Dear Amy: My 85-year-old alcoholic mother lives alone in a big house in a small village in New England.
I am one of her four children, all of whom live at least 150 miles from her. We have all tried, unsuccessfully, to convince her to stop driving so that she doesn’t cause an accident that could kill someone.
One of my siblings actually took her car away, but then my mother went out and leased a car so she could drive to the store to buy her booze (she actually tried to hide this from us).
We have also tried, unsuccessfully, to convince her to move to an assisted-living facility. We believe she is ashamed that her alcoholism will be exposed to others at the assisted-living facility and/or she will lose her access to alcohol.
By the way, she denies she is an alcoholic, even though she has been to treatment centers and makes periodic trips to the emergency room when she falls down from drinking too much. Any suggestions on what to do about this situation would be welcome.
Years of Wine and Roses
Dear Wine and Roses: You and your siblings are trying to control your mother from a distance, and she is (so far) successfully asserting her independence.
You don’t say that your mother drives drunk – only that she drives to the store to purchase wine. Many elderly drivers develop successful strategies to stay safe on the road, even as their capacities diminish: they only drive during the daytime, they avoid left-hand turns, and stay off highways.
Your mother’s alcoholism has obviously had a big impact on you and your siblings, but at this point, perhaps you should accept that she likely won’t stop drinking.
Your efforts should switch from trying to control her, to accepting that this is her life, and she will continue to live it in a way that contains risks, falls, injuries, emergency room visits, etc.
You and your siblings should do what you can to diminish the risks without forcing her or taking her rights away.
If you feel she isn’t managing at home, you should see if she is willing to have someone come in during the day to help with cooking and personal care. She might also benefit from having a “life alert” medallion, so she can call for emergency help if she needs it.
You and your siblings should commence the hard work of accepting with a level of detachment the person you cannot seem to change. Spending time in her household will help you to assess her capabilities. Al-anon material or meetings will help you to cope.
Dear Amy: We have an in-law who apparently thinks HE is “The World’s Most Interesting Man.” During his career he traveled and experienced parts of the world one could only hope to visit to fulfill their Bucket List.
However, during any family gathering – no matter the topic or the number of members having open or even separate discussions – this guy will interject himself with some bizarre incident that only he thinks is amusing, redirecting the conversation so that it’s all about him.
After years and years of enduring this, we are finding it more intolerable to participate in family gatherings, yet have few options other than avoidance, which still does not work. Any suggestions?
Impossible to Escape
Dear Impossible: When an individual interrupts a group conversation and derails it, someone in the group should respond, politely and in the moment, “Wait a minute, Bud. We were in the middle of another conversation.” And then you rinse and repeat as many times as necessary.
Along with these polite and immediate course corrections, family members should engage, listen to, and interact with him – conveying the message that while his own life and experiences are very interesting, so are others’.
Dear Amy: “Hopeless” disclosed her challenges as she copes with her husband’s brain cancer. She sounds traumatized, for good reason.
When we set a path in life and meet an insurmountable obstacle, it’s difficult to “re-path.”
When I was faced with trauma, I took long, long walks alone to feel and accept aloneness and responsibility. I let myself feel the distance between myself and the sky. I put one foot in front of the other. Challenges can be opportunities!
No Longer Hopeless
Dear No Longer: Solitude and time in nature are true balms for the soul. Other people do best when surrounded by human support. There is no one path for healing, but choosing to “re-path” is powerful.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.