Archive for the ‘Alcoholism’ Category

This is going to be one of those short, musing pieces.  There are a lot of things I’ve thought of to write about while I’ve been in Canada, but I don’t have the time to really sit and focus.  So perhaps I’m meant to keep my Canadian thoughts to myself.

But I have been checking on friends’ posts on Facebook off and on, just to keep up on what is happening on the home front.  In doing that, I learned that my Lakota friend’s cousin/sister died.  Based on the tidbits I’ve read, it was alcohol related – liver problems.  Still, when someone probably 20 years younger than I am dies, it is unsettling.

More unsettling than this one death, for me, is the number of deaths that my friend has had among her family in the 6 years I have known her.  It has not been “the old ones” for the most part.  It has been her own generation or younger.

I’m trying to remember all of them:  an uncle, a sister, a brother, a teenaged daughter, a stillborn nephew, an ex-husband (the father of her children) and several other cousins/friends.  There may be some I have not heard about, too.  To me, at least, that is a lot of death in 6 short years.  It is especially a lot of death in close family.

It is, sadly, not unusual on Pine Ridge Reservation where they live.  I have heard stories from many who have had significant losses like that, though I can’t say I’ve heard of so many in that short period of time.  When you add to the frequency of death the many other traumas that people on the rez experience – accidents, illnesses, injuries, the struggle to get from one place to another, the trouble finding a stable home to live in, abandonment by parents, no money to buy the necessities of life, violence and crime – it is likely that a very high percentage of individuals on Pine Ridge suffer from PTSD.

I don’t know how it is possible to bear all of the grief and trauma that my friend has borne.  It is difficult being 2000 miles away.  I do what I can to support and mostly I pray for the family.  That is really all I can do, in the long run.

I don’t know a lot but I do know that my friend has encountered more than her share of loss through death for someone who is not yet 40 years old.


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Life on Pine Ridge Reservation is very complicated.  I am thrilled that ABC News has followed through on their plans to spotlight life on Pine Ridge for the Lakota people.  But the 20/20 program they will air tonight (Friday, October 14, 2011) will only scratch the surface.

Yes, you will see the deplorable living conditions that most endure.  You will see the ideas and programs that are trying to bring hope to the people.  But there are stories that you won’t hear.

You won’t hear these stories because of “political correctness” and the fear of offending those in positions of authority on Pine Ridge.  I usually avoid those stories as well, because I have friends who live on Pine Ridge and I want them to be safe.

But after the 3 phone calls I have received from my Lakota friends this past 10 days, I’m stepping out of my gentle persona and allowing my passion and “righteous anger” to vent.  The volume may get a bit loud, so step back a bit if that will bother you and read from a distance.


Call #1

When the phone rang 2 weeks ago, I was still recovering from organizing and conducting an event at my church which included a silent auction of Lakota arts & crafts, a video presentation about my Lakota friends’ housing search over 6 years and a “feed” that included buffalo stew.  It had been a huge undertaking the prior weekend and I was, quite honestly, feeling the energy drain.

My friend’s eldest daughter had moved to Rapid City to find work and build a home for her 2 little boys.  They are all my takojas (grandchildren), at least in my heart.  Her partner, the boys dad, was living with them.  Her daughter found work at a fast food restaurant, got an apartment and tried to make a home.  Her partner did not find employment.  He did find the time and money to drink with his friends, even when he was supposed to be caring for the boys.  He had the “energy” to beat her in front of his sons.  This latest call was because he’d slept with another woman.  All of this may sound like your garden-variety domestic drama — but not to my friend.

My friend and her husband got sober years ago.  No AA or other 12-step group; just a strong desire to put her children first.  They do not want the takojas, the boys, to live in those conditions.  So my friend was going to Rapid City to pick up her takojas.  She was going to bring them home to live with them while her daughter figured out what she wanted in her life.

Why did they call me in all this?  Gas money.  The most mundane things can complicate these domestic issues even more.  The first complication is they no longer have a car.  So in order to make the 2 hour trip to Rapid City, they have to borrow a relatives car.  Then they must fill the tank with gas so they have enough gas to get that “rez ride” to Rapid and back.  With no source of income and limited funds, gas money is a frequent request in times of emergency or stress.  I called the local gas station and authorized gas for my friends.


Call #2

It was no more than a week later that I spoke with my Lakota friend again.  She was not feeling well, having severe pain in her abdomen and chest that was strong enough to cause her knees to buckle.  I told her she needed to be seen by a doctor.  She said she had been seen at the nearby clinic and the only thing they had found was that she had a significantly elevated platelet level in her blood tests.

I am fairly well versed in medical knowledge but I did not have much information about elevated platelet levels and if pain was a result or a cause of that finding.  So I did what any slightly tech-savvy nerd would do – I researched it on the internet.  I found that pain is not typically found when you have elevated platelet levels.  I discovered that there are many causes of elevated platelets, ranging from “benign – no obvious cause” to cancer with many options in between.  I could find nothing that made any sense based on the symptoms my friend had related.

She called a day later, in so much pain that I could hear it in her voice.  Since I was 2000 miles away, I could not say “Show me exactly where it hurts” or do any kind of touching to clarify what I was hearing from her.  But she sounded so frightened, she is newly diagnosed as diabetic, she has a family history of heart disease and the pain was lasting far longer than seemed okay to ignore.  So I made the suggestion that I would make to any friend:  go to the emergency room and have a doctor look at you.

I was aware that the nearest hospital was at least 45 minutes away, if she went to Pine Ridge Hospital.  There is a hospital in Martin, SD that she could go to if she wanted a bit longer drive and of course, there was Rapid City Regional, 2 hours away.  She decided to go to Pine Ridge Hospital, since the clinic was planning to have her check in there the following day for additional tests.

Pine Ridge Hospital is an Indian Health Services (IHS) facility.  The residents of the reservation have a standing joke about IHS:  “I sat in the emergency room for 6 hours and all I got was 2 Tylenol.”  It is a commentary on the quality of care received from IHS.

There were 2 physicians who examined my friend, one male and one female.  They did an x-ray of her abdomen which showed nothing.  [I cannot fathom how an x-ray of soft tissue with no contrast administered could be expected to show anything of significance.]  They did an EKG, which they said was find.  So the male doctor started to discuss what might be going on when the female doctor made a comment aloud, to no one in particular, that my friend’s problems were all in her head and she needed a psychiatrist.

My friend stopped the male doctor in mid-sentence to ask if the female doctor had spoken about her.  The male doctor was uncomfortable enough that my friend realized it was true.  She asked both doctors to leave so she could get dressed and she prepared to leave the hospital without treatment.

That was when she overheard a number of hospital staff, doctors, nurses, etc, making comments about “drunken Indians”.  They were laughing and mocking.  My friend and her husband, who were stone cold sober, were shocked.  They were even more shocked when one of the staffers made a comment to the effect that, if all the drunken Indians were shot, it would make their nights a whole lot easier and saner.

I know the anger that rose in me when my friend told me about those comments and the mocking.  I could barely speak, which was fine since I could not think of what to say that might possibly be appropriate in this situation.  I was embarrassed that those in the medical community would say such things.  I knew my anger, resentment and embarrassment couldn’t begin to approach what my friend and her husband felt.  She did file complaints through the proper channels.  But you and I both know that will not take away the sting of being mocked by those charged with your care.  It was so totally unprofessional.  Sadly, it was not particularly unusual.


Call #3

The most recent call occurred 2 days ago.  Before I detail the call for you, I want to tell you about my Lakota friend’s husband.  Understanding this man is germane to understanding the event.  It is also important to understand a bit about rez life, so I will also go into that a bit in case you don’t know very much about it.

As I said at the beginning of this post, life on the rez is very complicated.  That statement might actually be an understatement.  There is the poverty the underpins almost everyone’s life, since 90% of the residents live at or below the poverty level.  There are divisions that tear at the fabric of the culture:  pure-blood vs mixed-blood, traditional vs contemporary, activist vs passivist, etc.  There are times when the true Lakota culture, its values and traditions, are ignored or perverted.  Elders, women and children are considered sacred yet domestic violence is rampant.  Based on the traditional clannishness of historical Lakota life, who your family is can be more important that who you are or what idea you may have.  Nepotism and corruption abound.  The tribal council has actually tolerated disrespect among its members. People who are elected do not have to meet any age or educational requirements.  Politics play a bigger part in who gets a job than does who is the best qualified.

My friend’s husband is a big man but he is not the kind of man who uses his size to intimidate.  He is quiet and funny.  He is very smart and currently working on his college degree in business.  He would like to see honesty and respect return to the tribe and the interactions of the people who live on Pine Ridge.  He is a man of integrity who married my friend when she was a single mother raising 4 teen-aged daughters.  That takes courage in any culture!

All of that information is what made the phone call I received from my friend 2 days ago even more unthinkable.  She called to tell me that her husband was going to be arrested and she could find no one on the rez who could loan them $125 for bail money!

If it had not been for the panic in her voice, I’d have thought it was a joke.  I have always told her that, if the girls got into trouble, there was no money available for bail money.  Just not going to happen.  But the panic was there.

Here is the story that I pieced together:  They had submitted, to the proper person, a voucher for gas to go to a health appointment for her daughter.  Somehow, it had disappeared (mistakenly thrown out, intentionally “misplaced”, who knew?); they resubmitted it.  The check was supposed to be ready that day but wasn’t.  My friend’s husband called the office and the clerk told him she had seen the check in the official’s office.  So my friend’s husband called the official and, as he stated, “in a voice of authority” told the official that he would come down to the office “to straighten things out.”  The official decided that was a threat and called the police to arrest my friend’s husband for threatening a tribal official.

This had been on the phone.  My friend’s husband did not assault anyone nor did he go into the office and create a scene.  [I must say it is probably a good thing I don’t live on the rez; I’m not sure I could keep my temper in the face of all the “crap” that goes on.  I’d probably be a “regular” with the jailer under that criteria.]  If she could not bail him out, he would be suspended from college and lose his scholarship money.  It would destroy everything he has worked so hard to achieve thus far.

I was really torn because I had always said there would be no bail money.  But this man has worked hard.  He makes really good grades.  He is honest and straightforward.  I have always respected him.  I wired the bail money.  They plan to wire it back to me when they receive his educational stipend for the semester in another week.  I plan to let them send the money back to me.

After all, there is no gift of bail money, even if there is a loan of it.

And life on Pine Ridge Reservation is complicated, even for those of us who don’t live there.



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Again.  AGAIN!!

This time a 12 year old boy.

This is the note that the boy’s sponsor sent to One Spirit, the group I work for.

I am writing to ask ONESpirit Sponsors to please pray, each in the way of their own spiritual path, for my family at Pine Ridge Reservation. My heart is broken right now. The boy I have sponsored for about 5 years turned 12 a week ago. Yesterday he hung himself in the basement of his Grandmother’s home. No one knows why.

He was wonderful with horses and was an amazing horseman.
Ride Little Warrior, Ride. Ride like the Wind.
Take those reservation ponies to places they have never been.
Your big smile and the spark in your eye,
I’ll think of them as I look to the sky.
I feel you never knew.
How many people loved you.
Ride Little Warrior, Ride

It breaks my heart that a 12 year old boy would hang himself in his grandmother’s basement.  How can you have so little hope for the future at the age of 12?  Even when my father died when I was 12 years old, I did not consider suicide.

Yet children – especially teens – are committing  suicide on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in numbers that even the Oglala Sioux Tribe calls an epidemic.

I know why these things happen – not the specific reasons for each individual suicide, but the reasons that are the fertile soil for such devastating events.

Poverty. It is extreme.  Children go hungry.  Mothers and grandmothers call One Spirit for food because the food stamps and money run out before the days of the month do.  There are not enough places to live.  People can’t afford a home.  You can have 10 to 12 people or more living in one 3 bedroom house, sharing a single bathroom.  The houses are substandard – no insulation, holes, mold – and there is no money for upkeep.

Alcoholism. The reservation is “dry” – alcohol possession and use is illegal.  But that does not stop people from drinking.  The small town of White Clay, NE (pop. about 14) is about 2 miles from the reservation border.  Walking distance.  It is more than 25 miles from anything else in Nebraska.  Yet the 4 package stores sell an average of 4 million cans of beer a year.  You read that right – 4 million.  I used the word so you wouldn’t have to count zeros.  The reservation has a population of about 50,000.  The alcohol, in addition to the problems that addiction brings, also raises the rates of diabetes, fetal alcohol syndrome, liver disease and premature death.

Dysfunctional families. This is another repercussion of the alcohol issue.  Parents, who are alcoholic, leave their children in the care of elderly grandparents so that they can go off to drink.  Children start to drink early.  Rates of domestic abuse are higher than any other population in the country.  The poverty creates issues of theft within families – even the stealing of food to sell for alcohol money.  You can imagine the ill will that results.

Education. Or perhaps I should say the lack of education.  The drop out rate is over 50%.  Teacher retention is difficult – keeping a good teacher in the middle of nowhere when you can’t afford to pay them what they can make elsewhere is nearly impossible.  Besides, who is there to stress education or supervise homework?  Who has the money for higher education?  And what is there to study for?  If a child goes on to higher education, he/she will have to leave home and family to find a job.

Jobs. Again, it would be more correct to say NO jobs.  Unemployment on the reservation is about 80%.  Think about that.  80%!!  I realize that unemployment rates are higher than usual everywhere in this country right now.  But that 80% rate is the NORM on the rez.  You can’t work when there are no jobs to work at.  You can’t work when you have no transportation to travel the 50 miles to the nearest job.

We ought to be ashamed of ourselves as a nation. We stole the land from the original owners.  We corralled them on reservations, giving them the most useless land.  We pamper and spoil our children, giving them their own credit cards and every thing they ask for, while there are children who are hungry, who have to beg for clothes that fit as they grow and who have to sleep on the floor.

We ought to be ashamed!  We ought to do something to help the tribe come up with solutions to the problems.  Teach them to fish, don’t just give them the government leftovers.  If we can do this for countries in other parts of the world, we sure as hell can do it here!

How many more youth suicides will it take before someone listens???

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I usually don’t chat or do mentally stimulating tasks after about 10 pm.  My fibromyalgia has a sleep disorder “attached” to it that prevents me from falling asleep.  I also have a CPAP mask to wear when I sleep.  So I take medication to help me fall asleep.  It works pretty well unless I do something that really wakes up my brain.  If I do, then I might as well not have taken the meds.  I won’t even feel them.

Last night I made an exception to my rule because I was having a pleasant, interesting conversation with a new friend.  I really like this woman and wish we lived closer.  But that’s another story, already written, about how my friends are never close by.  We were, among other things, talking about an old friend of mine whom she knows as well.  You may remember him because I recently wrote about him – the alcoholic/drunk.

To digress for just a second, someone made a comment to me about those two terms.  He/she said, “Have you ever noticed that when we’re feeling sorry for them, they’re alcoholics and when we’re hurt or angry, they’re drunks?”  It’s a point to ponder, the meanings behind the words we choose.

I had learned some new information about the old friend yesterday and we were trying to decide how 2 gals, both many miles away, could get this old friend to seek the help he needs.  Short of flying to FL and shaking him to rattle things around in his brilliant mind, hoping those things would settle into the proper slots like a child’s game, we came up empty.  Perhaps it was too late to think seriously.

After we closed off our chat, it was time to get some sleep.  At least that’s what the clock was telling me at 11:30 pm.  I have an uncommonly busy social weekend and, with fibromyalgia, sleep will be crucial in staying well enough to enjoy it.  But my brain was now uncooperative.  My brain was awake!

So I played computer games and mulled over what the state of affairs is for my old friend.  Definitely it’s a sad state of affairs.

My old friend, as I’ve said before, is brilliant.  He has a PhD.  He was married for 26 years and has 2 adult sons.  He has had successful businesses.  He has worked for successful businesses, even briefly as the CEO of one large one.  So, you’re thinking, what’s the problem?  What’s to think about?

He drinks – alcohol – a lot.  Too much.  And when he does, it shows.

He once told me he’d been drinking since he was a kid (though I don’t know an exact age).  He said that he believes everyone has a “personal tolerance” for alcohol and his is quite high.  I’ve learned that his father, while a really nice guy, was a big drinker.  When he is sober, people are drawn to him – he is charismatic, sincere, caring.  When he drinks, he becomes angry, mean and verbally hurtful.  My concern is that he does these things in public, online.  Those things never go away and I fear they will haunt him for the rest of his life.  I fear they will prevent him from regaining the things he desperately desires:  love, employment, respect.

You see, he has lost a lot due to the drinking, although he won’t admit it was due to the drinking at this point.  There is always an alternate explanation.  Alcoholics become very good liars, even able to deceive themselves at times.

He lost his job as CEO.  Was that due solely to the drinking?  No, the economy was beginning its downward spiral at that time too, not a good thing in the building industry.  But the rumors in the company about his drinking were certainly not going to help. When there is actual substance to back the rumors, it means poor decision making is likely part of the equation.

He lost his 26 year marriage to alcohol.  He won’t admit that, at least to me.  But having seen alcohol turn this man from Jekyll to Hyde before my eyes online, I can imagine living in a marriage like that.  26 years is a long time to last in that marriage.  I can understand (though not condone) a woman seeking out support, sympathy and love that she needed outside the home.

He has not lost his twin, young adult sons — yet.  They are still 20-somethings, just starting out in their careers, so staying at the house with dad is great.  Dad cooks, cleans and generally allows them to do what they want to, in his house.  The house is a left-over from the happy family, CEO days – huge and expensive.  Tough to keep the bills paid when you are underemployed now.  A lot of pressure, right?  And what’s the relief, the mechanism to release the steam from the pressure cooker — alcohol, of course.

My friend has now fallen in love like a teenager.  He often waxes poetic and now the poetry has a focus.  A “friend with benefits” that he liked very much has indicated that she would like to take the relationship further – “go steady.”  It sounds good on the surface.  But . . . I wonder if she knows the extent of his drinking.  She was not around last night, so he was on the social network page with the rest of us.  Wait, we weren’t there when he was.  So what did my friend do?  Started drinking and got really, really drunk by the time some of us did show up!  His first posts had been about the new woman in his life.  They were rather intimate and private, but perhaps she likes that sort of thing posted for all the world to see.  She does not belong to the site, but some of her friends do, I hear.  So I am sure she’ll find out.  I fear for my friend, should this relationship fail.  I fear it will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

As time went on, my friend’s posts went from love to lust, focusing on young, nubile singers along with links to songs.  Then the mood began to sour.  My friend seems unable to be happy when he is alone.  The melancholy and self-pity take over.  If you track his posts through the night, you can see the pattern every time he goes on a bender.  One of his last comments noted how hung over he would be today.  He knows the effects.  But he doesn’t or can’t stop.  That sounds like addiction to me.

I spoke with a man I know who has 20+ years of sobriety with AA.  He told me my friend is a classic addict.  He added that, with the length of time he’s been drinking and the amount he consumes, he would need rehab to be able to truly stop drinking.  Withdrawal from alcohol can really be bad at that point.  But, of course, he has to want to.  You and I might think he’s lost enough and been through enough to want to kick the habit.  Addicts don’t think that way.  It’s partly feeling better, self medication.  It’s partly ego.  He has plenty of that on the outside.

So what is an old friend half a country away to do.  My instinct for self-preservation tells me to run in the opposite direction.  My values and my faith tell me to keep trying to get through to his brilliant mind.  My heart aches when I watch him self-destruct.

I have never watched anyone kill themselves before.  It is a very painful thing to do.  But that is the truth that keeps repeating itself in my mind.  Without help, he will soon be dead, drowned in alcohol by the demons he is unable to face without it.

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My friend is an alcoholic and right now (perhaps most of his life) he’s sailing up a river in Egypt.  You know the one: denial.  I really care about him but tonight he came close to ruining that.

My friend is an angry, mean drunk.  When he’s sober, he is more intelligent and kind than most.  But when he gets drunk, he lashes out verbally.  He did that to me tonight.

In an online chat, he told me the week had been bad and he had decided to get drunk . . . and was well on his way.  I told him, because we have agreed to always be truthful with each other, that it made me sad when he did that.  I told him I could tell when it happened even if he didn’t tell me.  He “went off” on me, telling me, among other things, not to start getting all “ex-wife” on him.  He threatened to “unfriend” me and never speak to me again.  I spoke the truth in gentleness and expressed my confusion at some of the things he said.  He went offline but I think some of what I said got through, because the angry, ranting posts stopped, too.

Fortunately for both of us, he is in FL and I’m in MA.  It was an online chat.  I could just leave.  Forgiving is easy for me.  Forgetting the meanness is harder, though.  I’ll have to work on that.

I could have ruined the relationship myself with the barbed retorts that sprang to mind (and continue to do so).  I chose to keep them to myself.  My goodness, I’ve become mature when I wasn’t looking.

My heart breaks for this terrific 56 year old man who has lost his wife, his last job and who knows what else because he is a drunk. I guess he figures he can fool other people because he’s so smart.  He has a PhD in social psychology, after all. But he is an addict and he thinks like an addict.  He’s only fooling himself, if that.

He needs an intervention but it isn’t going to come from me.  I’m too far away and I’m no longer in the business of trying to rescue people.  I will continue to pray for him, because I believe God is the only one who can work this miracle.

Still, it makes me very sad.  I’m sure there’ll be more to come on this.

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