Share This Page

Hax: Aunt asks reader to get cousin to admit she has a drinking problem

| Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Adapted from a recent online discussion:

Hi, 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 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

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 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 brings it up.

Also, please 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 takeaway 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

The takeaway: 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 Hax at tellme@washpost.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.