Hard times hardened my heartI stopped seeing alcoholics as people
By James Giago Davies
Native Sun News Today Columnist
nativesunnews.today My first experience with Lakota alcoholism came in the dark of a winter’s night, when we were rousted out of our beds by my drunken uncle and his friends, forced to sleep on the cold, hard floor, while they snored in comfort in our warm beds. There is a sound I have never forgotten, for a long time a comforting sound, a reassuring sound, the sound of a broom smacking hard across their backs, the sound of my mother returning home and chasing all three right out into the frigid night. My mother did not smoke or drink, she was struggling hard to raise a dozen children on welfare and food stamps. Despite her efforts to keep us away from it, by the time I was twelve, I had seen so much alcoholism among the urban Lakota in Rapid City, my heart hardened against all alcoholics. I lost all sympathy and compassion for their addiction. I stopped seeing them as people. Decades past, and I became good friends with Norm, a successful real estate developer. Despite living a life of privilege, Norm understood poverty and he understood Indians. His Hispanic father had been a judge down in New Mexico, Norm had played college football at Arizona State, but his father’s profession had always kept him in contact with the little guy and all his troubles. Norm had made and lost fortunes. He had seen the world. But he had no trouble seeing me as his friend, and although I was a chronic underachiever, he respected my talent and intelligence. He was very kind and generous to me, although I never once asked him for anything, repeatedly handing me five hundred dollars for no reason other than he thought I might need it. He asked nothing in return. He was genuinely appreciative of my friendship.
What I didn’t really understand was Norm was an alcoholic. All I knew were Lakota alcoholics. He seemed in total control of his life. It took awhile before he started to drink around me, before he disappeared for days on wicked benders. I visited him in rehab, he made really great progress, but his wife had kicked him out, and so he hooked up with a woman he met in treatment, and they were a nightmare for the other. He tried to reach out to me, would drunk dial me up, pleading for help between slurred words, but I got sick of dealing with him, stopped taking his calls, shut him out of my life. He had a shotgun. One day he decided to put the barrel to his chest and pull the trigger.