When Does Helping an Alcoholic Parent Become Self-Destructive?
By Jessica Kasevich
He sat in the waiting room of the hospital picking at his nails while the midnight news began. He was glad the volume on the television was slightly louder than it needed to be, as he did not want to sit in silence alone with his thoughts. The question of “should I call my brother” seemed to persist. He feared looking like a fool as he was the only one left in the family who believed that his father could change for the better. He had made this call so many times before and each time no one had faith in his father’s ability to stop drinking. He realized that to his brother and family, this looked like the typical “Boy Who Cried Wolf” story that they all have heard for the past twenty-two years. He felt alone. No one understood why he continued to try to pick up the pieces for his father each time he fell: losing jobs, being arrested for public intoxication or urination, trying to find lawyers who would take on his case for minimal pay, fielding phone calls from angry family members who he had stolen from to buy alcohol or who he had verbally abused in a rage of drunkenness.
Will it ever be any different?
This time Tommy convinced himself that rehab would be different and that his father would stop drinking. How could he not, as he was told yesterday that his liver enzymes showed that he would lose function of his liver in a year or two if he continued . Tommy thought, “if this doesn’t wake him up nothing I can do for him will make a difference and he will eventually drink himself to death.” He realized that he had sacrificed his own life for his father who was not putting his own first. Tommy had to, like all the other friends and family realize that the only life he had control over was his own and he had to start living it!
Tommy was an accountant. He liked the predictability and honesty of numbers as they could never fool him. He became an accountant when he was 23. His success rose when he met Vanessa through one of his clients. She gave him the encouragement he lacked from his father and built a successful business. He referred to her “as the love of his life, his rock.” She showed him that life could be beautiful even if he came from a home where he watched his father drink himself to sleep every night, where he was in fear every morning of finding his father unresponsive. She made him see that he had his own life to live and that he was not responsible for his father’s poor choices. She gave him a reason to have his own life outside of caring for his father, a life with her, with friends and deserved success.
Desperate to help, and becoming destructive
When she passed away unexpectedly he threw himself back into the role of caring for his father. He begged every liquor store owner within a 20 mile radius of Hoboken not to sell his father alcohol. He told all the neighbors not to bring him liquor when his father asked them to. He pleaded with his father’s primary doctor to give him a prescription that would help him stop drinking. He tried to persuade so many of his father’s employers to take him back. He cashed in a substantial portion of his 401K to pay for lawyers, tickets, surcharges and whatever legal fees needed to be paid to keep him off probation and out of the legal systems.
He had gone to every family meeting held at every rehab facility he had ever been to show his support. Now all Tommy could think of was: “What were all of his efforts for if his father would not stop drinking to save his own life?” He had no friends. His business was in serious trouble. He gave up on his dreams of having a wife and family. He started taking Xanax every day to calm his nerves from the daily phone calls he received when his father was in trouble. He was constantly on heightened alert preparing to have to settle some problem his father was in, never feeling relaxed. He had constant thoughts of finding his father dead . All of this made it difficult to sleep, take care of himself and live a successful and happy life.
Tommy began to think that enough was enough and that he had to start living for himself.
Why do we try to help our parents with their addiction? We do this because we care and love them but when is “helping,” self-destructive? Helping is too destructive when our own physical and mental health is being compromised. You can regain the control you once had over your life or begin to have it if you only put your oxygen mask on before theirs.
Why not take control back over your life?