anonymous Asks ...
My 58 year old brother is an alcoholic. In the last 5 years he has gone through a messy divorce and declared bankruptcy, closing the business he inherited from our dad. Unemployed, he moved in with my mom and spent his days drinking and watching tv. He plays the victim card all the time, complaining how no one has helped him in his life and how everyone in our family are losers.
Last November he was arrested for a DUI and released on bond. Two months later he was arrested for an open container ( he was drinking in a mini market parking lot) and his bond was revoked as he had violated its terms. He hired a public defender and has since been through several public defenders and has many continuances. He remains in jail and continously calls our mom claiming his innocence. He has made her think that it is her job to get him out of jail - call the attorney general, call the judge, he is innocent and his rights have been violated. She and I both feel very guilty and I am extremely angry with him for his treatment of her. I live several hundred miles away so I cannot see him in person but I would like to write him a letter getting everything off my chest. My mom is against this as she feels I am kicking him while he is down and I am not being supportive. He is the kind of "you're with me or against me" person so I realize this will be like divorcing my brother. He has no friends and no one has come looking for him or called him the entire time he has been in jail. I have started attending Al-Anon meetings - my mom won't go as she says it won't help him any - and have scheduled a meeting with a therapist. This has really torn our family up - my mother has called me more times than I can count sobbing as to what she can do.
Do you think I should write this letter or just continue to try to help myself and heal?
Rob Danzman Says ...
That is what we refer to as a hot mess. Instead of talking about what your brother needs which is probably pretty obvious to you, I'll give you some strategies on what you can do.
1. Set Boundaries: If you've read just about any other post from me, you will not be surprised that I'm going to encourage you identify and set boundaries not only with your brother, but also your mother who is acting as your brother's co-conspirator. Boundaries need to be specific (ie. "I will not send you more than $50/month to help") and clear (ie. "My decision is final. There is nothing to negotiate if you want more."). These types of boundaries are more for you than anyone else. You may want to set some boundaries with your mother as well. Tough but necessary.
2. Protect Your Assets: People like your brother have a way of sliding down a slope and making increasingly unethical and illegal choices. Make sure that your family members (your kids, spouse, etc) know they are not to give, loan or sell anything to your brother. You may also want to consider not having him over to your home until he cleans up his act.
3. Reinforce Positive Behavior: Sounds insulting but all of us live our lives based on positive reinforcement schedules (eg. "When I go to work for 40 hrs/wk, I get paid $3900."). Try and catch your brother when he is doing something right and making a sincere effort. When (ok, if) you see him making a healthy choice, point it out and give him some attention. He's in a dark place right now and has lost big chunks of his life because of his choices. Your mother, ironically, is reinforcing the undesirable behavior by bailing him out. That's the pain you hear in her voice when she calls - she knows what she's doing but can't help that maternal instinct to help her son.
4. Offer Support: I said offer support, but don't expect it will be well received right now. Offering support is, again, for you more so than for your brother. I'd want it to sound something like this "Hey man, I know you are hurting right now and feel kicked by the world. If you want, I'll help by coming with you to see someone who can help start turning things around." Just the time it would take to go with him to therapy - nothing more at this point. Agencies like ours work with people like your brother and help them navigate the complications of the legal, substance abuse and mental health system since it's all tied together. Feel free to refer him (or your mother) to us for a free consult. We can at least point them in the right direction.
Finally, Al-Anon helps many people but I would recommend you meet with a therapist that specializes in substance abuse treatment who would be willing to see you for a consultation (one or two sessions instead of every week). A good therapist can provide insight, support and additional strategies if you want to go deeper into figuring out how to get through this mess your brother has created.
Good luck with all this. It will take strength and you will question your decision but taking care of yourself and your immediate family is the highest priority.