In Addiction Recovery, Sometimes Distancing Yourself From Troubled Ones is Necessary

In 1977, when I was 6 months sober, my husband received orders for us to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was especially a great move for me because I stayed there after my husband was redeployed to Okinawa. we were separated legally when he left and I was able because of the remote location to take a huge time-out from my immediate family.

Other authors’ views about distancing from families:

1.  From Through an Al-Anon Filter: “A Question About Distancing.”

“Is it okay to distance myself from a family member who continues to treat me with sarcasm and rudeness?”

– what’s on my mind today, are the sufferings we endure, when our fear precludes our setting boundaries around unacceptable behavior. I accepted many years of abuse – physical, emotional, verbal – because my self-image was so damaged that I didn’t believe I had the right to say, “No more!”

When I was a kid, whatever happened behind the closed doors of a family home was the inhabitant’s business, and no-one would interfere, as long as it didn’t become blatant.

Things are somewhat different now, at least with the justice system in this country. If I were to call the police because the neighbor was screaming abuse at his wife and kids, they’d come out and talk to him, give him both a warning as to his behavior, and options for seeking treatment for anger management.

But how many of us convince ourselves, that we have no choice but to accept unacceptable behavior, for one reason or another? I know I struggled for years with feelings of hurt and distress, with “jokes” which were nothing of the sort, they were thinly-veiled insults. If I protested, I’d be asked, “Can’t you take a joke?” or be told, “I was only kidding.”

It wasn’t until I decided that I was going to challenge each and every one of these “not-jokes,” that they diminished in frequency. As long as I tolerated them, the alcoholic used them as a way to take digs at me, without having to take responsibility for what he was doing.

I have to decide what I will, and will not, accept from another person. If I allow myself to be treated abusively, it’s likely the person abusing me is going to continue with that behavior, because it works for them.
I can lean on the support, experience, strength and hope of my friends in Al-Anon, as I set new boundaries. If I quietly and calmly state that I will be treated with respect, or I will remove myself – from the room, the house, or the relationship – I’m letting this person know that things have changed, and it’s not going to be the way it has been. When I act with calm dignity, it’s because I’ve had an internal change, and this is how it’s manifesting itself – in a desire to be treated with the respect that I deserve.

We all have to decide for ourselves how we are going to deal with family – I don’t give specific advice, but I do suggest that you talk to other people in Al-Anon, and find out how they’ve dealt with this problem in their lives. We get tunnel vision; another viewpoint can be helpful.

2.  From Dr. David Mallen writing at Family Dysfunction and Mental Health Blog: “Distancing: Early Warning”:

A letter writer to the advice column Dear Abby, an adult woman, complained about her mother’s clinginess. The writer said that the mother had had “no time for me when I was growing up” and had been verbally abusive, having even told her daughter that she wished she had aborted her.

After the mother’s husband (presumably the writer’s stepfather) died, the letter writer explained, the mother would call the writer at work at 8 a.m. demanding that she drive 20 miles on her lunch break to bring the mother food. Mom would also make frantic phone calls at 2 a.m. demanding the daughter come sit with her because she was “lonely,” but when the daughter arrived, Mom would be asleep! Mom would call the daughter at least four or five times a day.

An adult male patient of mine told a somewhat at analogous story. His mother was constantly calling and demanding that he come and wait on her hand and foot. She would almost always call at times that she knew were the most inconvenient for him – as if he had nothing else to do- and was incessantly criticizing him for not paying more attention to her. The things that she wanted him to do for her were tasks that she could have easily done herself, or that she could have easily afforded to pay someone else to do to.

When the son did things for her, however, the mother was never satisfied. Either the jobs were not done quite right, or there were more to do than he could finish. Oddly, the mother was also constantly criticizing herself for taking up so much of his time.

Yet another adult male patient was constantly “on call” for his hypochondriac mother. Earlier in her life, she had been able to run several businesses behind the scenes (there were male figureheads), but now she could not seem to do anything for herself. One of her favorite pastimes was getting “sick” just as the patient had packed up his family to go on vacation – her son would then dutifully cancel the whole trip.

3.  Ideas for how to distance yourself from your family from Help:

Two years ago I was in the same spot. I just needed to get away from my family. I love them very very much but it was emotionally dangerous for me to continue staying with them. I would suggest that you look into where you want to move and then start sending resumes out to places in that area. I didn’t have this site or anyone else to talk to when I made my decision so I went about it the wrong way. I just picked up and moved one day.

I met someone online and they agreed to help me move my stuff. I packed everything, and said goodbye to everyone and left. I had no job and no backup plan if things with me and the guy didn’t work out. And it didn’t work out. He packed all my stuff up and shipped it back to NY. But I still said I could not be by my family.

So I have moved back to WV and have been building my life up a little at a time. I don’t want you to go through this. So, please look into where you want to go and stuff like that. BTW, I still talk to my family and visit occassionally but they know that if they start with the crap that I went through before, I will hang up the phone or just get up and leave.

Photo credit.

One thought on “In Addiction Recovery, Sometimes Distancing Yourself From Troubled Ones is Necessary

  1. WOW! This post is confirming. In my recovery from childhood abuse and growing up with an alcoholic step-father I have too raised my standards and said no more! I trust my inner radar and I say NO to abuse on all ends. I’ve attracted Narcissist being Co-dependent, but my recovery has taught me that boundaries are a must! I congratulate you on your courage to move because that takes strength, determination and self-love!

    -Alysia Price (blog currently under constriction)

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