guessing.

2. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end.
In the home of an addict, daily living is frequently interrupted due to misbehavior or unpredictable actions of the addict. For example, the family may start playing a game, but then dad comes home and everyone must stop playing. Or maybe mom promised to help work on a school project, but then passes out and never follows through. When project completion and follow-through are not consistently modeled, it is a hard skill for the adult child of an alcoholic to learn.

3. Adult children of alcoholics lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth.
As a child of an alcoholic or addict, one must constantly lie and make up excuses for the addicted parent. The child also hears the parent and everyone else in the family lie and make up stories constantly. This behavior is a necessity to keep the addict family intact, and therefore becomes a natural trait. Once the child acquires this behavior, it tends to stay with the adult child.

These lies are not always malicious or harmful. Something as simple as the route the ACOA took home, or what type of fruit they like is fair game for lies. Unless the child or adult receives enough consequences (either internal, like guilt or anxiety; or external, like getting in trouble with someone), the ACOA may begin to practice the art of telling the truth more.

4. Adult children of alcoholics judge themselves without mercy.

No matter what the child of an alcoholic or addict does, they cannot "fix" their parent or their family. They may be able to take care of the addict or other members of the family, but they are unable to fix the root of the problem: the addiction and relating family dysfunction. No matter how well the child does is soccer, how high their school grades, no matter how clean they keep the house, how "good" they are, they still can't fix the addict. Everything they do falls short.

Additionally, the child of an alcoholic or addict may blame him/herself for bad things that happen in the family, and are frequently guilt-ridden for reasons beyond their control. Perfectionism is very common in ACOAs.

5. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty having fun.

Growing up with an addicted parent is not fun. Kids are not allowed to be kids. When the kids are not given this joy, the adult usually does not know how to simply enjoy life. The ACOA is constantly worrying about their addicted parent, or is in trouble for things they should not be responsible for, or compensating in some other way for the addict. The usually carefree, fun time of being a child often does not exist if the parent is an addict.

The addict is the "child" in the relationship. Because of this, the child does not know how to be a child.

6. Adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously.

Due to the gravity of their roles in their families growing up, adult children of alcoholics take themselves very seriously. The weight of the family, and thus the world, is on their shoulders.

7. Adult children of alcoholics have difficulty with intimate relationships.

Having never known a "normal" relationship or family roles, the ACOA does not know how to have one. The adult child of an addict does not trust others. The ACOA has learned that people are not trustworthy or reliable, and has had their heart broken from such an early age.

New relationships must be handled with caution, too, because the child of an alcoholic doesn't want others to find out their secret. Adult children of alcoholics have learned to shut themselves off from others to protect their feelings, as well as to protect their family.

8. Adult children of alcoholics overreact to changes over which they have no control.

The child of an alcoholic/addict lacks control over their lives much of the time. They cannot control when their parent is drunk, or that the parent is an addict to begin with. S/he cannot always predict what will happen from one day to the next, and this is very anxiety producing. A child needs to feel safe. Because of this lack of control as a child, the adult child of an alcoholic/addict craves control. They need to know what is going to happen, how it is going to happen, and when.

Of course, this control and predictability is not always possible. If plans are changed, or somebody does something that the ACOA doesn't like or feel comfortable with, all the insecurity of their childhood may come back to them, and the adult child may over-react, leaving the other party stunned or confused.

9. Adult children of alcoholics constantly seek approval and affirmation.

Similar to ACOA characteristic number four, children of alcoholics and addicts are used to continuously seeking approval or praise from their parent or other valued person. They probably did not grow up with a regular and consistent rules and expectations, and could never make their addicted parent happy.

Not knowing what is "normal" or expected, adult children of alcoholics need someone to tell them what they are doing is right. They are often indecisive and unsure of themselves.

10. Adult children of alcoholics usually feel that they are different from other people.

Another overlap with other characteristics, children of alcoholics sometimes know from an early age that their home is not normal. Children from addicted families may or may not know what is different, and sometimes don't completely "get it" until they visit friend's houses and observe their parents. 'Hey... Janie's mom makes her do her homework until she is finished, and they have dinner at this time, and then they have to go to bed at 9. Every night!" This consistency may be shocking, and either attacks or appalls the child who is not used to such structure.

11. Adult children of alcoholics are super responsible or super irresponsible.

Once the child from an addicted family gets older and forms their own identity, the ACOA may either strictly follow a schedule and wants everything in order, controlled- perfect. These adult children often struggle with anxiety, OCD, perfectionism, and eating disorders.

The opposite result is the ACOA who is a party animal. This adult child may develop an alcohol, drug, or other behavioral addiction. This ACOA may live a life very much like their addicted parent, or they may "shape up" and get their life together, with appropriate support.

12. Adult children of alcoholics are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved.

"Why do you put up with him?" Adult children of alcoholics/addicts are used to dealing with just that- an addict. They are used to either taking care of an addict or seeing others take care of an addict. Drunken fights and broken promises is normal to the ACOA. Growing up, the child of an alcoholic was probably told "it isn't his fault" or "he didn't mean it, he was drunk."

Because of these lowered expectations, an adult child of an alcoholic/addict frequently ends up in a relationship with another addict, abusive partners, or otherwise unhealthy relationships.

13. Adult children of alcoholics are impulsive. They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.

The last trait is fairly self descriptive. The ACOA will struggle with falling into unhealthy patterns of behavior, in whatever form it might take.

An adult child of an alcoholic began life in unstable, insecure environment. The ACOA did not get everything they needed from their addicted parent. These 13 ACOA characteristics may seem daunting, but they are simply a profile, description, and explanation of possible existing traits.

These 13 characteristics are not a death sentence or certainty for the ACOA. Once an ACOA recognizes and understands why they are the way they are, and that they are not alone, the adult child of an alcoholic/addict can begin to heal. With the support of a therapist, counselor, support group, and others, the ACOA can live a full, healthy life, and stop the chain of addiction.

This is a link to Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization, an excellent resource for ACOAs.

http://www.adultchildren.org/
It is a US site but I think there is probably a UK site as well.

Al-anon may also be useful to you as this organisation is for those who are affected by a loved ones drinking.

I would also suggest you read "Adult Children of Alcoholics" written by Janet Woititz.

She let you down abjectly as a child and continues to do so as an adult. She is still me, me, me. Your H sees this and picks her up on it, that is why she cries. She is being purely manipulative here, she wants you to feel sorry for her. Her primary relationship has always been with drink and you have all suffered accordingly. Also alcohol acts as a depressant, she could well have been self medicating her depression with alcohol for many years.

It is not your fault she is like this, you did not make her this way and you are not responsible for her now; you have never been responsible for her but you've been hard wired to think as such.

Do not let your DDs be subjected to your alcoholic mother; keep them away from her at all costs. It will do them no favours to have such a poor role model in their lives. Your own family unit has to be your number 1 priority.
Would cancel any planned visits, you state you do not want to see her anyway.

pinkhalf Fri 30-Nov-12 20:18:15

I just want to say as a child of an alcoholic mother who did eventually commit suicide, that I truly applaud AtillaTheMeerkat for that post.

It is incredibly hard to imagine that a mother can damage you, but alcoholic mothers do just that. I would say that you should do your utmost to resolve your feelings while she is alive and keep your children the hell away from her.

Timeforabiscuit Fri 30-Nov-12 20:33:19

Thank you - that has given me an awful lot to think over and digest.

I do feel like I'm in a make believe world of family life, one that's based on re-runs of the wonder years and little house on the prairie (in a good way).

Dinners always on the table for six, never happened as I was growing up - but DH really taught me how to hug, how to be impulsive and let go of things I can't control.

What I fear is seeing her, seeing her vulnerable and know that I'll want to "fix" it - she has been dropping very strong hints that the house is to big for her, that there are plenty of jobs nearby, we should consider moving down.

I don't want to be honest with her - I 've maintained this fallacy all my life,

The bunk bed thing is pretty significant, she ordered something and built it in time for us to visit which is unheard of. I slept in the dining room for 5 years because my room was being "redecorated" - my girls share a room and mentioned that I was considering bunkbeds, she did it off her own back and followed through.

Timeforabiscuit Fri 30-Nov-12 20:38:42

pinkhalf i'm so sorry for your loss, I take it you don't have any closure or resolution?

Timeforabiscuit Fri 30-Nov-12 20:57:58

I do need some counselling - just in the way I'm behaving to my eldest, DH reminds me that I expect far too much from her but I expect her to not muck about when doing her homework - she's 5 FGS she's supposed to muck about!

pinkhalf Fri 30-Nov-12 21:26:41

I do but it takes a lt of work and therapy because I have low self esteem as a result. Being a mother myself has helped me build an independent identity. I do display many of the traits in Attilla's post, however.

Timeforabiscuit Fri 30-Nov-12 21:43:58

I think I only started caring when I was a mother, when I look at them and think of the potential of history repeating itself it sends a shiver down me.

I was lucky in lots and lots of ways, good friends, good school, good clubs, I had my escape route planned.

But when I think how close I came to something horrible happening just because I was so bloody lonely and vulnerable, looking back it was like walking down the M25 and nothing hitting me.

bonhomiee Fri 30-Nov-12 23:14:38

I also had an alcoholic mother. Some children of alcoholics show similar traits but many do not, studies have shown that it is not a universal experience.
I personally subscribe to the view that it makes you very responsible and its hard to let that go.However I was lucky and did not experience any form of abuse or neglect... apart from not engaging and being unavailable to discuss things and do things with. I did however as an adult witness many horrible things later on, when she deteriorated.
Unfortunately your mother has made her own choices in life, and sadly it was the alcohol that came first... make sure you put your own and your childrens welfare above her welfare / choices/lifestyle at all times.
You do not have to look after her and are not responsible for her.

pinkhalf Fri 30-Nov-12 23:15:21

If you have not had some therapy then I would recommend it. It is vital that you avoid this cursed feeling that can develop. You are your own person, and awareness of how your thoughts may be twisted by past experiences is valuable.

It sounds as if you built your own life out and away. Do not get sucked back in. Your mother may wish to atone for her mistakes with you via your children. But you are not her keeper.

mathanxiety Sat 01-Dec-12 07:49:15

Just spoke to dh about my worries and he said what's the worst that can happen - if it kicks off we'll just go to a hotel, so he doesn't exactly get the issue

He sort of does get the issue -- he isn't about to sign up to do what you do to deal with it but his idea is actually the healthy one here. Your mum's equilibrium is not your responsibility. Nothing you did caused her to drink and nothing you do will stop her -- or seriously affect her in any way, because her primary relationship is not with you. It is with the booze.

Your DH has cut to the chase without filling you in on the steps in his reasoning along the way, but his thought process is sound.

bonhomiee Sat 01-Dec-12 20:12:59

^^
agree with above

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