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Do you break the silence?

Your sister was addicted to alcohol and became pregnant in her teens. Her son, now 18, is in counselling for his own addiction problems. If he knew about his mother’s past, it might help him recover. But your sister, now a successful realtor, forbids any mention of it. Do you break the silence?

By Connie denBok and Bob Giuliano

Addictions are spider webs  that entangle entire families. Alcohol and substance abuse are just the visible symptoms.

My sister may be alcohol free, but she is willing to protect her secrets at the cost of her son. This is not about a successful real estate career. Recovering alcoholics proudly fill the ranks of every profession, often surpassing their colleagues because they are aware and free of their addictions. By denying her own story, she has abandoned her son to the same vortex of physical, spiritual and relational forces with which she still struggles — minus the alcohol. My sister is still tangled in the addictive web.

I would like to help but am aware that substance abuse infects everyone in the family, including loved ones who attempt to rescue their kin. The Apostle Paul observed that those who want to correct others must exercise extreme caution lest they slip and fall themselves. No one has the power to separate an addict from what rules his or her existence except a greater Ruler and the addict’s willingness to change allegiances.

What is the antidote to denial, secrets and deceit? Transparency, truth telling and authenticity. My sister’s declaration that past family history is off limits is part of the problem. Secrets, like bogeymen, have power only as long as no one turns on the light and looks under the bed.

My first conversation will be with my sister. I know the response may not be joyful acquiescence to my suggestion we blow her cover. I have prayed for good words, a loving attitude and the kind of truth that can set the afflicted free. Whatever her response, one or both of us are about to initiate a new conversation with my nephew. I have hope for this young man. If one alcoholic can imprison an entire family, perhaps freedom is also addictive.

Author's photo
Rev. Bob Giuliano is a retired minister who lives in Owen Sound, Ont.

I love my sister. We are blood kin. We fight, and when we were teenagers we fought a lot. She hurt our family. So did I, I suppose, in different ways. Eighteen years ago, things were the pits in our house.

My mom made us all go to church and to Alcoholics Anonymous. Not my sister, of course. She was beyond that. But the rest of us learned about whose problem this was and what we needed to do. Telling her the truth and not making the problem ours was important. It was her problem. We were to talk honestly about what we felt, not blaming her.

My sister’s ego would not allow her to admit to us or to anyone that she had a problem. No confession, no seeking forgiveness, no admitting that she had hurt anyone or that the booze was ever out of her control.

That pride is still there, what AA calls “stinky thinking.” The kind of thinking that denies the truth.

We stopped talking about all this and were relieved when she got a job and started making money and living soberly. She took good care of her boy.

The problem that my nephew is having belongs to him. He has to own it and work through it. My sister is worried and trying to help, but the secret remains. I am not sure that learning his mom was a drunken teen would help or hinder his healing.

His mom has to decide what she will tell. I don’t think her ego will let her tell much.

If the boy comes to me, I can only tell him what I experienced. I can’t tell him what only his mother knows from inside the problem. But if he asks me, I will tell him my story. She can tell him hers.
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