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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, April 02, 2007

My good friend

How good a friend are you?

I mean, we probably agree that if you do nice things for people you like you are a good friend to them. If you say nice things to people you like you're probably a good friend to them. If you think nice things about people you like you're probably a good friend to them.

And we base all this on the assumption that you do all the nice things for people you care about - friends.

But when your friend needs to hear some bad news, can you deliver it?

I have a friend who is a drunk. He gets lit frequently. And it occurred to me in a conversation with him earlier today that I don't think I've ever called him out over his excess boozing. We've talked about the after-effects a million times. I have laughed with him over his descriptions of feeling and looked wretched the next morning. I've poked fun at him for it and teased him about not being able to "hold" his. I've coyly asked him if he remembered who he hooked up with the night before.

The only reason it struck me today that I may be doing this friend a disservice was that he called and told me about his recent wild nights...and then he went on to talk about how bummed out he was about his life.

For all the times this buddy has called me to tell me about his escapades I've never once told him "Go to AA, go straight to AA, do not pass go, do not collect $200."

Nothing. Not even a hint like "You think maybe you should cut back a little?"

Don't get me wrong. I'm not on a soap box. I'm not even on a bar of soap right now. I have had my share of "the day after."

But then I got, and tired of feeling like re-heated crap from late Friday/early Saturday morning till Sunday evening every weekend. And booze got expensive. And I had things to do that required me to be clear-headed, etc., etc. The list could go on. And no doubt some of you could add a few items to it.

My point is you grow up at some point and stop the goofy behavior, just because. If you're 30 or older and nowhere near the goals you've set for yourself but yet you still find time to get hammered every night? You have issues. And if you can't or aren't willing to stop you might have a problem that goes beyond your overwhelming desire to have fun. And if this description fits you, you're not likely to get "it" on your own, which leaves the job of making you get "it" to your friends.

But friends aren't always willing to tell you're goofy and/or you need help. And yet, you may need to hear that more than a joke. I know all the arguments: we don't want to hurt our friends' feelings. We don't want to come off as the bad guy. I've heard 'em all. I've used 'em to rationalize my own unwillingness to put a friend in check.

Still, it's strange to me. It should be easy. The truth shall set you free, and all that jazz, right?

I think I am a good friend to this guy. But I've never told him to get help.

Labels: , ,


  • The other nasty side effect of aging is gaining wisdom. Now that you have it, what will you do with it? I'm guessing: the right thing.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:52 PM  

  • It does take that little extra in someone to do that. I have a good friend from work who is a recovering alcoholic and another friend at work who we believe is still going through it. My recovering friend tried to do everything he could to get the other one help, but he hasn't listened yet.

    By Blogger Michael C, at 11:17 PM  

  • He finally brought it up... that may have been your opening.

    Advice usually isn't heeded unless requested.

    isn't that funny.. I just gave you advise you didn't ask for.


    By Blogger Pamela, at 12:55 AM  

  • It tends to be difficult for people to tell someone what they NEED to hear rather than what they WANT to hear. About pretty much anything this seems to be true. I think it is that whole 'shoot the messenger' theory people are afraid of. Does my butt look big in these jeans? hmmmmm do you want the truth or what you want to hear?

    Safe answer: no honey your butt doesn't look big in those jeans, which is great as long as she never realizes that it actually DOES.

    If that made as little sense as I am afraid it did, I blame it on being 230 am and me being tired.


    By Blogger briliantdonkey, at 2:35 AM  

  • I think it depends a lot on your friend. I have a friend that has so many walls up that I can't tell him anything, until it's to late... Still, I'm always there for him. Then I have other friends who behave rationally and usually take sound advise the first time they here it.

    By Blogger captain corky, at 6:44 AM  

  • You think he doesn't know he should grow up? The guy hangs with you 'cause he knows you're never gonna get all parental on him. Your best bet might be to sidestep the clowning next time the subject comes up.

    FRIEND: "Man, I got hammered last night."

    JAMES: "How 'bout those Dolphins, huh?"

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 6:47 AM  

  • Don't beat yourself up. Now that you're thinking about it ----maybe it's time. It wasn't time before.

    Tell him what's on your mind and let the chips fall where they may.I hope your being honest with him doesn't change your friendship. But if it does, you will have at least done what you thought was right.

    P.S. He already knows he has a problem. You telling him you think he has a problem and may need help is say "I know you know, and I'm willing to stand in truth with you." (You know I tend to get sappy.) : )

    By Blogger Angie, at 9:15 AM  

  • If I was high right now and paranoid, I'd think you were talking to me, James.

    I think you need to affect your best Dr. Phil Texas accent and start preaching to the sinners, rather than the choir.


    By Blogger Matt, at 9:54 AM  

  • Nobody wants to get into an arguement or lose a friend over stuff like this. And if they aren't going to listen it makes the whole thing that much more frustrating. But, even though they may act like they are listening they probably are.

    If you bring up somebody's excessive drinking and he gets really mad and defensive then he probably already knows what you are saying is true. Usually they're ebarrassed and mad at themselves.

    But, still it can be hard and can cause a real strain on friendsips.

    I don't know if I could bring myself to tell somebody he was drinking too much or anything like that. But, I would stop somebody from going on American Idol if he/she really sucked. I do know that much.

    By Blogger Jay, at 10:44 AM  

  • You're right. A true friend wouldn't watch someone they care about whirl down the drain without at least making an attempt to throw them a life preserver.

    If I were you, I would say something but I would make it supportive. As in, "look, you've not been heading down the right path for a long time. I'm your friend and I want to help you."

    I would couch it in terms of concern for his well-being. That might help since he'll undoubtedly be on the defensive and feel like you're pointing a finger at him.

    By Blogger Queen of Dysfunction, at 12:10 PM  

  • James a true friend won't let someone jump off a cliff. Instead of telling him he needs help, why not simply "suggest" and "invite" him to consider the possibility. That's all you can really do ... it's his path after all ... and it has to come from him, from his own desire to stop the behavior.

    But at least you'll know you showed your care and concern and that you're not "judging" him but rather offering the suggestion, that's all ... Tough call ... but it's as much of a challenge for you here as it is for him. (Relationships are formed to learn more about ourselves.)

    By Blogger Manola Blablablanik, at 12:15 PM  

  • Well? are you going to tell him now? or does he read your blog and this is your way??

    By Blogger Claudia, at 12:26 PM  

  • JB, a lot of this depends on how good a friend you are and want to be with this person. You strike me as a live and let live kind of guy, but some things shouldn't be left unsaid. If this person is your best friend and you say nothing, you should be ashamed for letting the matter go any further without at least asking "Dude, how many times a month are you doing this?" As his best friend, you owe it to him to say something because inevitably the drinking will affect your friendship negatively. You need to say something so that if and when your buddy gets a handle on his drug use, he won't look back and say "Nobody ever told me something was wrong." Maybe you don't want to be the "I told you so" friend or lose their friendship over something which might appear hypocritical (a drinker telling another drinker he's a drunk), but believe me, what you have with this dude is an unyielding drunken escapade masquerading as a friendship. I have years and years of experience with this sort of thing, from family to friends.

    If he is a casual friend (only see every once in a while, call during sporting events to give crap, been to each other's house once or twice), then the decision to say something about the drinking could be related to its negative or positive effect on you. Positive effects include loquaciousness, fearlessness, and having a party asshole (whatever bad happens or whomever has to do something distasteful will be performed by your drunk friend). The party is loud, good, fun, and forever. This is for the first couple of years.

    After that, Usually when you have a friend who is a drunk, whenever you are out, you will invariably get in fights, have to wrestle away car keys, will get spillage in your car and on your clothes, and will often have nights that end with puke in, on, or outside of your car. Dragging dead weight to an upstairs apartment and undressing a near corpse at 5 a.m. is always a dream. Turning him on his side to make sure he doesn't drown in his own vomit is good fun, too. And that's if you're lucky and this drunk doesn't also have a loose bladder. The next day will often include a ride back to their car or to an impund lot. Maybe your night will involve a jail cell.

    Great stories afterwords, but not always so much fun at the time.

    To me, the value of a friendship is the willingness of a person to not only pump up your ego when you're feeling down or be there when something wonderful happens, but also to pull your coat to your selfish, unacceptable or dangerous behavior. If for no other reason than not letting you go one more minute without hearing an unpleasant truth. Ask yourself JB--do you want your friend to look back on this time and say "Nobody ever told me I was being an asshole drunk"? If the answer is no, slip him a hint that he's getting to be too much a drunk to have fun with.

    There are no really easy ways to drop knowledge on your drinking buddy. Easy hints may sound like--"Damn son, how many times is that this week?" ; "Yo, maybe if you switched to weed you could get up in the morning without throwing up on my rug", but the reality is none is going to send a man to rehab. The only one who will do that is himself. I just hope he can get better without destroying all the relationships that make his life decent right now.

    Good luck

    By Anonymous Big Daddy, at 2:45 PM  

  • You know what's frustrating? When you work up the courage to have *that* conversation with someone — and his/her friends claim to support your decision — but then they continue to offer him/her drinks (and still more drinks) whenever they go out, often egging on the habit for old time's sake. The end result: your friend resents you for being concerned.

    I'm not saying it's not a good idea to have the conversation — it is — but a group intervention (hokey as it may seem) is likely the way to go, if at all possible.

    You hit a sore spot with this one.

    By Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy, at 3:03 PM  

  • I forgot to add the part where the other friends say things like "they have a problem and need help, but they won't get it until they ask for it."

    Well. They won't ask for it until they know they need it. And sometimes it takes the public support of their friends ENCOURAGING sobriety, day after day, for them to realize it.

    I swear, if I hear one more person say "one beer won't hurt them..."

    By Blogger thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy, at 3:11 PM  

  • It's a difficult road. Most people who haven't admitted a problem will react badly at being lectured.

    It's no win situation. I've been there.

    By Blogger Hammer, at 3:17 PM  

  • I am soooo bad at doing the 'building up' thing for friends, and even worse at being the sounding board. I'll listen to a sob story once, maybe twice if they're a really good friend, but after that, I just want them to figure out what they're going to do about whatever it is they're whining about and quit talking to me about it.

    Unfortunately, I usually tell my really good friends that.

    And, fortunately, they expect it from me and they're still my really good friends.

    By Blogger SWF41, at 4:37 PM  

  • I think you should explore how much of a friend you feel you are to the person before offering advice.

    If you advise the person to go to AA, would you be willing to take them there if asked? Are you willing to put up with the sober version of this person if they turn out to be even more depressed or for that matter depressing?

    And like thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy (just missed the entry in the HHGTTG) said, are you willing to be constantly annoyed if they totally ignore your advice?

    By Blogger Wavemancali, at 5:25 PM  

  • The hardest part of being a good friend is asking the hard questions. Some of the hardest times in my life have been sparked by my best friend asking me questions she didn't want to ask because she knew they'd hurt me. But those hard times lead me to such great things that she would have been doing me a disservice if she didn't ask.

    It's hard being a good friend sometimes. You've got it in you. You might be surprised - he might be sort of waiting for someone to talk to him about his drinking. Maybe you can help him.

    By Blogger Melissa, at 8:52 AM  

  • Taking a cursory glance at your comments, it looks like people have some ideas.

    Has anyone else showed concern for your friend's drinking? It does sound like he's self-medicating. I would drop suggestions to getting help, but I'd also offer to go out on non-alcohol outings like biking or playing basketball. That way, he'll put his body through the ringer and may not feel like drinking.

    Anyway, done rambling. You are a good friend. Good luck.

    By Blogger Evil Spock, at 9:29 AM  

  • This post is about me, isn't it?

    Look, I appreciate your concern and all, but I'm not going back to rehab.

    Honestly, I am such a bad friend that it took me six years to figure out that one of my closest friends was addicted to prescription pain pills. Did I say anything? No. Did I continue to take her to the ER when she called me? No.

    By Blogger mist1, at 10:36 AM  

  • I have a buddy who smokes weed a lot. I never really got into that stuff, but he went all out. And he's still doing it. At least he's going to college and doing well there. I've mentioned from time to time that he should seriously slow down on the stuff. I have even asked him: Why the expense of it? What good does it do?
    He couldn't give me a straight answer. Someone who is addicted to something never can.
    Great post! Later.

    By Blogger Lucas Pederson, at 5:32 PM  

  • Just got thru having a big discussion with some friends about this issue. I actually lost a friend for over a year, b/c of my need to give her a straight answer. She was about to marry a man who was criminal, to say the very least. She was angry when I would not give my blessing, but my explanation went like this: "If I saw you about to put a needle in your arm, and shoot heroin for the fifteenth time that day - would I be a good friend if I didn't say anything and let you kill yourself?" As a friend, I feel a great obligation to speak my mind whenever I see them about to really harm themselves - not for little mistakes, but for big things.

    After a year, my friend admitted I was right, and we are good friends today. But a real friend can't sit back and watch someone destroy themselves, unless that person makes it very clear that they don't give a damn and want you to butt out of their lives.

    Then it's up to YOU to figure out if you really want to associate with that person, or if you can live with their habits.

    By Blogger Tiggerlane, at 11:08 PM  

  • It's not too late.

    Better the wound of a friend than the kiss of an enemy, right? He's probably secretly waiting for someone to care enough to tell him the truth.

    By Blogger katrice, at 11:28 PM  

  • There is no time like th present to let him know you are concerned. He is killing his liver aswell as his brain cells.
    Thing is, HE is the only one that can make the change.
    As a nurse, I see this so many times, young men and women who drink too much, everyday, not just weekend binges..and they are too young to go through what they are going to go through medical wise.

    By Blogger Cazzie!!!, at 3:58 AM  

  • Just you realizing he needs help and that you need to tell him that is a good sign that you're moving in the right direction. Good friends tell their friends things they may not want to hear, but are for their own good. And so long as he understands that you do it because you care, there's just no way anyone can put fault on that.

    By Blogger The Dummy, at 2:55 PM  

  • maybe the next time you talk to him... and it comes up, tell him you're worried. be warm about it. kind. he may not be ready for the slap in the face of "Damn dude get your shit straight!"

    but as a friend yeah... i would expect someone to tell me if i had a problem that i wasnt willing to see. maybe talking about it seriously might help him to realize that life is what you make it.

    By Blogger Yasamin, at 4:02 PM  

  • My favorite Peanuts cartoon is the one where Lucy is watching ants on the ground, telling them what they should do to improve themselves. After a few panels even she gives up in disguse and says, "Bugs never listen to good advice".

    Just saying.

    By Blogger wordsonwater, at 8:37 PM  

  • Look at it this way. Which is worse, a little conversational awkwardness or a possible fatal collision in which your friend and some innocent people are killed?

    If you care enough to consider yourself his friend, expressing your concern is a friendly gesture. He is free to get help or to ignore you. He is even free to get angry with you. But imagine how angry you will be with yourself if you say nothing, and noxious substances hit the fan.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 11:59 PM  

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