By Xavier Kataquapit
Recently I had conversations with friends and family about how important it is to help others and, in particular, help those who are marginalized and who have addictions. We were agreed on the fact that too many Indigenous people are dealing with addictions as a result of colonization and all the racism, abuse and bigotry that went along with this reality for many decades.
We have come a long way in how we look at people with addictions and we now understand this has to be treated as a health issue, which is debilitating and often fatal. Thankfully we have more and more Indigenous people who are involved in assisting our people with alcohol and drug addictions.
We also have a lot of people with life experience as recovering alcoholics or addicts involved in assisting those who are suffering from addictions. These days it seems like colleges are pumping out social workers who have good intentions, but that don’t have the life experience to provide the necessary care and understanding for those who are suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction.
I am reminded of a story I read some time ago that explains a view on helping a person with alcoholism or drug addiction. Here is the story:
An alcoholic addict had fallen into a hole and was pleading for help from anyone. He just could not figure out how to get out of this despair of alcoholism and addiction he had fallen into.
A businessman went by, and the alcoholic addict called out for help. The businessman threw him some money and told him to buy himself a ladder. But the alcoholic addict could not buy a ladder in this hole he was in. Then a doctor walked by. The alcoholic addict cried out that he could not get out of the hole he was in. The doctor gave him some drugs and suggested that the medicine would help. The alcoholic addict said thanks, but the pills just made him numb and he was still stuck in the hole.
Next a psychiatrist/social worker was walking by and heard the alcoholic addict’s cries for help. He stopped and asked,” How did you get there? Were you born there? Did your parents put you there? Tell me about yourself. It will alleviate your sense of loneliness.” So the alcoholic addict talked with him for an hour and poured out his heart. The psychiatrist/social worker noticed the time and said he had to leave but would try to return the next week. The alcoholic addict thanked him, but he was still in the hole. Next thing you know a priest minister came by. The alcoholic addict again called for help. The priest minister said, “I’ll say a prayer for you.” He got down on his knees and prayed for the alcoholic addict, then he left. The alcoholic addict was very grateful, but he was still stuck in the hole.
Suddenly, a recovering alcoholic addict happened to be passing by and he was coming from a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. The alcoholic addict cried out, “Hey, help me. I’m stuck in this hole!” Right away the recovering alcoholic addict realized what the alcoholic addict in the hole was dealing with and he jumped down in the hole with him. The alcoholic asked, “What are you doing? Now we’re both stuck here!” But the recovering alcoholic smiled and said, “Calm down. It’s okay. I’ve been here before. I know how to get out.”
As more and more of my people become recovering alcoholics and addicts, thankfully some of them are finding work in assisting others with this problematic health issue. It is a long difficult road for Indigenous communities as we have had to struggle through generations of abuse, tragedy, trauma and marginalization.
I often repeat to anyone who might listen that these tragedies took generations to accumulate, and it may very well take generations to deal with. Life is a lot better than it was for my parents who grew up in a culture of normalized racism and ignorance. However, there are still barriers in place that need to be dealt with today. Through the work that so many people are doing today, life will be many steps better for future generations.
I say Meegwetch, thanks, to all of the wonderful, caring and wise Elders, leaders, traditional guides, recovering alcoholics and addicts who are providing the care and support needed to assist our brothers and sisters to heal and recover from these life threatening and debilitating alcoholism and addiction health issues. As a recovering alcoholic I can tell you, with qualified, experienced intervention and support there is a good path forward.