When to Step In

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Social Q’s

A friend of mine got very drunk and nearly killed himself when he drove his car off the road. When I visited him at the hospital, days later, he was still sedated and hooked up to a number of machines. (His prognosis is good.) The night before the accident, he got his first D.U.I. Clearly, he is an alcoholic. His parents are dead, and his sister lives several states away. May I tell her that he has a drinking problem? I don’t want to tattle, but I’m not sure if she even knows about the accident. I don’t want him to keep drinking and driving, possibly killing himself and others.


Yes, but with a small attitude adjustment. No one should ever get behind the wheel drunk. But let’s acknowledge we have all been (or will be) your friend at some point. Maybe not with drugs or alcohol, but with something: food, sex, binge-watching Netflix. Every life comes with brutal passages. Who wouldn’t reach for some kind of anesthesia? And at some point, we all need help.

A great example comes near the end of Paul Thomas Anderson’s amazing film “Magnolia” — when all of the major characters, in their own settings and states of pain, start singing along with Aimee Mann’s gorgeous song “Wise Up”: “You’re sure there’s a cure, and you have finally found it. You think, one drink will shrink you till you’re underground and living down. But it’s not going to stop, it’s not going to stop, it’s not going to stop till you wise up.”

So, get on the horn with the sister, but not with a label or a diagnosis. Tell her that her brother is hurting and needs help. Don’t just hand the problem off. You are clearly a menschy guy. Help assemble a support team: friends, hospital resources, the 12-step community. Of course, he must decide for himself that he wants help. Let’s hope he will. Let’s also hope there will be an Adam in our lives when we need him.

How Low Can You Go?

My husband and I live in Europe. We were invited to my nephew’s wedding in Miami, and we calculate that it will cost us $3,000 to attend (with air fare, hotels, etc.) Would it be tacky to offer my nephew the choice of a $3,000 check (in which case we would not travel to the wedding) or our attendance (with a token gift)? We would rather not go.


Tacky-with-a-capital-T! Why make a disingenuous offer and your poor nephew feel like a money-grubber for choosing your preferred outcome? Simply send your regrets and a generous gift. Invitations are not subpoenas.

A Sadly Familiar Chord

I teach at a boarding school. When I pulled into the parking lot one morning, I saw a fellow teacher taking a big gulp from a jug of Jack Daniel’s. We walked to the main building together, and I asked if he was O.K. I also told him that I’m in a 12-step program and that they can be helpful. He replied that he was checking out Alcoholics Anonymous and the school’s employee-assistance program and that he would be fine. But a month later, a nonboarding student told me that he keeps running into this teacher at a gas station (with an attached package store) 20 miles away. Should I do something?


You got it! It’s a theme column (with a brief wedding interlude). Please see Question 1. But let’s add: Teachers at boarding schools often assume quasi-parental responsibilities: driving students to athletic matches or debates at other campuses, supervising dormitories. And like their public-school peers, boarding students are entitled to learn geometry from teachers who are sober.

Other than that one early-morning swig (which is incriminating), there isn’t a mountain of evidence here. Don’t dog your colleague with more invitations to 12-step meetings. It was kind of you, but he didn’t take you up on it.

Still, for the safety of the community, and probably the teacher himself, make a confidential report to the head of the employee-assistance program, which helps employees with personal problems that affect their work. When employers go to the trouble of instituting benefit programs, the least we can do is use them.

My Self-Published Back Pages

I recently self-published a memoir. It is primarily for family and friends, but is also available online as a “print on demand” book for a wider audience. When telling folks about it, should I say my book is self-published (i.e., that I paid to publish it as opposed to a publishing house’s releasing it)? Is it a lie of omission if I don’t?


It doesn’t sound as if you’re trying to trick anyone into thinking that Simon & Schuster and Little Brown got into a bidding war for the story of your life. Just say what you told us: “I wrote and published a memoir for my family and friends. But it’s available online if you’d like to buy a copy.” Most people will probably be more interested in your story than your publishing pedigree. And those who want an editor’s seal of approval will figure it out before they click “buy.”