Addiction to Alcohol/Family
QUESTION: Hi. I found this site and am encouraged that you might be able to give some insight. My stepdaughter is 31 years old and married, and lives out of state. I married her mother 23 years ago, when she was 9 years old and her brother was 6. My wife had left her alcoholic husband. He had been through treatment but was for all practical purposes a dry drunk. In the years that followed, he had his children for court ordered visitation but otherwise paid no special attention to his daughter, but doted on his son. I was my stepdaughter's father figure, and we at times had to console her about her father's rejection, such as when he laughed at her in her first prom dress. We added our own child to the mix, and so are a blended family of 5.
She has been in recovery for 8 years and I don't believe has relapsed during that time. She also has depression, anxiety and compulsive overeating issues for which she seeks help and gets treatment. She entered treatment during her first year of law school, after her mother and I confronted her over a several day period and uncovered the truth of her binge drinking, lies, financial disaster, etc. Our relationships with her up to that point had been growing more difficult, and we finally understood why. After leaving treatment, she did end up eventually finishing law school. She is now married and employed in a non-legal field. She is very smart and talented, and we've had lots of reasons to be proud of her.
Over the last 8 years following her treatment, our relationships with her have been decent, but a bit superficial and often strained. She bristles at any feeling of criticism or questions that disturb her, and she has succeeded in making us wary of approaching her with anything that might be perceived as negative. She worked a 12-step program for a long time with meetings, sponsors, etc. and I believe she is now attending an overeaters group, but she never has sat down with us to make amends for the lies and behavior that caused the family a lot of pain. Nor has she ever attempted to discuss the financial harm she caused us which amounted to several thousand dollars.
When she was visiting us alone last Fall, we tried to talk to her about her living arrangements. She and her husband share an old house as roomates with her cousin and cousin's 5 yr old son. We asked if she and her husband were thinking of getting a place of their own, since they have been trying to start a family and their current situation has no privacy and no place for family to come stay with them, as well as other problems with the old house. Money is not an issue, as she and her husband have good paying jobs. Anyway, the discussion did not go well, and she was insulted and became very upset. I also asked her that particular weekend why our relationships seemed distant, and she basically said she's always uncomfortable and feels like a bad daughter. I asked her if she thought that never discussing the past with us, and never trying to make amends, could possibly be partly underlying the discomfort. We told her we didn't really understand why she had never tried, as we thought we had showed much love, patience and support during her recovery process. She said she had tried once or twice with other people and they didn't go well, and she didn't know what would happen if it didn't go well with us. However, she didn't take that opportunity and hasn't since.
What happened next was quite hurtful and concerning. She was going to be coming home with her husband for Christmas and staying with us as she has always done. However, she made plans to stay at her brother's house here in the same town. We found out through somebody else, and when my wife asked her about it, she was told that her brother had invited them to stay and help babysit their new baby. When he was asked, he was surprised at her version, because she had asked him if they could stay there and he assumed she would have involved her mother in that discussion and decision. He was upset that he had been manipulated in what was obviously an issue she had with us over being hurt by our conversation the last time she had been home. My wife was upset she had been lied to, and expressed that. We both expressed that we are not willing to go back to the days of lies, manipulation and avoidance, and encouraged her to get help. We ended up telling her she should keep her plans to stay at her brother's house. We all got together for dinner and gifts at our house, and kept things light and "safe". In the last 2 months, she told us that she had had a lot of anxiety and depression last fall because her doctor had weaned her off of her meds because she wanted to become pregnant. She is now back on some meds and is starting to feel better. She alluded to her mother last Fall when she was told her behavior had been hurtful that she wanted to sit down with her mother and a counselor "sometime" and tell her some things. We really don't know what that means, but my wife has long wondered if there is any history of sexual molestation, or perhaps date rape, that might be underneath the profound struggles this girl has had.
I apologize for the length of this e-mail, but here is the current quandry. Given the above recent events, we both realized that we wanted to try to engage a family counselor to help us tell our daughter, again, that we love her but feel the relationships often seem strained or superficial and we don't understand why she has never made amends to us, and that we think all that unfinished business is harmful in many ways to her, as well as to us and our whole family. To be honest, I have been saying this for many years, but my wife had always thought that with enough love and patience it would happen. She now questions that, and we even suspect that our daughter has probably forgotten some of the things she did that caused us harm, financial and otherwise.
However, we just learned that our daughter is moving with her husband to California for his new job. He leaves in 3 weeks and she leaves in 8 weeks, and they are very excited. They currently live 400 miles away, but will soon be across the country. So, getting together for counseling will obviously soon be very difficult. We had hoped to use a counselor in her current city with whom she was comfortable, and we thought it would be important to involve her husband as well, because he seems to have little insight into the complexities and has never himself gone to Al-Anon, and his upbringing involves an alcoholic father who never went to treatment and stopped drinking on his own but now smokes pot. We have been concerned that, according to our daughter, more than a little of our son-in-law's income has been used to support his parents for expenses, medical bills, etc. and his brother as well. Consequently, they have no savings and we want her to stand up for herself.
So, we're just wondering what to do next. Bringing this up in the near future as we had planned would obviously pop her exciting bubble of getting ready to move. However, not trying to engage on these issues leaves us worried that our relationships may never improve much, and her own well-being likely suffers as well. Do we just leave it alone and try to forget the past, and try to act as if everything is happy and normal, which is what she seems to want. Or do we tell her that we want to examine some of these issues together with her, knowing that will likely upset her and make us look as though we couldn't have possibly picked a worse time?
I have written this with my wife's help, and it reflects both of our worries and concerns. Any insights and advice you might have will be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much.
ANSWER: Hi Craig,
As much as you and your wife want to improve your relationship with your step-daughter, it takes both sides to come to an agreement. Your daughter has no intention of entering into the conversation, and as a grown married woman, you have little, if any power over her.
You've made your wishes known, so it's my advice to leave it at that. Tell her that you and your wife love her very much and that you wish her well -- that's it, nothing more. I don't think that she's open to revisiting past issues, with a third party or otherwise.
The two of you have helped her in every way, so it's best to keep the connection, sending birthday cards, e-mails etc., but no judgements or opinions. Hopefully, you'll develop a new relationship with her, but this will take time.
I hope this information is helpful,
Thank you for asking AllExperts,
Good luck to both of you,
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Beverley -- thank you for your response. I am hoping I can follow up with a general question, although I doubt there is a general answer. I am concerned for her that if she doesn't make amends it might seriously hinder her recovery. It seems to be a critical part of the 12 step path to recovery. I can certainly see how her failure to do so has affected our relationships, whether due to her buried shame and guilt, my own disappointment at never clearing that deck, etc. and I have no doubxt that close healthy relationships with her family would enrich her life and recovery. She has so many ongoing problems with depression, anxiety, overeating, etc. So sometimes we wonder if the right thing to do would be to encourage that process by using a counselor to facilitate better and deeper communication. My question is what is your opinion as to what is likely to happen if she just doesn't ever get the courage to make amends? Are we likely to just go forward with superficial relationships, and expect that she might continue to struggle generally with her physical and emotional health? Or is it wrong for me to put so much focus on thinking about how her making amends?
Thank you again for any insights you can share.
I can't say what is likely to happen to your your step-daughter if she doesn't make amends, but I can say that it would take more than making amends for her to relapse.
If you're in a 12-step program, it can work provided you follow the program, but no program is perfect. There are other models of treatment which are also affective.
Surely counseling and/or therapy would be helpful for her many issues, but unfortunately she's the one who has to reach out and get the help. I suggest stopping the focus on the amends. She has to want to make amends, and if she's not sincere about it, it won't make a difference in her recovery anyway.
Once again, I hope this information is helpful
Thank you for asking AllExperts