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Ask Amy

Mother’s addiction is heartbreaking

Q. I am a graduate student in my late 20s. My mother has been addicted to marijuana my whole life. She says it’s for lower back pain, but when she gets high it is impossible to talk to her. She can’t hold a job or keep friends.

My parents are getting a divorce, and my dad claims it is partly because she refuses to admit she has a drug problem or take responsibility for her life.

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Whenever I try to talk about this my mother becomes defensive. I want to tell her I feel this is preventing us from having a good relationship. She has chosen this drug over me repeatedly during my life.

I realize now that she may be like this for the rest of her life. Is it worth mentioning to her how I feel? Or will that just be another burden for her?

A. Your situation is heartbreaking, and the answer is to speak your truth with compassion.

Then you must work hard to detach with love. Realize your mother is flawed, addicted, and ill. Even though you deserved better, in the cosmic matchup of parent and child, you were handed an extreme challenge.

Your truth might ultimately be your mother’s gift, as long as it is accompanied by a request for her to get help.

Write down a simple version of your truth. Here’s a sample: “Mom, your addiction is breaking my heart. I want to have a better relationship with you, but I can’t do this as long as you are using. I am urging you to get help. I want to know you as a sober person.” Deliver this message verbally or in writing.

You and your father should research rehab programs for your mother (start with Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step program, at na.org). Also seek counseling and group support through Al-anon or Nar-anon. The Nar-anon website lists local meetings (nar-anon.org).

Q. I have a problem. My sister-in-law is a shopaholic and goes absolutely crazy shopping every Black Friday. She buys Christmas gifts for our nieces, nephews, and other family members, and then calls the adults to offer what she’s bought for us to buy from her. She does this for family showers and birthdays as well.

I’m sure she thinks she’s helping, but I prefer to shop for my own gifts. How do I get the message across?

A. Your sister-in-law may have a shopping and buying problem, but this only becomes your burden if you willingly take it.

Your response to these shopping offers should be a universal, “No, thank you. As I say every year, I enjoy shopping for the kids myself.” Consider this an effort to retrain your sister-in-law. If you always respond in the negative to her offers, she may eventually stop attempting to involve you in this experience.

Q. I am responding to letters about “calling out” someone who has an odor problem. Years ago I was friends with a guy who had horrendous body odor.

I had learned in college that sometimes body odor is due to a chemical imbalance in the body, which can usually be corrected. Armed with that, I approached my friend. He had been trying different deodorants, soaps, etc., but didn’t know it could be medical. He saw his doctor, and his problem was corrected.

I’m now a professor. When I approach students with “odiferous issues,” I include the possibility that it’s a medical problem.

A. You’ve offered a compassionate example for how to handle a tricky issue.

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

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