As this journey with my mom unfolds I'm realizing so much about our dysfunctional family dynamic.

My BIL called me the other day. I was shocked as he doesn't normally call me. He started by telling me I helped him through a rough time several years back and he felt the need to reach out to me now. I really didn't want to talk but he prodded and I finally did open up to him about my struggles. My sister ended up marrying a high school friend of my brother so my BIL has known our family including my mother for a very long time. He's seen some things to say the least.

One of the things I told him was I resented not only doing everything myself but having to worry on my own about all of the logistics. Like why wasn't anyone else having important conversations with my mom about selling some assets (her cottage and car out of state) and saving for future care?

His response to me was that everyone (meaning my sister and brother) knew that her response would be negative. He said "It's always been like that, she's difficult to approach".... got me to thinking, he's so right. Everyone has always walked on eggshells around my mom.

We all knew her behavior was dysfunctional. Having an alcoholic parent isn't normal. Yet my mother was never confronted, it was tolerated and somehow normalized.

I feel this strange pressure to "normalize" her continued dysfunctional behavior (addiction, narcissism, etc) and now even the dementia. I can't begin to think of a way to even have a conversation with her about her future care needs. Don't all sane people know that dementia is a different animal and majority of people end up needing to go to a facility? Yet this can't even be addressed. Yet at the same time my tolerance for this at this stage of my life is VERY low.

This is heavy on my mind because on Jan 4th my mom will be having an appointment with her PC. This is the doctor that I talked to when she was away last month. We had a confidential talk and I told him I was concerned that all of her doctors weren't communicating enough and I wanted to know why she needed daily opiates. He agreed there didn't appear to be any reason and he was going to talk to the pain doctor. I told him I was concerned about her cognition and he said he was going to read her evaluation. He mentioned that he may recommend an addiction specialist.

Well I got a reminder call about her appointment yesterday, and the person said she was to be seen for "mildly elevated labs (I think he will be addressing the drinking), cognitive impairment, and her pain complaints".

I'm nervous because I think there is a strong chance she will have a very negative reaction. At the same time I can't keep normalizing this stuff. The charade of independence with lack of cooperation is more and more intolerable.

Can anyone relate?

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With a slight shuffling of genders and issues, y’all gave a blow-by-blow description of:
•my dead family
•what’s left of my living family
•my in-laws

And my conditioned reactions to them.

I’m almost embarrassed by how many decades I rolled along, being the designated fixer.

OK. Who am I trying to kid? I embraced being the designated fixer. Even when it went against my best interests.

When you are raised from day one to be That Kind Of Special, it’s a hard habit to break.

In my 40s, I hit the wall with being everybody’s Sin Eater.


I lacked the language to truly “call them like I see them.” I lacked the tools to protect myself.

Then I stumbled upon AC Forum. 💡

I’m done caregiving. For now, at least. Yet I stay on these message boards.

In my circle, nobody is getting any younger. And nobody is getting any saner.

AC Forum is a living tutorial about boundaries. What they are. How to identify people who don’t have boundaries.

And most importantly, how to develop your own boundaries.

I need the constant reinforcement that I get from reading your posts. You folks are awesome.

Even though I am darn good at compensating for other people’s personality disorders, it is NOT my calling. It is NOT my purpose.

Reliably, the Tribe Of Weaklings recognizes my “gift.” And it is frequently their default expectation.

NO. Just NO.

Thank you, AC Forum! Love and hugs to all. 💗💪🏼😃
Helpful Answer (14)

EP, have you ever been to Al-Anon? I'm told that they are very good at helping family members of addicted folks address "the elephant in the room".

You seem to worry ALOT about how your mother will react to your "spilling the beans".

I see this a lot in dysfunctional families; one of the symptoms, if you will, of dysfunctionality is that there is a family secret that MUST be kept from the outside world at all costs. Because if everyone knows, then.....

Then what, we ask? What will happen? Will the world end? No. Will the addict blow up and become angry, YES.

And then?

When you realize that the addict blowing up and getting angry is the ADDICT's problem and not yours, it kind of changes the landscape, doesn't it?

As a child, you HAD to keep your mother calm; without her, you might not have a home, food, blankets, a MOTHER.

You are a self-sufficient adult now. Frankly, you don't NEED your mother, except that she still has this hold on you. She is controlling your through fear, obligation, guilt and the need to keep her secret, her shame, out of the public eye.

Except, that all her friends know, don't they? You aren't hiding anything.

It sounds, frankly, like your brother and sister have walked away. You chose to try to fix mom's problems.

But mom doesn't want your help; she wants you to abet and enable her addiction.

You have a choice, don't you?
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Barb, are you a therapist? I'm being serious because you are very good at dissecting these issues and many issues I see on the board. If your not maybe you should be, because imo you are very insightful. I have been able to do a lot of helpful and needed reflection from your posts. Even more than I got from my in person therapist, so thank you very much!

Something did significantly shift in me with the realization of the opiate addiction. Not in a mean judgmental way because I feel sorry for addicts in general, they are usually medicating emotional pain, and I suspect that is the case with my mom too. But the lies and sneaking just triggered me and I thought No, I'm not doing this again. IF her treating doctors agree that she should be on them, then fine. But the lies and scamming must stop. Drinking with opiates must stop. I'm not playing those games anymore. In fact I said that to her PC- "She needs compassionate pain control but I would like all her doctors involved so the best decisions are made", that is when he said that he would (may) suggest an addictions specialist. Interesting this was also a recommendation that came after her neuro-psych eval, but no doctor followed up with my mom concerning those recommendations. That seems to be changing now with her PC getting more involved, so I'm trying to be hopeful about it.

Detaching emotionally continues to be a process for me, and I know I vent on her A LOT, but slowly I think I'm making some progress. Just having that conversation with her PC was a significant step for me, but I did it.

I've also been more assertive both mentally and in my conversations (like with BIL the other day) that I have an endpoint here. That placement is in our future. I'm thinking about the practical matters already like finances. I've been researching facilities in my area (haven't visited any yet) and getting used to the idea, because for a long time I just had this NO END IN SIGHT despair that's really hard to take.

To answer a couple of your questions, no I haven't been to an Al-Anon meeting yet, but I've been doing a lot of online reading and joined an online group. I'm learning some things. And yes, her friends know she is an alcoholic. The majority (if not all) of her friends through life have been heavy drinkers and fellow alcoholics. That is how she likes to have fun. She isn't interested in bingo at the senior center.

Thanks again for being a great listener and spot on with your advice.
Though in a very different set of circumstances I can relate. I can’t tell you how the cycle is broken as that hasn’t yet happened for us. For me personally, I’ve backed way off in my involvement in the circus. My relative hasn’t ever been “right” in mental health and the family for as long as I can remember has tiptoed around it, downplayed the behaviors, made excuses, and tolerated the poor treatment regularly doled out. We’re all supposed to act like it’s okay, while we all quietly get together in small groups and vent about it. The relative is often cruel, rude, overbearing, expects to be catered to in every way, and the family jumps to it. After doing some praying, some growing, and learning about boundaries, I don’t participate in the mess anymore. I’m not rude, but I don’t cater to the madness and I limit my contact. I can’t tell you how much it’s helped my attitude and perspective. It’s helped so much to finally know that I’m the only one I can change
Helpful Answer (11)
Yes what you described sounds very familiar.

Getting my mother’s doctors more involved is one way I’m backing off. A doctor is not going to normalize things she expects everyone else to normalize. I want them to start the conversation so she can’t deny the existence of the problems.

I still have a road ahead of me here but my ultimate goal is to leave this circus.
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Sorry you’re going through this. I’m 11 years into my mother’s diagnosis of vascular dementia. My siblings and I are on the same page, but we are at odds with my uncle, who is in denial. As we speak, my mother has been committed to the senior behavior ward at the local hospital for aggression towards staff and other residents in her memory unit. Which solves the problem for a week or two.

I wouldn’t waste a whole lot of time worrying about the past. Not much to be done there. Instead you need to prepare for a difficult future. Because our mother was so difficult (borderline personality disorder) we couldn’t make any progress talking with her. She refused to take any proactive measures that could have made her life better. The only way we were able to force changes, was through doctor/hospital.

I don’t know your whole driving saga, but in PA my mom’s PC ordered a senior driving test, where they tested her cognitive state and reaction time before they would even take her out on the road. It was the only way we were able to get her license taken away, despite multiple accidents. I’m surprised she didn’t have to surrender her license when prescribed long term opiates.

You need to get PoA squared away. Every time my mom needed a step up in care, she refused it. The only way we were able to get her into a facility was through the hospital. The magic words are its not safe for her live at home. It wasn’t but it took us a while to figure out that that’s what they needed to hear. (Our mother was not a candidate for in home care, because we knew she would just fire anyone we hired to come in. She consistently refused care the hospital would send round). Also, it’s important that you don’t step up and volunteer to take it on temporarily, as that lets the hospital and off the hook. (My mom would try to jump out of the car and we didn’t even feel safe driving her). If you hold your ground that you can’t help, they will have to find a safe placement for her.

For a long time I went through an ethical dilemma of trying to figure out how to be a decent human being to my abusive mother as she aged and needed help without ruining the lives of me and my family. The answer for me was ultimately you can’t help people who won’t be helped, and the best course of action was to step back and let the state, which has much more power to enforce, be the bad guy. I think you are right to be wary that people assume you will be nursemaid.

Good luck.
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Upstream Dec 2019
Holy sh*t DecentHB, your story could have been written by me! My mom is currently in a senior behavioral health center, this is her fourth or fifth stay there. Finally, finally, finally, it has been concluded she is no longer safe living at home. There have been many rounds of home-care ordered over the past five years, but she has run them all off (including nurses who were there to help my dad, which was tragic). My mother was horribly verbally abusive to my dad, and now he is dead. I am hoping the madness stops before my life is completely ruined. I am truly scared for my future.
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When I watched a room of 6 professional healthcare workers get gaslighted and abused by my mother, I finally stopped trying to fix or normalize behavior. A therapist gave me a little mantra. "I did not cause this situation. I cannot change her. I can change my own response." I also chanted under my breath " I am not responsible for her unhappiness. I chose to help keep her as safe as is reasonable. "
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Upstream Dec 2019
Rosyday, I have been dealing with elderly alcoholic parents for years and I learned to tell myself: "I didn't cause my parents' problems, and I can't solve them". That has helped me a lot. I had to tell my mom several years ago that I REFUSED to be responsible for her happiness. After years of verbal abuse by her toward my dad (both typically drinking), I had to place him in memory care, and then she expected me to fill his shoes...
Frankly, I am gobsmacked by this discussion. “I” am the problem, and never realized it until reading this thread. After years of bitterness, begging my sister for help with OUR mother, I finally see how dysfunctional our family truly is. I’ve been brainwashed into protecting the wrong standards.
I’ve been to various counselors, on/off over many years, and never gained the insight that was shared here.
I didn’t see how “normal” families behave, so without a realistic frame of reference, I’ve been sucked into the dysfunctional tornado.
I have some thinking to do, and will certainly grow from this experience.
I’ll be back, but for now—THANK YOU.
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BlackHole Dec 2019
big hugs!
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The simple answer is: break the cycle by not becoming an alcoholic/addict or addicted to controlling another's behavior (the Al Anon part). The difficult answer I learned from Al Anon: "Not to manipulate situations so others will eat, go to bed, get up, pay bills, not drink/use/act out. Not to cover up for anyone's mistakes or misdeeds. Not to create a crisis. Not to prevent a crisis if it is in the natural course of events."

My mother's self made crises finally confirmed to everyone including the social worker ...that she needed to be in an assisted Living/Memory Care facility. If you don't have the resources, Medicaid will step in for a shared apartment. It was the absolute best thing I did for her and me. Because from my experience things only get worse, never better.
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Yes. Let nature take its course!
Hi! I'm so sorry you're experiencing this. My mother is also an alcoholic, and her mother is mentally ill. I recently purchased a book "Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents" by Lindsay Gibson. I recommend this book to everyone. It's helped me more in a few weeks than years of therapy. No joke. I wish I could post a few pictures of the pages here.

It's based on decades of psychological research and explains EVERYTHING. It discusses the types of emotionally immature parents, why they are this way, what it does to their children's coping strategies and personality development, and how it tends to have a ripple effect through generations. It talks about these parents' preoccupation with themselves, their lack of ability to take responsibility, anticipate future problems, communicate feelings, cope with stressors (often resulting in addictions), and how they resist repairing relationships and become overly fixated on family roles. It also teaches you ways to manage your interactions with such parents, set healthy limits, break the cycle of negativity, and how to recognize and surround yourself with more emotionally mature and healthy people. Seriously, this book is a goldmine. If you're even just remotely thinking this could be helpful to you, or a loved one, order it. It's on Amazon and it's cheap. While it's helped me immensely in understanding my mother, it's also helped me understand so much about myself, it's improved my relationship with my husband, and I believe it will help me be a more emotionally healthy parent myself. Good luck!
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Yeah, I can relate. It’s really weird too. My mom sort of accepted my brother’s drug habit as ‘the norm.’ She didn’t approve but allowed or as they say, she enabled some things. Consistency is key in changing situations. If you mess up, start over! Keep going until you get it right.

My dad wanted to be consistent. Mom fought him every step of the way. She undermined him and undid his actions. It was frustrating for my dad. Yet, he loved mom. I wish they could have had a united front. That’s what the family needed.

I do remember my brother going to juvenile homes but he would run away. So my parents did try. One judge ordered him to a home that was farther away. He had no friends nearby and he had to stay in that home. My brother was a drug addict but he was cunning. He could figure out how to escape!

If I had done any of his stuff they would have disowned me. The way I look at it now is it was a tough learning experience for me. I used to be bitter about how strict they were with me and was furious at how all of my brothers got away with so much sh!t. At the time though, I thought nothing was fair. Well, life isn’t always fair. I learned that lesson very early in life.

Now I see how they actually did me a favor because I learned to be independent. Am I still angry? Nah, not worth holding onto the anger anymore. It’s faded into disappointment, even somewhat indifferent to it all now.

Piper, you are the independent one. You are the one who has escaped the madness. You didn’t fall into the trap of addiction. Nor did I. By the grace of God, I didn’t follow my brother’s footsteps. I’m blessed. So are you. You are nothing like your mom.

Take your experience and use it as a learning tool. You know how you feel. You know what needs to be done. Do what you feel is best. Does that make sense to you? I hope I expressed that clearly. You know why it hurts so much, don’t you? We are caring people. How do you think we ended up as caregivers?

Caregivers get stuck. I know I did while caring for my addict brother with hepatitisC. It’s possible to get unstuck. With the help of a loving nurse, I did. If I had listened to mom who begged me to continue helping him I would have ended in a mental hospital because I would have cracked up! Look into an Al-Anon group. They are very helpful. I promise.

Best wishes to you. Hugs!
Helpful Answer (7)

I am sorry for what you are going through.  I grew up with an alcoholic father and a mother who thought she deserved what she got.  It is HARD to break the cycle.  The bottom line here what if your mom responds negatively?  It's her future you're trying to figure out and plan for...let her get angry and hateful.  Just sit and watch her like you're looking at a child throwing a tantrum.  Don't let her get a reaction from you.

If it were me, I would just say "you can either work with us to lay out a plan that you currently have a say in, or you can bury your head in the sand and once you are no longer capable, we will do what we think is best".  Those are her options...period. 

I had to let my dad continue with his drinking and carrying on.  I had to walk away to keep my sanity.  That is until I got a call that he had a stroke.   Then I had to come in and make medical and burial decisions without his input.  If he wanted something different, he should have planned.  Years later I realize he was sick and not capable of doing anything normal and I have accepted that.
You cannot fix her dysfunction.  But, you can choose not to enable it or let it ruin you.
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