I Need Help Dealing With My Angry and Alcoholic Mother

My mother is a very complicated woman

Posted Apr 18, 2017

Dear Dr. G., 
I'm having some extreme troubles with my mum. It's nothing out of the ordinary. It's been happening ever since I can remember, (I'm 18 now) and certainly hasn't improved at any point. My mum has extreme depression and anger problems. There has always been a substantial amount of screaming and shouting in the house. I am an only child with my dad who is very passive and just sits there taking her outbursts. There is a family history of depression and her own sister died due to alcohol and cigarettes which she used as medicine. My mum won't admit it but she's very similar to her. My mum drinks daily and in huge quantities. I always know when the wine comes out it's gonna be tempers flaring. My mum is a very kind and considerate woman who is loving and hilarious, until she teaches for wine or cigarettes, or has to deal with her own mum. My Nana is a controlling narcissistic person who we hate with a passion but the person who really can't cope with her is mum, which depresses her even more and makes her so aggressive to us. When I was younger these things drove me to suicidal thoughts and problems that school tried to help. She lost it at me when she found out I'd been speaking to outsiders. Sometimes she'll rage and be horrible but the next day when she's sobered up she'll cry and drag her feet around the house like a needy child. I've learned to ignore it. I no longer cry at everything she screams at me and occasionally I scream back which does cause me to cry because I hate loud noises or voices. Sometimes I'm walking on eggshells and she's just psychotic. Whether or not she has any other problems remains a mystery but wouldn't surprise me. Fortunately, I'm off to university this year and I can't wait to get out of here. Things are finally looking up but it's still hard and I'm surprised my dad is still with her after 26 years. I just wish she could change. 
Thank you for reading this, sometimes it really helps to let things out. It's very hard at times and people really don't understand how nasty she is. It's amazing the act she puts on sometimes.

A Distressed Daughter

Dear Daughter,

Your honesty is really moving. I am so deeply sorry that you have had to grow up in a home with an unpredictable mother and a passive father. I can certainly understand how confusing it must be to watch your father sit by passively as your mother engages in destructive and out-of-control behavior. Perhaps your father is afraid of your mother and provoking even more of her anger. Maybe he was raised in a family with similar dynamics and has learned that a lack of response to such behavior works best for him. My guess, without knowing your father, is that he is very likely sad and feeling helpless.

You describe your mother as being confusing because she is at times loving and at other times mean and aggressive. I can certainly understand why you have struggled with depression. Substance abuse can certainly alter a person's behavior and actions. My guess is that your mother really does love you but has a limited capacity to show it because of her own set of serious problems. And, experiencing aggression and cruelty from the mother who is supposed to be your biggest supporter could and in your case did lead to depression. It sounds like you are feeling better now. I certainly hope that that is the case. If these feelings of depression return you must see a therapist. Your mother does not need to know about this particularly given her reaction to your speaking to "outsiders" in the past.

Your mother may or may not change. I believe that it is essential for you to do everything in your power to protect yourself emotionally. Try as hard as you can to disengage from your mother when she is drinking, smoking and being cruel. Nothing good will come of engaging in interactions with your mother when she is under the influence of alcohol and emotionally out of control. Perhaps, you might benefit not only from individual therapy but also from Al-Anon-support groups for family members of alcoholics. We all benefit from social support and knowing that we are not alone. You also should not wait until you become seriously depressed before seeking treatment. As you said, sometimes letting things out can provide one with a profound sense of relief. I wish you the best of luck.