The Sad Story of my Alcoholic Neighbor

So, there is your stereotypical family living next door – mom, dad, three kids, two dogs, and a cat. Nice people. We've chatted in our yards quite a bit and I occasionally hire the kids to do chores around the house so they can buy new video games. Perfectly great neighbors except… mom is a flaming alcoholic.

First clue, seeing mom outside in the neighborhood not exactly walking right but not exactly stumbling around. Mom outside doing interesting things like "racing" the kids around the block – them running, her walking but saying she is running. Mom outside leaning against the side of the house for so long I thought she was sick and went to see if I could help. The ubiquitous plastic cup always in her presence.

Second clue, I picked up the oldest boy one morning before school about a year ago. He was halfway down our road, pretty far from the house and I knew from every other morning that he should have been on the bus. Turns out a friend had not shown up to give him a ride so he had started walking. As I was driving him to school he begins to tell me that his mother is an alcoholic (his word), that his father doesn't know what to do, that is sister is angry and depressed and stays in her room all the time, and that he himself has punched two holes in the wall. He said his mother does not believe anyone loves her no matter how many times they tell her they do or try to show her and that she's lonely all the time.

Third clue, Mom comes over to my house several times within one week this Spring, clearly intoxicated. Slurring words, unfocused eyes, the whole bit. One day we actually talked about her drinking and she said her husband does not allow her to drive when she's been drinking but she does not like to hide her drinking. The next day she shows up at my house to ask if I could drive her to a nearby school so she could watch her daughter's soccer game. Her husband had gotten mad and left her at home and she had been drinking and could not drive.

She finally quit her job (or got fired) because she did not go to work 1, 2, 3 times per week. She says it was because she wanted to go into business for herself. Her husband says it was because she hated her boss.

Tonight one of the boys comes over to borrow eggs. They are baking a cake because mom is coming home from the hospital. She has a hole in her stomach. From the drinking.

So, it is very clear she is an alcoholic. This is pretty much an every day thing.

So my dilemma – what do I do? They are neighbors, not friends. They are not intrusive or disruptive or loud or anything negative. But the mom appears to be slowly drinking herself to death and I don't know what to do. Do I offer to talk with her – be a listening ear so she can tell her story? I honestly think she would go for it. Do I tell her I can help her get help when/if she wants it? I can – I work part time as a therapist. Do I try to stay neutral and be a safe place for the kids if they need a listening ear or to get away for a while?

She is breaking my heart. She is not only hurting herself, she is hurting her children who may never to get past the rules and roles that come from being a child of an alcoholic. Her husband lies and makes excuses for her, the quintessential enabler.

What do I do?

A friend of mine who admits that she used to be an alcoholic told me what finally got through to her was a neighbor who stopped her one day and said if she ever needed a safe place to send her kids the neighbor was available. Am I that neighbor for my neighbor? Should I be?

I just keep thinking about all the things that could happen if I insert myself into the world they have created. But yet, haven't I already been invited in? Mom has literally told me she has a problem. Both boys have cracked the door and given me a peek into their lives. Dad and daughter have not invited me in yet.

What do I do?

I'm worried, afraid, sad, cautious, overwhelmed, bewildered.

What do I do?

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10 thoughts on “The Sad Story of my Alcoholic Neighbor

  1. Oh man. I have a sad story that maybe you could pass on. There was a girl that I met when we were in 6th grade and we would talk once in awhile because we rode the same bus. She went to the same high school as me and became one of those "popular" kids, so you can pretty much guess what that went. A year after high school, I was talking to one of my friends online and she told me how this girl was dead. She was out partying, was drunk, and got in a car with a drunk driver to go to another party. The driver took a curve of a residential street at 60mph, lost control, and hit a tree. She died and he walked away with a broken leg. I didn't know her well at all, but it's a shame she died at 19. This is yet another reason why you don't drink and drive or get in a car with a drunk driver.I think you should do something. It is tough trying to figure out what you can do. Maybe try to be a listening ear for both the boys and the mother. The boys need someone to run to and it sounds like they can trust you. She might need someone to tell her she needs help. You'll figure out the best way =)

  2. This is a tuff place to be….Getting to involved with a neighbor can backfire and make living next door to them a miserable thing.
    In my opinion the most important people are the children. I'm sure the Mom has been spoken to time and time again…You wouldn't be saying anything she hasn't heard before, AND she might feel humiliated and try to stop the kids from spending time with you…
    I guess I would tell each child that you are there for them and if they need you,you are there for them. that might be the most important thing you do your entire life.
    I grew up in a home where there was alcoholisim. My Grandmother didn't drink but her boyfriend/companion (not sure exactly what he was! LOL) was a raging drunk and when he was around my life was one of fear and chaos. I would have given ANYTHING to have a safe place to go until the storm was over,

    Laurie

  3. I'm not sure. If she's not ready or willing to get help she won't appreciate you getting involved. Maybe if she knows you're there when she's ready. But really what is your responsibilty here. Tough one. Maybe keeping an eye on the kids and if they seem in danger then step in. Oh boy – I stepped in to a situation once when I thought a girl was in danger of abuse by her stepfather and I can tell you now, the outcome put me right off ever getting involved with anyone else again!!

  4. Thanks. You guys are echoing the conversations in my head. My head and heart have been spinning and swirling around this for almost a year.I am MOST concerned about the kids. I can already see the emotional damage happening and it's hard to watch. I've been keeping an eye out for them both through conversations with the kids whenever I get a chance but also talking with dad. He's frequently out in the yard working and I try to gauge the situation through the stories he tells – he talks a LOT! lol I am next concerned about mom – both the emotional hell she must live in every day and her physical well being. If I ever caught wind of anything going on that would endanger the kids (like driving drunk), it would not be a hard decision at all – I'd report her immediately. I don't think there's any abuse happening – at least I haven't detected any. I'm most worried about mom attempting suicide. The kids would never completely recover from that.I am hopeful that I will have one kid over this weekend moving my woodpile for video game money. I plan to be out there with him. He talks as much as his dad so I can just listen and give him attention and he opens right up.If I ever get a chance and the moment seems right, I think I might say something to mom like, "If you ever want help, I will be there for you." Hopefully something that comes through to her like I care about her and am not judging her, but that I am aware there is a problem. I don't want to fake things or pretend not to know. I'm sure her BS meter is finely honed. That way she keeps the power and it can be her choice. In the end, it has to be – right? First step – admit you have a problem?Anyway, thanks for the words of advice and encouragement. Keep us in your thoughts.

  5. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. This is the same situation. Until they realize that they need help, there is not much you can do unless the family wants to make a serious intervention by declaring her unfit. I doubt if that will do any good because if you don't get at the real root of the problem, they won't stop.

  6. Yes, that's right on… I guess it's what makes it so hard. Dad can make choices for himself and the kids (e.g. to leave), but only Mom can make the choice to deal with the pain and get help. Sigh…

  7. Putting my $.02 in…I totally agree, it could backfire. You probably shouldn't invest too much of yourself emotionally. She's a neighbor, not a family member. Besides, I'm sure you have your own to worry about.Unfortunately, she has to hit her bottom, whatever that is, and help herself. Keep your eye open when it comes to the children.Out of compassion we naturally want to help, nurture, fix, etc, (we're women), but sometimes you just have to be strong and let others help themselves. I guess just have faith that they will.Maybe drop off some AA pamphlets are her house or something.

  8. Ok… no lie… right now, at this very moment, I have on my coffee table a phamplet called "Letter to a Woman Alcoholic" which I have been working up the courage to put under her windshield wiper for months. It's written pretty well, is from an AA perspective, and addresses every single thing you hear from people – women in this case – who are struggling with substance abuse.What holds me back is thinking about how I would feel if it suddenly appeared under my own windshield. I'd be paranoid and think the neighborhood is out to get me! But I'm also not willing to confront it head on, even gently.Thanks, everybody. I really do appreciate your thoughts and advice. You have helped me process through this situation more than you know. I've tried with friends and family, but so far it hasn't help. THIS forum, for some weird reason, has helped.So, thanks. And I'd love to hear more people's thoughts.

  9. Sadly, I don't know if it's your place to do an awful lot other than to extend yourself to her children as much as you feel comfortable. I would also offer as much to the husband as possible, because he probably could use a good friend himself. I grew up next door to a situation like this, and the two children practically lived at our house they were there so often. Even if they were just eating popsicles and watching TV, our house was a place where they knew they could get away from their father's rages and the generally depressing nature of living in the home of an alcoholic. My mom felt it wasn't her place to lecture the father or tell him how to raise his children– there were plenty of other people in his life who had been attempting to do so for years– but she did what she could so that they had positive memories of their childhood.

  10. Certainly be a safe place for the kids and offer to help her get help. She certainly seems to be asking for help but probably thinks she doesn't "deserve" it or doesn't want to be a burden.I'd also title the letter something like "If you'd like help" rather than "To a woman alcoholic". Btw, thanks for adding me-that's what brought me to your blog and it rocks!

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