COMMENTARY: Belly up to the breakfast bar

by Mar 13, 2020OPINIONS





With a bit of trepidation, the Tribal Council has passed legislation that allows alcohol sales on Sunday mornings in areas of the Boundary that currently may sell alcohol. 

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, in various forums, has discussed the social acceptance of alcohol for many years now. In the closed environment of a reservation or, in our case, a territorial holding, there have been decades of what many identify as cultural trauma. Native peoples were stripped of homelands, livelihoods, self-sustenance, way-of-life, and, in many cases, were deprived of health and life. Some say that these are the reasons that Native Americans appear to be more susceptible to alcoholism. 

From what I read; Indians did not have the distilled, highly concentrated liquors that Europeans had at the time of first contact. Some historians indicate that tribes did have beer-like and wine-like drinks, fermented fruits, if you will. In those cases, the highest percentage alcohol contents were in the low teens. And, also according to some studies, genetics and race have little to do with the perception of “Native Americans are predisposed to alcoholism” and the fact that tribal geographies have higher per capita incidents of alcoholism. I don’t claim to be a health care professional. I just know what I read. 

I understand that a person’s body can adapt to a particular substance or drug once they get into a routine of using it; chemical bonding with a body and such. I know that it is a more complex problem than simply refraining from bending elbow from mug to mouth. In my young and tender late teens and early twenties, I had my own journey with alcohol. In the early 1980’s, it was the cool thing to do in a group setting. PJ and keg parties were crazy common. And it was part of the campus culture at the time to join in those parties. If you didn’t, you were left to feel not part of the family. Who wants a sober friend at a keg party? At a drinking party, a non-drinker’s only worth is being the guy who can taxi everyone away from the fun. To be a part of the culture, it was a necessity to socially drink. The more you drank, the more accepted you were. 

Again, only talking from personal experience, and I realize that everyone has their own unique personal experiences in life, I made a decision after a particularly heavy drinking session. I decided that there had to be more to life than hanging with people who drank (to excess) and not being able to stand firmly on two feet. I made a conscious decision to not let alcohol control my life. Over the past forty years, I have had drinks with friends and social situations, but never like back in those college years. I have heard folks talk about the cravings, the delirium tremens (known as the “DTs”) that often accompany withdrawal from alcohol, but I never had any of that. Maybe I didn’t drink heavily or frequently enough to have a dependency like that. All I know is, the worst effect of turning away from alcohol for me is the infrequent, distant longing for a beer with my pizza or hot dog. 

I have heard many stories, both on Boundary and off, of families who have been destroyed by family members who get hooked on alcohol. Court cases where alcohol has been the weapon of choice to catalyze domestic violence, illicit behavior, and even murder; man and woman alike telling a judge who is about to decide their fate, “I don’t know why I did it. I was drunk at the time”. Alcohol dependence destroys a person physically and emotionally. Some say they drink to kill the pain of a traumatic experience, yet in the process of killing the pain, they create more trauma for themselves and for their families. 

Like many other things in life, alcohol does not have a mind. It cannot make a decision for you until you pick it up and use it. In fact, you make the choices throughout your “relationship” with alcohol. My uncle almost lost his life several times in drunken stupors. He was a drifter for most of his life and he would come to our house to “dry out”. Many times, he would share stories of muggings (he would come to us penniless and battered), waking up in ditches that he had stagger off into and passed out, and falling off rock walls into the middle of streets. My uncle died clean and sober, but the years of drinking had taken its toll on his body and his family relationships. He died alone of a heart attack in a little house in Sylva. My mom hadn’t heard from him in a few days and she went to do a wellness check on him and found him in his kitchen floor. 

So, I get the reluctance to see alcohol enter the Cherokee community. I know that many families have experienced the pain of a loved one who has taken up the habit of drinking. I am a member of one of those families. It is hard to think about economy when you have a member of your family or maybe your whole family is suffering from the effects of alcoholism. And having an open wound like a loved one lost to alcohol, or if you are in the middle of trying to bring someone out of alcoholism, will make you super sensitive to anyone suggesting expanding access to alcohol, whether making it available in more locations or expanding the number of hours that it may be served by the drink. 

I am not now a drinker, but I have many friends who do and drink responsibly. They drink a beer or a glass of wine with a meal as they would coffee at a coffee shop – one cup, maybe two, and they are on their way. I am a member of a church who does not condone the drinking of alcohol. On the other hand, we do not condemn those who do. We realize that it is what a person does with alcohol that will make the difference as to whether good or bad outcomes occur. 

So, if the Tribe has made the decision to expand drinking hours into the morning on Sunday, I don’t plan for it to alter my day at all. And you do not have to let it alter yours. Hold on to your beliefs and continue to lead by your example. If you have persons in your family who you are helping struggle with the effects of alcohol, carry on. Your efforts will have much more value and impact on your friend or loved one than any Brunch Bill could do. Alcohol dependency doesn’t win because of any legislation or even through alcohol availability. It wins when we let our guard down personally and we allow it to control our lives. 

Just a note on the COVID 19 situation – many of us are frightened. It is understandable based on the many sources of statements, both truth and conjecture that are circulating in the nation, the state, and our community. The situation is changing in some cases so quickly that officials and news organizations sometimes don’t keep up with the rumor mill. I encourage everyone to listen to your health experts and officials, particularly our Cherokee Indian Hospital and the EBCI Public Health and Human Services Division. They are dedicated to ensuring you have all the information that you need to protect yourself. Check Channel 28 for instruction from these entities on how to properly take care of you and your family. Check with us at the One Feather as we will be following CIHA and PHHS meetings and pushing relevant information out to you. 

The unknown causes more fear and anguish. Community members do not need to sift through rumor and speculation to get to the critical information they need. Blame and anger only slow down the process of effective prevention and treatment. Let’s all try to keep the conjecture to a minimum and get our information from reputable sources. And lifting a prayer or two never hurts.