United Kingdom

BEL MOONEY: Can I do anything to save my alcoholic daughter?

Dear Bel,

Widowed and retired, I live near my elder daughter Lyn and grandchildren. My younger daughter Jade moved to London four years ago, after a violent, long-term relationship ended. She’s had a few Tinder experiences — nothing lasting. She found a good job. I helped her buy a flat. Her last relationship ended badly after he cheated on her and said things that made her feel a failure.

For the past year, Jade has been drinking heavily, spending most of her free time and money in the pub. She’s started having problems at work (blamed on others) and taken many days off as holiday. I fear she’ll lose her job and flat — and I can’t afford to subsidise her.

Thought of the day 

How did the party go in Portman Square?

I cannot tell you; Juliet was not there.

And how did Lady Gaster’s party go?

Juliet was next to me and I do not know.

Hilaire Belloc (British/French writer, 1870-1953)

She came to mine for Christmas, saying she was really looking forward to it. But she downed a bottle of wine before 12 and was getting loud by teatime. I didn’t like the grandchildren witnessing it and Lyn told her to calm down. Jade took offence and went upstairs, abusive when I tried to console her. After the others had left, she told me Lyn was selfish and she wouldn’t see her again. I kept quiet, we watched TV and on Boxing Day she didn’t drink at all. Next morning she was OK, but said I would be glad to see her go.

I took her to the station, tried to suggest making up with Lyn and asked her to realise what damage alcohol was doing. I said I loved her and would always support her, but that I didn’t like her when she’s drunk. She became abusive and said I was taking Lyn’s side, as well as being unsupportive and patronising.

Jade has deleted us all from Facebook. I thought about sending her a book about getting through alcoholism, but I despair. She never got over her Dad dying of cancer 12 years ago, and probably never will. I could suggest counselling, but she won’t go. What should I do?

WENDY

This week Bel advises a mother who is concerned her daughter's drinking is out of control

There is another (longer) letter on my desk from a desperate mother of an alcoholic daughter — and it was hard to know which to choose to print here.

The situation S describes is actually more complex than yours, Wendy. Her ex-husband ruined his life through alcoholism and died young; her elder daughter began drinking, left her partner, almost lost custody of their child — and died (from medical complications to do with alcohol) at 44.

Now S’s other daughter drinks two bottles of wine a night and is transforming herself from a successful woman with a partner and friends (all drifting away) to a bloated alcoholic.

You, Wendy, will understand S’s final thoughts: ‘She’s extremely selfish . . . It’s depressing me and I want to run away. She calls me every day; I got her into counselling but she stopped after one session.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail...

‘I feel like turning my back on her, but then she’d have no one . . . I’ve written her a long letter, but she destroyed it. I’ve bought her self-help books. I feel I want to move away and let her carry on killing herself. What can I do?’

There is no easy, obvious answer to either desperate letter. Both of you know your daughters need urgent help and have suggested counselling — to no avail.

S has told her son (very angry with his sister) that her alcoholism is an illness, inherited from the father and passed on to two daughters.

Grief for a father may also have played a part in her daughter’s decline, as you, Wendy, believe it has done in Jade’s life. Her tendency to choose men who hurt her, physically or mentally, is very worrying and symptomatic of low self-esteem, to a destructive level.

Obviously, any addict has to want to get better, to find treatment, to change their life. Even then we all know how very hard it is to stay straight. Anguished parents can’t frogmarch adult relatives to a rehab clinic, much as they would like to.

Sometimes the alternative of stepping back (or even running away, as S says) is the only option — to protect your own mental health. Yet that is usually the last thing most suffering parents want to do — hence the terrible anguish within both these letters.

I hope you know about the service provided by Al-Anon (al-anonuk.org.uk). The more the alcoholic refuses support and persists in self-destruction, the more the family need support themselves — and that’s what Al-Anon offers. Its aim is to ‘help you find a different way of coping with your relationship with an alcoholic . . . either as a first port of call or when you feel you have run out of ideas and have nowhere else to turn.’

The meetings are attended by others united by the common bond of having to cope with a drinker.

But it’s not about persuading the person to give up alcohol, it’s all about you.

Talking to others who understand might help your frustration, disappointment and pain. Try the free helpline — call 0800 0086 811 — and see where it leads.

My widowed friend has got a new man

Dear Bel,

One of my oldest friends lost her husband three years ago. I had known them for years and was very fond of him. She was the last person I expected to start a relationship, but to my amazement she has and is madly in love with a new man.

She’s in her 70s, he’s a widower just a little older and very ‘suitable’: intelligent, charming and kind. But it feels so strange to hear about their holidays and see them out together — and now she has asked me and my husband to supper at her house.

The thought of seeing the new man sitting in her late husband’s place at the table is hard to deal with. I know this is wrong.

Do you have any thoughts?

SERENA

Rather than call your feelings ‘wrong’, I’d say they are entirely understandable.

Many of us have to face situations like this, especially as we become older. I felt like you when my late friend’s long-term partner found a new lady, about three years after her death. I had been so worried about him, grieving and unfit to be alone. Yet when he met a really lovely new woman, I flinched a little to see her in my old friend’s kitchen. Then felt guilty because I should have been rejoicing at his happiness.

These situations are at once complicated and simple. Sadness isn’t something you can just switch off; you’re perfectly entitled to miss the person who has gone and find it hard to adjust to change — even if the bereaved partner has. It’s important to recognise that he or she will almost certainly have endured regret, confusion and guilt in making the transition from sorrow to new happiness.

The grief for an old love is not forgotten, but carried forward within a big heart. Somebody who was happily married will often find a new romance relatively quickly, because they have learned the glorious habit of loving.

So please, take champagne to your friend’s house and realise that the man you miss is still there as he always was, but in spirit.

I’d like to think he is blessing the newfound happiness of the woman who never stopped being his wife, and never will — not even now her tears have dried.

Are my in-laws awful?

Dear Bel,

I have been widowed for over ten years and have two grown-up sons. The youngest is to marry this year — a long flight away. Despite my attempts to stay in contact with my late husband’s family, they don’t bother, yet my son has invited them all to the wedding. Only one cousin has accepted. I pointed out the costs involved in the trip, but he knows they have money.

I asked one of my in-laws to inquire about the invitation, but she doesn’t want to get involved. I am at a loss.

My son says he’s embarrassed by the fact they don’t reply; sometimes I feel he thinks I am to blame. Just after my husband’s death, I took his family on a lovely holiday on the understanding they would pay for some of the meals. They didn’t. I never said anything, but I was annoyed. So maybe this is all my fault.

STEPHANIE

It sounds (from your clearly expressed guilt) as if you did make it obvious to your in-laws that you resented their lack of sharing ten years ago. You might not have spoken a word on the subject, yet injured silence can be far more eloquent than shouting.

Whatever happened on that holiday, it was all a long time ago, at a painful period when the absence of your late husband must have loomed large for you all. You would all have needed mutual understanding, so it’s sad the feeling of estrangement grew.

But it did. Now, I honestly don’t see why who is or is not attending your son’s wedding should cause you this stress. If people have been discourteous, you can’t do much about it. A wedding on another continent will inevitably mean many no-shows, because of the time, as well as the money, involved. You’ve explained this to your son and he must surely understand.

You could send a note to each of the invitees saying you hope they can come, as you are so looking forward to celebrating with them. Make it true in your heart as you write the words. After that . . . well, your son is a grown man, so you must leave it to him and his fiancee to deal with. Start planning your own trip.

And finally... A poem to gladden the heart...

A handwritten note from a reader called Alasdair made me smile wryly — yet pleased me greatly.

He begins: ‘I confess I don’t usually read your column because people writing in with their personal issues is rather alienating to me and I really don’t want to read about them.’

But he then went on to praise something from ‘And Finally’ that week, which was a small mercy for your columnist because at least he’d read something!

Still, I thought it a shame that he so disapproves of people sharing their personal, private woes. Of course, this method of communication isn’t for everybody, but I’d love him to realise it can help and do good.

He then cheered me: ‘I know people sometimes send you poems so I thought I’d contribute my all-time favourite. It resonates with my soul — if I can say that without sounding pseudo and even pompous! This poem encapsulates my philosophy of life — that although there are bad people out there, they are outnumbered by the good.’

Here’s his choice, by the reclusive 19th-century American poet, Emily Dickinson:

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

That is perfect for an advice columnist — expressing why I love this job, even though it often makes me sad. It’s about the kind of selfless love for humankind and the world that we should all aspire to.

I found an interesting contradiction between the attitude of a man who didn’t want to read about the problems of others and the big-hearted soul choosing this favourite poem. Maybe Alasdair is more in touch with his feelings than he thinks.

PS: By the way, do take a look at my Valentine’s Day message on Mail Plus. Go to mailplus.co.uk