Ivan Starr: Alcoholism largely ignored on Pine Ridge Reservation

The following opinion was written by Ivan F. Starr. All content © Native Sun News.

Saying ‘I was an alcoholic’ is like saying; ‘I was a diabetic’
By Ivan F. Starr

Except for three years in the military, a few more working and attending school away from the Pine Ridge Reservation, I have resided here since birth. At my age, I can easily claim half a century of residence here on this last remaining piece of Lakota land. Within this time, I have seen a variety of situations and heard numerous discussions regarding a vast assortment of issues.

From all of this, I am annoyingly aware of a certain aspect to life on the home land. I am referring to the significant level of ignorance about issues that affect us. Of course this lack of knowledge leads to an attitude of indifference which complicates our woes. This “don’t care” attitude involves issues about crime, health, land, history, education, tribal government, alcohol, and life in general.

This week I am focusing on the issue of alcoholism (drug-ism also). It is widespread yet largely ignored. It touches every individual regardless of how rich or poor one is and irrespective of degree of “Indian” blood. It afflicts everyone including those who do not drink but have relatives that do. Due to this prevailing lack of comprehension, this disorder is rampant.

Dealing with alcoholism is bad enough but people tend to aggravate the situation by not knowing how it works and especially how it affects them individually, their families, friends, and job. It is sad to see people not educating themselves about it. Instead, most people do not want to be associated with it because they consider an alcoholic the lowest of human beings.

“I was an alcoholic” is commonly heard on the reservation. This tells me a story about the person taking this position. That is similar to saying “I was a diabetic.” There simply is no middle ground or half way point when it comes to alcoholism or diabetes for that matter. Additionally, once a person becomes alcoholic, or diabetic, it is for life.

When one is suffering a tooth ache, one usually goes to a dentist to have it fixed. When one has broken a bone, one usually goes to see a doctor to have it fixed. But because most people do understand how alcoholism works, most people fail to go to a professional to have it fixed. Most people don’t even know they are sick and thus never ask for help.

So how does one know if he or she is alcoholic? For the most part, that depends on the individual’s willingness to take responsibility and take a good look at his or her alcohol consumption. However, this is where it gets difficult. Actually, it is confusing to an individual who has the desire to “sober up,” but the powerful public stereotypes of alcoholism keep him or her from achieving sobriety and recovery.

These misguided public views are devastating for many wanting sobriety. Many believe recovery from alcoholism is a cure. If a person can’t help him or herself, then they are weak. Only “Indians” are susceptible to alcoholism. Treatment for alcoholism is not traditional. I’m not an alcoholic because I don’t drink cheap alcohol. I only drink the good stuff. I would rather do drugs than drink alcohol.

Sadly, some people believe they can stop any time they want to. Some people go what is called “cold turkey” but it doesn’t last long. Oftentimes, such people succeed in abstaining from alcohol but they continue being angry, irritable, and violent behind closed doors. This is one heck of a way to live, especially for the individual’s family members.

I like to think that as a recovering alcoholic, even the President of the United States with all his power could not stop me from drinking, if I didn’t want to.

Sobriety is personal choice. If a person wanted it bad enough, it can be accomplished. An individual actually owns that much power. This explains why our courts tirelessly sentenced people to treatment time after time without success.

The standard dictionary description of alcoholism is, “A chronic pathological condition caused by excessive consumption of and psychophysiological dependence on alcoholic beverages.” I stand to be corrected on this but I believe this description is a bit skewed. It is just like everything else the Wasicu sees and writes regarding Native America.

Being a long-time recovering alcoholic, I believe a culturally relevant definition of alcoholism needs to be examined and accepted. This situation is similar to the Food Pyramids that we see in nearly every school cafeteria. These USDA approved pyramids promotes a drastically high concentration of carbohydrates with little regard for the diet indigenous people ate for thousands of years.

I truly believe that the lingering irrational drinking is caused by an unresolved severe misfortune (trauma) in one’s life that has influenced the natural mental processes. All of us, regardless of whom we think we are, are subject to trauma but the majority of us never learned to cope with it and continue to exist within an empty shell. Treatment is designed to steer a patient toward realizing this.

Interestingly, the Lakota inipi, commonly known as the “sweat lodge,” offers similar healing options. According to oral tradition, the inipi was given to the people for the sole purpose of purifying the mind and body. It is designed to allow a person to release those unnatural constraints that often misguide us into a life of misery.

It is for those who are experiencing the anguish of losing a child, a relative, and also for those who have taken another’s life. Oral tradition has it that even old men once created nations with the inipi. Sadly, too many of us have been assimilated into thinking that our culture is now outdated, regressive, and useless.

At any rate, every person holds the key to a better life. We have what I call a God-given gift, whether it is via the old or modern way, to move ourselves from desolation to happiness. We have the ability to speak and this is the gift I mentioned. It is a very simple avenue for lightening the needless loads we carry throughout our lives. We do not need alcohol or drugs to feel good. We do not need to eat as much as we do. We can feel normal the natural way.

(Ivan F. Starr, P.O. Box 147, Oglala, SD 57764; 605-867-2448; mato_masula2@yahoo.com)

Copyright permission by Native Sun News

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