Dear Annie: I’m writing about my 53-year-old stepson, “Sam.” I helped to raise Sam starting when he was 11. His first mom was murdered with a handgun a year before. He was already difficult as a younger child and already into drugs, including alcohol. Things got worse. My husband and I made mistakes, mostly on the side of enabling. We’ve gotten some helpful counseling and learned a lot from Al-Anon.
Sam did a little therapy years ago and used to go to Alcoholics Anonymous, but he doesn’t anymore. Too bad. AA helped him.
Sam is smart and kind and sensitive and tends to set himself up to be exploited and codependent, perhaps as a way of buying friends. I ache to see his patterns change, but they are out of my control. A few years ago, he lost his house because he didn’t pay his mortgage. His dad and I had bailed him out a couple of times, through loans that never got entirely paid back despite the written agreements and careful repayment schedules; the last time, he chose not to tell us he was ignoring the legal notices in the mail.
We don’t give him guilt trips about the money or mention it or even care, really. It’s cheaper than college would have been. But I’m sure he feels a lot of guilt. He’s a sensitive and principled guy.
Sam now lives in a sleazy efficiency apartment about 10 minutes from us. At least it gives him some kind of community. He is holding down a job, and things seem stable financially. But he has stopped returning his father’s texts asking him to get together for breakfast, and there’s been no acknowledgment of the birthday check we mailed him last week. (This letter is not about wanting a thank-you note!) A couple of weeks ago, I got my son-in-law to call him and say, “Hey, phone your folks!” He did, and we had the usual upbeat chat. We made a breakfast date. But he ended up flaking on that.
My husband’s heart is quietly breaking. We aren’t demanding a lot of Sam’s time, and we know it’s his life to live as best he can. But total non-communication has meant bad things in the past.
My role these days is basically nagging his dad to text him one more time. (My husband of 40-plus years is a truly wonderful man, but he’s the passive/denying one; I’m the doer/rescuer. That’s not a brag.) Our lives are getting shorter every day, and we’ve already poured a lot of emotional energy into the sinkhole. Should we keep trying to get Sam to respond? Or what?
— Sad Stepmom
Dear Sad Stepmom: If it were that easy for you to detach from your stepson, you already would have. For most friends and family members of people with addiction, it’s difficult to set boundaries without outside support. I encourage you to give Al-Anon another shot. I think you’ll find that it actually helps retrieve some of your emotional energy from the sinkhole. It’s great that you went before, but Al-Anon, like Alcoholics Anonymous, is not a program you graduate from.
For more information and a list of meetings in your area, visit https://al-anon.org.