Dear Annie: I’ve hit a dead end and am not sure what to do. My family has become dysfunctional to the point of my wanting to take my husband and kids and move far away from them all.
I am grown, married and have two sons. I have an adult brother, “Joey,” who has become a complete burden to all of us. Up until recently, Joey was pretty self-sufficient and had a good-paying, steady job and his own house. Joey’s “taste” in women has never been good, but his current girlfriend takes the cake. She is an alcoholic, and she is ruining his life. He’s lost his job and barely leaves the house. They fight and call the cops on each other, break up, get back together, shack up at her mom’s apartment for days on end… No one can get a hold of him and he won’t return calls or texts. He has a 1-year-old daughter with an ex-girlfriend. My parents are attached to this child and can’t get Joey to step up and do what needs to be done so that they can see her.
My mom is so sad and worried sick most of the time. We suspect drug use, but he vehemently denies it. He has this sick loyalty to this awful girlfriend. He gets mean and defensive when talked to or questioned about his recent life choices. He shuts down and shuts everyone out. He refuses help and won’t stick to any plans to improve anything. He only contacts people when he needs something.
It has completely taken over everything in my parents’ lives to the point that it is all I even hear about when I talk to them. I need to walk away from this mess for my own sanity so that I can focus on my own family. I want nothing to do with him until he gets his life together and walks away from his trainwreck of a girlfriend. I told my mom that, and she is now giving me the silent treatment. I feel guilty. What should I do? — Feeling Guilty in Minnesota
Dear Feeling Guilty: As much as we’d like to, we can’t rescue our family members from pits of dysfunction and addiction. The most helpful thing we can do is stand by with an arm outstretched for when they’re ready to grab hold.
Though Joey’s girlfriend is not your friend or relative, her apparent alcoholism (and Joey’s potential substance use) has had ripple effects throughout your family. To learn how to live more calmly despite the chaos around you, I encourage you to consider attending a virtual support group through an organization such as Al-Anon (al-anon.org) or SMART Recovery Family and Friends (https://www.smartrecovery.org/family). The only criterion for participation in such groups is that someone else’s drinking bothers you. (c) Annie Lane @ Creators.com
This uninspired, tepid advice is abysmal.
While I have nothing against resources for family members of alcoholics and drug users, Annie Lane’s vapid advice overlooked the letter writer’s mother, who is giving her the silent treatment for stating an understandable feeling.
I want nothing to do with him until he gets his life together and walks away from his trainwreck of a girlfriend. I told my mom that, and she is now giving me the silent treatment. I feel guilty. What should I do?
Here’s the thing. The letter writer shouldn’t have to associate with Joey or his girlfriend. She’s fed up. She wants to ignore their constant drama. But then her mother keeps playing the victim and giving the silent treatment.
The letter writer needs to extend her list of people with whom she doesn’t want to associate. It should include her parents. And she shouldn’t feel guilty about it, not at all. Looking at her signature, it’s the crux of the issue. Annie Lane should’ve told her to wash her hands of all of them. Instead, she spouted off some resources. Maybe the resources are great. I’m not sure. But they won’t apply to the mom, who’s not a substance abuser. And it’s her mom who she has the biggest issue with. Her decision to avoid Joey is solid, but now she’s still hung up on supporting her mom. Big mistake, and a faulty priority.
I can relate to drama going on that’s at a higher level than you can tolerate. I felt that way on the forum I left a while back. I don’t mind a minimal level of drama, but seeing people brag about how much pleasure they take from others’ suffering just makes me feel sickened. That goes above and beyond my personal level of drama, and when we’re pushed past our drama comfort zones–I’ve learned this the hard way–there’s no other option but to leave. Ya gotta get out at any cost.
My family has become dysfunctional to the point of my wanting to take my husband and kids and move far away from them all.
Yes, letter writer, listen to that inner voice. It’s guiding you to safety. But you don’t have to physically move (not that it would hurt, quite frankly). Just add your parents to the excommunication list. You don’t deserve the silent treatment, and you don’t need to suffer through drama that’s so extreme as to be painful. Been there. Save yourself (and your family, in your case), and everything else will fall into place.
I’ll tell you something else, letter writer, and this might make the decision easier: your mother enjoys not being able to see her grandbaby. She feeds on the emotional pain in a way that’s sort of sick. She doesn’t want a happy, easy resolution to this. But you’re above that level of garbage, so please look out for number one here. You.
It kind of also reminds me of when I was a music major in college. The head of the department, Dr. Satan, was (and probably still is) a horrible person. What I came to see is very simple. When someone horrible is in your life–like, someone truly impossible to interact with–you have to leave for your own wellness. It’s sad, it’s unfair, it’s not the way it should be, but it’s true. In my case, I was okay once I switched majors. (He forced me to, after I told him off in front of everyone. He had it coming. Afterward, he tried to get me expelled, but he failed miserably, and I just had to change majors. I didn’t even have to drop my music classes; I just couldn’t major in music.) (He pushed me too far and displayed a bit too much hubris.)
So I think there’s just one tiny flaw in the letter writer’s thinking that has to be addressed here: her mother doesn’t merit the letter writer’s attention or sympathy.