Alcoholism and Boundaries: My Experience
Importance of healthy boundaries with alcoholic loved ones
My adult daughter has been an alcoholic for almost twenty years. I have loved her and supported all these years and all she has ever done is blame me for her drinking and abuse me. I love my daughter and I have spent the last twenty years allowing her to abuse me. Why? Like other parents of alcoholic children I felt responsible for my daughter’s addiction. I felt guilty for years and years until I learnt and truly understood that I did not cause her to drink. I loved and cared for her. Her wrong choices in life got her to this position, not me.
Alcoholism runs in both my parent’s families. My parents were alcoholics and my brother and sister were alcoholics. My mother died at the age of thirty four of alcohol related problems and dad died at the age of forty nine. My brother and sister have both been drink free for over twenty years. I have brought my children up with the facts and dangers of alcohol addiction and that it runs through families in the hopes that they keep the risk in mind.
I waited until I was too ill to cope with my adult daughter’s behaviour, demands and verbal abuse before I set clear boundaries. I wish I had set clear boundaries twenty years ago and then I might have enjoyed life more. Please don’t make the same mistake of putting up with abuse for years before setting a boundary.
You are wasting your time and energy trying to reason with an alcoholic and believe me when I say, you are fighting a losing battle. Save your energy and do something nice for yourself. Put that energy into something you like to do. You deserve to feel good. Have good strong boundaries and stick to them at all cost because you don’t deserve to feel bad because of someone else’s choices. Set strong boundaries and take care of your own physical and mental health.
What is a boundary?
A boundary is the invisible line you set and you do not allow others to cross it. I recommend that if you are in an abusive relationship with someone you love, set boundaries of acceptable behaviour. For me a boundary is a psychological barrier put in place to my physical and mental health, to protect me from the effects of constant verbal abuse from my daughter. It tells my daughter what behaviour I will not accept from her or anyone. my boundaries might be different to your boundary needs.
‘I love you but will no longer be in your life or around you while you are drinking. I will no longer take your abuse and disrespectful name calling and I will not accept the blame for your drinking. I will no longer be your emotional punch bag because I don’t deserve it. I will no longer put up with your threats, lies and manipulation. I will no longer walk on eggshells for fear of upsetting you. I will no longer sacrifice my self esteem by listening to you calling me names. I refuse to watch you destroy your life and the lives of those around you because of your alcoholism. I want you to be responsible for your own behaviour and apologise for all the horrible things you say to me. I love you and I am going to keep my distance while you drink’.
‘I need to be in an honest, trusting, safe and loving relation with myself and with you. I have to think of my health and the health of our family. I have to move on from the pain that alcoholism brings and learn to take care of my own physical and mental health. I need to let go of feelings of fear, anger, sadness, guilt and shame that alcoholism has brought into my life. I need to find peace in my heart and happiness in my life because I deserve to be happy too. I need to learn to love myself more and know that I deserve to be loved. I need to be true to myself and stay away from abusive relationships that bring pain. I love you and I will always be here should you decide you need me more than drink’.
I felt guilty when I first set boundaries. I was afraid of hurting my daughter’s feelings and was afraid she would think I did not love her. I felt selfish as if it was wrong to protect myself and my other children from constant verbal abuse. Withdrawal of my support was not easy to do at the beginning but it gets easier because I know that it is the right thing to do. I was also afraid she would use the boundary as a reason for drinking and then tell me, like she often does, ‘It’s was your fault I got drunk mum!’
Once a boundary is set you need to be clear in what the consequences will be if boundaries are broken. There is not much point in setting boundaries unless we have the courage to enforce the consequences.
My daughter tries to break my boundaries often. She sends drunken abusive texts or tries ringing me in the middle of the night. If I do respond I usually get horrendous abuse and threats. I used to respond to her messages when she would say, ‘Mummy help me! I need you!’ It used to break my heart when she pleaded but I know now that her heartbreaking pleading is just another ploy. Now I record every experience I have with her in my journal, I can see clearly that it’s just one of her manipulation games that is meant for me to feel guilty. Often she tells me the grandchildren are sick or injured and they have to go to hospital. I have given in too many times and paid for it. If the reader is going through a similar experience I highly recommend you keep a journal. My journal is like my friend and counsellor and has been an invaluable tool for relieving some of the pent up emotion.
I am also guilty of not sticking to boundaries because I was afraid my daughter would think I did not love her. I did not want her to feel rejected and unloved like I felt as a child. Also, I have ignored rules of boundaries and pretended to be unaware that she is drinking so that I could have contact with my grandchildren. All these years my turning a blind eye has not helped my daughter. All I achieved by not being honest was to enable her to carry on drinking and behaving in an unacceptable way. I still do not have contact with the grandchildren. Also, like many others with an addicted child, I felt responsible for my child being alcoholic and I have allowed her to hold me as her emotional prisoner. ‘It is your fault I am a drunk mummy!’ You made me like this because this is the result of you bringing me up!’ she screams at me often.
She uses her addiction as an excuse for appalling behaviour and often blames the medication she is taking or forgotten to take or she blames other people. Her behaviour is never her fault. Someone else pushed her to the point of her losing it and having a drink, that someone is usually me, her mum, and the one person who truly loves her. By allowing and accepting her behaviour, by not sticking to the rules of the boundaries, I am enabling her to continue to drink. Boundaries are tough love and necessary.
I became aware that I have made it easier for my daughter to carry on drinking and destroying her life and the lives of those around her by always being there listening to her drunken rants. I felt I had to be there because she has no one else who will listen. I enabled her to carry on drinking by allowing her to avoid the consequences of her actions. I am guilty of enabling when I don’t want confrontation and when I don’t want to feel guilty if I do not give her money and the electric gets cut off at her house. I always make her pay back money I give and she knows she would never be able to ask again if she did not pay me back.
I am guilty of enabling when I do not follow through and expect an apology for all her abusive behaviour and threats. Enabling will just prevent our loved one from facing themselves and the need to get help.
Now I fully understand that she causes an argument with me so that she can go off and have a drink and then blame mum for pushing her into it. I can spend hours telling my daughter that I love her and that I am proud of her and then in the middle of me telling her she will start. ‘No you don’t love me mum. You have never wanted me, go on admit you never wanted me and I will walk away!'
I am totally exhausted from trying to prove to her that I do love her but I know I am fighting a losing battle. She has never believed that I have always loved her. I do not love the person she becomes when she has had a drink.
I know I am not the only one going through this horrendous addiction and loving an addict. I know I am not the only one who has made mistakes in life and I am not the only one thinking there has to be more to life than what I am experiencing. There is a way to reclaim your life and it is to ‘Detachment with love’.
‘Detachment’ with love
I learnt the concept of ‘detachment with love’ and how to step away from my daughter’s toxic behaviour and felt instant relief. I no longer had to worry she would think I did not love her if I withdrew from her life because the truth is, I do love her. Detaching with love means that I am removing myself from her life until she is sober and respectful. I am allowing her to learn from the mistakes of her bad choices whilst I work on healing and caring for myself. I continue loving her but from a safe distance.
We owe it to ourselves and to our families to think of our own need for happiness and the need to protect our health and the health of our families. We are not meant to suffer because of another person’s choice in life. We only have one life and were meant to live it. We are meant to enjoy life, not dread every new day for fear of what it will bring. I know we need to first love ourselves enough to protect our inner selves from more pain of abuse. We have to be selfish enough to care for ourselves first. Unless we are ok with life we are no good to anyone else
We all are worthy of a happy existence and I am beginning to understand that I matter too. My deep belief that I was unworthy of respect came as a result of being abused by my alcoholic mother. I knew I had to change that belief. I had to stand up and refuse to be abused or disrespected even when I could hear my inner voice asking me, ‘Who are you to be demanding respect?’ ‘You are not worthy of respect, you are nothing!’ I have spent my whole life being abused and had to learn how to begin to love myself. I need to protect myself from abuse to prevent my mind from being affected like I know it is. No one can take abuse day in and day out and not be affected. Allowing ourselves to be used as an emotional punch bag to relieve another’s anger is emotionally draining and damaging to the health.