It was about 30 years ago this fall I drove a good friend to an alcohol treatment centre in Indian Head, Sask. I didn’t even know at the time he had a drinking problem. But he did and his employer did. So he went for a 28-day, dry out, get-your-head-on-straight treatment program. Pine Lodge is still there. I drove past it about a year ago.
My friend had a hell of a journey over the following 30 years. He stayed sober for a while, was in and out of a couple of other treatment programs but always went back to drinking. He lost his job. Lost the respect of friends and co-workers, his marriage was in constant and often insane turmoil, police called, nights in drunk tanks, impaired driving charges, some great days, even some great weeks here and there and then back into the ever declining, chaotic world of an alcoholic. And eventually the disease killed him. He couldn’t get honest with himself, and face the challenges of living life on life’s terms. Fear took him to an early grave. A great guy, a great mind, a great talent all gone too soon.
In the last 10 to 15 years of his declining condition I got pretty involved in the world of alcoholics and alcoholism. I don’t want to sound like an addictions guru. I really don’t have a clue. But here are a few things I have come to believe about alcoholism.
- Alcohol will kill you. If you’re an alcoholic, and only you can decide if you are, there is no cure. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. Are their indicators? Is alcohol causing a problem in your life? If you drink when you don’t want to, or if you drink more than you intend when you do start drinking there’s a chance you’re an alcoholic. But it’s not hopeless, there is an effective solution — a 12-step program of recovery for alcoholics.
- Denial and fear are the biggest enemies of alcoholics. “Oh, I don’t have a problem, it’s not me, it’s everyone else. If you had to live with this person or the pressures I have, you’d drink too”. Or, “I just like to drink, I can quit anytime I want, I can manage this on my own, I don’t need anyone’s help.” Or “I can’t be an alcoholic, I’d be a loser, what would people think?”
- As big, tough, mean, as independent, as wise, as smart, or as successful as you think you are, alcohol will rob the alcoholic of everything they consider important — family, home, money, business or career, respect, a working brain, their health and it will eventually leave them dead in a ditch. It is a chronic, progressive and fatal disease.
- If you are living with an alcoholic, you can’t fix them. Love, threats, nagging, violence — nothing can fix an alcoholic until they decide they are ready to ask for help.
- Treatment centres, and there are many across the country can’t cure alcoholics. They can help. They can provide the alcoholic with a vital opportunity to get their mind clear, get their right thinking back on track, get them pointed in the right direction, but ultimately those serious about recovery need to follow up with a 12-step program for alcoholics. The program is about learning to change you, not anyone else. It is a lifelong process. You do it one day at a time, and you can live a pretty wonderful life, but you can never lose sight of the recovery program.
- You’re an alcoholic, get over yourself. It is a disease. There is no shame in being an alcoholic. If you had virtually any other chronic ache or pain or discomfort, you would probably seek medical attention — get some help, ask for help. You’re doctor can’t heal you, but he or she for starters can point you toward the solution. I have talked to students attending the University of Calgary medical school and they want to learn more about how to deal with alcoholics and alcoholism. There is no medicine that works.
- Farmers can’t be alcoholics. Is that true? I know a couple. But look around, maybe it’s a husband, wife, daughter, son or some other family member. Maybe it is the farm worker, the fertilizer dealer, the crop consultant, the elevator operator, the banker, accountant, lawyer, RCMP officer, your local veterinarian, the bus driver, a teacher or school principal — get the picture? No one from any walk of life is immune from the disease.
- Surrender. If you think you have a problem with alcohol, surrender. You can’t beat it on your own. You have to concede to your inner most self you have a problem and ask for help. And help is out there by the truckload. “Surrender to win” is the adage. As one alcoholic priest wrote, “no one in the history of mankind in any battle has ever surrendered to die… they surrender to live.”
I get on a soapbox sometimes because I hate what this disease does to people. Occasionally I have a chance to talk to inmates at the Calgary Corrections Centre, one of the jails on Spy Hill in Calgary. They aren’t bad people. They’re young men mostly who have done stupid, criminal, harmful things to people or institutions in society and yes they need to face the consequences. But virtually every one of them can trace their circumstance back to a problem with alcohol or drugs or both. The three outcomes of alcoholism: jail, insanity and death.
If you think you have a problem with alcohol, get some help. Ask for help. Go online and Google it. Find a meeting for a 12-step recovery program for alcoholics near you and grab on. Chances are there is a group meeting tonight or tomorrow within 15 minutes of where you live. You are always welcome. Taking a chair at that first meeting may be the most difficult thing you ever do, you’re no different than anyone else. But it can also be the most valuable step you take — it can save your life, give you a life back.
One in five is too many
A poll taken by Mainstreet Research in late August found that one in five Saskatchewan residents thinks it’s OK to drink and drive, as long as you’re on a quiet road, and not going far. Eight per cent of the survey respondents said they had driven under the influence. Keep in mind — these are the people that are not embarrassed to tell the surveyors the truth.
We all know farm living isn’t always convenient, especially when it comes to getting home after a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, or a night at a friend’s bonfire. We can’t hop on the subway or hail a cab. This is probably the issue at the root of the survey results. But convenience isn’t everything. Over the years, drunk driving has touched every farm community in one way or another.
Don’t be on the stupid side of this survey. Plan a ride, spend the night, ask a friend, or call your kids to pick you up. We don’t want to lose any Grainews readers.