Posted by fxckfeelings on August 5, 2010Share This Post
We’ve talked many times on this site about how controlling other people is essentially impossible (at least in the long run, but you’d be surprised how obedient people are short-term when you have cake). That’s why pushing for someone else’s acceptance isn’t just hopeless, but when we put that need ahead of our own convictions and priorities, it’s downright dangerous. People in AA are taught right off the bat to accept what they can’t change, which is a valuable lesson to anyone, with or without booze (or cake).
My husband worries a lot about my drinking and depression but, to my mind, I don’t think my drinking is a problem and I don’t think I’d be depressed if I wasn’t worried that he’d leave me. For the sake of our marriage, I’ve agreed to stop drinking for a while and go to AA, but I really feel that my drinking wasn’t causing me any problems and that I’m doing this to make him happy, which makes me feel weak and angry. I want to get him to accept me the way I am before I can’t take it anymore.
You’re in a tough spot, because partnership really can’t work without acceptance, and acceptance is not something you can control. The more you force acceptance, the harder it is to achieve. Accept that, buddy.
If you try too hard to get his acceptance, you’ll hide whatever you think he won’t accept, which means putting your drinking in the closet and going to the mall instead of AA meetings.
On his end, if he tries too hard to make the relationship work, he’ll pretend you’re not really drinking or that you’re going to change, which also means no real acceptance.
The sad fact of life is that you are never going to change who you really are, which, at the very least, is a girl who enjoys drinking, and he’s going to have to take it or leave it. On the other hand, if you present the issue positively and he considers it realistically, maybe acceptance will occur, now that you’re not forcing it.
That’s why your goal shouldn’t be to win acceptance from your love; it’s to find out if your love can be accepting. He doesn’t need to like your drinking, but you need to know whether he can accept that it’s part of your package and accept the whole deal.
Instead of getting him to accept you the way you are, begin by accepting yourself. Forget how much you like to drink and ask yourself, on the basis of your own experience and what you’ve read, whether drinking gets in the way of anything you hold dear, like your health or making a living or being a good woman and a good friend. If in doubt, stop drinking for a while and see if there’s any difference.
Once you know your own mind, lay things on the line with your husband in a positive way. Of course, if you’ve come to agree that you’re a lush, let him know that you want to stop drinking because you believe you need to, and not to please him.
Otherwise, state your differences positively while letting him know how much you’d like him to accept you, if he can. If he can’t, then that’s a sad reality you both have to accept on your own.
Prepare a statement of your own views that is not overly reactive to his. “I respect your concern for my drinking and regret that it worries you. I’ve looked hard at how much it affects my health, work, and friendships. In the end, I don’t see it as causing me problems and, as much as I love you, it won’t help our relationship to appease unfounded fears. I hope you’ll accept my decision. Meanwhile, I think we should drop the topic of my drinking and, hopefully, move on to other things.”
My daughter is severely bipolar and lives with us so my wife and I can try to make sure she takes her meds and doesn’t hurt herself. We aren’t always successful—she’s practically an adult now and hates when we parent her—so she stopped taking her meds because she thought she didn’t need them anymore. Now she’s extremely manic, maybe using hard drugs, and extremely irritable. We’re absolutely helpless and there’s nothing we can do because she won’t talk to us. Our goal is to get her to listen to us, stop drugging, and get back on her meds.
Mental illness makes all families helpless; after all, it’s hard to have a dialogue with someone whose brain is diseased, irritable, inattentive and unresponsive. You’d have better luck reasoning with a rabid wolverine.
If you believe that your only power derives from your ability to have a heart-to-heart talk with her, then you are, indeed, helpless. The good news is, you’re wrong. After all, you can help wild horses improve their self-control without first teaching them English. Thus, you, too, can become a bipolar whisperer.
As parents and landlords, you control a number of powerful incentives, like access to money, car, refrigerator, shelter, and, oh yeah, money. That doesn’t mean you can control her or her illness, but it does mean you can create some pretty strong reasons for her to do the good things she needs to do.
Set rehabilitation goals for your daughter that you believe are truly essential, which will probably include sobriety, doing enough household chores in order to live independently, controlling violent behavior, and stopping sudden impulses from affecting her safety or treatment. Add or subtract from these core goals, based on your own experience and other parents’ war stories.
Once you know your priorities, announce them and back them up with rules and incentives for following them. I said announce, not converse. If you’re too worried about her anger or hurt or lack of understanding, you’ll be ineffective.
Don’t pick a fight, but don’t hold back on saying what you think with friendliness, conviction, and optimism. Tone of voice is as important as content. Don’t end sentences with a rising, Valley Girl inflection that asks for approval. Use the same calm, assertive energy praised by Cesar Millan.
Yes, there’s a risk that she’ll do something dangerous or force you to ask her to leave, but a bipolar-veteran parent knows how to manage crises without appearing to panic. It’s a risk you need to take, and be prepared for, because the alternative is way worse than facing an angry four-legged beast.
You need a statement that says, “This is what we believe, here are the rules that are required for self-control and independence and this, very simply, is what will happen if you don’t follow them. There are no punishments and we do not believe you are being stubborn or childish; but we will withhold privileges and, if necessary, ask you to live elsewhere for a while if we think it’s necessary, either because your behavior makes it impossible for us to live with you, endangers your safety, or blocks you from making progress.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname