Dear Annie: I grew up with an alcoholic father. It made my childhood and teenage years incredibly difficult. It strained my relationship with my dad throughout my entire life. I have since been moved out of my parents' home, for about 10 years now, and the distance has made it easier to accept the fact that he will never change, despite multiple attempts.
Now, my once very successful mother has fallen victim to the same alcoholism as my father. She lost her career that she had for 25 years and has thus lost her sense of purpose. She is now drinking alcohol to obliteration. Every. Single. Day. She has turned into my father — something she swore would never happen to her.
I have talked to her endlessly about the consequences. I have tried every approach to try and level with her — from coming from a place of love and understanding to giving her tough love, and everything in between. I've encouraged hobbies and ideas to keep busy (although difficult during COVID times) and I even provided her with an online counselor. I feel like I have exhausted every avenue, and I understand that a person can only change if they want to change.
This has become mentally and emotionally exhausting for me. I love my mom and know she is having a very difficult time. I am having trouble cutting ties entirely because I don't want to leave her during her time of desperate need; however, there is only so much more heartbreak I can handle.
What else can I do to help my mom, and when is it appropriate to cut ties and take a step back for my own mental health? — Exhausted from Alcoholism
Dear Exhausted from Alcoholism: The time to take a step back and focus on your own mental health is now. Your love and commitment to your parents and their health and well-being is clear. It is also clear how much your parents' suffering and alcoholism is affecting you. So, yes, though it's important to support them, it is equally important to protect yourself from them.
Your mother has succumbed to a very serious and addictive disease. Continue to tell her how much you love her and that you want her to get better. As much as you can, don't take on that burden of "healing" or "fixing" her. You have been through enough. And as you mentioned, a person will only change if they choose to change.
Surround yourself with healthy friends and family as much as you can. The people we surround ourselves — physically, virtually, mentally — influence our thoughts and behaviors. It's time to celebrate you and your own ability to heal.
Suggest AA and Al-Anon to your mom, as well as the help of a professional counselor who focuses on the issues of alcoholism and being married to an alcoholic. By stepping outside of her own problems and focusing on her husband, marriage and family, she might see her behavior with more clarity.
Wishing you well. Your mother sounds very smart and successful. I'm hopeful that, in time and with help, she will pull out of this. And remember, there is still hope for your father.