Don’t I Need To Be There to “Be There”?

My mother’s brother is my favorite uncle.  We will call him “D.”  He lives in the South.

When I was three years old or so, D lived with us for a spell, apparently sleeping in our basement.  I suppose that his time living with our family brought us closer because I was so young – I didn’t go to school so I was around to play with.  However it happened, we created a bond.  His nickname for me was “Peanut,” and only he used it, which suited me fine.

D is the kind of uncle that gives love whenever requested.  He is still a Hippie in many ways – always wanted to use his creativity to support himself and even as he has gotten more business savvy over the years he never gave up that goal.  He set an example of us of following what is in your heart even when the world disagrees.  Whenever I needed to know that going up against my parents was okay, he was there to reassure me.  “Find your own path,” D would say softly.  “It is okay to be your own person.”

D had a first wife who was ill for most of their relationship.  This woman was very vocal about me being my own person – I suspect my parents thought it was to my detriment, but I loved her spirit.  Were they the perfect couple? No.  But I loved his first wife for herself, even if she wasn’t a fabulous partner.  A few years ago, they divorced.

After the divorce, D met another woman.  We were all hopeful that she would provide the kind of tenderness and support my uncle needs.  Unfortunately, it has not turned out that way.  Most disturbing is she is an alcoholic.  To be very, very clear, I do not judge her on this fact.  I even have sympathy for her disease – I have seen enough “Intervention” episodes to know that drug addicts are diseased, not simply lacking in self-control.  She has problems and those problems need to be addressed by professionals.  Problem is, they aren’t.

In December, I visited my parents with my daughter and Uncle D came up for a few days.  My mother prepped me with his supposed determination to end the relationship. Unfortunately, my uncle is no less co-dependent than this woman.  While we would like nothing more than for him to toss her out with a few hundred dollars and a shelter bed reserved, he won’t do it, or anything close to asking her to leave no matter how many times he tells my mom he is planning to.  He just puts the date off.

When a big dust-up occurred during my mother’s birthday weekend, where D’s girlfriend became severely intoxicated and said insulting things to our family, I communicated with him about the situation.  He said that his ex-wife’s family is more his family than we are, since we haven’t lived near each other in 30 years.  It was hard to hear, but I understood.  Still, it also caused me to move away from him and be less involved.

Now he says he wants out and I know he can’t do it by himself.  I worry that he will live with this woman until he dies, never having the peace and love he deserves (from someone else or simply from himself).  I help my mother with what to say to him for support, but is that enough?  Should I offer my advice or my shoulder to cry on, or stay out of it completely?  Do I honor him by asking to be involved or honor him by saying nothing?  How can I express my deep, deep love for him if I pretend like nothing is happening, or is that the same thing?


7 responses to “Don’t I Need To Be There to “Be There”?

  1. I think you need to say something. Staying quiet will only make him wonder if you even care. At least if you give him your thoughts, he’ll know that you do. Ultimately, though, it’s a choice only he can make. I have the same issue with my hubby’s brother; his wife is also an alcoholic and we’ve tried to tell him that there’s no do-overs in life, that this is it. You need to make changes now to be happy later. You don’t want to be old and sad, looking back with regrets.

  2. Write him a letter – you are a great writer. Make sure your tone strays from anything he may consider an “attack” and tell him about how much you looked up to him since you were little. Tell him how his independent, free and creative spirit inspired your life. Tell him that you think this woman is hurting him and stifling his “free” spirit. Tell him you will say no more about the woman other than this one letter. And then tell him you are here for him and will love him no matter what he decides.

    He will feel loved, touched and moved that he has impacted his beloved niece and has a space in her heart.

    Then, he’ll do either what he wants to or what is easiest, and you’ll have to accept either one and not speak of it again, unless directly asked. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. All you can do is give your mom a little support now and then and remind yourself that it is his life and you have no control over it, even though his woman’s behavior is driving you crazy.

    You have a clean conscience for telling him how you feel & that is all you can do.

    Can you tell I have a LOT of relatives parallel to this? Ha ha!

  3. I feel your pain. My FIL is a maintenance alcholic, sober for family gatherings but prone to drunken phone calls to my darling husband. It would be easier to not have anything to do with him but he is my children’s grandfather.

    About 18 months ago, MIL said she was tired of things, his poor money management on top of his drinking. She asked what we (her two kids and their spouses) thought she should do. We talked with her about intervention options, and ways to get herself involved to protect their finances. We offered her resources, research assistance, and other forms of help. She made zero changes.

    She is college educated & ran multiple businesses over the years–she’s plenty smart. She’s been married to this man for 50 years, so she knows what to expect. One wonders, why would a reasonably smart person choose not to make changes that would make them happier?

    The way I see it, every day she has a series of choices to make–regarding her marriage, her health, her home, her finances. If she’s not going to make choices that will take her closer to what she _says_ she wants, then who are we to try to “rescue” her from the situation she has chosen?

    You say your uncle can’t get out by himself, but the reality is that he is the ONLY person who can make this choice. His friends and family can offer financial & emotional support, but he has to make the decision and take the first steps on his own. If anyone tries to manage this set of decisions for him, they won’t stick.

    I don’t think you have to ignore the elephant in the room when you talk with your uncle. Share your perspective if he asks, but be prepared for it to matter not a whit. Decide if you are comfortable listening to his grievances even if he’s not going to do anything to change his situation.

    Remember: you only have control over what YOU do and say. Try to be okay with that.

  4. Memoirgirl,
    You have my sympathy. My wife and I had to deal with a similar problem years ago, two people who we loved very much and one of them had a raging problem with alcohol. When she was drunk she was demanding and abusive but no one knew how or wanted to confront her. If we tried her husband would often intervene and try to solve the problem or she would attack us, berating us for any number of faults real or imagined. Our attempts to help her did nothing to stop her alcoholism and became an unhealthy situation for everyone.

    In the end, we realized that we could not change her behavior no matter how hard we tried. The only solution was for us to set up boundaries to protect ourselves. We refused to speak with her when she was drinking or drunk. She could not drink in our home. It was a zero-tolerance rule.

    Initially that made things harder because her spouse and friends became angry with us. Ironically they believed that we were the ones with the problems, that we were arrogant, unsympathetic, naive, unloving or any other number of adjectives. We stuck to our boundaries. Eventually her husband gave in (we were no longer enabling the enabler) and sought help for himself. When he set boundaries she had no one left to manipulate and she entered a rehab program. That was over ten years ago and she has been sober ever since.

    Our story is a happy one but that doesn’t mean yours will be. You have to make peace with that at the beginning. You cannot change you uncle’s behavior or hers as much as you might wish to. They are actively choosing their pain and they will drag you into it if they can. You need to set hard boundaries for how you relate to the both of them and stick to those rules. This may force them further away for a time, or perhaps forever. There is no way to know for sure. But if you don’t set boundaries for your life you’ll always be at the emotional mercy of their actions.

    Best Wishes,

  5. That is so hard. What a tough position to be in and to watch from. I haven’t read the other comments, so I don’t know if my answer will contradict anyone, I certainly do not mean to; that said, here is my opinion:

    Co-dependency is a disease as well. You are correct that it will be very difficult for him to terminate the relationship by himself. He will need support. I think the inflammatory comment he threw out about his ex-wife’s family and yours was probably due to embarrassment. If I was in your shoes, I would set a clear boundary with him like this, “I will always love you. And I will support all your healthy decisions. Please understand I have to support my mom at this time too, as our whole family is hurting. We want you both well.” There is not much else you can do, in my experience.

    Keep your head up.

  6. We had a family member who was in a pathological relationship. We tried hard to help.

    Then her pathological relationship was with US.

    I’m not saying not to reach out, but be prepared for the focus to shift to you and your family.

    People without pathology DON’T stay in these relationships. Your uncle needs help, too.

  7. Part of me wants to hold you and hug you for the compassion and love you hold for D.

    Another part of me wants you to know that whatever you do will only ever be doing and that in your heart you have access to all the information about how to Be about this. From that place the ability to know how to respond to the situation at each new opportunity will become available to you.

    I could give you several ideas and suggestions, but it occurs to me that your inquiry is the gift of this situation and I acknowledge you for being in this place of wanting to reach out and help.

    I invite you to consider what part or parts of yourself long for the same kind of love, assurance, acceptance and maybe even help. By beginning to see what you need and how you need it, you may also gain insight into what feels comfortable, loving, and most importantly Self Honoring!

    I love you and I recognize how big your heart is!!!
    You are seen and understood.