Ask a Sober Mom: How Do I Approach a Friend About their Drinking?
Tomorrow is my three-year soberversary. I was a drinker from 13, quit to incubate my two kids (now 12 & 13), then turned into the fun, drinking mom. I drank with my friends, my family, strangers, and sadly, even by myself. I never saw myself as having a problem because I could go weeks at a time without drinking, and could have just one drink for the night. Nobody told me there was anything wrong with my behavior (lots of substance abuse in my family, so no help there).
Anyway, long story short, at 35 I fell in love with a woman. This made me realize I was drinking to hide “in the closet.” I quit drinking a week after I met her—cold turkey. No meetings, no support (other than from my amazing now wife).
Fast forward three years, I pick up on the fact that my friends do what I used to do, but probably for their own reasons. I would love to be able to have a conversation with one friend in particular. She lives in a different state now, but we still chat on Facebook. I know that if someone would have sat me down, I would have laughed it off and listed my reasons as to why I “knew” I didn’t have a problem.
I don’t want to risk our friendship or make her feel like I’m judging, accusing, calling her a bad mom, or pulling an intervention on her. Is there a way to approach the issue without those fears? I know everyone has a different situation so there’s not one way to do it.
I just know I would have reacted poorly or indifferent had someone done that to me. In hindsight, I wish someone would have tried. Maybe I would have seen the light, but how do I know it would have worked? There are several questions up there, but the gist is essentially:
How do you bring up the possible addiction of a friend without alienating or offending?
Thanks for any help you can share with me.
A Concerned Friend
Firstly, I want to congratulate you on both your recovery and the incredible relationship you have found with your wife!!!
I completely understand the struggle with approaching friends about their drinking/use, and I appreciate both the question and the obvious compassion and care you have for your friend.
It has been my experience that sharing my own truths during conversations can really break the ice.
I have been very open about my alcoholism and recovery journey, and I’m also a bit of a “chronic over-sharer.” This has helped me reach out to people I love without ever having to make them feel uncomfortable with their own stuff.
Is there a way to have a very laid-back conversation with your friend, where you could casually bring up how sobriety has really changed the way you viewed the way you drank?
Facebook Messenger may not be a large help in this situation, but maybe a phone conversation? Could you reach out and tell her you’d love to catch up and have a phone date? That might let her know you really care about her, and also pique her interest in speaking directly.
Maybe you can talk about your recovery and what it has meant to you.
Ask if she remembers how you used to behave and listen to the way she speaks about those things. Inquire about how she is doing, and listen. Let her know that she has a friend in you. Remind her that she can trust you and that whatever she says is safe with you. I would have seriously died for a friend I knew wouldn’t respond like a judgmental dick when I was hurting. I’m sure many of us would have. Maybe she’ll totally reject the idea right away, but maybe-maybe that conversation will pop into her mind if ever she becomes ready to accept your help.
As I’m sure you’re aware, trust is an invaluable thing; especially when confiding in others about use we may not be ready or willing to discontinue. If you can keep the conversation extremely personal and focused on you, if she’s at all ready to discuss her own stuff, you’ll have opened the door.
When all else fails, I’ve found that a simple, “I care about you so much, and I’m really worried about you.” can also be a helpful tool. It can be terrifying, for sure, but friendship isn’t always easy, right? Long-term relationships of every kind get messy sometimes. I don’t know exactly how close the two of you are, but I’ve found that the more my friends understand my intent, the less my actual words matter—if that makes any sense.
I have a friend who used to say she’d rather, “step on [my] toes than step on [my] grave,” reminding me that concern, where life and death are involved, isn’t one to be taken lightly.
Personally, I’d rather be hated after voicing my love and concern for someone than remaining silent in order not to hurt their feelings and then losing them and wondering “What if…”
Depending on your belief system, it might also help to ask for help from The Universe/God/Mother Earth/Etc. for ten-fingers. Whenever I’m about to walk into a conversation I’m scared-to-death to have, I say, “Please put the thoughts in my head and the words in my mouth. Your will – not mine – be done.” After saying that out loud, I can trust the conversation will go exactly the way it’s supposed to, and I can feel more free to let it take its own course without trying to control it (I like to control things 🙂 ).
I hope this response has been even remotely helpful to you, and I hope you’ll definitely keep us updated! Genuine concern and the search for compassion are signs of an incredible friend.
Thank you so much for trusting us with this! I will keep you in my thoughts and I’ll be sending you lots of calm and comforting vibes.
Julie Maida lives in Massachusetts with her amazing husband and three children. She has been in abstinence-based recovery since May 2, 2000.
Julie is eternally grateful for all the gifts of recovery and fiercely determined to advocate for, and connect ALL women with the appropriate support and resources necessary to achieve their personal recovery goals. She writes about mothering with mental illness at juliemaida.me.