AiR member Christy has written in about the complicated and frustrating situation with her elderly sister and her nephew:
I want to help my sister who is elderly and my nephew get help for addiction. They have no friends who would join me in an intervention and they need one desperately. I fear for their lives and am always on edge because I'm always expecting a "call" to come through with bad news. This has been going on for a long time now and has gotten worse with her husband's passing. I was told I would need friends or family with me, in order to have an intervention; but I have no one. How on earth can I help them? I've tried for years, but I'm only one person and too exhausted to deal with this alone anymore…They totally isolate and need help. I've called other places in the past but they say that the person has to want help. I'm sure an addict is not thinking clear enough to want help. Any form of treatment has failed in the past. I'm mostly concerned with my nephew who has never really had a life and suffers from severe depression in addition. Plus, they're so enmeshed and codependent. I've had to cut them out of my life but want to see them well. Thank you
How tough to be watching a part of your family so tangled up and probably very unhappy.
“Enmeshed” is a good word to describe the situation between your sister and her son. Enmeshed describes a pattern, years in the making, when a family member fixes and protects and tries to control the actions of a Loved One who’s abusing substances.
The scenario goes something like this: the Loved One takes advantage of parent’s worry and love and uses this to maintain the drug use and protection afforded by the parent. The parent feels that by having the Loved One close and under their protection, she is providing perhaps life-saving help; she is also better able to control her own feelings of worry. In some cases, and this may be so with your sister, there is an element of family and companionship that needs to be maintained at all cost.
Boundaries are nonexistent. The parent steps in constantly because they believe their Loved One needs help with such things as basic needs – (housing or getting enough to eat), issues of safety related to the drug use, or propping them up when the depression is bad.
The Loved One can get angry towards the parent for not doing more, for not taking away even more of the hurt, consistently and quickly. In this way, they make the parent responsible for their problems and look to them for the solutions. Mom gets obsessed over the son and the son deflects problems and solutions onto the mom.
The question is what you can do as a family member, looking in on this from the outside. A couple ideas:
- Give this site to your sister as a gift. Offer to go through the modules and the Key Observation exercises together, at her pace.
- There are many layers to the problem. The relationship between your sister and her son will likely need good family therapy to repair. Can you locate a good therapist that takes your sister’s insurance and has openings? You give your sister this information… “if and when you and your son are ready, here is the name of a wonderful family counselor ….”
- Similarly, your sister may elect to get some counseling for herself. The family counselor may see her individually to start. Perhaps the hook is the “family work described in #2.”
- Regardless of the number of times your nephew has been to treatment, treatment is still the best solution going forward. You can give the family a list of treatment options. For this, you will want to read this post and our methodology for finding treatment.
For 1 and 4, you may have to convince your sister that it is critical to focus on the substance problem first. Resolve the substance abuse and all the rest of this can unlock.
Without oversubscribing emotionally yourself, you can do the research and provide solid resources to your sister. You can offer your support for help with treatment where you can.
Reading your words I am also concerned about your own exhaustion. While it is possible for you, alone, to start applying a strategy to help your nephew, it is equally critical for you to take care of yourself. Reducing the worry, and increasing kind acts towards yourself will help with the exhaustion, and with your strategy! Take some time to browse through the Sanctuary, or watch Module 7 on difficult emotions.