My aunt is a 42-year-old alcoholic who still lives with her parents. She had a tumultuous life from her teens through her mid-20s due to excessive drug use and a nearly fatal car accident. Ever since said car accident she’s been playing the pity card. (It’s been 25 years!)
Her brothers don’t talk to her at all and my mother recently stopped answering or returning her phone calls. Because she has no one else to turn to, she calls me several times a week at ALL HOURS and — when I pick up (usually thinking it’s an emergency) — she will keep me on the phone for hours on end. Almost every phone call is a drunk-dial and she doesn’t understand that I don’t have hours and hours to stay on the phone and listen to her tell me the same five stories over and over. I simply don’t have the heart to hang up on her.
Her personal life is dramatic (because she hangs out with dramatic people and lets them walk all over her) and she needs a lot of emotional support that the rest of the family simply refuses to give her.
She claims that my birth helped her become a happier person and that I’m her best friend. (Because I actually listen to her and try to help!) She even offered to fly me out to vacation with her because it would make her feel better to have me entirely at her beck and call. (I live an ocean away.) She totally does not have the cash to do this; but even if she did I totally don’t have the time or spirit.
She has a lot of issues and absolutely no one else to turn to, so I feel that if I were to outright ignore her lengthy/random phone calls that she would get severely depressed and accidentally kill herself drunk-driving or something. (Lord knows she’s been in a million awful car accidents. The first, of course, being the one that started this pity-party years before I was even born.)
I’ve tried talking to my mom about this — “Please pick up when she calls! At least sometimes!” — to no avail. My grandmother (who my aunt lives with) has given up trying to make my aunt feel better, saying that my aunt doesn’t believe any of the supportive things coming from her.
I know, logically, that a 42-year-old woman being dependent on her 23-year-old niece is totally fucked up. But it’s for that same reason — how awful and ridiculous it is — that I feel obligated to help. It’s been almost a year of frequent calls; is there any way that I can help my aunt and keep my sanity?
As you already know, there isn’t an easy or quick, witty answer to your problem. I was raised by alcoholics and have a great deal of sympathy for your situation. My mother only recently quit drinking. It almost seems unreal and sheer luck, but I know that it is the result of years of patience, frustration, love, and hard decisions that the whole family endured. I would like to tell you that it ends with a victory or a triumph, but it remains a challenge. A lifelong addiction to alcohol leaves permanent impressions on the alcoholic as well as their family. Anyone who says pot kills short-term memory should have a 30-minute conversation with a lifelong alcoholic.
Your dedication to your aunt is to be admired. Try to understand that the attitude of your mother and the rest of the family is due to a longer relationship with your aunt. In another five years without change, you, too, may find that you cannot speak to her.
I encourage you to begin to set boundaries now. An alcoholic will live with what they are allowed. Let her calls go to voice mail. She is an “ocean” away, so there is little you could do in an emergency. Call her back when there is time for you. At the beginning of the call, tell her you have 15 minutes and then you must hang up. Insist on only speaking to her when she is sober. You will never be responsible for her actions. This is hard to accept, but true.
Talk to both your aunt and your grandmother about seeking help. Your aunt most likely won’t want to hear it, but at the very least it will shorten the calls. You won’t be able to change her, either, but letting her know that you are troubled and hurt by her actions and would like to help is good.
Your grandmother is enabling her situation. As long as she provides a safe and comfortable place to stay, nothing will change. This is a situation your grandmother has to resolve. It is likely that your grandmother has as much of a problem and addiction as the alcoholic. Relationships can easily become bad habits gone worse.
Take time to speak to a professional, and consider seeking out a support group such as ALANON (al-anon.alateen.org). You are young and this problem is affecting your entire family. It is important for you to have an outside source for both release and advice. There isn’t a universal solution, but you will find an answer for yourself.
Much love, sympathy, and respect,
Your Uncle Mat
P.S. Don’t forget to enjoy the rest of your life. It isn’t broken and it’s all yours.