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Alcoholic SIL, advice please

(56 Posts)
Jux Sun 11-Nov-12 20:25:32

SIL sold her flat a fortnight ago. She is an alcoholic, but had been dry for years. As she wanted to move closer to us, she decided to put off looking for anything until completion and then come stay with us until she'd bout a new place. So, she's been here two weeks.

She is clearly drinking. We have a flat on the top floor of our house, in which my mum lived until she died (3 years ago). That's where SIL is; there is a bathroom, bedroom, kitchen and sitting room. It is quite cosy and warm, and the views are magnificent.

The first few days, she would come down fairly early in the morning, and then the whole day in the kitchen with me, just talking. Every so often she'd go up to get her phone, or her fags.

Then she started not coming down, but would say from behind a closed door, that she was ill, had a bad stomach, or a cold, or was tired. We would cook for all of us in the evening because she said she would ve down, but as often as not would change her mind when it came to it.

The times she does come down, she is tipsy at best, completely sozzled at worst.

Two nights ago, she was so drunk she couldn't sit straight in the chair.

I haven't tried to talk to her about this, as we barely know each other for one thing (met twice before dh and I were married, and only a few times since - she and dh never socialised together and he has always baulked at having her over, as he felt he would have to hide the drink). For another thing, I wanted to talk to dh first - his family have a habit of closing their eyes and pretending everything's OK.

Since the last incident, he has been furious with her, but doesn't really know what to do. Nor do I. There is no doubt something must be done though.

She can't organise looking at the place she wants to buy because she's too drunk to think, takes down the wrong phone numbers, every excuse in the book to cover for the fact that actually she's got no idea what she's doing.

When she appears, she says things like she's expecting this or that person to call her back, but then her phone's upstairs so she can't take the call, and then she goes get her phone and doesn't appear again for an hour or so at which point she's that much more drunk.

Sorry, I'm rambling.

DH is going to tackle her tomorrow. Is it better to be go the severe, elder brother route, or the kind gentle elder brother route? (He will find it very hard to do the gentle one!)

He wants to tell her to pull herself together or find a b&b.

LilyVonSchtupp Sun 11-Nov-12 20:38:18

Disclaimer 1: I have alcoholic close relative.
Disclaimer 2: I have no absolutely no expertise or qualifications apart from the above.

IME he should go the severe route. He just needs to define 'pull herself together' - eg go to her GP / appointment at the local Drugs & Alcohol or Mental Health unit / go to AA (if she does this route) at least twice a week / stop drinking in the daytime in your house - whatever you choose. Put a time limit on it and require proof. Choose an easily achievable action - not 'stop drinking altogether'.

That is just my experience though. Being clinical and directive was a lot more effective than being cuddly and sympathetic, which just prolongs the cycle. There may be a lot more to it than you say though eg mental health.

Good luck, it is really horrible, upsetting and draining to watch someone close to you drink themselves into oblivion. sad

UnexpectedItemInShaggingArea Sun 11-Nov-12 20:43:51

In my experience, it won't matter how your DH tackles it, only your SIL can decide to get help and follow this through.

I would be tempted to set some ground rules re alcohol in the house and stick to them - no second chances.

I have some experience of this situation so sorry I can't be more encouraging.

Snorbs Sun 11-Nov-12 20:48:03

The thing is, if you confront her about her drinking the chances are she'll deny it. Alcoholics lie about their drinking. She'll lie to you, she'll lie to your DH, she'll lie to anybody about it. And most of all she'll lie to herself.

She's not going to stop drinking until she wants to. Right now she doesn't want to. Why should she? She's got it made - a nice place to live for little if any money, company if she wants it, privacy when she doesn't, freedom to get pissed out of her tiny mind whenever she wants, food if she can be bothered to stagger down the stairs. And all she has to do is throw you and your DH the occasional line about how she's finding it difficult to get a new place and she's got it made.

You can't persuade an alcoholic to stop drinking. That decision has to come from within them and for their own reasons. All you can do is decide whether you wish to have a front-row seat to their drunkenness, or you think it best to walk away. I'd go for the "We want you out of the house in two weeks. Whether that's into a new property or a B&B is of no concern to us."

BertramBertram Sun 11-Nov-12 22:14:54

Until an alcoholic reaches rock bottom they have no reason to kick for he surface. Try & be strong for your DH. The tough love route is the only way. Your SIL needs to be told which way is up. You & DH need to mean it for your sake & hers. Good luck x

Jux Sun 11-Nov-12 22:29:08


I am sorely tempted by the "get out of the house" route. She has a massive hunk of dosh in her account as she owned her flat outright (we paid off her mortgage for her years ago - don't ask, it was a source of some discord), and she's buying a trailer home, so she'll actually have over 100K left. She could easily afford the most expensive hotel round here and a driver to take her about. DH was on stand by all Friday to take her to see the trailer she wants, but she kept not having her phone, her fags, the right address etc. and somehow couldn't get it.

She popped downstairs briefly this morning to get juice, and babbled about her stomach and that she'd stay upstairs today. I said "better that, than come down in the vile state you were in the other night".

I am very angry with her. Her behaviour has had a bad effect on all of us in less than two weeks. We are all on tenterhooks all the time. DD has changed from model, academic "general scholar" straight A-type student before half term, to one who gets 4 questions right out of 50 in a subject she loves and knows everything about. In fact, in 5 subjects she loves, in the last week.

Sadly, she has no gp here. Been too pissed to organise one. She'd have to see ours, and I doubt she'd want to. AA is out. Very few counsellors in this neck of the woods, all have 6m waiting lists.

Will investigate d&a clinics. Thanks for that.

Snorbs Sun 11-Nov-12 22:51:23

Why are you thinking about doctors, AA, counsellors and the like? She's not a child. If she was interested in any of that she'd either be looking into them herself or asking for your help. She's not.

One of the hardest things to get to grips with about dealing with an alcoholic is this: we look at their lives and wonder how can they possibly want to be like that? Surely they must want to have a normal life.

But they don't have to agree with you. She would be breaking no laws if she chose to spend the rest of her life pissed out of her tiny mind. You have neither the legal nor the moral right to insist that she sobers up and lives her life the way you think she should.

Until she comes to you asking for help then you are in all honesty you're just wasting your time.

You do have the right to decide who gets to live in your home. If you decide that you will not have an active alcoholic under your roof then you know what you need to do.

Yes it's hard on her but it is also a natural consequence of her choice to drink. Actively drinking alcoholics wear out their welcome. It's just what happens.

Jux Sun 11-Nov-12 23:58:11

Snorbs, I suppose I was just thinking about them because Lily mentioned them. I know I can't do it for her, I know I can't force her, I know I have no right to make any demands on her other than to behave in a certain way while she is in my home. I am feeling terribly guilty about not wanting her here. I know it's pointless, and I know it's her responsibility. Doesn't help that as we don't know each other anyway, I have little emotion invested, whereas I know this is excrutiatingly painful for both dh and dd.

Thanks for your help. Suitably bolstered for the morning.

Fuckitthatlldo Mon 12-Nov-12 00:12:11

Jux you don't have to put your SIL up. If this is too awful for you and is affecting your daughter and your family life then ask her to leave. This is her problem and you do not have to deal with it.

I say all this as a recovering alcoholic myself.

Your SIL has an illness. She does not choose necessarily to drink. She has no control over her drinking. She is an addict.

But none of that is your responsibility. You do what you need to do for your family with a clear conscience. She will either sink or swim. Nothing you can do or say will change anything for her. Only she can do that.

UnexpectedItemInShaggingArea Mon 12-Nov-12 08:36:42

Jux please try not to feel guilty. No one will criticise you for making a tought decision.

As others have said she is an adult. Alcoholism is a terrible disease but one that your SIL has to fight herself.

Your DH and your DD are your most important priorities. Good luck.

RabidCarrot Mon 12-Nov-12 08:43:16

Chuck her out, don't feel bad about it just do it

AttilaTheMeerkat Mon 12-Nov-12 08:49:21

SIL needs to leave your home today. Tell her together; you need to be cruel to be kind. Enabling your SIL helps no-one.

She is having a deleterious effect on your family life to boot; effects that you may well not have envisaged before she moved in.

CogitoErgoSometimes Mon 12-Nov-12 09:39:44

Tell her to go... When my alcoholic (now ex) SIL did exactly this - staying with another SIL 'between places' - she caused havoc. The whole family was very upset, including the kids, and SIL & BIL went on to split up shortly afterwards. Whether it was directly connected is debatable but she didn't exactly make for a harmonious environment.

Tell her to go before she causes irreparable damage.

madamemax Mon 12-Nov-12 10:27:53

Nightmare! She sounds horrendously entitled.

Who on earth would sell a flat to buy a trailer?

So, is she going to pay you back the equity you ploughed into her property?

Jux Mon 12-Nov-12 19:30:22

Madamemax, no of course she's not! I see it that we own outright, she owned outright = we owe each other nothing. That she has sold her flat and racked up 40K of debt in this year is not my problem. The only way she can afford to live anywhere and have a lump sum to invest and give her interest to live on is by buying a trailer. Buying a flat - except perhaps in Outer Mongolia - is all she can afford. If she were to buy a flat, she'd be coming to us cap in hand for bills, Council Tax etc on a regular basis. This will at least put that off for a few years. (Note, I a, being thoroughly bitchy here!)

DH spoke to her this morning. He said we knew she was drinking and the she became boorish and aggressive and unpleasant;
that none of us wanted to have anything to do with her when she was like that, so she should stay upstairs if she'd had a drink;
that we had wasted far too much money buying extra food and catering for her only for her not to bother so we wouldn't bother any more;
that dd was totally freaked out by her; that neither dd nor I were comfortable with her around when she'd been drinking;
that we were not idiots and could tell; that he expected her to not drink while he was away as he didn't see why I should have to cope with a belligerant and aggressive drunk.

She was, apparently, much chastened. She has said she will not drink. (Yeah, right.) DH says she's pulled herself out of binges before and then been dry for years. Maybe she will.

I know we haven't thrown her out, but - like a woman wanting to try every avenue she can to save her marriage before she dumps her vile h - we want to give her the chance to stop again, now that it's in the open.

Thank you for all your support and advice. It is good to know that, should we chuck her out, we would not be being unreasonable. I really hope this will be it, though!

AttilaTheMeerkat Mon 12-Nov-12 21:02:53

"I know we haven't thrown her out, but - like a woman wanting to try every avenue she can to save her marriage before she dumps her vile h - we want to give her the chance to stop again, now that it's in the open".

Well that was not a big mistake, that was a huge one instead and one that will come back to bite you on the bum soon enough.

With regards to the above supposition re the failing marriage, she will not stop simply because you want to give her a further opportunity to stop again. She is not your project to rescue and or save from her own self; she has to want to stop drinking again without any imput or for that matter support from yourselves. She does not want your help!.

Re this part of your comment:-

"DH spoke to her this morning. He said we knew she was drinking and the she became boorish and aggressive and unpleasant; that none of us wanted to have anything to do with her when she was like that, so she should stay upstairs if she'd had a drink"

Why did he say that exactly?. I know, he backed down when he saw her. No re should stay upstairs, he should have at that juncture told her to leave!. I realise this is his sister but she has already outstayed her welcome already and life with an alcoholic within the home is nothing much short of a horror story.

How long will it be now before you actually throw her out, it seems you did not give her a set time limit when she moved in?. She has affected you all markedly not least of all your DD who was previously a straight A student and now is not. Who comes first ultimately; your own family unit or this drunkard?. It is really that simple.

Now you are enabling her. It does not work as enabling only gives you a false sense of control. It certainly does not help her actually face up to the consequences of her actions.

mcmooncup Mon 12-Nov-12 21:09:47

The number 1 symptom of alcoholism is denial.
I'm one for the understanding approach initially.....pointing out the devastation she is wreaking on her life e.g. Having nowhere to live? But in a kind way. IME the harsh approach never works, and I do deal with alcoholics regularly.
It's risk-taking behaviour to mask unhappiness most often, and helping people understand that is where it generally starts in getting them out of denial. Only my experience smile

Fairenuff Tue 13-Nov-12 08:26:49

DH spoke to her this morning. He said we knew she was drinking and the she became boorish and aggressive and unpleasant; that none of us wanted to have anything to do with her when she was like that, so she should stay upstairs if she'd had a drink

When your dh said this, this is what SIL heard:

"If you want to drink, that's fine, just don't do it around us"

Is that really the message he wanted to convey? If so, fine. You will live with an alcoholic in the attic.

If not, he should say what he really means. No bargaining, no ultimatums, no last chances.

He should say, "I want you out of here by Friday. I will be changing the locks on that day". Then he should stick to it.

The more you enable her, the more she will keep drinking.

Jux Tue 13-Nov-12 08:35:38

Atilla, I know. Yesterday dh took a unilateral decision. I have talked about this rock bottom stuff with MIL so many times in the past, to no avail. I shall be seriously pissed off if I have to do it with dh too. At least I know that if we have to throw her out she can afford a hotel or somesuch.

So now, we see what happens. She will either not drink and get herself together and buy her trailer, or she will not.

DH goes away today and will be back tomorrow. If there is an incident while he's away or there is no movement in her purchase by the end of the week, then I shall have words. He doesn't actually want the reality of her here; he likes to sit in his little world where everyone and everything behaves exactly as he wants them to grin but reality doesn't always cooperate.

I know if she's sober she'll get on with it and move out.

Jux Tue 13-Nov-12 08:38:01

Sorry Fairenuff, xpost.

Yes, I know. So if she does that she goes. Otherwise, she'll buy her trailer and go (and drink herself to oblivion in a trailer park instead). One way or another, she goes.

madamemax Tue 13-Nov-12 09:00:21

Hi, I don't understand this:
"She has a massive hunk of dosh in her account as she owned her flat outright (we paid off her mortgage for her years ago - don't ask, it was a source of some discord), and she's buying a trailer home, so she'll actually have over 100K left. She could easily afford the most expensive hotel round here and a driver to take her about."

£100k goes quite a way in some parts of the UK! Even if the £40k in debt is to be offset, that's still a fair whack of a deposit for a fresh start.

You say you paid off her mortgage, assume this was a gift, maybe a sharing of inheritance that she was 'entitled to'. Is she contributing in any way to the expenses of your home? You say you have wasted money on food and catering, so I think not.

You also mention that buying a trailer home means she will not have to come to you cap in hand for bill money for a few years. Why is this even a consideration? Surely she is old enough and (when dry) capable enough of earning money to stand on her own two feet financially?

I know virtually nothing about alcoholism, so I can't add anything to the wise words above. It is shocking that this is affecting your children and, in my opinion, that cannot continue for a moment longer. But financially, I do think you are enabling her selfish, entitled behaviour, that she can basically do what she likes with you and her brother bailing her out, the consequences to her minimised.

Maybe, if you're not willing to throw her out, then simply treat her as you would anyone renting your flat? Open the conversation about the cost of renting round you, the share of the bills and food. Ask how much she needs for trailer, and discuss how long the rest would last for rent. And how is she going to pay living expenses in the trailer once the lump sum from the flat has run out? Practicalities, not emotions or reference to alcoholism.

I wish you luck. I think you're going to need it. You sound very kind, and she is taking advantage of this.

AttilaTheMeerkat Tue 13-Nov-12 09:00:26

Whatever happens, your SIL cannot stay in your house any longer. She has to leave before she wreaks further havoc upon your homelife.

It was a great shame that your DH was not strong enough to give his sister her marching orders yesterday; he completely backed down. He is also part of this problem.

Re this part of your comment:-
"I know if she's sober she'll get on with it and move out"

And equally she may not. Its nice where she is and she can drink in private upstairs. She has certainly been drinking since she arrived in your home and she certainly started drinking before she actually left her previous residence. She may not have been fully sober since she arrived on your doorstep.

His wider family are not of much if any help anyway seeing as they close their eyes and pretend everything is okay (noted that in your initial post). Small wonder your chats with MIL re rock bottom have come to nothing; they've also enabled her. They are only glad that she is not their problem currently but yours.

And FWIW its worth I think you will end up having the same sort of chat with DH.

There are no guarantees re alcoholism; she could go onto lose everything and everybody and she could still choose to drink afterwards.

The 3cs re alcoholism:-
You did not cause this
You cannot control this
You cannot cure this

Jux Tue 13-Nov-12 15:58:51

It's not really down to me, though Madamemax. It's very early days, and dh has handled it so far. If/when something goes wrong then I will be a lot harsher, stronger and uncompromising.

Unlikely she'll get a job, but even if she did, she's 56 and in shit health due to booze. There are carers jobs around, I know. She has expressed interest, but I doubt she's done anything.

Atilla, I like those 3 Cs. I've read them here before and have trotted them out to dh when he feels bad about her.

He knows I have little patience with alcoholics. I grew up with an alcoholic uncle living with us as no one else would have him. He would be with us for 4 years or so, and then trot off to live with some old friend of his and they would set the surrounding countryside alight with their benders, until they were thrown out and then he'd come back to us. I hated it. I hated him. I am not allowing that to happen to dd. I will throw SIL and dh out first! (I'll report us to SS, actually, if it comes to that.)

Apparently, she's arranged for the agent to take her to see the trailer on Friday, and it takes about 2 weeks for it to be built and delivered to its plot. That'll be 3 weeks away then. Any more, and she can hotel it, unless she's been no trouble at all.

Jux Tue 13-Nov-12 15:59:53

Attila, sorry blush

madamemax Tue 13-Nov-12 16:38:16

Three weeks is sounding very promising! Perhaps you/DH can chum her with the agent (make sure it happens)?

All the best.

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