1,275 words | 6 minute read
I share a true story about me, my mother, a battle axe, and vodka.
by Roy Steele
When I was sixteen years old I had no idea that I was gay, despite struggling with my sexual identity. At that age I had other priorities in my life, and coming out or not coming out, wasn’t a priority.
One afternoon I was at a novelty store and I saw some bottle locks for sale. They were big, colorful, and round, with a numbered dial on the top of the ‘lock.’ It was a bottle cap with a rudimentary lock that could be placed on any bottle with a twist top, to prevent access to whatever was stored in the bottle. Without the combination, you couldn’t pour the liquid (liquor) out of the bottle into a glass.
The Disease Of Addiction
The bottle locks I found were primarily used by parents to prevent their kids from gaining access to their liquor bottles. I bought four of the locks to prevent access to the bottles of vodka that were stored on the top shelf in our kitchen pantry. I was a kid trying to prevent my mother from having access to her beloved vodka.
When she discovered the bottle lock the first time, she let out a blood curdling scream, muttered some expletives, and shouted my name. Then she stormed outside onto the back porch holding the locked bottle in one hand, and a fireplace axe in the other. I was seated on my bike as I was a few seconds away from making an escape and pedaling away. She used her most manipulative and scary voice to order me to remove the lock.
I knew that I had three more locks, sensed that my mother was unhinged, and knew that she would use any tool within reach to break the bottle, remove the damn lock, and have a drink. So I reluctantly took the lock off myself.
To say that my ill conceived plan didn’t work would be an understatement as my little experiment was a failure. Years later the disease of alcohol addiction claimed my mother’s life, and for better or for worse, her illness left indelible scars on me and my family that we blithely ignore and rarely acknowledge. We’re no different than many other American families I'm sure.
Addiction is a serious pubic health issue, and due to the social stigma and negative perceptions surrounding both alcohol and drug abuse, it’s a widespread illness that pervades our society in every socioeconomic strata. We collectively turn a blind eye to the disease, and many live in a state of denial, to protect the people we know or love that are afflicted with the disease of addiction. I know this because I’ve been there, done that, and got the lousy t-shirt to prove it.
Heroin, Benzodiazepines And The Opioid Epidemic
In yesterday’s New York Times they had an article about the ‘opioid epidemic‘ that is sweeping the nation. The excellent piece had several contributors, and was entitled “Inside a Killer Drug Epidemic: A Look at America’s Opioid Crisis.”
Public health officials have called the current opioid epidemic the worst drug crisis in American history, killing more than 33,000 people in 2015. Overdose deaths were nearly equal to the number of deaths from car crashes. In 2015, for the first time, deaths from heroin alone surpassed gun homicides.There is no doubt that we have a very serious opioid epidemic, while the statistics show that the largest drug crisis is alcohol abuse. Both of these serious maladies are addictions, and as such are related to each other.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that in 2015 there were 44,193 fatalities in the United States attributed to suicide. Statistics show that in 2013 we had 33,636 deaths from gun violence. The 2015 CDC mortality report states that over 136,000 people died from unintentional injuries.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says that 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
Analyzing The CDC Numbers
What do these numbers actually tell us? There are a whole lot of people in our communities who die before their time, and what I find both astonishing and maddening, is that their deaths are preventable. A neighbor, a family member, or a friend, expire before their expiration date, and very few people are outraged. A couple hundred thousand people DIE every year prematurely, and we don’t even blink an eye. We grieve for the loss we experience, and yet no one seems to get angry. Why don’t we get together and scream for action?
We have had the data from scientific studies for years proving that genetics and multiple psychosocial factors predispose many individuals to the disease of addiction. We don’t have a panacea or magic pill to treat addiction, but we do have protocols that are known to work.
How has our state and federal government, and our political leaders, responded to these issues? What have they done to improve access to treatment? What action are they taking to prioritize and prevent unnecessary overdoses and deaths?
We Wrongly Criminalize Behavior And An Illness
Medical professionals know that addiction is an illness and a public health issue, and yet why aren't they at the forefront of treating the illness? It’s our local law enforcement officers whose first responsibility is public safety, who are on the front lines of responding to this crisis. People are imprisoned or jailed due to using or possessing illicit drugs, and they rarely receive treatment for addiction or counseling to maintain their mental health. They are punished by a legal system that criminalizes behavior, and categorizes their addiction as a moral failing.
During the 2016 primary campaign for president, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie rightly said that the drug epidemic was a public health problem, and that addiction was an “illness, not some moral failure .” Whether the addict’s ‘drug’ of choice is alcohol or narcotics, their addiction is an illness and should be treated as such.
Deaths related to alcohol far exceed the number of deaths attributed to the opioid epidemic, yet no one asserts that we have alcohol addiction crisis. I’m here to tell you that in the United States today, we have an opioid crisis as well as an alcohol crisis. To combat these public health issues, it will require a huge commitment and considerable resources to combat, identify, and treat the disease of addiction.
We Can Win The War
Drug fatalities are increasing, while alcohol related deaths are catastrophic, and year after year we fail to make a dent in the number of deaths from suicide and gun violence, while we allow our politicians to be puppets of the gun lobby and prison industry, and they get away with doing nothing, and that is unacceptable.
We deserve better, and must demand a better response, with all the new faces and a new administration in Washington, D.C.
Thomas Jefferson famously wrote that Americans are entitled to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ At present, those words ring hollow and remains a wish or a pipe dream for far too many. We’ve been turning our backs on the most vulnerable in our society for a long time. We must prioritize the pursuit of happiness, and we can get a good start by declaring war on the disease of addiction. With a new outlook and a fresh perspective, together with the right resources, it’s a war that we can win.
straight talk in a queer world.