drinking, trauma and proper nouns.

Now, disclaimer… I don’t know everything. I’m sorry. I just don’t. I honestly don’t even know if my opinion is all that great either. So, just keep that in mind as you read this deeply opinionated essay.

“What do you call beer bottles on the side of the road?”
“Indian artifacts.”

One stereotype at a time right? A systematic approach to a systematic issue. We shall see. Follow me down the rabbit hole.

A few years ago I took a training on “Adverse Childhood Experiences”; which is basically the study of trauma in childhood and its effects on the life of a human being. The study itself is incredible. It’s a short test one can take that assesses how much trauma one has endured in their childhood. It’s at the bottom of the page, pay attention now.

Trauma could be repeated verbal abuse, divorce or even having a loved one go to prison. That doesn’t sound like trauma, right? Well, guess what smarty pants? It is. You see, our body’s natural response to stress can be traumatic to our minds, bodies, emotions, and spiritual wellness. Our brains are magnificent. They have responses that are meant to protect us, and help us move on from issues (I know. Duh right?). So say, we see a rattlesnake in the middle of a trail coiled up and hissing. We do a couple of things, based on what’s been stamped onto our wonderful DNA strands. Some of us freeze up and stay still, maybe slowly back away or turn to the person next to us for help. Some of us RUN! Some of us are morons, and pick up a stick and try to fight the snake. Yeah, I once bum rushed a coiled up rattlesnake during a community fun run event. Don’t ask. I don’t know what’s wrong with me either.

But also sometimes when a child is experiencing neglect, or verbal abuse, their brain also tries to protect them from that as well. So it triggers chemicals to be released into the body. Chemicals like adrenaline. Adrenaline is cool right? I mean, have you ever been on a roller coaster? I love it. BUT. It’s not so great for a child to be exposed to every day of their lives. The development of their brain slows in certain areas, and in some areas, growth ceases all together. This is terrible right? Horrible. Unfortunately, that’s what research says is going on in the brain of children who experience trauma. This research says that even just 1 “yes” on this 10 question test says you’ve experienced trauma; and trauma adversely affects your health well into your adulthood.

These traumas can cause a lot of health issues. How? Well, it can cause an unhealthy coping system for people. For instance, a child who suffers from severe anxiety goes undiagnosed his entire childhood, and begins recreational drug use to cope with these deep seeded feelings of anxiety and stress. Having no real access to holistic approaches, this child becomes an adult who self-medicates. For some it may not even be substance abuse; they may stress eat or develop physical systems like ulcers or hair loss.

Sooooo… what does this all have to do with “the drunk” stereotype?Picture3Well, being a Navajo person I have witnessed “the drunk” stereotype. I’ve seen alcoholism in my relatives, in my loved ones, in my friends, communities and even in the statistics I work with on a daily basis. Heck, I’ve actually learned of a co-workers dependence on this substance accidentally. But it’s just a name right? It’s a word. It’s not a proper noun! Or is it? Drunk: Proper Noun- the name of your native friend. I would NEVER call my loved ones, friends, coworkers “the drunk” or “a drunk”. Why? Because I know their ACTUAL name, and… I’m capable of empathy, and dare I say, respect.

I’ve seen alcoholism destroy lives and steal happiness. But, that’s not what you should call me. That’s not what you should call us. Would it surprise you to know that more Native Americans abstain from alcohol than any other demographic in America? Would it also surprise you that no, we are not more susceptible to alcoholism than anyone else either?

Would it surprise you to know that the same reasons a Native American is dependent on alcohol are the same reasons a non-Native American is dependent on alcohol?

At its core, alcoholism is a coping method; a way to deal with issues… A temporary escape. Do I think it’s right or a good way to escape? NO. But, that doesn’t impede on my understanding of it. It does not cloud my judgement. When you’ve been as historically traumatized as my people have, I think it’s safe to say these issues we face are not just something we are prone to do because we are messed up people. It’s safe to say that we are a historically resilient people working out the kinks. We are bad mother truckers. Believe that.

Picture4

So, I’m going to tell you a story. A real true life story. One that helped me understand all of these things, and formulate my perspective on this stereotype.

There was once a little girl. She was the youngest of three daughters. One of her earliest memories was washing dishes and cooking breakfast with her father. She remembers the early morning sun creeping through the blinds of her kitchen window. Her job was to scrub the cups with the foam cup scrubber. It was sudsy and fun. Her father was tall, strong and had a familiar scent that she can detect even now in her adulthood; a scent that sometimes she smells in her husband.

She spent a lot of time with her father. He taught her about cars and often had her fetching tools from the tool box while he jammed his favorite classic rock radio station. They spent a lot of time together. Sometimes, he would buy her cappuccinos at the gas station. It was their little secret, and sometimes he’d buy them for her right before bedtime on a school night. The little girl often mimicked his footsteps. She tried to walk like her dad with the bowed knees and toes pointed outward. He shared stories about music and sports. She even shot a basketball like him. And to this day, she sings Journey at the top of her lungs.

Unbeknownst to this little girl, her father had not always been this man. You see, he had struggles with alcohol dependence. His two older daughters knew this. They saw a much different father in their childhood. One who was loving, and kind, but also one who was also angry and disoriented. One who had been in jail, and fought with their mother. They knew the other side of the father that this little girl didn’t and never would.

The little girls father had grown up very differently than most people. He had lived through many heartbreaking things. Alcohol was his way to cope. It was his way to forget and find some peace. But, that wasn’t the end of the story. You see, it was just a portion. It was a sad portion; one that brought many tears and broke many hearts. But it was just a small part in a long story. This father was resilient.

He took his struggles and his trauma and learned how to cope in a healthy way.  He found his way. He became someone who helped others with this same problems as an Alcohol & Substance Abuse Counselor. To this day, the lessons that the little girl’s father taught her were the best lessons anyone could ever learn. She learned there were second chances. She learned there is a lot of life to live. She learned that she could turn problems into solutions. She learned that surviving our trauma helps us lead others out of the abyss. She didn’t call him “drunk”. She called him “Daddy”, and he was her hero.

I’m just going to leave some resources in case you want to read more about ACES from trusted sources… like the Government and Wikipedia. Have at it. 🙂

The CDC Says: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/

Our Government Says : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverse_Childhood_Experiences_Study

You Can Take the Test Here: https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

NPR Breaks it Down: http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/03/02/387007941/take-the-ace-quiz-and-learn-what-it-does-and-doesnt-mean

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