I guess one reason for me posting this, is if you have a child/adult child who has mentioned their concern about your drinking, take their concern and multiply it by at least 50, because they are trying to tell you in the least offensive way possible. Odds are they have spent hours, if not days or weeks, rehearsing and gathering up the courage to bring this painful topic up with you. They are (for lack of a better word) diluting their concern out of respect for your feelings so that you don’t take it the “wrong way”. Listen to your children [loved ones], no matter how painful it may be! They don’t want to talk to you about this any more than you want to hear about it.
They really don’t want to talk about your alcoholism…
The above comment is from a reader who is worried about her hard drinking mother. But, I have heard this message so many times before. No one wants to tell a loved one they are drinking too much. And when a well rehearsed critique falls on deaf ears, it’s disheartening. Worse, sometimes the “problem person” is a mean drunk. Or someone in authority, who sets up emotional barriers. They strike out like a viper or make excuses. And the confronter backs off and the behavior continues.
The lack of communication works in the other direction too. In fact, I have heard people in treatment say their family members were so subtle about their concerns, it was pretty easy to ignore them. The fact is, we all need to be more direct, open and specific in communicating. And for those with a drinking problem, try to open your ears to the brave souls with the unenviable job of confronting you…
Subtle hints a loved one might drop, when you’re drinking too much…
(these are all actual examples I have heard)
- You wake to find the contents of your recycling bin (14 bottles of wine you put out to the street after everyone went to bed) magically lined up on your bedroom chest of drawers. No one mentions it.
- Family members and workmates ask questions designed to (hint, hint) help you understand they notice. Do you smell something? Are you okay? Do you remember seeing the case of red wine in the garage? Didn’t you wear that yesterday?
- When you leave a room and don’t take your omnipresent glass of plonk with you, it mysteriously disappears.
- The small bottles of vodka you hid in the couch (and forgot you put them there) rise out of the cushions and sit like tiny, Pop art sculptures on end tables. No one says anything.
- The car keys are not in your purse or on the key hook. When you ask about them, a family member says, “Oh, I’ve got them. I was planning to drive anyway – it’s cool…“
- You learn from a family member or workmates that a milestone, get-together happened and you weren’t invited.
- No one offers to fill your wine glass or offers you an alcoholic drink. At all. You are on your own.
- A loved one might hiss, “You’ve had enough,” when in public. Especially if they’ve been drinking.
- You are being watched. Meaningful looks are exchanged by those around you.
- Blackouts – the last taboo of the big drinker. Your family and friends try to “fill in the blanks” for you. They say, “Remember?”
Better ways of dealing with chronic over-drinking…
- Choose a time when you can be alone and be specific. “I have been counting the empty bottles of alcohol in the recycling bin. Sorry, but there are so many in there and I’m worried about you. What is going on?” Know that there are only 14 bottles in the bin because he’s been chucking the others under the coffee grounds in the regular garbage. Or throwing them out the window on the way to work.
- Ask the question. The hard one – EVERY time. You smell like booze. Did you really tie one on last night? Or did you drink something this morning?
- Confront, confront, confront – if someone you care about always has a glass of booze in hand, ask them about it. It is not normal or healthy to hold a bourbon glass like an affectation…
- Hiding alcohol is one of the universals of alcoholism. Do not let it go. Say, “Why are you hiding small bottles of alcohol in the couch cushions?” or “I found this bottle of wine in your winter boot. What the hell is going on?” Know that for every bottle you find there are many more hidden.
- Say these words. “You have had too much to drink. You cannot drive. I have taken your keys because I care about you.” Know that they will be pissed.
- Say, “I would like to invite you to the Bris, but the Rabi will be there. The last time you were with him, you got drunk and poured crème de menthe on his suit. He is important to our family so I do not want you there. I don’t want to have to worry about you.” Ouch.
- Do not buy liquor for this person. Do not pour them a drink. Say, “I think you drink dangerously. I am not going to aid you.”
- Sit your family member down before a big night out. Remind them of the table dance and the eyeliner used as lip liner from the last party attended. Be specific about what you plan to do if they drink too much. Define “too much”.
- Instead of meaningful glances, have meaningful conversations. Dare to say, “You are acting drunk. Again.” And in the light of the next day, confront and be honest about what happened. And how it made you feel.
- Ask specific questions about the evening. Say, “You don’t remember, do you?”
Whether you are the watcher or the watchee, subtlety is never helpful when confronting alcoholism. And if the person in question will not listen, at least you know you tried. I can remember as a child, when a family member was heading toward alcoholism. He drank vodka (because you couldn’t smell it) and our well-meaning, family buttinskies would taste his omnipresent “tonic water” when he left the room – testing it for booze. Then they would mouth, “Vodka. It’s filled with vodka…” as if we were, somehow, the keepers of a huge secret. I never understood why someone didn’t just ask him why he was drinking at 10 in the morning.
And that’s the rub. Somebody has to do it, but who? My brave reader says she can only talk to her mother via phone, so it makes it hard to confront. Her mother just hangs up or changes the subject. But, she is trying. And I congratulate her for her bravery and her love and concern. This is a tough enough problem without worrying about hurting someone’s feelings or hoping they won’t “take it the wrong way”.
I don’t know what my family member would have said if we’d asked him why he was drinking straight vodka in the morning. I am not sure what I would have done if my friends had told me they did not want to be with me if I was planning to drink. What’s done is done, I guess. But if you are dealing with a loved one who is drinking too much by every yardstick, do not doubt yourself. And know that honesty is the best policy. Dealing directly, painful as it is, is the only way. At least my friends, you will know you tried…
Today I’m not drinking because I might have to confront someone about their drinking (direct, open and specific)….
How come you’re not drinking?
E2E – Looking up for a full moon tonight. Dust motes in the curtains… love…