Dear New Shrink,
I am in so much pain; I don’t know what to do. I feel completely abandoned by my family. Years ago my parents divorced. My father was abusive and my mother was an alcoholic. When I moved out we were barely speaking. I told my mom she needed to get sober. I sent for the Al-Anon literature, but when I gave it to her she quit speaking to me for five months! Luckily, I found my husband and we now have a lovely son, just over a year old. I considered not inviting my mother to the wedding but decided to invite her on the condition that she would not drink at my wedding. My father was not invited at all. His behavior was absolutely intolerable to me. My Mother came to the wedding but did not keep her promise to stay sober. She was as drunk as ever and actually fell on the dance floor. We have not spoken since. She tried to visit me at the hospital when my son was born but I turned her away because I will not expose my son to her bad behavior. Now that he is a year old and I am such a proud mother, I really am feeling abandoned. My own mother has never seen my son, my father has only seen him once and the rest of the extended family, well you could count on one hand the times they have seen my son. No one seems to come around and I honestly fear that they have all taken my mother’s side. I am a mature woman with a master’s degree, am an excellent school teacher and a good mother. Thank God for my husband’s family, they are helpful and loving to me. But I cannot shake off my hurt feelings of abandonment?
First of all, I am so sorry to hear about, and feel, your pain. I can tell that you are, emotionally speaking, bleeding inside.
It sounds like you want to be close with your family of origin, or at least your mother and some of the extended family you have on her side. However, given your description, it’s complicated. You want to be close but you don’t want her around? Sounds like the only way you would consider being close is if she adheres to your rules. I don’t know her or your family but in all relationships there really does need to be room for two. That is to say, room for negotiation.
More importantly, there seems to be an issue with alcoholism and while you probably do not want to hear this, you may be a little off base. Alcoholism is not bad behavior; it is a disease, and illness. Many people do not want to believe this but the science is there to prove it. “The man takes the drink, the drink takes the drink, and then the drink takes the man.”
This is an old Japanese proverb that explains the process, and progression very well. When the drunk starts taking the drink, it is no longer about choice and the behavior is a function of that brain chemistry. Blackouts and bad behavior come out of alcoholism but are not separate from it. Your mother doesn’t get drunk at you nor does she mean to ruin your wedding, she is sick and she needs help. If she stopped talking to you when you gave her Al-Anon literature that was clearly defensive and it was her sickness talking.
It makes sense that you have misgivings about exposing your child to your mother’s problem. This is a decision that only you and your husband can make. But you need to understand that your son is already genetically predisposed and at risk, and given your feelings of abandonment and resentment, you are the one that needs to learn more about alcoholism and you are the one who would benefit from Al-Anon. I know that it is not fair; and your feeling abandoned is totally understandable. All children of alcoholics feel this way. However, your resentment is hurting you more than it is hurting anyone else.
My guess is that your extended family is probably trying to avoid the conflict, staying under the radar so to speak. If you want a relationship with them, reach out to them and see what happens. Alcoholism is a family disease and no one really knows what to do. Step up for yourself and take care of yourself by ridding yourself of resentment, learning about alcoholism and getting some counseling and/or attending Al-Anon for the sake of yourself and your son. Start to get healthy yourself, then reach out to your family. I suspect you will be pleasantly surprised.
Dr. Barge is a licensed psychologist, licensed marriage and family therapist, and APA certified in the treatment of alcoholism and other substance abuse disorders. Her offices are located in Brentwood. Please send all anonymous inquires and responses to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind? Let us help you with your life matters.