DEAR AMY: 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.
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?
— Wanting an Addiction-Free Mama
DEAR WANTING: Your situation is heartbreaking, and the answer for you is to speak your own truth with compassion.
And then you must work hard to detach with love. Realize that your mother is flawed, addicted and ill. Even though you deserved so much 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 for her addiction.
Write down a simple and concentrated 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 (you can start with Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step program, at na.org). You should also seek counseling and group support through Al-anon or Nar-anon. The Nar-anon website lists local meetings (nar-anon.org).
DEAR AMY: 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? This has been going on for years.
— Anonymous, Please
DEAR ANONYMOUS: 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 all of 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. You won't be able to retrain her to stop shopping, but if you always respond in the negative to her offers, she may eventually stop attempting to involve you in this post-retail experience.
DEAR AMY: I am responding to letters about "calling out" someone who has an odor problem. Years ago I was friends with a great guy who had horrendous body odor. Some days he was worse than others.
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 college professor. When I approach students with "odiferous issues," I include the possibility that it's a medical, not a hygienic, problem (even though it is, at times, clearly a hygiene issue).
It leads to a positive, private conversation as to what can be done with dignity intact.
— More Tolerant Too
DEAR TOO: You've offered a compassionate example for how to handle a tricky issue.
Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.