Wednesday, January 11, 2012

From my kitchen window

I witness something that I wish I didn't have to see, most everyday.

 Someone who lives close by me is struggling terribly, with a substance abuse problem. Some days, I think that it's none of my business. I don't know this person. I don't even know their first name. Yet, I have seen this person at some very low points, right outside my kitchen window.

 I have seen them fall into the ditch next to my driveway with a bag of wine. I have seen them unable to stumble home. I have witnessed them sitting on the street, weeping. I have driven them home after they collapsed in my driveway.

This past Saturday morning made me the saddest. It was 8 a.m., and they were struggling to get home. I was just getting up to make coffee, and there they were, at the end of my neighbors driveway, burying bottles in the leaves, before making it home. I saw them look around before staggering away.

I wanted to run after them. I wanted to put a blanket around them, and pour them some coffee. I wanted to know what had brought them to this awful point in their life, and what, if anything could be done to help them. Could I call someone for them? Did they just need a friend? I realize that there is nothing I can do for them. Except what I can do from my kitchen window.

I sent David out to get the bottles and throw them away. At first he thought that it wasn't our business. I did too for a minute. But we quickly rationalized that our daughters play outside, and I didn't want random bottles of alcohol lying about. He ran up the hill, uncovered them, and trashed them. I knew it wouldn't make a bit of difference. This would not stop anything. But it was all we could do.

I have a friend who has been watching two dogs endure hours in the cold, tied up, left in a yard, all day. No water. Food brought out occasionally. They sit, and wait. Wait for someone to come home and play with them. Wait to be invited into the warm house. It is breaking her heart. She finally went over and told their owners that she just couldn't watch these two beautiful animals suffer like that anymore, and last weeks freezing cold snap was the last straw.

She didn't get the response she had hoped for, and finally, after contacting the ASPCA, she is now the victim of verbal attacks, and threats against her family from the dogs owners. She is upset that she now has to live under this constant tension. She is regretting her decision to get involved. She said that she sees now why people don't do anything when they see something wrong, because they end up the bad guy.

When do you get involved? When do you finally step in and try and right something that in the pit of your gut, you know is so wrong? Is it subjective, like a spectrum, and my version of unacceptable is someone else's version of OK?

Half the time I spend gazing out my kitchen window, I am worried. Worried for my family. Worried about if and when, we lose our home, we will be living all together in one bedroom at my mom and dads. I stare out into the distance, and try so hard to peer into the future.

 But then I see this stumbling person. Drunk and incoherent. Lost, and in pain. I can't look past them. I can't pretend what I am seeing isn't there. Or it's none of my business. No more than my friend can pretend she doesn't hear the dogs barking, hours on end. Calling for someone, who sadly, isn't coming. When do you make that decision? That despite what the repercussions are, it is time to help. It is time to reach out your hand, and do what you can?

That thought has been haunting me. And when I saw that shell of a human return Saturday afternoon, and begin frantically searching through the leaves, and checking up and down the block for bottles they knew they had stashed away, I felt sadness. I felt like David and I had done something wrong. Maybe we had stuck our nose in where it didn't belong.

 And then I read this.

"The creation of a more peaceful and happier society has to begin from the level of the individual, and from there, it can expand to one's family, to one's neighborhood, to one's community, and so on."  - The Dalai Lama


  1. If you really want to help him, maybe you have to play his game and be sneaky, too. One thing you can do, if you see him stashing bottles again.. remove them all again, but leave one empty one, with a note sticking out of the top. You don't have to sign your name. Leave some encouraging words, tell him that he can kick the habit if he really wants to and be the man that he really wants to be in life, and that you're rooting for him. Keep it super-positive and not confrontational. Assure him that you will not tell anyone else that you know his "secret". That way you're anonymously "getting involved without actually getting involved." Maybe he just needs to hear a kind (but anonymous) voice that is outside of the household that he is hiding his habit from. Maybe even go as far as telling him where he can leave a note in return, someplace random (behind a tree, under a rock somewhere, whatever). Get creative before giving up on him. He's human, and not a lost cause yet. Just an idea :-)

  2. People are often fierce about protecting the terrible habits they have instead of life. Without them, they have to face life, so be careful my friend. Notes are not going to fill the void their bottles would, but maybe the person will respond. Where does this person live? Maybe leave a note in the home mailbox for a spouse who may need more help than the person you see. Can you start there?

    Mitch: what a caring approach. Is this person sad, angry, frustrated by life?

    Erin: this is the kind of thing that my bleeding heart wants to help, so I am with you.

    As for the dogs, depending on the breed, they may like the cold. I have one Husky mix who sits outside in the winter -- his choice. A decent dog owner would approach the neighbors and say thanks for the concern.

    You're a good one. Trust your gut and be careful.