‘My mother has been an alcoholic for as long as l can remember and is abusive towards my father’

Tell Me About It:My sibling and l are petrified something horrible is going to happen


For as long as l have remembered my mother has been an alcoholic (she still denies this) and all that comes with that, such as depressive episodes and unpredictable behaviour. Over the course of my life, she has mixed antidepressants and sleeping pills with alcohol, which makes for the most horrible outcomes.

Growing up and still now, the slightest thing will set my mother off. My sibling and l used to try to intervene when we were younger, and the outcomes of this have been disastrous for my relationship with my parents. My mother would gaslight us, manipulate our words and, as alcoholics always do, deflect, deflect, deflect. I suffer from anxiety because of these encounters, and I have become completely withdrawn from my family because of this. Even just thinking about some of the situations that have happened in my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood make my heart race and my eyes tear. Growing up, l could tell by the way a door was closed or someone walked up the stairs that things were not good, and l was going to have another sleepless night. To this day, footsteps on stairs make my heart race.

My father has clearly stated he does not want to address it, but then again it does take people in an abusive relationship a long time to save themselves

Since my sibling and l are now both out of the family home, we are really worried about my father who has admitted to us that he is not happy and has said that he tried to talk to her about her problems (after a recent physical altercation) and that she has no desire to change and admitted that she would die like her two alcoholic sisters, too early. What makes it really difficult is that my mother does become physically and verbally abusive to my father and is verbally abusive without alcohol. My sibling and l want my father to give her an ultimatum. He does not want to do that. They both deserve to be happy and live fulfilling lives, and l feel as though unless they both address their problems, they will never reach that point. They both tried to take their own lives when l was a teenager, and this was never addressed.

My sibling and l are petrified something horrible is going to happen. Can you therapise adults in their 60s to change their ways? How can we convince my father there is more to life than this cycle of pain and brief happiness? I am also worried about how really addressing the problem will affect me and my already dwindling relationship with my parents. Everything that has happened has been swept under the rug for years. l am really angry at my mother for her behaviour and also my father for enabling her behaviour.

My question is what do we do? My father has clearly stated he does not want to address it, but then again it does take people in an abusive relationship a long time to save themselves.



There may be some merit in demonstrating how to seek and avail of help in your family. You are suffering from anxiety that is directly related to your upbringing, and particularly to the suicide attempt of your parents, and this not only needs professional attention but could also be a way to creating some change.
You ask whether change is possible for people in their 60s. The answer is yes, although the patterns of a lifetime can be entrenched and difficult to shift, particularly when some aspect of the pattern brings positive things. Your family have managed to stay together and clearly there is love and care going on, and these things are positive, but the habits that hold it together are damaging and dangerous.

Your father seems to have adopted a mode of helplessness with some victimisation, which draws in support from his children but ultimately leaves him powerless, while your mother refuses to take responsibility and has a sense also of predetermination in terms of dying like her siblings. The question is how do these patterns play out in your life and if you can observe them, are you willing to do something about them? There is no doubt that addressing the legacy of your family of origin, maybe also including your grandparents’ stories, might offer you a way of understanding and a path to action.

This needs to be supported professionally and a fully qualified and trained family therapist can assist with this. You might try to make this step to seek help known to your family so that the harmful pattern of suffering helplessly is challenged. The added advantage of working with a family therapist (see familytherapyireland.com) is that they will be open to inviting members of your family into the therapy space, and this is where real healing can happen, if they are open to it. Even if your family reject your invitation, they will know that the issues being discussed are the family patterns that create hurt and, at the very least, the silence around this will no longer be possible. It is true that we cannot change others, but we can put in front of them the opportunities that might lead to something different.

In your case, this would be your own journey to wellbeing and the evidence that you are a fully functioning and content human being. At the moment, you are avoiding your family due to the negative emotional consequences for you. When you get the help and support you need the hope is that you will be able to be around your family without the anger and resentment that is currently so strong and they might (eventually) ask how you achieved this and take advice from you. Al-Anon is a countrywide service that offers support for friends and family of problem drinkers, and what is going on in your family will be familiar to them, so use their expertise and do not feel alone in your predicament.

Your family needs someone to break the tradition of inaction and silence and, as you have decided that the suffering is intolerable, use this as the push to reach out for help and, at the very least, offer yourself the chance of healing.

(see www2.hse.ie/living-well/alcohol)