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The courage of a simple 'no'

Our neighbor is a dear. When we moved into the neighborhood 12 years ago, she was first to greet us and offer help. As time passed, we found out she was an accomplished artist. For several years she encouraged and taught budding artists in our family. She was kind but demanded the best from her students - our children.

On one occasion I became concerned for her when she didn't show for a scheduled art lesson. When I went to her home to inquire, I found her "asleep" on her bathroom floor. Later she and her husband assured me she was fine. Another time I found her uncharacteristically critical and agitated, and I began to suspect she was an alcoholic.

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Several times over the years she has asked me to take her to the grocery store to pick up "something" she needed. She would tell me that her husband had taken the car and that she really needed to go before he returned. I thought nothing of it. Grateful for the opportunity to return her many favors, I always took her. I'd drive her to the store and wait while she quickly made her purchase.

Last summer she was involved in a serious car accident. Another neighbor told me that my friend had been drinking and lost control of the car. He also told me he, too, used to take her to the store when she asked, but stopped doing it when he realized she was probably using those trips to buy alcohol.

I was taken aback. I felt saddened and betrayed at the same time. How could this dear friend have gotten herself to such a point of deceit - to herself and those who cared for her. At the same time, I realized alcoholism is a disease in which many feel trapped. Although I'd been around those who drink socially, I'd never seen first-hand the devastating results of alcoholism, until this.

I was concerned about what to do. Was it my place to help her? I decided it probably wasn't. Surely, her family was aware of the problem and doing all it could, I reasoned.

But I've realized I do have some role. My neighbor asks me to help her satisfy a destructive habit, and it's my choice how to respond.

I know I can't in good conscience help her buy alcohol. Now the problem is how to say "no."

Twice recently she's asked for a ride to the store. Although in the past I would have found the time to take her, I pleaded "too busy."

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It's a solution, but not one I'm satisfied with because it's dishonest. Although I'm tempted to inwardly condemn her and outwardly avoid her, I know this won't help her or me.

I think I ought to tell her I suspect she's secretly buying alcohol, and I feel she is betraying a trust. On the other hand, maybe I'm wrong, and she isn't being deceptive at all. In that case, confronting her would only cause embarrassment to me and insult to her. I don't want to lose her friendship or cause disharmony in the neighborhood.

So the result is a dilemma. I don't want to continue my present course of putting her off and avoiding her because it's wrong. If she asks again, I hope I can muster the courage to be honest, even if it puts our friendship to the ultimate test.

*The author, a wife and mother of three who lives in southern California, asked to remain anonymous because of the privacy issues involved in this kind of problem.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society