DEAR ABBY: I'm running out of energy to compassionately relate with all the addicts and mentally ill people in my family. My mother is an alcoholic. My aunt is bipolar and schizophrenic. She is addicted to and abusing prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety medicines.
My husband is an alcoholic in denial who lies about his alcohol consumption, and my stepmother is mentally abusive and, I strongly suspect, also bipolar. These people are all retired, while I work a physically and mentally demanding full-time job.
I'm usually the one who is blamed when things don't go right. Mother asked me to remove all alcohol from her home so she could stop drinking. When I didn't find it all, it was my fault she drank. I escorted my aunt on a cruise during which she abused drugs to the point she could barely walk, and I had to find her wheelchairs at every stop. Now I hear she is blaming me for her illness.
When my husband drinks, he runs up our credit card to the tune of $20,000. My job with medical benefits allowed him to retire from his job. My stepmother no longer communicates with my brother and me and seems to be alienating my father from his family.
I'm exhausted! I don't think I can take much more. I know you'll tell me to see a counselor, but I'm the one who has the full-time job and little vacation/sick time I can use. Short of "divorcing" all of them and starting a new life in an undisclosed location, what advice can you offer? -- NEARLY SUCKED DRY
DEAR NEARLY: Since you can't get away to see a counselor because of the demands of your job, pick up a couple of books on co-dependency and read them cover-to-cover. Then practice protecting yourself by learning to say "No!" when an alcoholic makes you responsible for clearing the booze out of her house, or a drug-addicted relative invites you to take a "vacation" that guarantees you'll become her nurse. Discuss with a lawyer how to separate your finances from your deadbeat husband so he can't dig you deeper into debt the next time he chooses to go on a bender. You don't have to "divorce" anyone as long as you learn how to draw the line.
P.S. Al-Anon can be reached toll-free at (888) 4AL-ANON ((888) 425-2666). There are meetings at various times in many locations. Check it out.
DEAR ABBY: My sister is always late sending birthday presents to my kids -- sometimes up to a month or two after their birthdays. I find it disrespectful and a bad example, so I asked that she either send them on time or not at all. It did no good. She complained that I am being "unfair to hold her to a deadline."
My sister has all year to plan around these events, and I feel she needs to be more responsible. It's affecting our relationship. Please advise. -- CALENDAR GAL, ROCHESTER, N.Y.
DEAR CALENDAR GIRL: If you could see all of the letters I receive from readers complaining that they receive no gifts, you would realize that your children are lucky to be remembered. While I agree that sending birthday presents as long as a month or two after the fact sends a message that their special day is not of primary importance to your sister, please do not let this create a rift. Explain to your children that Auntie loves them, but she is extremely disorganized. (A "ditz"!)
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