Baggage Check Mental Health Advice: When texts and visits are too much, how can you draw boundaries?

Jan 07, 2020

Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Bonior was online to take your questions about relationships, family, mental health, motivation, work-life balance, well-being, and more. Read past Baggage Check columns here.

Get mental health tips and an early glimpse at Dr. Andrea's next book "Detox Your Thoughts" by following Dr. Andrea on Facebook or Instagram.

Important disclaimer: this chat should not be considered a substitute for one-on-one psychotherapy, and is for general informational purposes only. (Dr. Andrea's advice on 80s song lyrics and snacking, however, is completely official.)

Welcome back, all.

It is a new year and I am so very happy to be here.

It feels strange having had the time off, but I hope these weeks have been restful and rejuvenating for you. And if not? Let's talk about it.

In the meantime, a few things I've put together in the interim: some important but often overlooked questions to ask before you get engaged; some steps to take if you recognize that you yourself may be a controlling partner, and how to cancel plans without being a *&%$ about it

Let's go!

Hi Dr. Bonior, I am looking for a little advice in helping to say no to people via text. Upon some reflection, I've realized I need to say no to more people in my life. This mostly relates to some extended family members who constantly ask to spend time with my toddler daughter. I would be fine with it once a month-ish, they would prefer several times a week of visits and facetime calls. These relatives drive me crazy for a variety of reasons and I'm constantly drained or anxious afterwards. My new resolution is to feel more confident saying no and suggesting a date in the future. But all of these relatives text me, not call me, to ask. And a cheerful "sorry that won't work but how about x?" with a smile just doesn't translate over text. I find that I could say these things and feel okay, but they all like to text me midday when we are all at work. I now am stressing over how to frame these text messages without hurting feelings. Do I just say no with a smiling emoji? I know this sounds like a small issue, but I am feeling a lot of stress about how to set my boundaries.

It's not a small issue; it's an important one and you are certainly not alone feeling discomfort over saying no and setting appropriate boundaries.

I never thought I'd say this, but.... emojis can be a beautiful thing.

If they are choosing to initiate these conversations over text, then they have to be prepared for texted answers back. But yes, you can add some nuance and some softening with some emojis. "Today won't work-- sorry! But we would love to see you on X date. Smiley." 

Of course, if this repeats ad nauseam, then you have to think about a larger, more substantial conversation when you are face to face. ("I wanted to let you know that as Toddler and my schedules are changing, it's becoming less feasible to do weekly visits, but I would love to carve out times each month, in advance, that work for both of us. I know how much you want to spend time with her and that does mean a lot to me and her.")

Now, I don't want to step on toes here, but depending on what it is that makes you drained in their presence, does that also apply to your not wanting them to spend time with her alone? That could be totally justifiable-- obviously your call. BUT if it is the type of thing where they drive you a little bananas when you are there for whatever reason, but they are loving and responsible with her, then you might start thinking about ways that they could have time without you there. That could be a godsend and a win-win. Maybe they take her to an activity sometimes, etc. But again, I'm not sure why they drive you crazy, so that might be out of the question.

But start setting those boundaries. It's going to be great practice and set a good precedent-- and also it will be good modeling for your daughter to see someday.

An odd question, but how private do you consider this site? Obviously people don’t use their own names and they can determine how much personally identifiable info to share, but are there ways for readers/you to know the writer’s identity? If someone posts about a blue car blocking their driveway, could the blue car driver ever find out who wrote the post? This is not a great example because it would likely be the driveway owner, but you know what I mean. Just curious because we have to login to read your column so it may be less anonymous that it feels. By the way, fingers crossed for the column’s longtime continuation! I really enjoy it.

I totally understand these concerns. And a lot of us shared them when some of the changes came about!

But I am assured by Yu, chat maven to top all chat mavens, that there is no way to tie email addresses to your chat submissions-- and I trust that wholeheartedly.

Yes, some hacker robot could maybe do something with an IP address... but your IP address is anywhere and everywhere, so it's no different from anywhere else.

I am quickly getting out of my element here.

Bottom line-- I hear you, and I wish there was some way of assuaging these concerns. But you are fully anonymous to me and other chatters, and always will be.

Hello, Dr. Bonior. Are your REALLY here? If so, oh happy day!

ha! I am here, but am I here? Are any of us really here?

(Actually, I almost wasn't here-- literally. I would NOT recommend the DC-area roads right now. A combination of early releasing school days, icy-ish stuff starting to fall, and some ill-timed post-holiday construction projects. I think I actually went backwards at one point.)

Don't answer their texts when it's during your workday. Don't answer them at all if you don't want to. Get them used to the idea that you are not constantly at their disposal.

Excellent point.

The immediacy of texting-- and its intrusiveness-- has sort of screwed us all, I think.

There is a popular belief that shrinks' offices are overwhelmed in January by people who either didn't get want they wanted for Christmas (materially or emotionally), or whose New Year's resolution is "I'm finally gonna fix this." What's your experience like after the holidays?

I definitely see something of an uptick in calls, but it's not super significant. There are other upticks as well-- the end of summer/beginning of Fall when people are back to reality and wanting to schedule things, etc.

It's never a bad time to work on things, of course! But you are right in that the new year may provide some extra motivation to work on oneself-- like what we see in gyms every January.

Let them know that you will be not be able to answer texts until after work - especially if they are wanting to come by that day!

Yes!

Goodness, it starts to seem a little overwhelming, even vicariously, if that's what's going on. Better boundaries are essential. Thanks.

Thank you so much for these chats! This is maybe an odd question but I have no idea how to approach a family member (A) who has kept some objects that were directly left to me by a deceased family member (B) in the will. At the time of B's death, I was a child and so A said that she would keep these items until I came of age. I'm now 40. She has refused to give them to me because these items remind her so much of B and she cannot bear to be without them. These are not objects she uses daily but ones I would use daily and they remind me of A. Am I stepping upon her grief if I insist on having them? Grief is tricky but I also feel a bit manipulated. The last time we discussed this was a few years ago and I'll be visiting her this Spring. Thank you!

Ouch.

I think it depends on your overall relationship with the family member. This is a different conversation if it is your mother versus your cousin, of course.

But let's be clear: these items were, and are, rightfully yours. And although we can empathize with her grief, squatters' rights do not apply here. She had a responsibility to maintain those objects on your behalf... not to turn them into gifts for herself.

I'm not sure exactly what "refusal" means here-- and how hard you've pushed. But ultimately, yes, you need to revisit it. And if she still refuses, then you do a cost-benefit analysis to yourself of what is more important to you-- the relationship with her or the objects.

But no, it's not fair and it's not right... and manipulation is not out of the question here (especially if there is monetary value in these objects.)

Chatters?

You don't HAVE to use your regular email address -- or Facebook, Twitter etc. -- to sign up here. You can create an account with a disposable email used only for that purpose, and you can kill that email after you register. Don't give up more information than you have to.

Excellent point.

Not that I am officially endorsing this.

Nope, not me. But Bernardina Schrumpletick (who has an excellent aol address) just may be.

Been reading your column for a few months and have found it and other readers’ comments/advice very informative. My dad is dying a slow, painful death of lung fibrosis. My 17 yr old son is extremely close to him and has had to witness the person he loves most in the world suffer. Anyone have any books or recommendations to support him through his grief?

I am so very sorry-- to all of you. His own pain, the impending loss of your father, and your son's loss of his beloved grandfather.

I am a fan of David Kessler's work on grief-- and though I haven't read his latest, it's about finding meaning in grief and it may be helpful if your 17 year-old is the type to be okay with the grownup self-help genre.

Does anyone know of any books that are more specifically geared toward teens?

I am also a big fan of grief groups-- both online and in person. You might do some looking to see if there is anything that might be a fit there too.

In the meantime, make sure he understands that he can talk to you, that feelings can change quickly and come intensely and in waves, that there is no "normal"-- and that any feeling is okay. And that if he needs further help, you will help him get it.

He also may find real meaning in being able to plan some moments with his grandfather that help him take something with him. I know there are even companies that help people tell the stories of their lives, in written or video form... that may not be a fit for everyone, but it could be a way of solidifying their bond and him even getting to know his grandfather on a new level... and also giving him something tangible to hold onto after he is gone.

Please do keep us posted.

Of course that's what's going on. The OP said, " they would prefer several times a week of visits and facetime calls." This would be a ridiculous amount of Them Time even if one parent were a stay at home; it's seriously intrusive in a two-working-parent household (which I take to be the case since the OP said "when we are at work"). These relatives really need to scale back their demands. I understand the desire when it's the first grandchild on both sides, but "several times a week" is obviously more than "a little overwhelming."

Yes, I don't disagree.

My "if that's what's going on" was referring more to the texts asking while at work that very day if they could come over that very night, but either way, your point is well taken.

Hi Dr Bonior, How can I best support my parents going thru a health issue when I live across the country? My dad is receiving treatment for cancer and is doing well all things considered. My mom is the steadfast caregiver and reluctant to give up control of anything. I've offered to make phone calls, etc, where I can, but are there are other areas I can assist without getting in the way or insinuating my mom can't do it all?

I had reserved this and not answered before because I thought it might be a duplicate that I might have already answered....but I don't know that it is, so I am answering just in case!

I think you ask your Mom what she'd like, and you offer certain specifics and get feedback on whether that would be helpful. You can empathize and acknowledge what may or may not be helpful for her: ("I know you might actually feel better if you're the one doing XYZ, but if that's not the case, I would love to take it over. How about I do X and we see how it goes? Or Y? What would you like?")

Needs are so idiosyncratic in these cases. And I don't think there's a better way to find out than to ask her in particular.... even if she is hesitant to relinquish any responsibility, that's where you can test with a few specifics to see if maybe she can think about it a little differently.

But if not-- just being there emotionally is so, so important. And maybe encouraging her to take time for herself, maybe checking in with some friends of hers to see if they can intervene and get her away for little breaks every once in a while.

The great thing about texting is that you can take your time to reply. replies do not have to be instant. Consider setting up a schedule - whatever works you. every x days from -- to -- there will be some protests. they'll learn to adjust. You are in control of your life. you have to be.

I like this.

I think texts are designed to FEEL like they need an instant reply, though. A lot of people struggle with the leaving-hanging part, and that's part of the larger insidious nature of the smartphone.

Like with group texts... I think we're seriously getting to the point where chronic, always-going group texts are messing with people's serenity and frying people's calm. I've talked to more than a few people about it, and I think it's only getting worse.

A wonderful friendship with our neighbors ended dreadfully. Now I'm left with sadness, anxiety, and a sickening dread whenever I see their house, which is of course all the time. Suggestions on coping?

I am sorry. This stinks, no two ways about it.

I think you need a reframe in your head about the meaning of what happened. Yes, it was dreadful and awful. Yes, it is unfortunate that it happened and you wish you didn't. But you need a new story to tell yourself about what you are taking away from this. Lessons learned? Resilience? When you feel the sadness and anxiety, try to narrow down the exact thoughts that you are telling yourself in the moment that are bringing that on, and counter them. Some of them may very well be distortions, like This will never get easier or You can't ever trust people after all. You can develop new messages to try to insert there instead, like "Life has difficulties at times, but these experiences can build strength" and "Relationships are meaningful and they really hurt when they end, which is partly because of how important they can be to our lives."

But most of all, let yourself grieve. This will take time, no doubt. If whatever the situation was rose to the level of a trauma-- it happens-- you might consider getting some help too.

Again, I am sorry this happened.

I stumbled upon this chat a couple of months ago and have found it helpful. I didn't -- and still don't -- know much about mental health and therapy, but I've come to suspect that I might have at least a mild form of depression. I think my job is one of the things that's contributing to it, although it's also true that I've felt like this at least on and off for a few years, going back to when I working somewhere else. At the very least, I dislike going to work every day. I'd really like to quit. But I don't have any idea of what I'd do next if I did quit, and finding another job in my current field wouldn't be a snap. And it seems to me that I need my job to earn money to pay for things -- therapy, medication -- that might help me beat this apparent depression. Do I just have to tough it out and stay at this job until I beat it, or are there any other options? (Sorry if this is a FAQ.)

I'd be leary of creating false dichotomies here.

You can explore other job options-- and maybe even get a new one-- without giving up your income.

Just like you can explore ways of thinking differently and feeling differently without committing to therapy and medication (and yes, it is very unlike me to say that, but since we're talking about potential mild depression rather than more severe, I feel comfortable not necessarily directing you right to someone's office.)

And what can help with that is looking for patterns. Doing some work on observing yourself-- the connection between your thoughts and your mood, days that feel better, days that feel worse, how your physical body plays into all of it, whether you have cognitive traps that you fall into that are distorting your thinking. You can start reading about CBT and ACT ("The Happiness Trap" is an excellent primer on the second, and "The Liberated Mind"-- by the founder of ACT, Steven C. Hayes-- just came out as well. I'm hoping to have him on the chat soon, in fact!)

So-- there are many baby steps to be had here. Good luck.

If it was put in writing, contact a lawyer. But only if you decide it's important enough to you.

Makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

Would she open to having some respite care for a few hours where she doesn't even have to go out but can relax with a book? Being there for her is epic!

That would be so great if so! I often hear of steadfast caregiver types being rather resistant to that, but it's an excellent suggestion.

For children in general, there's Jill Krementz's classic "How It Feels When A Parent Dies." It covers all ages (including older teens), genders, and a wide range of causes of death (both slow and sudden).

Thank you!

I assume this could be generalized to a grandparent?

If mom doesn't want to give up control for helping dad, ask Mom what she would like for self-care. Coffee gift card, massage, movie gift cert .... having just been primary caregiver, I dig it.

Always wonderful to hear firsthand advice. Thanks!

is there no chance of the friendship being revived? can both parties agree to disagree on the offending topic? can the offenders be isolated? - for example, if it is a fight between your kids, maybe you can keep your friendship and let the kids sort it out? you'll have to wait for things to cool down first, of course.

There was a part of me that wanted to go there, but I figured if that was a factor here, OP would have mentioned it.

And sadly, as much as I am pro- friendship restoration when appropriate, there are some things that you just can't recover from. I've seen them, for sure.

I have conveyed concerns to therapists who weren't mine: a roommate who was talking about suicide, a spouse whose meds were causing more problems than they solved. I don't think it's unethical to call the therapist. What would be unethical is if the therapist shared things back. I got a "thank you for calling." Which I think was completely in bounds.

Yes. This is in reference to a previous discussion where someone was concerned that confidentiality and ethical guidelines would mean that a concerned loved one (I believe it was the Mom of a college-aged daughter) couldn't convey those concerns to the loved one's therapist. Confidentiality laws certainly don't dictate what you can say to someone's therapist... they only dictate what the therapist can say back.

Thanks.

Could you enlist another family member to be with you when you ask/demand that your property be handed over? She's gotten away with stealing from you, but she might not be willing to be so obviously stingy with another relative there to observe.

Interesting point.

Again, the bottom line consideration seems to be to what extent OP wants to escalate this.

Because things could definitely escalate!

A woman I know casually from our daughters' sport has been posting more and more alarming personal statements on Facebook over the last month. From "there is no joy and can't be," to "I'm at the Corner Bar getting drunk." She posts something alarming several times a week. I think, but don't know that she and her husband are divorcing/separating; he might have been abusive; I know they are in tight financial straits; I know she's unhappy. They have two teenaged, nice kids. Is there any sort of effective, caring but not deeply involved (I can't move her in with us, I could give her money, I can't take the kids in) thing that outsiders can do? If she posted a suicide notice on FB, I'd call the sheriff's department immediately, but she's posting just shy of that. I'm worried. I want to help. I may not be able to help.

Yes, this is alarming, but there's no way to tell whether this is just her way of emoting or whether they are significant cries for help.

Or somewhere in between.

I always recommend erring on the side of safety, though.

So I would use the method that you usually communicate with this person-- text? In person? Email? Facebook? and reach out. If you usually are just sitting near each other in the bleachers and there is no way to replicate that for a private conversation, then I would choose the method that feels most comfortable for you.

No need to be alarmist or anything, but just make yourself available as an empathetic ear. "Nicole, I've seen some of your posts on Facebook and I'm so sorry that you've been going through some stuff lately. If you ever want to talk, I'm here. It worries me a bit to see how much you're dealing with and I'd like to help if I can."

Have any chatters successfully navigated the FB-acquaintance-drama-minefield in this way?

Is mom trying to say "if you want to help, show up and be here" ? maybe go for a few visits?

Good point. It may not be completely feasible, but it's an important thing to consider if it hasn't been already.

I've experienced something similar. But it's not their house that upsets me, just seeing the neighbors themselves outdoors.

I'm sorry.

I hope it gets easier!

I'd love to hear from the OP from the last chat as to what she and her husband decided to do regarding visiting her FIL over the holidays. Did they go? If so, how did she handle the medication storage concern. Sure hope all is going well with her pregnancy.

Thank you. I would love to hear too.

OP, are you out there?

I think my partner is depressed. He is persistently negative, inflexible, and very defensive. I’ve tried to bring up simple issues lately as well as proposed solutions to make life easier —I’m not just dumping! But life seems too hard for him. He rejects any suggestions or request and turns things around so we are arguing about something entirely different. He then says things I think should be directed at his difficult parent (terminally ill, but still kicking). I feel like an actor dropped into the wrong play. I have some big things to talk about as my life/work situation is not sustainable. But I’ve been delaying because I don’t believe he will hear me out and work with me on a solution. Any suggestions?

So, is this new?

Or has he always been like this?

That part is unclear to me.

Because it's a very different conversation if this is just who he is. (And I'm not saying that that would mean it wasn't also depression, just that if depression is his normal, then it's much harder to get him to see that it is an issue, and get him motivated to work on it. Some would even argue that it's not as fair to expect him to change.)

But either way, it's clear that whatever this is is something that is also preventing you from being the person you want to be and having the type of supportive and collaborative relationship that you would like to have. So, that's not very sustainable (or at least it shouldn't be.)

The fact that he is very defensive, of course, is going to make it even harder for him to see where you are coming from. So you have to decide how hard to nudge, and whether you want to venture into Ultimatumville.

"I've tried to bring this up several times before, and it never goes the way I intend. But the truth is, I am feeling pretty alone. There are big questions in my life right now that I would love to talk to you about, and yet you're not really there. I feel like your negativity and defensiveness make it very difficult to connect with you. I feel really stuck. How can we move forward here?"

Take along a few people for support, go to her place, and demand that she hand it over. it is harder to deny in front of a group of people. if possible get a few of her people - like her kids - to be on your side

Another vote for the strength of numbers!

That was my question. I submitted it a while ago, but thanks for answering. I should let you know that I've since started therapy and medication. I haven't found therapy very useful -- in fact, you answered a question from me about it recently -- but the medication seems to have made a big difference, because I feel a lot better. (Or else it's just a placebo effect.) I'm still dealing with some stuff, but I feel much better about work and so much better about life in general. I didn't realize until now how far I'd traveled from my normal self.

Ah... so some of the leftover questions are starting to answer themselves with time!

(I could use some help on my promptness, clearly.)

I am sorry that the therapy didn't seem to be helpful, but so glad that the medication has made such a difference.

And I'd be the last to knock the placebo effect, even if it's a part of it. After all, it involves psychological factors that are real and tangible-- it's not like it's fake news.

Either way, I am so glad that things are looking up. Thanks for this update.

Happy New Year! I am the mom of the son from the chat before the holidays (https://live.washingtonpost.com/baggage-check-live-20191217.html#5830417 ) with the son who found in a girl's closet half-dressed. Thanks to Dr. B and the chatters for your feedback! As some suggested would happen, this event has resulted in a better, more honest relationship with my son--more like it used to be before 7th grade. We've continued to talk a lot about relationships, consent, condoms, peer pressure, etc. I do think he's come to an understanding about why the lying/omission part of it all was such a big deal to the adults in his life. Over the holidays there was much more time to spend together and he kept me updated on all sorts of things to the point where he said, "mom, this is what honesty looks like," when i sort of grimaced about some of the drama of current teen life (he found this to be hilarious). A nice result of everyone's advice to me came NYE when he was chatting about some nuanced drama in his friend group. I don't know what precipitated it, but he said, "mom, my friends say I am so lucky to have an authentic relationship with you where I can talk to you. They wish they could be honest with their parents too." Again, thanks to all for their feedback and to Dr. B for the especially great analogy of being a lighthouse.

This is so great to hear! Thanks so much for writing in.

I'm so glad that it's had this outcome. And there will still be fits and starts-- there's never a situation in parenting a teenager where the closing credits role as everyone hugs and laughs and eats pizza and the relationships are forever sealed in an idyllic state-- not to mention there will be times when he needs more privacy again as he figures things out on his own. But I have no doubt you'll be able to weather future hiccups far better. He sounds like a great kid (young man!), and you've clearly built a solid foundation with him.

My mother seems to take joy in re-writing history. While I was the Brainiac Child in high school, she seems to remember my stoner sister as being the high achiever. While I did start at a few colleges, it was mostly because I would arrive there and find that neither she nor my father had paid my tuition nor would give me the information I needed to apply for financial aid- they were going through a long contemptuous divorce. I finally made it through school working full time and on scholarships until I received my Masters with high honors. Yet, I am called the child who would not move out. While I work in the medical profession, my sister's work is really important because she is running her own sports studio (complete with store)that really impacts people's lives. When I posted about my daughter and her athletic skill in a new sport, she writes about how I wasn't interested in it in high school. It seems especially strange that my mother has never even tried this, or for that matter, any sport. My mother's stories may have some truth in it (I did live with my mother periodically while in school) but my sister also moved back in with my mother after she went through her 2nd divorce. All her memories seem to be slanted to make me the bad guy when all I can remember is my sister mouthing off at our family dinners, dropping out of college, getting divorced and sleeping with a married man, who is now her 3rd husband!

I always think that I'll write a book on adult-sibling issues someday. Granted, the audience wouldn't be huge, but the people who need it really, really need it.

That's a long-winded way of saying that you are not alone. And it seems that when I hear about favoritism within a family, it's often the kid who struggled more, broke more rules, and was less independent that tends to get the rose-colored glasses. Makes sense, of course, even evolutionarily (the parents get used to devoting more resources to that kid to ensure its survival, and start not to realize the discrepancies) and also from a cognitive dissonance standpoint (when your child is struggling, it's painful to start second-guessing your parenting or worrying about their future-- far easier to convince yourself that they're not struggling that bad after all.) So, you might need on some level to accept that precisely because you were more self-sufficient, or more ethical, or more whatever, that that is exactly why your mother chooses to play favorites toward your sister. It doesn't make it right, but it's also not something you can necessarily change if her own lens is that skewed.

So although you can't necessarily control this (and it will probably just be an exercise in banging your head against the wall to get into a fact-checking argument about it), you can control what you make of it, how you let it affect you. What messages are you telling yourself about what your mother's memories or comments mean? How can you start to separate yourself from them? Can you let go of the idea of her being a meaningful yardstick of how you measure yourself? Yes, it would be nice if she validated you, or didn't have untruthful comments, or didn't put your sister up on a pedestal. But, you can also learn to view her lens as skewed, and her commentary as inaccurate background noise that neither reflects upon you nor changes anything about your life.

You get to be your own person now. And your mother can be an imperfect human-- like all of us are-- and you don't have to give her any power.

But I know, it can drive you up the wall. People think that sibling stuff only matters as kids, but I see it ALL. THE. TIME. in my practice.

(Hence that hypothetical book. I should get on that.)

Have you seen the items at the relative's house - are you sure the person still has them, or might that be a reason they're not handing them over?

Ooh, the plot thickens.

Yes, like what if they were secretly lost or broken or given to someone else long ago?

Hello, my sibling married an active duty member of the military. My parents' have been very proud of (both) their accomplishments to date, despite the fact that we previously have not had experience with an active duty member of the military in our family in recent decades. Well, well the news today and the likeliness of their deployment. my mom anxiety has gone through the roof and she cannot keep it together. (Acknowledgment of anxiety is recent so no active treatment to date) Which is obviously not helping my sibling. Are there any resources to allow her to acknowledge/express her fears without going off the mark? I've had friends who've deployed and while I was obviously afraid for them, I also understood they are doing the job they signed up for. Such a response to my mom makes her feel l am being cold. Thank you.

It's a tricky line to walk with a loved one-- acknowledging their anxiety while also trying to sooth it and minimize it, without invalidating their feelings.

But part of what I'm getting here is the vibe that there may not be a lot you can do. "Through the roof" anxiety that means she "cannot keep it together" is not going to quickly respond to reassurance.

It could be that it's a sudden uptick that will abate in time on its own-- like your Mom is in fight-or-flight and just needs some time. Or it could be that this is a trigger for what's a more substantial anxiety problem, maybe even at the level of a disorder, and that she ultimately needs professional help.

It seems to me that finding other people in her shoes could be really helpful. Yes, I know she's "just" the mother-in-law, but being able to talk about this particular brand of angst-- common to all of those who have a loved one who is active duty-- can be key.

I know I've been recommending these a lot today, but is she online-savvy and could find some support there? Even just a message board where other people are expressing the same struggles.

In the meantime, though, encourage her to up the self-care. Exercise. Sleep. Fresh air. Friends. Time away from the news. Hobbies. And all the in-the-moment anxiety tools, like deep breathing and mindfulness meditations-- also a lot of those available online.

Please do keep us posted.

Was the stuff valuable? Maybe it's been sold.

Another possibility!

Maybe OP could break in and steal them!

hahah!

This reminds me of an excellent story that happened to Dear Hubs' coworker. His bike was stolen, and he spotted it for sale on Craigslist. He contacted the seller, showed up, asked for a test ride, and rode off into the sunset. The seller aka Thief then called him and demanded the bike back or he would call the police.

Be my guest, said Hubs' Coworker.

Our neighbor's 45 year old son is an alcoholic. He has been in a one year rehab program, twice, and began drinking within days of release each time. (Father is retired with a reasonable pension, but is confined to a wheelchair.) After one stint in the rehab, we cosigned a 6 month rental agreement for student housing so that he could attend classes and get a certificate as a machinist. He was able to pay rent for one month, then lost his part-time job and dropped out of classes and started drinking again. We ended up paying the $6500 for rent over the next 5 months. Then he moved in with a friend who eventually kicked him out, then back to rehab for another year, then in with his disabled Dad, where he started drinking again after a few days of his release. Since then (approximately one year), he's held two jobs cooking for retirement facilities. Each job lasted about 2 months, then he would call in sick until he was fired. He is now out of money (again) and wants to buy tools so he can go back to being a machinist (he left all his tools behind at his last machinist job swearing he'd never do that again, even though we repeatedly offered to drive him to the shop to pick them up). He is strongly hinting that we buy new tools for him. I suggested he find a temp job to earn the money and he said he was too sick, and he didn't want to work as a temp. So do we offer to lend him the money to buy tools and give him one more chance? We just want to make life a bit easier for his dad (who is paralyzed from the waist down, and who this year lost three close family members, had his legs amputated, and now faces another major operation). I'm 99.9% sure if we lend him the money, we'll never see it again, but we can afford it.

¥ou are a kind, kind person.

And honestly, this is more of a character/personality issue than a strategic/advice-needing one.

Some people give to panhandlers at intersections. Others say "They're probably not even homeless."

Some people give regularly to people on the streets who are clearly suffering from substance abuse. Others say "Well, they'll just spend it on booze."

Some people don't give to charity at all.

You have already been extremely charitable by most people's estimation, and again, it warms my heart to see the kindness. There are definitely those who would say to lend him the money for his tools would just be enabling him, and I can certainly see that side. But I also would be the last person to give up hope on someone, or to tell someone that their act of compassion and kindness that they are willing to do and which would not harm their own bottom line is a bad idea.

That said, this slope can get very, very slippery.

Alright, I'm babbling here. Magic 8-Ball answer? Give him that one more chance, if it's truly something that you are comfortable doing and that you can actually spare with no difficulty. But attach some strings, like attending meetings, checking in with a sponsor, being in other treatment (whatever has helped before- medication? therapy? aversive treatments like Antabuse?), having a repayment schedule, etc. And make it clear that it is the last financial incentive that you can offer. 

Oh, how wonderful it would be if this did it-- this was the magic act that got him a fresh start.

Addiction is a horrible, horrible beast, though. I know you know that.

But kindness is not such a beast. So it seems worth choosing here... with conditions. 

Do not give the alcoholic any money. Michelle Singletary would agree.

It's true that if we were looking at this from a purely money management standpoint, that is the simple answer.

But again.... OP said this money loss would not cause harm. And again, acts of kindness can be different strokes for different folks. There's not always a right answer.

Why not just go yourself to where he left his tools, retrieve them for him, and give them to him?

I had gotten the impression that they were no longer get-table. But I may have read too quickly and could be wrong!

It is that time again, unfortunately. And I now have a house full of early-released kids who will not let me forget it!

As always, I am ever so thankful you were here. Please do keep coming back (does that sound desperate?) In the meantime, I will look forward to seeing you next week-- same time. Maybe even on Amtrak again! (More to come.)

Take good care.

In This Chat
Dr. Andrea Bonior
Dr. Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist and the voice behind Baggage Check since its start in 2005. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University, and is the author of two books in addition to the upcoming "Detox Your Thoughts: Quit Negative Self-Talk for Good and Discover The Life You've Always Wanted."
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