Today is a good day to live!
It’s a solemnly beautiful Los Angeles evening. The moon arcs high overhead. A big, bright summer moon shines magnificently- opulent and daunting. It’s so huge I want to reach out and spin it the way our primordial ancestors must have wanted to do millions of years ago on a desolate subsaharan African savannah. It’s Friday night and I am so thankful to be sober. There are many miles to go and my path is primed with a myriad of life battles left to fight. I am Oglala Lakota, a blessed member of an elite group of human beings. I represent the last vestiges of a once proud and great warrior society.
However, I am not a warrior, I am simply a man. I am a drunken Indian. Though I am not currently under the self-destructive influences of wine or spirits, it is extremely critical to remind myself of my faults. They define a personal narrative, one pushed to the limits of alcoholic insanity. At the height of my drinking career I drank heavily, with a intensely savage abandon, not to chase my demons but to hunt them down and make them capitulate.
A dark necessity of evil impelled my drunken heart of darkness to push the envelope. I learned how to first to drink when I was a young trooper in the U.S. Army. As with my older brother and my father before him military service was compulsory- a non-Native post-modern method of madness. A family crucible required to earn ones manhood. A rite of passage. Unfortunately, for me, drinking was also a compulsory family tradition. On your eighteenth birthday you joined the military, you drank to prove your worthiness to call yourself a man. Failure to unconditionally participate in both was not an option.
Ensuing a four year stretch with the Army, I was discharged with honor. I met a beautiful woman, procreated four wonderful children, worked and attended college. I continued to consume alcohol with a vengeance, woefully unaware of the fact that alcohol was consuming me, devouring large chunks of my soul like a hungry Tyrannosaur. I would lose entire weeks lost in self-loathing drunken stupors. I would always preempt a binge with an excuse based on self-pity. I had to justify my selfish, self-indulgent alcoholic narcissism in order to checkmate the guilty cognitive dissonance that began to accompany my drinking. I was, for all intent and purpose, out of control. Miserably so.
I would intentionally hurt the ones who loved me and abuse the ones who would not. Why not? My father did the same to us. I remember the horrible nights he would come home drunk. He would sit in the dark and cry and close his eyes. He would relive the atrocities of his youth, when innocence was beaten out of him by sadistic Jesuit priests. The man suffered interminable PTSD. I would tell myself that I would never become an Indian man like him. The irony was, I did.
Indian men do not haphazardly morph into full blown, violent alcoholics the way I and my older brother and my father did. There was a distinct commonality we all shared. Our alcoholism was fueled by traumatic events we all experienced at an early age. My father was tortured in the Christian schools they filled with abducted Indian children. When my father became a father he physically abused my older brother. When I was twelve my older brother nearly beat me to death in a drunken rage. Recently, the girlfriend and mother of one of my nephews told me she feared for her life and the life of their baby boy because his drinking got violent. Alcoholic nihilism is an insidious and vicious cycle. It’s a trans-generational affliction.
I have been reading as of late the efforts of OST Tribal President Bryan Brewer and his plight to shut down the sales of alcohol stemming out of Whiteclay, Nebraska. As a recovering alcoholic, I for one, support Mr. Brewer and all the Lakota men and women in their resilient struggle against a systemic institution of decimation. Abstinence and sobriety will not happen overnight. However, it’s a start in the right direction, big things have small beginnings.
An Oglala woman and former social worker at Pine Ridge summed it up with profound, powerful eloquence: “I don’t see any concerned people volunteering to speak to our young mothers about the effects of alcohol and drugs has on unborn babies. I have never seen concerned people offering to transport their relative to treatment programs or offer them a place to stay so they can become sober. If you really care about our alcohol problem, start supporting and encouraging people you know who have risky behaviors due to alcohol.” Lakota women have always been the foundational source of strength within the Lakota Nation. They have also been wrongfully victimized vis-a-vis alcohol induced violence.
Eliminating places that provide alcohol to Indians is a good thing. But it’s only a quick fix to a more aggregate affliction. Shut down Whiteclay? Then what? Who is going to provide the resources necessary for adequate rehabilitation and follow up care? Where will the funding come from? These variables need to be taken into consideration. I remain hopeful, I steadfastly believe if the endemic contagion of alcoholism is ever fully eradicated from Pine Ridge, then 90% of the social and health issues attributed to alcoholism will begin to diminish.
I look back up at the solemnly beautiful incandescent full moon. The Oglala Lakota at Pine Ridge can reacquire the greatness of the warrior society it once was. I have faith in my people from the very depths of my Lakota heart. I will devote the rest of my life to assisting my people in whatever capacity I can. I am a drunken Indian. Now I realize there has always been a reason for it. I enjoy the company of the full moon. Alone with my thoughts and the crickets and the moon.
Today is a good day to live!