Childrearing

Mothering Amy Winehouse: When Your Child Is An Addict

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My children are too young to be faced with substance abuse problems, but my sister-in-law is a serious alcoholic. Years ago, when my husband and I were just friends, he confided to me about his sister’s problem. Even though he was only a young boy when she left for college, he loves his sister dearly. The only times I’ve ever seen him cry have been over her. Her addiction has shaped much of his family’s dynamic.

She was already having problems in high school and by her first year of college, she had given birth to a son. The family wasn’t aware she was pregnant until they got a call that she was in the emergency room. My father-in-law had suggested that the child be put up for adoption. The suggestion alone caused many problems and other family members forbade any discussion of it. Sadly, though, they didn’t do a good job of helping my sister-in-law raise a son. He was brought up in a home with a mother who was drunk much of the time, with a series of men coming in and out, and absolutely no structure or discipline. He’s currently facing prison time on drug related charges.

My sister-in-law, a very bright and educated woman, is unemployed and living off the grid. She has shacked up with some asshole of epic proportions who beats her up. To be sure, she beats him up, too. They say they’re getting married. I forget which marriage that will be for her. She’s only employable in spurts and my in-laws made the decision long ago that they’d rather put her up in a house than see her dead in the gutter. That’s how they see their options. They feel a bit guilty about whatever decisions they made in her youth and fear that it wouldn’t be fair to put her on her own now.

Another sister-in-law is married to a recovering alcoholic. He’s of the mind that this is just straight up enabling. He says that while they may be right, the only certain thing is that she’ll never get better without hitting the proverbial rock bottom.

A few months ago, things got very bad. There was the domestic violence problem and her neighborhood association was actually taking steps to evict her (something they can do according to the laws that govern where she lives). My in-laws sounded like they’d had enough. They gave her an ultimatum and told her she’d have to vacate the house they’ve put her up in. They gave her a deadline. It passed. I don’t think anything’s happened. And I know why. They want her to get better. They’re sick of her lies and manipulation and the devastation and havoc she’s wreaked everywhere but they worry that if they do pull the plug on the copious financial assistance, she’ll end up dead.

Substance abuse “runs” in my husband’s family, whatever that means. A lot of them are addicts or recovering addicts. I don’t particularly view the illness as hereditary but it did concern me when I married him. I’ve wondered what I would do if one of my kids started down that path.

And let me just say, there are a million things I’d do differently than my own in-laws. Things I’m doing differently right now while my children are young.

But I can’t be as judgmental as I used to be about enablers. It’s much more difficult than I’d ever imagined.