Uncle Dan’s ‘not feeling well,’ kids - Macleans.ca

Uncle Dan’s ‘not feeling well,’ kids

Experts offer tips on how to handle alcoholic siblings during the festive holiday season


Uncle Dan’s ‘not feeling well,’ kids

“Christmas is a great time for a drunk,” says a recovering alcoholic from Ontario. “I could go out at a moment’s notice for ‘more ribbon’ or smuggle home large bottles of vodka with the bundles of Christmas presents.” Not only that, but no one at Christmas ever questions a locked door: “Everyone thought I needed privacy to wrap their gifts.” Christmas may be great for drunks but at least one brother in British Columbia is dreading a repeat of his older brother’s annual drunken shenanigans on Christmas Day at his parents’ place. “It’s a huge problem. I’ve tried confronting him to disastrous effect,” says Kevin in Vancouver, whose brother starts each day with a joint and rum in his coffee. “Telling him not to drink fuels the fire, and as a result, he drinks more. My poor mother.”

Now there’s a book of advice for the brothers and sisters of alcoholics, including how to cope with a sibling’s drinking over the holidays. To start with, the time to negotiate behaviour is before Christmas, not at the dinner table, says Patricia Olsen, co-author, along with Dr. Petros Levounis, of Sober Siblings: How to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister—and Not Lose Yourself. “It’s futile trying to have a conversation with someone under the influence,” writes Olsen, adding on the phone last week that it’s even more hopeless if the person is in denial (Olsen grew up with two alcoholic brothers). When Kevin in Vancouver challenged his sibling last Christmas about his drinking, “he ordered me out of his house.”

In some cases when the sister or brother won’t admit to a problem but you still want to send a warning, it may work best not to mention the word “drunk.” Instead, Olsen suggests saying, “I noticed you weren’t feeling well on Thanksgiving. If you’re not ‘feeling well’ again on Christmas, I’m going to drive you home.”

Olsen warns against banishing your sibling from the festivities. In one case, “it caused a big family uproar because the mother was not willing to exclude the brother.” If your alcoholic sister is “simply talkative and giggles too much when she drinks, or falls asleep, then you may want her there no matter what,” writes Olsen. “But if the worst comes out and she ruins the occasion for everyone,” find a “loving way” to tell her she’s welcome if she agrees not to drink. Say, “We’d love to see you but I have to say, when you have four or five drinks, it’s a problem for us. I’d rather not have Christmas the way we’ve had it in the past. I have children now.” “[Then] maybe they won’t come,” says Olsen.

For a few years, Kevin lived close enough to drive his brother to and from his parents’ house. He’s learned to “keep the attitude light” when offering to be the designated driver. “Don’t relate at all to the reason you’re doing it. It has to be, ‘This is going to be fun blah, blah, blah.’ ”

Kevin’s brother now lives an hour and a half out of town; he doesn’t know how to stop him from driving drunk this year. The year he confiscated his brother’s car keys, it didn’t go well. Olsen stresses, “Never argue with someone who is drunk or high.” If it appears your sibling plans to drive drunk, “Locate the keys while he’s preoccupied and take them away. Most likely he’ll think he’s lost them.”

In April, “Jim” checked into Nanaimo’s Edgewood treatment centre for a six-week in-patient detox program. He hasn’t had a drink in eight months. A few weeks ago, his sister “Tamar” took a risk and asked Jim to drive her to the liquor store so she could buy wine for a dinner she was attending. Tamar kicked herself as Jim sat in the parking lot, thinking, “Why wasn’t I more organized? I knew I was going for dinner.” On the other hand, she told herself, “He has to live in the real world. People drink and do what they do.” She’s still not sure whether to mention alcohol around him. “I don’t want to get his curiosity up.”

Olsen says, “A person in recovery has a right to participate in decisions that directly impact recovery: ask the person what he or she is comfortable with.” Olsen suggests asking, “Do you mind if we drink in front of you? Would you like me to have a non-alcoholic beer for you? What would you like to drink?” Olsen herself found out too late that her younger brother didn’t appreciate her stocking non-alcoholic beer for him. Last May, when she was writing the book, he fell and hit his head and died. His wife told Olsen afterwards he “didn’t need non-alcoholic beer and it only reminded him he couldn’t drink.”


Uncle Dan’s ‘not feeling well,’ kids

  1. I lived for eighteen years with an alcohalic husband. Many a special occasion was spoilt, for he was not a pleasant drunk. If we were out he was sweet and funny, and people offered him more and more drinks to encourage his antics, but at home his mood did a full one eighty turn around. The children and I suffered very much at the hands and attitude of this man.

    He always said it was my fault, but he now is remarried and remains much the same as he was thirty years ago. It is so very sad to see lives impacted in this way, and what a pity there isn’t something to slip into the drinks of alcohalics which would neutralise the effects of the alcohal on their brains. Of course, that would probably be considered to be interfering with their rights. What about the rights of the family and friends of alcohalics?

    • In my case it was my father. His foul mouth and repulsive behaviour ruined many a Christmas for us kids. Now I am a grandparent and spend the time with my little family away from the dysfunction. I personally don’t see the need for booze at Christmas or any other time, and neither do my kids, yet my mother and siblings still insist they just gotta have it–go figure. So I made up my mind–it’s either the booze or me. They chose the booze. My kids chose me.

      Christmas 2007, my daughter, her husband and myself had a wonderful dinner prepared by her, with soft music, a big cuddly dog mooching at the table and a cat purposefully ignoring us–and a whole lotta love. Christmas 2008, it was us again, only this time the new grandson was with us, and it was again a nice quiet time filled with soft music and a whole lotta love.

      I look after my parents now, but more for my mother’s sake, I take care of them equally. When it comes to socializing, however, my father and I are, and always will be, miles apart. I chose not to be obsessed with what could have been, but choose instead to spend the time with the ones who make the choices that benefit all within my little family. Whether my siblings understand or not is irrevelent. None of them endured the abuse I endured growing up–I was singled out and had a very sad excuse for a childhood.

      It is not about revenge or anything like that, but the Al-Anon creed of self-preservation and saying NO. I have been accused of being selfish, but it would be useless to beat a dead horse as opposed to being there for the people who need me more than ever now. My grandson needs (and deserves) a grandparent free of shame and high in self-esteem, so I can pass the best part of me along to him. My daughter is a strong young woman but she still needs me, too, and with the mindset I have adopted, I am able to be there for her (and I’m lovin’ it!).

      Juanita, never let anyone make you feel you were wrong. No one forces the alcoholic to drink, except the alcoholic himself. Do now what is right for you so that you can be whole. Being whole means being happy and that will rub off on your kids and grandkids. It’s not easy, but believe me, it’s worth it. Take care and Be Well :D

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