How to survive loving an alcoholic child. My experience. Setting boundaries with my adult daughter and the consequences of broken boundaries
Importance Of Healthy Boundaries With Alcoholic Loved Ones
My adult daughter was an alcoholic for almost twenty years. I never have stopped loving her but I took a lot of abuse from her. She wanted to blame me for her drinking. 'It is your fault I drink mother. I drink because of you'', she would scream at me. I knew it was the drink talking but knowing that did not take the sting out of her words.
Alcoholism runs in both my parent’s families. My parents were abusive alcoholics and my brother and sister were alcoholics. My mother died at the age of thirty four of alcohol related problems and dad died at the age of forty nine. My brother and sister have both been drink free for over twenty years. I could never handle alcohol and if I drank it I would always end up paralytic drunk and in some bad situations. I gave up drinking more than a glass a beer a year a long time ago.
I have brought my children up with the facts and dangers of alcohol addiction and that it runs through families in the hopes that they keep the risk in mind.
I waited until I was too ill to cope with my adult daughter’s behaviour, demands and verbal abuse before I set clear boundaries. I wish I had set clear boundaries twenty years ago and then I might have enjoyed life more. Please don’t make the same mistake of putting up with abuse for years before setting a boundary.
If you are reading this because you love an alcoholic a little advice. Unless your loved one is agreeable to receiving help then save your energy and take care of yourself. I have found that trying to talk to unreasonable person under the influence of alcohol is a waste of time. You are wasting your time and energy trying to reason with an alcoholic and believe me when I say, you are fighting a losing battle. Save your energy and do something nice for yourself. Put that energy into something you like to do.
You deserve to feel good. Have good strong boundaries and stick to them at all cost because you don’t deserve to feel bad because of someone else’s choices. Set strong boundaries out of love for yourself and your loved one and take care of your own physical and mental health.
What Is A Boundary?
A boundary is the invisible line you set and you do not allow others to cross it. I recommend that if you are in an abusive relationship with someone you love, set boundaries of acceptable behaviour. For me a boundary is a psychological barrier put in place to protect my physical and mental health, to protect me from the effects of constant verbal abuse from my daughter. It tells my daughter what behaviour I will not accept from her or anyone. My boundaries might be different to your boundary needs.
‘I love you but will no longer be in your life or around you while you are drinking. I will no longer take your abuse and disrespectful name calling and I will not accept the blame for your drinking. I will no longer be your emotional punch bag because I don’t deserve it. I will no longer put up with your threats, lies and manipulation. I will no longer walk on eggshells for fear of upsetting you. I will no longer sacrifice my self esteem by listening to you calling me names. I refuse to watch you destroy your life and the lives of those around you because of your alcoholism. I want you to be responsible for your own behaviour and apologise for all the horrible things you say to me. I love you and I am going to keep my distance while you drink’.
‘I need to be in an honest, trusting, safe and loving relation with myself and with you. I have to think of my health and the health of our family. I have to move on from the pain that alcoholism brings and learn to take care of my own physical and mental health. I need to let go of feelings of fear, anger, sadness, guilt and shame that alcoholism has brought into my life. I need to find peace in my heart and happiness in my life because I deserve to be happy too.
I need to learn to love myself more and know that I deserve to be loved. I need to be true to myself and stay away from abusive relationships that bring pain. I love you and I will always be here should you decide you need me more than drink’.
I felt guilty when I first set boundaries. I was afraid of hurting my daughter’s feelings and was afraid she would think I did not love her. I felt selfish as if it was wrong to protect myself and my other children from constant verbal abuse. Withdrawal of my support was not easy to do at the beginning but it gets easier because I know that it is the right thing to do. I was also afraid she would use the boundary as a reason for drinking and then tell me, like she often does, ‘It’s was your fault I got drunk mum!’
Once a boundary is set you need to be clear in what the consequences will be if boundaries are broken. There is not much point in setting boundaries unless we have the courage to enforce the consequences.
My daughter tried to break my boundaries often. She would send me drunken abusive texts or try ringing me in the middle of the night. If I do respond I usually get horrendous abuse and threats.
I used to respond to her messages when she would say, ‘Mummy help me! I need you!’ It used to break my heart when she pleaded but I know now that her heartbreaking pleading is just another ploy. I record experience's I have with her in my journal. I can see clearly that it’s just one of her manipulation games that is meant for me to feel guilty. I can see the pattern of behaviour by journaling.
My daughter would try every trick in the book to get my attention when I set boundaries. She would text to tell me the grandchildren were sick or injured and they have to go to hospital or similar messages. I gave into her manipulation many times and paid for it.
If the reader is going through a similar experience I highly recommend you keep a journal. My journal is like my friend and counsellor and has been an invaluable tool for relieving some of the pent up emotion.
I am also guilty of not sticking to boundaries because I was afraid my daughter would think I did not love her. I did not want her to feel rejected and unloved like I felt as a child. Also, I have ignored rules of boundaries and pretended to be unaware that she is drinking so that I could have contact with my grandchildren. All these years my turning a blind eye has not helped my daughter. All I achieved by not being honest was to enable her to carry on drinking and behaving in an unacceptable way.
Eventually I found inner strength from knowing I did not deserve to be treated disrespectfully. I had to find some self love and stick to my boundaries to be able to help my daughter. It cost me over a year of my grandchildren's lives but it was worth it.
Sometimes my daughter would use her addiction as an excuse for appalling behaviour and she often blamed the medication she was taking, or forgotten to take for abusive behaviour. Or, she would blame other people for her being an alcoholic. Like many alcoholics she would not take responsibility for their behaviour. Her behaviour was never her fault. Someone else pushed her to the point of her losing it and having a drink, that someone is usually me, her mum, and the one person who truly loves her. By allowing and accepting her behaviour, by not sticking to the rules of the boundaries, I am enabling her to continue to drink. Boundaries are tough love and necessary.
‘Detachment’ With Love
I learnt the concept of ‘detachment with love’ and how to step away from my daughter’s toxic behaviour and felt instant relief. I no longer had to worry she would think I did not love her if I withdrew from her life. The truth was that I did love my daughter and nothing could change that. Detaching with love means that I am removing myself from her life until she is sober and respectful. I am allowing her to learn from the mistakes of her bad choices whilst I work on healing and caring for myself. I continue loving her but from a safe distance.
We owe it to ourselves and to our families to think of our own need for happiness and the need to protect our health and the health of our families. We are not meant to suffer because of another person’s choice in life.
We only have one life and were meant to live it. We are meant to enjoy life, not dread every new day for fear of what it will bring. I know we need to first love ourselves enough to protect our inner selves from more pain of abuse. We have to be selfish enough to care for ourselves first.
We all are worthy of a happy existence and I am beginning to understand that I matter too. My deep belief that I was unworthy of respect came as a result of being abused by my alcoholic mother. I had to change that belief.
I had to stand up and refuse to be abused or disrespected even when I could hear my inner voice asking me, ‘Who are you to be demanding respect?’ ‘You are not worthy of respect, you are nothing!’ I have spent my whole life being abused and had to learn how to begin to love myself. Allowing ourselves to be used as an emotional punch bag to relieve another’s anger is emotionally draining and damaging to the health.
I became aware that I made it easier for my daughter to carry on drinking and destroying her life and the lives of those around her by always being there listening to her drunken rants.
I felt I had to be there because she had no one else who will listen. I enabled her to carry on drinking by allowing her to avoid the consequences of her actions. I am guilty of enabling when it was easier to give her money for her electric meter than to deal with the stress of not giving her money and the guilt trip she would put me on.
I am guilty of enabling when I do not follow through and expect an apology for all her abusive behaviour and threats. Enabling will just prevent our loved one from facing themselves and the need to get help.
Now I fully understand that she causes an argument with me so that she can go off and have a drink and then blame mum for pushing her into it. I used to spend hours telling my daughter that I love her, how proud I was of her and her response was always the same, ‘No you don’t love me mum. You have never wanted me, go on admit you never wanted me and I will walk away!'
For twenty years I was totally exhausted from trying to prove to my daughter that I loved her. She could not feel love because of her addiction. I used to be fighting a losing battle with my alcoholic daughter for many years until I finally I understood the true meaning of boundaries.
I know I am not the only one going the experience of and loving an addict. I reach out to all those who care for an addict. Reclaim your life and let the addict have theirs. Love yourself enough to take care of yourself and reclaim your life.
My daughter has been drink free for two years. She is doing well and I am proud of her. She is working and is more confident than she has ever been.
I have my grandchildren back in my life and I am grateful. I am blessed to have my family all well and enjoying life.
If you are dealing with a loved one right now who is struggling with alcoholism I feel for you. I hope by sharing my experience I have helped someone through the stress and pain of trying to cope with an alcoholic.
Feel free to leave a message or question in the comment box below.
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Louise Elcross (author) from Preston on September 12, 2020:
Cynthia I appreciate your comments. My goal of boundaries is to only accept authentic and honest relationships in my life and for a long time before I set up the boundaries, I was not experiencing an honest and loving relationship. I learnt that we need boundaries to make it clear to addicted loved ones that some behaviours brought about by their addiction is not acceptable. and to protect our own mental health. Thanks for reading and for sharing.
Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on September 11, 2020:
This is a clear description of how painful and destructive alcoholism is and an excellent example of how establishing healthy boundaries can often result in personal growth and recovery for the addict, and a more authentic, loving relationship. I will share this article!
Louise Elcross (author) from Preston on June 12, 2020:
You are welcome abdullah.
abdullah tariq from pakistan on June 12, 2020:
Louise Elcross (author) from Preston on January 14, 2019:
Thank you Bill. It has been a while since I wrote this piece. I am happy to say I have my daughter back and she has been sober for 18 months. We just had her 40th birthday and she is well. I am blessed. x
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 14, 2019:
Best wishes to you, Louise. It's important that stories like this one be told, so bravo to you for opening your heart so that others might learn.
Louise Elcross (author) from Preston on March 17, 2017:
Thank you Terrie Lynn for your comments that I appreciate. I love my daughter very much and after years of abuse I knew I had to put boundaries in place. Very difficult move to make but I have tried everything else. All I can do is pray that this time she stays well and sober. Thank you. x
Terrie Lynn from Canada on March 16, 2017:
What an eye opening article. Sometimes the hardest things to write about touch people the most. This will help many people. Everyone needs boundaries and sometimes showing love means doing something that is hard to do. Thank you for sharing. The same kind of things happen with other addictions too. Stay strong, don't give up and stand your ground.
Louise Elcross (author) from Preston on March 15, 2017:
Thank you billybuc for your comment. I love my daughter but love not enough because alcoholism is a disease. My mum was alcoholic and i lost her thru drink. She died aged 34. My mum was extremely abusive to me in drink and so is my adult child. I love all my kids but cant take or accept more abuse because i am getting old rapidly and all my life i have cared for alcoholics who do not want to help themselves. I do not want to hurt anymore. My daughter has been sober for a month now and i am grateful that i have her back in my life. Thanks again. X
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 15, 2017:
Well, I've got some experience here. I've been sober now for ten-and-a-half years, and I can say that what you have written here is the ugly truth about alcoholism. Hiding that truth, or sugar-coating it, does no one any good. This is a disease that needs to come out of the closet and looked at clinically. The "mistakes" you made along the way are common, expected, and should not be regretted. There was no way for you to know what you were facing, and love will always cloud judgement. This article, and others like it, are necessary.
Best wishes to you, and your daughter, in the future.