A Family Disease

I am dealing with the day-to-day minutiae that goes along with being sober as well as a wife, mama, daughter, sister, friend, etc. I wrote the other day, here, about laying awake at night thinking about my family and their problems. It was weird, but my Mom cemented some of those thoughts in my head yesterday evening during a phone call.

We spoke about our plans for the holidays. The dreaded holidays. Everyone’s favorite time of the year to tie one on and cry over their turkey dinner (at least at our family holidays during my later childhood years). Why would I not want to redo those fun times every year, right? I am being sarcastic, but the holidays really are a very hard time for a lot of people. There is so much pressure to have a Pinterest-worthy home, table and decor, loads of fun, togetherness, and bonding… and it just doesn’t work out that way for most people. I am not particularly religious, or into the holidays, and I still feel pressure to make something happen every year. Sometimes I wish I could just lie on a beach and forget all about them. Hmm… goal for next year, perhaps? “Sorry, I’ll be in Bali for the holidays this year.” A girl can dream.

Anyway, my Mom wants to come visit this year to see my son, her only grandson, whom she loves very much. I want them to have a relationship with one another. What I don’t want is for my son to be a part of a dysfunctional environment where unhealthy drinking is the normal thing to do, which it is in my family. This means that we can’t go stay with her. My Mom lives in a relatively small house with my two alcoholic, unemployed brothers. I really don’t want alcohol in my house right now, either. She told me that she doesn’t want to visit if she can’t drink, as she wouldn’t be able to fall asleep at night.

I am really sad about this. Sad that she would choose alcohol over visiting me and her grandson. Sad that she can’t/won’t stop drinking for a week to help me when I really need it.Β  Sad that she is obviously addicted to alcohol but in total denial about it. Sad that I can’t just say “It’s okay! Come anyway!” and make the problems go away because I am a total people pleaser. Some of these thoughts and feelings aren’t rational, because I know alcoholism is a tricky thing and it’s not personal, but my head and heart are still hurting.

I have realized that part of the reason I kept drinking for so long was that I didn’t know how to do things any differently. Quitting meant having to deal not only with my personal problems, but also with the alcohol problems of my family. “Alcoholism is a disease of the family” makes more sense to me now. I don’t want to make excuses for my drinking, and I understand that it is my responsibility to care for my sobriety. I just hate that I have to hurt my family… even if it helps them in the end. It is a painful thing to do. I know that my Mom doesn’t see herself the way that she is behaving right now, and it breaks my heart. I am so tired of having my heart broken by alcohol. It has happened far too many times over the years.

My plan is to create and keep boundaries for the holidays. Absolutely no drinking in my house. Visitors can stay elsewhere and drink the night away, but will respect my home, as it is my safe place. If we visit those with a drinking problem, we will stay in a hotel and the visits will be cut short once drinking begins. I don’t know how else to handle it, and I am not going to stress and lose my sobriety over other people’s problems.

How do you handle difficult family situations, if you have them? Is Al-Anon helpful? I am thinking I might go to a meeting and check it out.

14 thoughts on “A Family Disease

  1. What a tricky time for you. I reckon you’re doing all the right things though. You have to protect your sobriety, no matter what, and if that means putting yourself first then so be it. I think keeping alcohol out of the house is a good idea as is the hotel – then you always have a way of leaving if you need to escape. Could you meet your mum on neutral ground somewhere? Does it have to be hers or yours or could you go out? Good luck.

    • I think getting out together is a great idea! I am working on setting boundaries and letting go…it doesn’t have to be bad if I change my attitude a bit. It felt good to get it out! xx-Jen

  2. I found a few Al-anon podcasts. You can start there just to try it out. I took from it boundaries are imperative, and if you say it you have to follow through.

    My family all live in the same city I grew-up, so fortunately that means I go to their houses for the holidays. Otherwise I would be in your shoes. I have already committed to finding the closest AA meeting to my hometown. I know I have to deal with having alcohol shoved in my face, and the stress that drives me to the bottle in the first place.

    My heart breaks for you! Alcoholism is heartbreaking! I think you are on the right track with al-non. If we lived near each other I would go with you. I hope the holidays bring you peace and happiness!


    • Thank you, Heather. It really can do such terrible things to people, can’t it? I hope to stay sober so that I don’t inflict that kind of pain on anyone else. Hope you are doing well! xx- Jen

  3. You know, I was reading this and thought to myself – does *anyone*, and I mean ANYONE have one of those picture perfect, wonderful, doozily happy holidays? Ever? I have yet to meet someone who does. then again, I hang out with alcoholics…lol. But I think everyone puts so much pressure on the holidays. I am not a fan, but I go along.

    As for your situation, you are right – mom probably can’t (and not won’t) stop. I mean, we get that, don’t we? I am sure people thought the same thing about me – why can’t he just be *normal* for once at a get together or function? Why does he have to ruin everything? etc. BUT what I love is how you are protecting your sobriety and your child in this. Boundaries are a wonderful thing, and sticking to them even better. Yeah, you might piss someone off, but when it comes to your life and death, so be it. Yes, it’s sad…but that is what alcoholism does. Ugh. Be firm. Stick to your guns.

    I think the al-anon thing is great…I have some lit, even though I am not a member. it can’t hurt to check it out.

    Wonderful post.

    Thanks for sharing it.


    • I think the ‘picture perfect’ holidays only exist in Hallmark cards. Maybe on highly edited Facebook profiles, too. Not in real life! I think the thing about my Mom is that I hid behind alcohol for so long that I haven’t had to feel this same kind of disappointment since I was a child. At least now I CAN create boundaries to protect myself and my child from triggers that could lead me into bad places. I will talk to her again soon and we will figure it out. Hopefully we can come to an agreement that works for us both. I am just going to have to be firm, kind, and honest. I am going to listen to an al-anon podcast tomorrow and see about a meeting this week. Thanks for the encouragement, Paul! πŸ™‚

  4. Great post. I agree with Paul, I don’t think anyone has a perfect holiday. I always wanted my Mother to stop drinking, she didn’t. And then I followed in her footsteps until recently. You are right to set boundaries and stick to them. It’s about your sobriety and your happiness. You are not responsible for theirs.

    • Thanks Sharon. I did the same thing…followed in her (and my Dad’s) footsteps until recently. Neither one of them were ever able to quit drinking when I was a child. It led to their divorce and made a big mess of things. I am slowly learning that I can not control the happiness of others…thanks for the reminder! Peace, Jen

  5. Jen, I second the suggestion to meet up with your mom on neutral ground. That’s been my coping strategy with my own mom since LONG before I got sober. πŸ™‚ Movies are especially nice as, um, you don’t have to talk.

    I just read a lovely, funny novel by Ann Leary called THE GOOD HOUSE whose narrator is a middle-aged realtor and alcoholic who is publicly in recovery, but privately not so much. At one point she muses, ‘Thanksgiving with the family is a lot to ask of a sober person.’ It’s funny because it’s true. πŸ˜‰

    • I’ll have to check out that book- sounds good! I think trying some new stuff, like meeting elsewhere, will be a helpful tool this year. We have never done that before! I am thinking that as long as we talk about everything beforehand and are totally clear and honest, it should be ok. You all have made me feel better about the situation. Thanks for the suggestions! xx- Jen

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