This is a difficult but necessary conversation. If a conversation is difficult, then it should be engaged in with as many people as possible. And you know what, it seems like it is never the perfect time the for a difficult conversation.
I am talking about alcoholism, which is not a sexy subject and no one wants to talk about it.
Harold R. Johnson wrote this about it in his book, Firewater - How Alchohol is killing My People (and Yours)…
I must speak because so few are speaking. Our political leaders, our chiefs and councillors, the AFN, the Indian federations, the tribal council – all seem so silent.
Its impact on lives, particularly in First Nation communities, is well known. I am convinced that there is no other place in Canada that feels the influence of addictions more fully than in a First Nation community. These communities are tight. Their hearts beat as one. The saying “all my relations” is not lost here because one quickly realizes how closely related everyone is. When misfortune befalls one person in the community, everyone feels the pain. More importantly, they will show up to support one another. That is one advantage I will always treasure being from one of these communities, my home community. There really is a true sense of belonging, to being one of the tribe. Inclusion.
Sadly though, there is no escape from the cruel reality of addictions, it is everywhere. It breds hopelessness. It permeates the social fabric and, it is unfortunately, intergenerational.
To be sure, it is not for a lack of knowledge that abusive drinking happens. There is already so much information about alcoholism in our communities. For example, that alcohol has both a seductive and destructive nature. It is sneaky like that. The belief is that drinking is started to forget pain and trauma, which works for a short period, but then it quickly becomes the problem. And then health will begin to decline and relationships break down. Knowing this, why would anyone want to get started?
Instead it is viewed as fun, as “partying.” It enables people to “let off steam” and to “take the edge off.” It is seen as the activitity that brings people together. People even brag about it and post their alcohol-fuelled escapades on social media. Even knowing the harmful nature of alcohol, some think nothing of inviting others to join in this tragic cycle of self-abuse. The hard truth is that others are taken down too. Like the saying goes “misery loves company.” Especially if they have the means to supply more alcohol, all the while knowing it is wrong but powerless against the allure of booze.
When tragedy strikes due to excess drinking, which it unfortunately and eventually will, its impact reverberates throughout a community like shockwaves. Mixed emotions stir under the dark blanket of grief. The shock leaves everyone unable to comprehend the incident. On some level there is a nagging sense that whatever tragedy happened was preventable. That fact makes any tragedy that much more incomprehensible. Understandably, the moment right after a tragedy never seems to be time to have a conversation on it, because that would dishonour the victims and bring an inappropriate sense of being judgmental. Emotions are raw as minds wrestle to comprehend a senseless tragedy. Hearts are broken, dreams shattered, never to come to pass.
Because of the overwhelming grief that envelops everyone, there will always be some people who will then turn to drinking to dull the pain, because that is how they deal with pain. They may even raise a glass or bottle to the victim, not seeing how ironic and empty the gesture is. The vicious cycle continues as people turn to drink to mask their feelings.
Still, wouldn’t this be an ideal time, the perfect time, to have that very conversation? If only because the incident illustrates so intensely the destructive choices made under the influence of alcohol while it is fresh and before it is swept out of sight, because responding to tragedy must always be sobering, at least at the initial moment of reaction. Moreover, in small communities, when a tragedy has been caused by alcohol, people know what happened and they know why it happened. To be sure, everyone is thinking about it and talking about it behind closed doors in whispers, in hushed voices barely holding back assigning blame. Asking the question to themselves and those closest to them, why people are not talking about this together as a community? If there was ever a time to get together as a community, to perhaps reveal some hard truths, could this be the time?
That said, the reasons for all alcohol-related tragedies must be discussed openly and honestly in our communities, not with a sense of judgment or blame, but to ask the simple question: why? Why does it keep happening, even when we all know the dangers and the illusions that we create for ourselves, like the illusion that drinking to excess is partying, like the illusion that alcohol can help us with pain, like the illusion that the inevitable tragedy will happen to someone else.
Our people need to talk about these things. To do this is to honour those who lost their battle with addiction, not to blame them; to take something positive and good from their loss, not to condemn them. It sends a message to everyone in our communities that this issue is serious and it is a problem we all share.
So, what is stopping our communities from having an honest community dialogue on addictions? Education and awareness can lead to community solutions and healing. But this alone won’t stop it. What else needs to be done? Who in your community will see this as a call to action? Who is willing to show up for those who can’t? Don’t wait for someone else to do it because if not you, who then? If not now, when?