What if my sister is addicted? What if she's in trouble and her life has become unmanageable? Glennon talks about her family loving her very much, just not having a plan. I am stuck in this cognitive mess of "don't judge,” "just love,” but "don't enable,” "don't turn your head/sweep it under the rug/act like it's not happening" but I don't know what that is all supposed to look like from day to day. We've been to AA meetings together, "long term" (3-6 months) outpatient treatment courses (which I've attended on "family nights"), short-term (3-day) inpatient treatment that was really nothing more than detox (which I was there for assessment and admission). I know she has tried. But she is no longer active in any of those programs. Nothing has stuck. After listening to your podcasts I can say that due to the fact that she is a mother, she carries that extra shame, and further, I am certain she is now hiding her drinking (although not very well, she is my lobster after all).
Sadly, the form this has taken is she has pulled away from me. I tried to get in the ring with her, but I know she has to decide for herself. But here, from outside the ring it looks like my last option is to just "give up" and love her from the sidelines, which feels an awful lot like surrendering to "this is how it will always be,” until it isn't. I know the answer is that I can't fix it for her, she has to do the work herself, but until then, I don't want her or I to look back and regret that I didn't do the right thing as her sister and friend. (What I likely don't have to tell you is that there are so many layers to this for her, like job loss, the brutiful job of being a mother, a crumbling marriage, our parents who have spent so many years worrying/wondering/trying....).
What would you have wanted from your sister/lobster/friend? (I would imagine that is different now than when you were "in it" but any help is so greatly appreciated. She is so beautiful and so, so loved).
If there’s anything more painful and confounding than loving a person stuck in addiction, I don’t know about it. I would say being the one stuck is worse, but having been on both sides, I know they’re just different addresses in hell.
The bottom line is, for your sister and everyone else, a shift only happens when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing. That place is different for everyone. For me, the idea of losing my daughter was intolerable enough to get me to turn around, but it took other people pointing that out to even realize where I was. And then it took hearing it again and again. I don’t know where your sister’s line is, and neither do you. Right now you’re unsure where she even is on the map because she’s withdrawn from you and you’re not sure how to reach her. So start there—point to the place on the map as you see it. Tell her where she is, even if it’s only your best guess.* Tell her even if you've told her before. Your job is not to find the perfect words and the right time to say them. Your job is to tell the imperfect truth right now and to keep doing that.
*Since you’ve asked without asking what kind of place she’s in, I will give you my best guess:
Sometimes the day-to-day looks benign and banal, which fools everyone into a false sense of security, and sometimes it becomes messy and caustic, seemingly out of nowhere. She is often able to move through her days without any outward consequences from drinking, but there’s a sense of impending doom—this idea that she’s always playing with fire, because she is.
There's a sick part of her that wants you to leave her alone—for everyone to leave her alone—so she can drink the way she wants to. She wants you to make excuses for her and to pretend like you don’t see when you do. She wants you to forget the rehabs and the detoxes and the things that have proven she’s got a problem.
This sick voice is insidious and so, so sneaky because it knows all her loopholes and weaknesses and it sneaks into those places without her awareness. It tells her things like you’ve put together sober time before, you can go back to it tomorrow; it’ll be easier when X; it’s not that bad; this is the way to love and connection; you can’t do it; you’re alone.
When the sick voice is speaking, it doesn’t sound like a voice. It sounds like the truth. It talks louder and faster and with more urgency than all the other voices until it wins out. It wins out a lot.
There is a bright starlight in her too. There are her basic goodness and potential straining under the weight of it all. There is her innocence that is worn so thin and whispy, she can barely remember it, and when she does it feels like a dream, a magnificent ghost from another time. This part of her knows the drinking will eventually take away everything good in her life.
Having been exposed to detoxes and recovery programs—she knows. She knows and she can’t un-know. And yet, she doesn’t stop and is confounded and ashamed that sometimes she doesn’t even want to.
And then there is her mama heart, which breaks harder than all the rest of her. She might believe in this way, she is unredeemable. She might think she would choose differently if she just loved them enough. But she is wrong because addiction is stronger than love until it isn’t.
I want my words to guarantee something for you or her or your family, and of course, they can’t. I couldn't string it all together, so I made lists instead. I made lists as if I was you, addressing her. Some of these things were words said to me when I was deep in it, not so long ago—words that buoyed me and woke me up. Some are words I wish had been said.
Things I Don’t Know:
- How bad the drinking is.
- How much trouble you’re in.
- How to love you best.
- How to keep you from turning away from me.
- How to stop loving you (I never will).
Things I Know:
- I love you.
- You are beautiful, gifted, and connected to people who love you.
- Alcohol will steal all of that away.
- I will never stop reminding you of these things.
- I am scared about the drinking.
- I want to fix it.
- I can’t fix it.
- I want you to be free from the dark place where drinking has brought you so many times.
- I want you to be free from the things that cause you to drink in the first place.
- I don’t want you to die.
- I am afraid you will die.
- I will not let my fear stop me from standing with you and speaking the hard truths, even if my words aren’t the right ones.
- I will also not stand by you as you hurt yourself.
- It is not your fault.
- It is your responsibility.
- It is unfair that this is your thing.
- This is your thing.
- This will never stop being your thing until you face it.
- You cannot do it alone.
- Only you can do it.
- I love you.
- I will never stop reminding you of these things.