First, here’s the question:
I suspect an LDS friend of mine is an alcoholic. She’s an active member with a current temple recommend. I don’t know if her family knows and I think that no one else at church knows or even suspects. Over the past year, I’ve smelled alcohol on her breath almost every time I see her.
I’m not sure what to do. We are casual friends but I care about her and I know some of the struggles she is dealing with. How do I approach this? Is it even my place? Is this something I should tell the bishop directly or talk to the Relief Society president? I just want to help but I have no idea how. Talking to her directly about it scares me to death.
Second, this was a difficult question to answer, my gut response was, “It’s her life, you don’t want to meddle….” But, then I started wondering, “Is that selfish?” If we truly believe a friend is struggling and it’s not just a passing though…do we have a responsibility to help?
Anyway, here’s my Q & A with Concerned.
Sorry this is long, but it’s good. You can also read my response in today’s Deseret News article.
Angela: What do you mean by casual friends? How long have you two known each other?
Concerned: We’ve known each other for 7 years. She lives a block away and we’ve served together in callings at church. She was also my visiting teacher for about a year. We’ve been to lunch together several times and talk on the phone occasionally. But we don’t hang out regularly and we don’t have the kind of relationship where we just stop by to chat, if that makes sense. She has her own life and I have mine and they only intersect occasionally when we specifically plan something.
Angela: What do you think she would do in your shoes? Do you think she would tell the Bishop/RS President about your drinking problem?
Concerned:I think she would just ask me about it if she suspected something. We have very different personalities. She is very outgoing. I am the opposite. She would not be shy about asking me if she suspected and then most likely be helpful to the point of overbearing. I tend to be more reticent when it comes to delving into other’s personal issues. If they want to talk about something, I am a very good listener, but I don’t pry. I am a private person. She is a public person.
A: Do you think she’s an alcoholic? Or do you think she just likes to drink? (I bring this up because maybe, as sad as it is, she’s just choosing not to live that commandment.)
C: I’m 99% sure she is. I know a recovering alcoholic who saw her several times over the past few years in the liquor store. This friend has told me a bit about the disease and how they try to hide it. That being said, I really hope I’m wrong and she just likes to drink occasionally and I’ve just happened to smell it on her breath because of coincidence. The first few times I smelled it I hoped it was just a new perfume. I’ve smelled it at church, too. I would think that a casual drinker wouldn’t choose Sunday mornings for a few drinks. Then again, I’ve never drank so I’m making a lot of suppositions. I’m basing most of this on the number of times I’ve smelled it on her breath and also from speaking to the alcoholic I know and what she’s told me about her experience.
A: What scares you the most about talking to her? Do you think she’ll be angry with you for noticing? Do you think she’ll think you’re judging her? Why are you scared?
To be honest, I have no idea how to bring it up. She called the other day to talk about a stress she was dealing with and I just listened and tried to be supportive and the whole time I was thinking “should I say something about the drinking?” and I knew there was no way I could. I’ve thought face to face would be better but when I’ve seen her, I chicken out. I think I’m afraid she’ll be angry and think I’m judging her. I’m also scared of that 1% chance she’s NOT an alcoholic and I don’t want to accuse her if I’m off base. I’m also not sure it’s my business – perhaps her family knows and it’s a personal struggle they are already working on with her. I just don’t know enough. Maybe I’m just a not a good friend. A coward perhaps.
A: (I probably won’t publish the answer to this question, I just want to get an idea of your state of mind) – Does it bother you that she has a current Temple recommend?
C: I’ve thought about this, too. It does bother me a little. But I care about her more than I worry about the hypocrisy. I know that if she is an alcoholic it’s probably a chronic problem that is shameful to her and I’m sure she beats herself up enough over it. I try not to judge her about it because I know she’s already judging herself. And if I’m honest with myself, I’m sure there are times in my life when I’m not living up to every detail they ask in temple recommend interviews all the time. We are all imperfect and make mistakes.
A: As you imagine this playing out – what’s the “best case scenario”
C: I talk to her. She confesses. And then I ask how I can help and we go from there… she talks to the bishop and gets into treatment. I guess I would hope our friendship could grow because she would have someone who has her back through the whole thing. Someone who knew for a long time and was still her friend and didn’t judge.
A: How do you think the commentators on this blog and the Deseret News will respond?
I think in today’s world we all struggle with big problems and we all have different ways of coping. I think they wouldn’t judge her either and would want me to help. I also think, after reflecting on this a lot the past few days, that the best way to go about doing this would be to just get the courage to talk to her face to face. It would be cowardly to go behind her back and “report” her to someone. If I’m really her friend and want to help, I have to figure out how to approach her myself and then go from there. I would also love it if there could be good feedback to help me decide how to approach this the right way – give me a nice opening line to bring this up in a conversation!
FYI: Where I said I probably wouldn’t post that question, I made sure I could before hand.
So, what do you think? Here’s my advice, what else would you add? What would you do differently?