Well, this sounds reallly familiar. My mother struggled with depression and anxiety her whole life and was an alcoholic by the time she married my father, but neither of them realized that her drinking was a problem at that time due to social drinking being so widely accepted. My parents divorced when I was two, primarily due to my mother’s unstable emotional state compounded by my dad’s inability to deal with other people’s emotions. They were a terrible match. Anyway, after the divorce my mom really went downhill. She did attempt treatment twice during her marriage with my dad and again after he left, but nothing was working. The biological component of her depression and anxiety is very difficult to treat but very little was known about treating depression and anxiety at the time anyway–except to throw valium at people. There was one medication that might have helped that was available at the time, but she couldn’t take it because it is dangerous if mixed with alcohol. We all knew she was not going to stop drinking. So, treating her symptoms with medication was not an option. And dealing with someone who is unwell emotionally, battling mental illness, compounded by really unhealthy personality/behavior habits that affect how they interact with others and care or don’t take care of themselves, further compounded by the fact that the person is perpetually intoxicated and simply not biologically capable of self limiting or self monitoring as much as people think…Well, it’s beyond frustrating and not something that anyone from the outside can fix. Having a conversation with the person about limits, boundaries, a desire for improved behaviors to help improve relationships etc. doesn’t just fall on deaf ears but on drunk ears and an intoxicated brain that is not capable of processing the information or making personal improvements so long as they continue on the road of their addicted lifestyle. I admitted defeat with that pretty young. By twelve I admitted that my mother was buried beneath her alocoholism. Trying to change her would not work no matter how hard I tried. I stopped trying. I moved in with my dad and his second wife and at first it seemed like a good move. They ended up being much worse than my mom but that took a while to manifest and would take this post off topic anyway. Bu the distance helped me to realize just how dysfunctional my mother’s behavior was. The distance gave me a more clear sense of how her behavior wasn’t normal or healthy. I had the option of visiting her on the weekends most of the time, but I visited her less and less because the visits just weren’t serving their purpose. Her behavior was so frustrating. Eventually she moved several states away with my little sister who was ten years younger than me and we lost contact. I contacted her again when I started college because I hoped to reconcile my relationship with her. Luckily, she was in a better place emotionally. She had a stable job that she enjoyed, was drinking less and her behavior was less erratic (but still not normal and healthy and all that–my sister will attest to). I was careful with our conversations not to expect too much. I didn’t have the money to fly out and visit her in person and that would have been a disaster anyway. She died without warning my second year of college a month after Christmas. I was so glad that I had reconciled the relationship as much as I could, which would not have worked if I had expected more than she could give and let things get to a blow up between us.
So…..with that background, my advice is this:
Perspective. You need a place to put your footing where you can see that your mother’s behavior is not healthy or normal so that you can stop reacting to it as if it’s a normal situation. It’s not!
Distance. You need to reduce your contact for your own well-being instead of just trying to carry the burden of preventing arguments with her. She is unwell and perpetually intoxicated. “You can’t reason with a drunk” is something I grew up hearing. I had to repeat it to myself. Don’t downplay the impact that substance abuse has on dysfunctional behavior and relationships. It can sabotage the strongest people and the best relationships–how much worse when the addict is unwell and already dysfunctional beneath it. You’re getting married now. Let that be your core “family” you and your fiance. Your mom is officially your extended family now. Take a step away. Family holiday time? It’s really not as necessary as you think. Set traditions with your fiance/husband and keep visits with your mom short and sweet and on your terms. If she starts to get out of hand you leave before you get angry. If she’s rude with you on the phone, then whatever you thought you were planning with her doesn’t move forward, but back to “distance,” stop planning things with her.
Personal healing. You need to work on getting yourself healthy. Growing up with someone who is/has been emotionally unwell has an effect on a child. Growing up with an alcoholic has an effect. It sounds like you are pretty easily sucked into her manipulation tactics. Gather some books about children of alcoholics, surviving emotional abuse and related topics. Read up. Some people find therapy to be helpful. It’s an option. But you need a plan to address fixing YOU separate from these fights with your mom so that you can have a healthy sense of self, know how and when to set healthy boundaries, learn how to say NO completely to your mother’s emotionally and psychologically abusive behavior. And don’t be conflicted by the issue of “this can’t be abuse because my mother loves me.” She loves you. But look at behaviors individually. My mother loved me deeply. I have no doubt of that. But when she backed me up against the wall, shouting at me until I shivered convulsively all over me not doing my chores….at 6? That was abusive and harmful. She loved me but her choices hurt me. Your mother loves you but her choices are hurting you. You need to put distance between yourself and her to protect yourself just like keeping yourself safe from a dog that bites you.
Other relationships. You can find ways to maintain communication with your younger sister and still limit your contact with your mother. If your sister participates in manipulation tactics to get you back under your mother’s influence, including guilt tripping then put down your boundary: “I’m not doing that, we’re not going there. Maybe we can talk some other time. I’m going now. Take care.” Also, be aware that this unhealthy relationship with your mother is affecting you more than you realize. It will spill over into your relationship with others around you, most especially your relationship with your fiance/ husband. The more you let her into your life and into your head, the more she will interrupt your opportunities for healthy interactions with others, whether she is physically present when you interact with those individuals or not. Please work on building a healthy you now. Put a hand out that says stop with your mom. Less contact, distance, and when you do interact don’t allow it to be situations where you feel “trapped” by holiday obligation, others spectating etc. Controlled contact. You ascertain if it’s a wise situation for interaction, which must involve the option for you to leave without a scene at any time.
That’s as much as I can say about it. This is not an easy fix and it’s not about learning how to get along with your mom. You can’t shape yourself around someone who is so unhealthy without becoming terribly unhealthy yourself in the process. You can’t “handle” her better or say the right things etc. It’s so much bigger than that…because she is unwell and she is an addict. If she agrees to treatment and pursues it, great! But you can’t force that either. She has to want treatment and it doesn’t sound like she does. Get yourself well. Start by taking a BIG step back.