Spiritually Speaking

QUESTION: Family gatherings are getting to be very difficult for me because I quit drinking and have been sober for 10 years. That sobriety changed my life and I’m much happier and so is my immediate family. My problem is that my brother and sisters all drink and when we get together they say things to me like, “One drink won’t hurt anything.” They don’t seem to understand that an alcoholic doesn’t stop at one drink.

We like socializing with our family, but we’re just about ready to quit the family events. I don’t get angry when they prod me to drink, I just tell them, “No, thank you,” and leave it at that. Do you think we should just not go anymore?
– Happily Sober
Dear Happily Sober,
First, congratulations on your sobriety and your resolve to live within the tensions between your wellness and your family relationships. I wonder, do your family gatherings center around alcohol or do they feature other aspects that help your brothers and sisters feel connected? I know in my family that we often cling to what is familiar because we do not see each other as often as we like. While not seeing your family remains an option, your letter seems to indicate that you have enough resolve to resist the temptation to participate in their drinking. If that’s the case, I wonder if an honest conversation may be in order, rather than avoiding the conflict by not seeing them anymore.

There’s a proverb that says, “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). I think if you approach them humbly – and consistently – with your tensions then they may see your perspective. Ask them to help you by not insisting that you join them in their drinking, but that you still desire to join them. You want to continue to hang out with them, but some changes will be necessary now that you have made a commitment to sobriety.

If they are unwilling or unable to make space for you, then I think you would be justified to add distance – but only for a little while. The sting of your absence might be what it takes. Nevertheless, always leave the door open for reconciliation even as you protect yourself from temptation.

Rev. Kyle Sears
Dear Happily Sober,
Cutting people out of your life for dramatic effect is almost always a bad choice. And cutting off family is a really bad choice unless there are issues of personal safety, abuse or something that is just unbearable and not possible to tolerate.

I once heard someone say that life is short but also long. People do change over time and just having you around, not drinking, is a very good thing for your siblings. They might just see that your life is working out a bit better than theirs and someday choose to follow in your footsteps.

Of course there is no guarantee of that; however, there is a guarantee that if you absent yourself from their lives, they will not have you as a possible role model and, of course, you will not have them as family. I am not saying that you must spend great amounts of time with them; yet, from your letter, it doesn’t seem like an unbearable situation.

Okay, they tell you just one drink won’t matter. You know different. You will not be seduced by their attempts to get you to start drinking again. They say those things to push away their own feelings of inadequacy and failure. You have been sober for a long time and have heard all those empty sentences from people in the midst of their struggles.

What good can come of being in this world without family, flawed though they are? We are all flawed in one way or another. There is joy and comfort in the longevity of family presence at all the times that matter in life, like weddings, births and even funerals.

 Unless there is some other destructive thing going on that you did not mention, find ways to be with your family and even enjoy them!

Rabbi Janet Bieber

QUESTION: We have a neighbor whose wife passed away. He and his wife didn’t have children and no living relatives (that we know about). Now with his wife’s passing, he won’t take care of himself. Although his personal hygiene is appropriate, we’ve noticed that he falls a lot. We’ve tried to get him to go to the doctor. Even though he has insurance, he insists he doesn’t need to see a doctor. When his wife was alive, she scheduled all of their appointments and he went willingly. We’re afraid if we call in social services that will upset him.

We just don’t know what to do and welcome any ideas that will convince him that a doctor’s visit is in his best interest.
–Caring Neighbors
Dear Caring Neighbors,
I was involved in a situation very similar to yours not too long ago. Social services was eventually called, but we agonized over the decision. So I can relate to your problem.
This situation calls for the sensitivity and caring you are already showing. It is a matter of extreme pride, especially for an elderly person, to keep control over their lives. What I would do first is approach him as a friend and invite him to lunch or dinner or spend any time you can where you have the opportunity to talk. Begin sharing information about your life in order to respectfully get some information about his in return. This way you can delve deeper and see if, indeed, he has nobody. There might be a distant relative, a friend or even a clergy that he trusts. If so, you can reach out to them for help.
You might also offer to help him with various things, like shopping, and also taking him to doctor appointments. Encouraging him with the offer of your assistance may put him in a position where he feels he should oblige you out of respect.
Taking on this responsibility can be overwhelming, so don’t feel bad if you cannot do these things. Even just stopping by once in awhile to see how he is doing will go a long way toward earning his trust and friendship. Checking in on him in this way can assuage your anxiety about his well-being. It may even open the door to the suggestion of a nursing home or some other option.
Ultimately, you may have to approach social services. However, you can call them without giving details and see how they would approach a situation like this. Talk to them about the sensitivity and they can work with you on the best way to handle it. It may be a matter of them just coming in to check on how he is doing. They are trained to be very respectful. Talking to them may make you more comfortable with their plan, and then you can give them his details, knowing they will handle it with care.

Your concern for your neighbor is inspiring. Best of luck.

Joshua Lewis Berg,
Humanist Celebrant

Dear Caring Neighbors,
The loss of a spouse is never an easy season through which to navigate. In this case, it’s compounded by the fact that your neighbor appears to be dealing with his grief in solitude. Normally, this is a healthy response for a period of time, but it sounds as though he may be entering into a season of reclusion that might not be in his best interests.

 We read throughout Scripture, from Genesis to Jude, the importance of loving our neighbors. Galatians 5:14 tells us that “…the whole law can be summed up in the one command: Love your neighbor as yourself” (NLT). Your care and concern for your neighbor are commendable, and I believe you’re on the right track. I wonder, however, if you might take another approach. Perhaps instead of trying to fill the void left by his wife’s absence, you begin to try to engage your neighbor in some new activities. For example, since he seems to be performing routine self-care with respect to hygiene, why not take a look at improving his social life and helping him build new relationships? We’re fortunate in our area because there are many opportunities for the seniors in our community. At the YMCA, for example, we have a very active group that regularly meets to share meals, engage in activities and take classes for stability and balance. More specifically, we have Balance and Thrive and Fall Prevention initiatives that have been intentionally designed for situations just as you’ve described regarding your neighbor’s falls. I know there are similar options at our local community centers.

It’s obvious that your neighbor is important to you. As you look at his overall well-being, please be conscious of the things that contribute to his general health. These elements include social, mental/emotional, physical and spiritual components, all of which are important to accomplish a balanced lifestyle. If I may suggest, it might be beneficial to explore all of these areas before enlisting other types of assistance. Please feel free to reach out to me, personally, for additional resources.

Chaplain Lucinda Guarino