The Struggle of Deciding When to Help People and When Not To.

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I have a story. I struggled with sharing this on a FB Live. Do I or don’t I? It’s a terrible and sad story about helping people and making the call on when you should or shouldn’t. By the way, I never did do the Live.

I love to help people as much as I can. This one time I didn’t, and I should have, and the sadness that followed tore me up for months after.

Helping people-knowing when you should or shouldn't


Life in a small town

For those of you who know, I live in a smallish town in Guatemala. Poverty is high. I think domestic abuse, single family homes and alcoholism are also pretty high. You’re probably wondering why I would live in a place such as this then.

It’s also very beautiful and almost magical. I’m all about helping people and that’s one of the reasons I came  here. Anyway…

So here, the drunks are usually staggering along some of the streets like a bad version of The Walking Dead, or passed out cold on the sidewalks. More often than not, they’re passed out. On any given day, as I walk to town, I can easily pass 3 out cold on the side of the street.

That number has been as high as 6 but as low as zero. Yup, some days, the streets are free of passed out drunks. Rarely, but it happens.

It took a wee bit of getting used to but it’s part of life now. I mean, the city I come from isn’t free of drunks. I’ve seen my fair share. They just aren’t usually sleeping on the streets is all. Anyway…

Then there was this one day…

It was like another day. Walk to the gym, workout, go to the grocery store, home. Stopping occasionally, helping others by giving them money. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Well, actually it was. Now that I think about it. This day has plagued my mind and my heart for the last 24 hours. I imagine as time goes by, that will ease up, but for now, I’m scarred.

That guy. Was passed out cold in front of the store I buy most of my stuff from. It was unusual for two reasons.

  1. There usually aren’t drunks passed out in front of this particular store or at this location in town (none that I’ve seen anyway), and
  2. There was something very wrong with him.

I looked at him twice. I was slightly puzzled by this guy. I went in to the store, bought my stuff and walked out. I had to stop and look at him again.

Helping people-when you should or shouldn't


Helping people-to help or not to help

I know with every ounce of my being that something is just not right with this guy. I couldn’t put my finger on it. His breathing is shallow. I can tell but I have no clue what that means.

I am no medical student but I know when breathing is shallow like that, something just isn’t right.

His eyes were open but he wasn’t really looking at anything. Not quite rolled in the back of his head, they were just staring off vacantly.

Now as much as I love helping people I know there may be times, medically, I’m out of my league.

There is something wrong with this guy. I know it.

Ok. Ok Iva, you’ve already decided he’s not right. Now what? What are you going to do about it? You don’t really want to touch him for health and safety reasons. You don’t really want to try to talk to him or nudge him out of whatever coma he is slipping into because he’s Spanish and you’re English and if he can hear you, he probably will have no idea what you’re saying anyway.

So what now? What on earth am I supposed to do? I mean, there are drunks on the streets all the time. Nobody pays any attention to them. Just walk away Iva.

He’ll be ok.

Someone will do something, surely, or maybe even the police will come by and throw him in the drunk tank? No clue.

I walked away.

I felt helpless as a foreigner who struggles to speak the language and understand the culture. With an uneasy feeling in my heart and my stomach, I walked away. I left him there, like everyone else did.

And he died. Typing that out right now brings tears to my eyes and makes me so angry with myself. I found out through friends that night, the drunk man on the street died that afternoon.

He died. He freakin’ died, right there, that day.

And I left him when I had the chance to help. I knew something was wrong. And I left him there to die.

We all left him. We all walked by, around and away from the drunk on the street. And he died.

When and how to help others

I can go and on about moral obligations and helping people and the homeless ( I mean, that’s what I’m all about, aren’t I????) and stopping to see how to help. I can go on and on. But I won’t. All the feelings of hurt, sadness, frustration, anger, disgust, etc, that I have about my self right now, I deserve. Shame on you, Iva. Shame on you.

As much as we love helping people I get we can’t help them all. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? When do we decide who we help and who we don’t? Is it possible to help each and every single person we meet on the street who looks like they need help?

What would you do?

Friends make you feel better.

As I was recounting my story and sadness to my friend John, he assured me that even if I did try to help it was mostly a lost cause. This guy had his days numbered. He had been like this for 7 years. His death from drunkenness was inevitable. Don’t beat yourself up Iva. You couldn’t have saved him anyway.

Though his words were slightly comforting, I still struggle with the thought that maybe, just maybe……

Peace and Love


Helping people-when we should or shouldn't


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  • I can only guess what I would do and I honestly don’t want to know what I would actually do if I were in your shoes. I want you to know I completely understand your choice. It was a valid choice. Thank you for your honesty in sharing such a vulnerable situation in your life. I can’t imagine the head space you’re in but I do know that sharing is a healthy way for you to process this. Sending you lots of love and compassion via the miles that separate us. *hugs*

    • You know Jennifer it kind of reminds me of the time that young boy got killed on the greyhound bus back a few years ago and no one did anything to stop the attacker. Do you remember that? I almost felt like that. I mean not to that extreme but you get what I mean. Love you back xoxox

  • You did do something Iva. You noticed him. Even if it was only for a moment – you noticed him.
    No, you didn’t take action for all the reasons that you listed(which are totally valid, by the way) but you noticed him. Had you been in an English speaking country you would probably have taken some action-tried to get him some help or called the police but you weren’t and so you didn’t.
    I noticing and sharing your story you will have gone through all the possibilities of what you could have done and maybe next time you will be better prepared. In the meantime take heart that, for one moment, that man was seen and noticed and not just stepped over.

    • Awe thanx Caitlin. It’s just so frustrating to not know, right? I just feel as human beings are we not here to love and help each other? Thank you for your words, they did make me feel better and gave me a different perspective. Love you xoxo

  • When to help? When I cannot stop myself, like I’m already involved before I think about it. The question might be where is the root of the sadness? To spend a life drunk is sad to me. To die because of that is sad to me as well. When in my heart and mind there is a question of should I? , that, for me means , No, not this one l, not this time

    • Thanx for your comment Patt and great input too. I also thought afterwards, life like that must have been horribly sad and hopeless. It sort of makes me feel a bit better when I look at it that way. Like now he can finally have peace, like it was his time, I guess. xo

  • There is also something touching and beautiful about you shedding tears for this man, that his life mattered. Thank you for that.

    • Yes, his life mattered. xo They should all. Thank you for that Patt. xo

  • Hi Iva you are a beautiful and kind soul … I have experienced first hand … I have also experienced the same drunkenness and have on more than one occasion either moved them off the street and sat them up next to a post attempting to communicate as to their well being often with little or no response … and usually not taking into consideration of the health risks or possible violent outcome and personal safety factor…. life be a circle were born we live and we die … and we remanifest in another birth another life and another death … we can do what we can do and in this magical place you will have other opportunities as there is vast poverty and hopelessness a sea of broken people and far and few like you inbetween. .. I have been on both sides I have stepped over the top of those laying in the street and never looked back and I have attempted to help …. I want to believe a higher intelligence looks out for drunks and fools … feels good to be doubly blessed … and I was thein that day as well but only after the sheet was placed over the head… me and fifty to sixtype onlookers … perhaps he’s in a better and more comfortable existence. .. where ever he may be I’m sure he must be happy knowing someone took the time to write about it .

    • Awe thanx for that Brad and great perspective on his feelings :) . Thank you for taking the time to read and share your experiences. Yes I believe he is in a much better place now. xo

  • This is a really tough subject to tackle.
    Death makes most of us very uncomfortable. We don’t want to look at it or talk about it. Neither my dad nor my husband ever talked about their cancer. But there it was, lurking in the background with nobody wanting to deal with it. Easier to just ignore and go on, business as usual. On the other hand, what else can you do?
    To be honest (and as much as I hate to admit it) I probably would have done the same thing. So uncomfortable to deal with and I would have all the same questions as you did, stabbing at my psyche. What’s wrong with him? What can I do? Where is his family? Why hasn’t somebody else helped him? I would have wished I or someone else could have been there before he got to that point. It would have been so much easier, but life is not always cut and dried.
    Don’t beat yourself up about it. It was a life lesson for all of us. You were rhe one chosen to deliver that message. It certainly woke me up. God bless!

    • Thanx for your comment Gina and you’re right, death is difficult to deal with especially when it’s looking at us straight in the eye, right? I certainly will think twice next time I see this. xo

  • I go through the exact same thing here, Iva. When I first got here, I kept stopping and checking passed out drunks and wondering if they needed help. The same thought went thru my head: even if I could wake him up, I couldn’t talk to him in Spanish anyway. And everyone else, the locals, were just walking by. I’ve even seen cops walk by!
    Very rarely do I ever see a local helping these unfortunate people. Perhaps we should start? To set an example? I don’t know. I wonder if there is something out there who has advice for this situation. What do you say to them? I mean, they may be just sleeping it off. Or they may be in serious trouble, like the poor fellow you saw.
    I’m sorry you had to go through this. It wasn’t your fault. I think John was right. The man made his choice, probably made it over and over, and this was the result. :(

    • Thanx for your comment Cristel and your insight. It’s a tough one down here especially since the culture is so different and we are, in fact, foreigners. And you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves either, right? Yup, it’s tough. :(

  • In my job of property management, I see overdoses quite often and the 1st thing I do is call 911, wondering why no one called an ambulance or 911? is this not available where you are? and the statement you could not have helped him is probably true since it’s an addiction and they have to help them self. Here where I live I call 911 and they come give them a shot of Narcan and they go out and do the drug again it’s such a sad cycle and sometimes I wonder if maybe they would be better off if I didn’t call I know it’s awful to say but they can’t get off the heroin they are just stuck in the devil’s playground . So either way Iva your going to struggle with it because your a caring kind person and best you can do now pray for his soul and who knows it may have been what he wanted can you imagine the hell he must have been in day after day no Love, no Home, Just the Bottle Sad Sad Sad. Keep your head up Iva ^j^

    • Hi Barb thanx for reading the blog and sharing your story. This guy was at the end of his road from what I’ve been told and there was little I could do for him. So sad to see it though. We wish we could save them all, but we can’t.

      much love
      xo iva xo

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