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?