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Controlling alcoholic about to lose last friend

Amy Dickinson

October 6, 2013

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Dear Amy: We have a friend who is a controlling alcoholic. Her husband of over 25 years divorced her seven years ago due to her abusive behavior. The only one surprised by their divorce was her. Her own adult children knew it was only a matter of time.

My friend denies she has a drinking problem, partly because she is able to function at her job. Her drinking gets so bad in the evenings that if you speak with her after 8 p.m., she has no recollection of the telephone conversation. The next day she will say the exact same thing, and if you tell her she is repeating herself she gets angry.

I have asked her if she thinks she has a drinking problem, and she says no. She is so controlling that she will tell you how to drive, she demands you lower the radio, tells you where to park the car, where to sit, what to order in a restaurant, how to pay the bill — and she will scold you if you do things different from how she wants.

I am the last remaining friend in our once happy group of four. Everyone else has jumped ship. It is too much work to be friends with her. I have chosen to see her on a very limited basis, and I try to limit our telephone chats.

I guess I feel sorry for her because deep down inside I feel she is a caring, nice person. She brings up the other friends who don't call her anymore or stop by to see her. She says she can't figure out what she has done. I don't want to be the one to say to her that at our age she is just too much work to be friends with.

What do you suggest?

— Tired of the Work

Dear Tired: In addition to this friendship being very frustrating for you, it must also be heartbreaking. Now that she has lost almost everything, rather than ask her if she has a drinking problem, it is time to be a very brave friend — and tell her she has a drinking problem.

Let her know, "Your drinking is killing you, and it is killing our friendship. Please get help." Write your own script in your own words, and practice it. Talk to her in person, when she is sober. Expect her to respond in anger. And repeat: "I care about you. Please get help." You can point her toward local AA meetings and offer to meet her for coffee afterward. But she is responsible for making the commitment to sobriety; this is something you cannot do for her.

Dear Amy: My heart goes out to "Shattered Dad," who is left to raise three teenagers on his own while struggling with his own grief.

Like Shattered Dad's wife, my mom died suddenly, leaving behind 15- and 13-year-old daughters with a shocked dad who couldn't boil water or relate to girls.

In hindsight, we may have benefited by counseling, but instead we pushed through with the help of extended family and friends. While devastated, my father showed his strength by working and providing financial stability.

Tell Shattered Dad to build healthy relationships with his children and make new family memories because they won't be home forever. Share stories of their mom that will help them know her as a person and better understand their character and choices. Be patient, as things will get better over time.

Not a day goes by that I don't miss my mom, but I'm grateful she chose the mate she did. I say to this Shattered Dad: Be strong, have faith and courage. Take life day by day. You can do it.

— Grateful Daughter

Dear Daughter: Many readers responded to this grief-stricken father. I hope he reads this response and takes heart. Thank you.

Dear Amy: "Bewildered" wrote to you, complaining about children not opening their birthday gifts at their party.

I remember feeling jealous watching the birthday kid open his gifts on his birthday. I assume parents are trying to avoid this.

— Reader

Dear Reader: It's better to deal with this very human reaction than to enable it by avoiding it. Coping with these feelings is how children learn and grow.