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Should I Have Helped my Alcoholic Sister More?

by Clare Reeves

My sister who is 53 has been an alcoholic for about 25 years and I am 7 years her junior. Whilst my parents were alive there was the monthly descent into abject misery for her family and escape for herself.

She's been hospitalised numerous times and has had every possible psychiatric treatment going. My mother died 5 years ago and at the end she'd had a nervous breakdown and would be physically frightened about seeing my sister - as my sister since my father had died had once beaten her up and had caused her to break her hip by falling on her whilst drunk.

Due to my complete resentment at her effect over our lives and the fact that I had 2 young children(5 and 2) - I then had nothing more to do with her until 2 years later when she seemed to turn her life around helping in charity shops and keeping her flat very well. I got used to having a sister and the children an aunt and I would look forward to seeing her weekly ...

However from the start of 2009 she got involved with a married man and started taking (street bought) diazepam and having regular drinking bouts. She was detoxed twice this year and I have pleaded, begged, cajoled, promised we'd change everything but to no avail - and by now she had stopped getting out of bed and eating, she had another 80 year old alcoholic staying with her who supplied her with drink.

I wrote to her regular doctor explaining how worried I was at her self preservation instinct and asked to talk about it to her but she never replied. I contacted her psychiatrist in the middle of Nov who said that she just though it was psychological that she couldn't walk and that we'd come up with a plan in January.

I had by then stopped going to see my sister as it just seemed she wanted me to look after her which I refused to do and the elderly alcoholic staying with her was berating me that I should as her sister.

She was found a few days ago on the floor covered in excrement and skeletal. She was taken into hospital and can barely talk and has very little motor skills left. I now feel I should have done something more but I'm not really sure what?


Hi Clare

The guilt you now feel is fairly normal for loved one's affected by someone else's alcoholism/addiction. You feel you should have done more or done something differently or made more of a difference ...

But the reality of the situation is that there is nothing you could have done. You need to understand that your sister's alcoholism is her disease, and she is ultimately the only one who is responsible for overcoming it by admitting to her problem and then getting the appropriate help.

I say this often in this forum, but let me say it again because it is such a crucial point to understand when dealing with someone else's addiction: You didn't Cause it, You can't Control, and You can't Cure it. So blaming yourself is the last thing you should be doing.

Unfortunately as loved one's to someone suffering from an addiction, blaming ourselves or somehow feeling responsible is naturally what we do - even though we shouldn't and because it's totally counter productive.

Until your sister takes ownership of her addiction and responsibility for getting sober by enlisting the help of those that can help her achieve that (a proper treatment facility and 12 step program are typically good places to start) - no matter what you do is likely to help her.

I really hope your sister recovers her health and if she does, hopefully the condition she found herself in will have given her sufficient shock to realise she needs to change. The best thing you can probably do is go to Al Anon, which is for the loved one's of alcoholics, where you'll find loads of support from others who have been in your shoes, but apart from that I think you've done everything you can.

God Bless and Take Care

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Aug 06, 2010
You just can't win
by: Anonymous

Let’s go back and look at this again:
“My mother died 5 years ago and at the end she'd had a nervous breakdown and would be physically frightened about seeing my sister - as my sister since my father had died had once beaten her up and had caused her to break her hip by falling on her whilst drunk.”

DO NOT feel responsible for the alcoholic. I know it’s hard not too feel sorry for them; they are so miserable with themselves. But they are destroyers, not only of their own lives but other people’s lives. They always put themselves first, sacrificing and putting at risk the lives of family members, coworkers, and friends. My older alcoholic sister (53 years old and my only sibling) has wrecked not only her life but the whole family. She has been in therapy, rehab, and jail a couple of times, and my parents have been paying all her bills for years(she is chronically unemployed). She has used self-pitying, false threats of suicide, and empty promises to get by. She can be beguiling and very manipulative, and she has also done malicious things behind people’s backs, including my parents, which is very frightening. When I confronted her on this her she just rationalized and justified her behavior, making me out to be the problem. My parents judgement and mental capacities have been impaired by age and they don’t understand just how far gone she is, but they are always in despair about my her. If told them some of the things she’s done, I’m afraid it would just make matters worse and they would just think I was trying to make them abandon her, which is her worst fear. They expect me to “be there” for her no matter what, whether that means providing transport ion (she wrecked her car and lost her driver’s license) or being more sympathetic about her “disease.” I have several chronic debilitating health conditions myself and I’ve made it clear that though I still care for her, I am not her caretaker. My parents have sided with her and against me for drawing boundaries and trying to distance myself from ALL of them.

Your story was hearbreaking to read and I’m sorry for what you have had to go through. There is just no winning with alcoholics. They will always make you feel grief stricken and guilty, no matter what you did or didn’t do. It’s heartbreaking to watch the shell of a person that you once knew be taken over by the alcohol. ONLY THEY can take the bull by the horns and “redeem” themselves if they choose. Sadly, even if they do, in the process of their “recovery” they trash people’s lives and leave them in the ditch.

Aug 05, 2010
You never win with alcoholics
by: Anonymous

OK, let's go back and look at this again:
"She's been hospitalised numerous times and has had every possible psychiatric treatment going. My mother died 5 years ago and at the end she'd had a nervous breakdown and would be physically frightened about seeing my sister - as my sister since my father had died had once beaten her up and had caused her to break her hip by falling on her whilst drunk."

DO NOT feel sorry for the alcoholic. Alcoholics are destroyers, not only of themselves but of everyone around them, most especially family (number one) and co-workers (number two). Friends are number three, because friends can ultimately walk away if they choose.

My alcoholic sister has not only destroyed her life but my whole family in the process. I do not have other siblings, and her problems have dominated the culture of the family for our entire lives. (I am 51 and she is 53). She has manipulated my parents her whole life with self pitying, false threats of suicide, and false promises (later in life these mainly consisted of I"m clean and sober now"). They have been funding her lifestyle and paying all her bills, as she is chronically unemployed and in therapy or rehab (and jail a few times) and though they mean well, they have enabled her in the process. They have tried to do the right thing for her, and though I have too, they have tried to make me feel like I am letting both them and her down by drawing boundaries and distancing myself. She has been an alcoholic from her years in college, if not before. In all these years, my parents have never gone to an alonon meeting, but they expect me to "be there" for my sister, whether it be providing transportation (she lost her license for multiple DUIs) or just being more sympathetic. I used to be more sympathetic before her addiction progressed to the point where she started doing manipulative and malicious things behind people's backs, including to my parents, which scared the heck out of me. Of course being in utter denial, she actually justifies and rationalizes her actions and when I have confronted her about it, she just turns it around and tries to make ME out as being the problem.

Still, I know it is impossible NOT to feel sorry for the alcoholic, as they are so miserable with themselves. I have also had more than my share of dealing with alcoholic coworkers, and it's miserable. It's just a no win situation with alcoholics. Yes, they just have to finally decide when it's time to tale the bull by the horns and turn things around, but it's a lifelong struggle, and even when they redeem themselves, they have often trashed other people's lives and left them in the ditch.

Jan 12, 2010
Some words from an alcoholic in recovery....
by: Greg Adams

My ex wife and my present wife tried in vain to control my drinking but the more they tried, the more determined I was to resist. When threatened, my addiction defends using denial to avoid the truth and attacks the those who dare speak it in order to silence it.

The best thing my wives ever did for themselves and me was to leave, freeing me to drink myself into treatment centers in lieu of suicide. Anxious and angry but sober for as much as 6 years, I'd give up and return to drinking. The revolving door began 1981.

Today I'm 32 days sober and I'm at peace for the first time in my life. Having finally accepted as fact that I'm an alcoholic, I've returned to AA feeling like I actually belong there and I am willing to get whatever help I need.

Like many others, I grew up in an abusive home that left me anxious and angry for the past 50 years, I distrusted nearly everyone I encountered. The diagnosis: PTSD. The cure: EMDR therapy. I've found a cure that really works.

Recently, I found myself on the receiving end of another alcoholics' insanity. Between that and EMDR, I was able to see the truth about myself and recognize the cure: Put the bottle down for good and do what I need to do in order to be happy and free and function like a responsible adult.

So I'm learning to love and be loved, to give without expectation--and this is just the beginning. I'm getting organized and can see the top of my desk for the first time in years. My wife and companion of 19 years and I are well on our way to marital recovery and we're confident we'll be back together--when we're both ready and not before.

Will something like this happen for your sister? I sure do hope so and you certainly do too. Can you make it happen for her? I'm afraid not. Only she can make that choice. You simply don't have that kind of power you need.

I got a letter from that greatest teachers-- the cute little woman who's in prison again for alcohol related crimes--the one who showed me the ugliness and insanity of my own alcoholism. She wrote that she plans to get drunk the day she is released and to stay drunk the entire weekend "to get it out of her system." Then she wants to come live with me, go to AA and get a sponsor.

I wrote her to say, "If you choose to do that, you will be putting alcohol into your system, not getting anything out of your system. You will once again be unable to stop until you are back on the street, in prison or dead. Just look at what your drinking has done to you already. If you chose to stay sober and recover from your alcoholism, I will help you any way I can and get you in touch with some very dedicated women in AA who will help you, too. I've seen them do miracles with women who are just as addicted to alcohol as you are."

I ask you to sit quietly in your cell and listen for God's direction. I'm certain He'll lead you into recovery so you can begin a new life and be reunited with your beautiful daughter like you were meant to be."

Dec 24, 2009
by: Anonymous

Thank you for your words of reassurance they have helped with those feeling of blind panic and guilt that beset me at 3am. I know it makes sense but having lived with it for many years and having tried to "help" for many of them it's hard to break the conditioning. But all of your words have calmed me thank you again.

Dec 23, 2009
Don't Blame Yourself
by: C-P

Clare you've done everything you can so don't feel there is anything more you could/should have done. As much as it hurts to see your sister in her current state, she's the one that has gotten herself there, and nothing you may have done would have changed that. I really hope she recovers successfully and regains her health, but whatever happens, don't feel guilty about what you did/didn't do.

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