Dear Prudence

All Dried Out

I want to stop drinking, but how will I make it through the holidays?

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Dear Prudence,
I am a young professional in my mid-20s, and I have recently decided to stop drinking alcohol due to habits that I think could lead to alcoholism (alcoholism runs in my family, and I have scheduled a doctor’s appointment to discuss this with a professional). However, I’m not sure how to handle all of the holiday parties that are coming up, especially with friends. It seems like people all want to meet up for drinks or catch up over a beer, and I think they will ask why I’m not partaking. I don’t want to tell them the real reason right now, and I feel embarrassed that I’ve developed poor drinking habits. I just don’t want to be the only sober person when everyone else is drinking, because I know I’ll want to join in. I’ve skipped one holiday party for that reason. Do you have any advice on how I should handle this? Should I just suck it up and sip on a seltzer water at the bar?

—No Grog for Me

If your goal is to make it through a couple of holiday parties without being quizzed too closely about the contents of your drink, red Solo cups will be your greatest ally. Get your own drink early so no one asks why you’re not drinking; a Coke is indistinguishable from a rum-and-Coke in a highball glass. “I’m not drinking tonight” is a perfectly polite deflection if someone presses the issue. You’re not obligated to disclose the details of your relationship to alcohol just to satisfy someone’s idle curiosity, and you should feel enormously free to tack on a white lie (“I’m taking antibiotics/I’m the designated driver/I’m coming down with something”) if that spares you from having a conversation you’re not interested in having with casual acquaintances. Have an exit strategy for parties that you think will prove especially challenging: Know when you’re going to leave (leaving early is fine), and how you’re going to get home, so you’re not spending your entire evening fighting temptation. There’s also nothing wrong with an old-fashioned Irish exit.

But you are also asking a deeper question—you say you’re not sure you’ll be able to enjoy a party if you’re the only one drinking club soda, and you’re worried you might not be able to stick to your commitment if the people around you start drinking—which suggests that you might benefit from more than just a doctor’s appointment. Anyone with a desire to stop drinking is welcome at an AA meeting, even if you’re only a potential alcoholic; if AA doesn’t appeal, there are numerous alternatives for people looking to stop or curtail their drinking, like Moderation Management, SMART Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery, and others. If nothing else, consider sharing your decision to stop drinking with the people you’re close with. There’s nothing embarrassing about realizing you have a problem with alcohol, and you should be proud of yourself for taking steps to take care of yourself.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My mom died a year ago, and while most of my siblings and I are moving on, my father has decided to erase her. In general he likes to throw things away, but my mom tended to collect keepsakes. Her closet held not only her wardrobe but lots of our baby clothes. My sisters and I were looking forward to using and cherishing these clothes someday, but my little sister came home last week to find the closet empty. My father complained that we expected him to keep these clothes in the closet for years, but it’s not like he’s planning on remodeling and needed to clear it out, and he gave us no notice. My older sister lives out of the state, I live in a very small temporary home, and my little sister still lives at his house, so I don’t know what he expected us to do. I know that he’s suffering in his own way, but he doesn’t seem to understand why we would hold these items so close to our hearts. How can I get through to him that wiping out our mother’s belongings with no warning was hurtful and cruel?

—Mother’s Belongings

I’m rather inclined to see the merit of your father’s decision and his right to make it. You say you were “looking forward” to using your mother’s old clothes “someday,” but it doesn’t sound like you communicated that intention to your father, and expected him to keep everything as it was until you were ready. I don’t mean that you intended to take advantage of him or that the baby clothes were not worth feeling sentimental about, but you should not blame him for having a different relationship to objects, nor for failing to anticipate your unspoken desire. It’s been a year since your mother died, and while it’s true that your father gave you no notice, ultimately it was incumbent upon you to give him notice that you wanted the clothes. The size or the distance of your respective homes is not the issue. Just because you feel hurt (and I do sympathize with those feelings) does not mean that your father was cruel. Consider this an opportunity now to name specifically what remaining possessions of your mother’s are meaningful to you, and that you would like to have (rent a storage unit of your own if you don’t have space in your home), so that you can avoid a repeat of this incident and so that all of you can grieve in your own ways.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My father died two years ago from complications due to alcoholism. It was a long time coming, and I lived on the other side of the country and did not want to deal with the daily aspects of his care. My mom took care of him as he died but only in the most cursory ways—feeding and housing him. In all other ways she seemed to hate him: freezing him out and ignoring him when he spoke. I firmly believe that my mom should have left him, and it makes me angry at her for staying with him and enabling his alcoholism. I am having a lot of trouble talking to my mom now. I feel angry every time we speak. I currently can’t afford counseling, so my only strategy is to avoid her and wait out my feelings, which since my dad’s death have wavered between clinginess, distance, annoyance, and anger. Should I talk to her knowing that she most likely wouldn’t be receptive, and that this might be best worked out in counseling? Should I wait for my feelings to change on their own?

—Blaming Her

If you can’t afford counseling right now, you should avail yourself of one of the many support groups for family and friends of alcoholics (living or dead) who have gone through the same things you’re experiencing new. There’s Al-Anon, of course, as well as Harm Less and SMART Recovery’s Friends and Family meetings; all of them are free of charge. If nothing else, it may help to speak to other adult children of alcoholics who have complicated feelings about the other parent’s enabling behavior and to see that you are not alone. In the meantime, if you need to keep limited contact with your mother until you can trust yourself to speak to her without exploding, you should do so whether or not you decide to talk to her about how your father’s drinking and their relationship affected you. If and when that conversation does happen, you’ll do better if you stick to sharing how you felt (“It was hard for me to watch you taking care of Dad in his last years because you seemed so angry with him, and I’d seen him get others to excuse and facilitate his drinking his whole life”) rather than what she should or should not have done (“You should have left Dad years ago”). Make the goal of your conversation to be honest about your own emotions rather than getting her to admit she did something wrong.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My brother and I were raised by our wonderful single mother, and we’re both really close to her. Both of us go to college across the country from where our mom lives, and I know she’s been really lonely having us gone. This weekend, she announced that she’s moving to our city. I love my mom, but I really don’t want that. I came this far to find my independence and I’ll never do that with my mom nearby, especially in the small city we’re in. She’s also pretty strict, and I’m worried I won’t be able to have fun or enjoy college knowing my mom is blocks away. What rights do I have to tell her not to move here? For what it’s worth, my brother thinks it’s a great idea and is excited to be able to see her every day.

—Mom Is Following Me

First the bad news: You do not have the right to tell your mother not to move to your town. You can talk to her about your concerns, and you can express a preference, but if she wants to move to your town (I’m having a hard time getting The Runaway Bunny out of my head), you cannot legally or physically stop her. Your job will be instead figuring out what boundaries you need to set with your mother now that you’re developing an adult relationship with her. You say you fear you’ll never find your independence “with Mom nearby”—but she cannot, in fact, stop you from finding your independence, even as it may seem otherwise. You are capable of independence even if your mother does not want or like it, even if she actively resists it.

In short, you are going to have to figure out how to have your own fun even after she moves to town. You don’t have to, or shouldn’t, see her every day. Figure out an amount of contact that feels appropriate to you and stick to it. You do not have to answer her every call, spend time with her every time she asks you to, or give her a spare key to your place. You do not need her permission to say, “No,” even if she pushes back. You say she’s a wonderful parent who seems otherwise reasonable, so there’s hope you two can have a productive conversation where you can explain that you can both love and appreciate her and still want to carve out a distinct identity separate from her. Luckily, you can do that no matter where she lives.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
After years of trying, a few months ago I found out I am pregnant. I am older than most first-time moms, so they have done testing on my baby to make sure things are OK, and they are not. My baby has a rare chromosomal disorder and will not survive very long after birth. The baby has severe defects, and I worry about the quality of life for the baby’s time with me. One of the options I have been given is to terminate my pregnancy. I feel this would be the best for the baby, but morally I am having a hard time deciding to do this. I support the right to choose, but an abortion is something I never would have considered for myself. I am in therapy, but I am so conflicted. Any advice on how to make a good decision and then make peace with it?

—Living Nightmare

The best piece of advice I can give you is to gather as much information as possible before making a decision. Information is your best friend during times of ambiguity and uncertainty, and you should ask your medical team and mental health professionals for as many details as possible about your various options, worst-case scenarios, palliative care options, questions about quality of life, and your own health and safety. Take notes. Take the time that you have. You can do this and still know that you may never achieve the “perfect” amount of information to make a decision that will feel immediately and unambiguously clear. Making peace with whichever path you ultimately take will not happen overnight. If your priority is what is best for yourself and your child, I believe your eventual decision will be a good one. But accept that there will be heartbreak and loss no matter what you choose; you must acknowledge that you will continue to experience conflict for some time and that this is in fact a sign that you are making your decision well. You feel conflicted because you care deeply about your child, because you wish to preserve its well-being and minimize its suffering, and because you are faced with a series of imperfect choices. This internal conflict is a sign that you are taking this problem, this prospect of suffering, deeply seriously, and that’s a good, if painful, thing.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I know I am walking into the lion’s den by asking you this, as you’ve made it abundantly clear you do not agree with Donald Trump’s politics, but I would like to know if there is a good line to have ready to combat the whole, “You must be a racist bigot if you support Trump” line of discussion. I most closely align with libertarian politics, but in our two-party system, if you want your vote to count, you have to go red or blue, and on the issues I see as most important, I fall in line with the Republicans. I have a couple of family members in liberal colleges who seem to lump all Trump supporters together as racists and bigots and refuse to listen to counter opinions. Is there a way to say, “I’m not a racist because I voted for Trump, and if you won’t give me the respect to try and see my viewpoint, I don’t want to talk about politics with you” in a way that will stick?


First, you’re right about my point of view, but there are many people whose politics differ from my own with whom I seek to find common ground. I do more than disagree with Trump’s politics, however. I disagree with his character, with his relationship to power, with his values. I believe that Trump is a bigot (his history with the Central Park Five is particularly illuminating), and I believe that a vote for Trump means, at the very least, that the voter has decided to subordinate bigotry to other concerns. You should feel free to elucidate your reasons for your vote but be prepared to hear a wide range of feedback from those close to you who will find your reasoning insufficient; some may not wish to discuss it at all. If you can’t discuss politics with your relatives yet, you do not need to force it. But I would warn against using not-talking as a retributive act against their refusal to listen to your viewpoint.

But there’s a larger question I want to address, since we’re already in the lion’s den (Daniel made it out all right in the end; so may we). You want to say you’re not a racist just because you voted for Trump. I’d like you to consider the possibility that by making a categorical “I’m not a racist” identity prerequisite to any discussion, you are also shutting down the conversation. There is a crucial distinction between “This action is racist or enables racism and is worthy of debate,” and “This person is racist and so is not.” Too often when one hears the former, one imagines to have heard the latter. If one only believes racism to be a category of person, one’s response to “That action is racist or enables racism” will always be “That can’t be true, because I believe myself to be a good person, and racists are by definition not good people,” which automatically shuts down any disagreement. It is possible to be a well-meaning person and to do or say something that enables racism; that is not the same thing as being an active supremacist. (Jay Smooth offers a useful breakdown of this distinction.) I believe that if you feel you can’t talk to your family members unless they first accept the premise that you have done nothing that could be seen as propagating racism, you have already closed yourself off from what could be a meaningful conversation.

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