Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 6:15 AM

  • Share:
             
  • Comments
  • Print

Delving into cousin’s potential drinking problem

Advice columnist Carolyn Hax on offering support, with boundaries.


Syndicated columnist

advertising

Dear Carolyn

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

DEAR CAROLYN: My aunt and uncle have just enlisted me to help their 24-year-old daughter, “Sarah,” who lives in my city, about 2,000 miles from them. Apparently over the holidays, Sarah talked frequently about all her favorite bars, hid alcohol in her room and came off the plane drunk. Her mom called me hysterically crying.

I reached out to Sarah, and we’re getting brunch this weekend. I’m torn how to approach this. I think my aunt is predisposed to viewing alcohol as evil; she is the adult child of an alcoholic. I also drank a lot when I was Sarah’s age and it caused me no ill effects. It was just part of my social scene as I’m sure it’s part of hers. (I’m now married in my early 30s).

But I do think my aunt’s description was worrying. She’s asking me to get Sarah to “admit she has a problem.” How do I navigate this?

— Cousin

DEAR COUSIN: By saying to Auntie that you will make an effort to be in Sarah’s life, so that if she is in trouble — with alcohol or anything else — she will have family nearby to lean on.

However, you won’t, nor is it your place to, nor will it be effective to, “get” Sarah to admit or do anything. Just by asking this of you, Auntie betrays a need for a visit to/refresher with Al-Anon.

Use this brunch to enjoy Sarah’s company and, again, strengthen the tie, if Sarah is game to. That better satisfies your aunt’s objectives than would talking about her drinking — unless Sarah herself brings it up.

Please also don’t lean too hard on your experience with alcohol when interpreting Sarah’s. Two people can have identical behaviors and get dramatically different results. The only experience that explains Sarah is Sarah’s.

RE: AL-ANON: I’m wondering if you can provide the Cliff’s Notes version of the take-away from Al-Anon. I have a good friend who’s trying to drag his 80-year-old mother into therapy with him because she doesn’t treat him very well. It’s painful to watch him beat his head against that particular wall, but suggesting he find a place of acceptance just prompts him to reel off a list of her transgressions that he “just can’t accept.” A good friend of mine and longtime AA member suggested Al-Anon might be good for him, but he kind of brushes off the suggestion, without knowing really anything about what they do.

— Anonymous

DEAR ANONYMOUS: The take-away: You can’t change people, you can change only the way you respond to them.

So, the point of going is to learn to let go of the impulse to control people, and let go of the belief that you can fix a problem by changing someone else’s behavior.

It applies not just with people like your friend who are trying to get something from someone unwilling or unable to give it; it also helps if you’re just worried about someone to the point that it preoccupies you. It’s about letting go of the control people have over you.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living



Free 4-week trial, then $99 a year for unlimited seattletimes.com access. Try it now!

Also in Living

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

Enter to win!

Enter to win!

Share a photo of your holiday lights display and you may win a $100 Home Depot gift card.

Advertising

Partner Video

Advertising

Homes -- New Home Showcase

View community unveils furnished model home

View community unveils furnished model home


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►