Addiction to Alcohol/Family concerns
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: Hello to you Craig and your wife also,
I can feel your concern and your hurt in regards to your daughter's behaviour.
Simply put it may be time for you to step out of the past and
see what the present moment may hold for you and your wife.
Your daughter is now an adult at least in the usual definition of that.
This means you have to see her as an individual that deserves
basic freedom of choices and also whatever space she desires to
work out her own feelings and thoughts.
It is difficult for parents to let go of preconceived ideas about what
"should" be happening in regard to their grown children.
Of course you care but that also means you have to care unconditionally
or else you are more resentful and less loving than you think.
I sense you have a different picture of love than she does.
She wants you to respect that she can do whatever
she needs to do to be a whole person or at least
give her the space to make mistakes that perhaps you have
made in your young adult lives.
She has said that she feels bad around you, this indicates she
is feeling the underlying disapproval you have for her choices
It might be time to look at giving up the ideas you have constructed
about what she should or shouldn't do.
Can you just sit still and love everything she is and isn't?
Maybe she is not able to do that for you yet but an example
of love without so many "shoulds" might encourage her.
Who tells you and your wife how to think, behave, love and
live? Anyone? Give your daughter the gift of letting go.
This doesn't mean physically but just in a way that
allows her to be who she is right now.
What can you do in your own thoughts, emotions and
behaviour to improve the way you see her?
Problems are never really about others, they are reflections
of our own thoughts. When you look at her differently she
and you will be changing. This is always the final result
of good counselling, the awareness to look at yourself
and change the things you can.
Live right now, look at how much time you are wasting
in the past and future and enjoy what you have today
and be grateful you have a daughter at all.
You cannot possibly think you have all the answers for her?
Living our own life well is the most anyone can do.
Pride goes before the fall they say.
Choose love without conditions in all cases and you will
be on the road to your recovery and the peace that comes
from not resisting reality.
Express your hurt, talk about it and then gently let it go
into the vapours where it came from.
When you heal the influence on her will be great and you
don't need to do anything to control or change her.
Luck to your whole family,
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Druideck -- thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and lend us your insight. I agree with your message of forgiveness, and I appreciate your advice to express our hurt, talk about it, and then let it go. I will think hard about your advice. We know she is a young adult, and truly are not interested in controlling her life or choices. Our concern lies more with the difficulty over the years with talking about things, because she has taught us all that she might have an angry or scornful reaction if we want to talk about something she said or did that hurt or confused us, and so we have been taught that we need to sweep those things under the rug so to speak. We understand that is a defense mechanism. I guess our fundamental question was about whether family counseling might be useful to facilitate better communication, and thus better resolution between us over recent confusion we have had, as well as issues from the past that she hasn't wanted to address. As an example, we know she has forgotten some of the financial harm, such as forged checks, NSF charges we had to pay for her, etc. We will respect your opinion on this....is it the right thing to do to not ask somebody to be accountable if they have stolen from you? If I steal from my neighbor, or even my children, but then don't want to ever have to talk about it or repay them, I don't feel anybody, including me, would think that was appropriate. However, is it different if the person does the harm because of an addiction? In those cases, is it best to just never bring it up? I had thought that part of recovery for everyone was working through harms we had caused and making amends, and in doing so clearing the air and building a foundation for better improved relationships. I just am not sure if part of the reason she still seems to want shallow and somewhat distant relationships with us is because of her shame, and whether family counseling might provide some avenues for growth. Any further thoughts you might have would be welcome.
Thank you again for your insights.
I see your perspective on this which has been gained through the
usual ways of thinking about things provided by
most people and often most therapists.
You must understand that what your life consists of
is your own perceptions based on your own choice
of thoughts. You can either go along with the mainstream
which has had very little real record of success in reality
or you can start to create a new process of thought
that will allow you the freedom you are seeking.
I know it is hard to take beliefs you have held or
learned and hold them up to the reality of how
poorly they are working for you especially in regard
to your daughter.
What I am saying is to examine what you are thinking
and then ask yourself can I know that what I am thinking
is absolutely true? Is this the way things should be
or am I just wishing things are that way.
It doesn't matter how many people agree with your
thoughts as most of humanity has problems
with their thinking and their desire to build ego
through being "right"
Write down all your beliefs and thoughts about
your relations with your daughter and even
Things like "She should" and "they should"
will be most prevalent.
What I am saying is lets try to transcend those
ideas no matter who believes them.
Next, when someone is doing something that is
what they are doing, it is real. When you say "she should"
or "she shouldn't" you are resisting reality in that moment.
Those thoughts are lies, they are not truth.
What you need to work on is accepting the truth as
it is each moment. Your daughter and others
are being who they are perfectly.
Allowing her to be real without resistance is very hard
for people as we have been incorrectly taught to
resist, control and change the world which is
why we are all so upset and unhappy with life as
it really is.
I suggest you watch some Byron Katie videos on youtube
and over time the futility of trying to change the world
and people outside of you will become more apparent.
No, she does not have to acknowledge her debts to you
for you feel at peace, you must let go of the concern
and resentments you hold about that event.
There is nothing she has to do for you to accept things
as they are now and go on in total peace, all you have
to do is give her and others the space they need.
You do not need to forgive anyone, you need to let
go of the perception that you were ever hurt.
Your own thoughts are where all the pain lies,
change those thoughts and the pain and the problems are gone.
We all have this human disease of wrong thinking, it has
kept us prisoners to pain for decades.
Thoughts are not reality, we make them up
and think they are real.
I realize these concepts run against much of what you
may believe or have been taught in the past.
It is time to question old ideas that do not work.
You can group counsel all day but that will
not change how your family decides to act.
They will all be as they are until that changes,
go with the flow, let it be okay for people to be real,
let go of the hurtful thoughts. You are strong parents
and what is so important about amends anyway?
What is so important about money? It comes and goes.
You can hold the demands, the grudges, the "shoulds"
as long as you want, it's your pain to have or let go.
Other people might even agree with your ideas but
they don't have to live with what you feel.
They will say you are justified in wanting her
to admit her mistakes, yeah we are right and she
is wrong, that is a great ego builder.
you can say I've had enough of this pain and I am
just going to accept that these things happen
in families, I choose love instead of doing
what everybody thinks is appropriate in our
I set everybody free and so free myself.
It is a new idea and a new choice, but completely
up to you as sometimes our pain feels like an old friend
we are reluctant to give up. That's okay too for now.
All this is intended warmly and with good intensions.