On February 27, I celebrated my 90th year on the planet. In all the years, alcohol was my only drug of choice. It served me well until it didn’t. Active in the recovery movement for many years in Colorado, I returned to California in 2019 and helped to start a new non-profit called The Purpose of Recovery (TPOR). At The Purpose of Recovery we value positive recovery language through our peer support services and community advocacy.
Recently I noted that Alcohol Awareness was being diminished by all else going on and I determined to edit my recovery language to feature alcohol and its effects.
What I noticed is that my language works in any month, whether it is Alcohol Awareness Month (April) or not. Ok, so who do we help (individuals, families and those in recovery) and what do we tell them about alcohol? Particularly, how do we guide their research on talking to kids?
Each April since 1987, the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public awareness and understanding, reduce stigma, and encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues.
Most adults in the United States who drink alcohol drink moderately and without complications. At the same time, alcohol-related problems are among the most significant public health issues in the country. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) affects about 15 million adults in the United States, and an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the nation. Read more here.
A young person’s brain is not fully developed until they reach their mid to late 20s, and any drinking while the brain is still developing can be problematic.
Regardless of age, alcohol lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment and coordination. It can also increase the incidence of aggressive or violent acts. Consuming large quantities in a short period of time — or binge drinking— which is defined as having 4-5 drinks on one occasion and is common among young people — can cause alcohol poisoning and even death. More than 16 million Americans misuse or are addicted to alcohol, which is a legal substance that is widely available and normalized in our society. Prolonged, heavy use of alcohol can lead to addiction as alcohol use disorder, or alcoholism. There is liver and heart disease, and other health consequences such as a weakened immune system and increased risk of developing certain cancers. Accidents related to alcohol use are among the leading causes of death for teens.
Every April the National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) sponsors Alcohol Awareness Month to increase awareness and understanding of the causes and treatment of the nation’s #1 public health problem: alcoholism. As part of Alcohol Awareness Month, the NCADD says local, state, and national events will be “aimed at educating people about the treatment and prevention of alcoholism, particularly among our youth, and the important role that parents can play in giving kids a better understanding of the impact that alcohol can have on their lives.
Alcohol Awareness Month Resources —NCADD has several helpful resources on its website. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) underage drinking prevention campaign, ‘Talk. They Hear You,’ has talking points and tools for coalitions, parents, and caregivers so they can start talking to their children early—as early as 9 years old—about the dangers of alcohol.
The Alcohol Action Network (AAN) is a project of the American Public Health Association and is a nationwide network of alcohol prevention practitioners and researchers engaging in alcohol policy issues in their states or local communities. AAN was initially established to address the shifting alcohol policy landscape at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to bring prevention specialists together to address policy issues as they arise.
I grew up in South Dakota with the awareness that Sioux Native-Americans were a seen and unseen part of life. A friend, Don Coyhis, is a recognized leader and mentor of the Sioux Nation. He posted the following:
Thinking positive thoughts will flush out negative thoughts. There is not enough room for both. When we do have both, there is an internal argument with ourselves until we decide which one should go. There is only room for one. We change ourselves by being convinced, which means “to be persuaded by argument or evidence. – Don Coyhis
Look forward to becoming a positive thinker and using language that supports others in recovery whether from alcohol or other substances.
You may be surprised when your friends become a “flusher” of negative thoughts too.
Merlyn Karst, Recovery Ambassador
Factoid: The old children’s proverb “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was used as early as 1862 to refrain people from engaging in verbal bullying. Over time and with experience, we gained a new perspective. I found a poem that perhaps is an indication of reality,
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can also hurt me and sticks break only skin, while words are ghosts that haunt me. Slant and curved the word-swords fall, it pierces and sticks inside me. Bats and bricks may ache through bones, but words can mortify me. Pain from words has left its scar, on mind and heart that’s tender. Cuts and bruises have not healed, it’s words that I remember.
Now, bullying depends on it. A multitude in the population depends on it. Some words have worn out their worthiness and are worthless.
William White wrote,
For more than two centuries, Addicted and recovering people in America have been the object of language created by others. People experiencing severe and persistent alcohol and other drug problems inherited a language not of their own making that has been ill suited to accurately portray their experience to others or to serve as a personal catalyst for personal change. The wrong words stigmatize and dis-empower. In 2001, in St Paul, Minnesota, the group assembled learned that by our silence we let others define us. We gave birth to Faces and Voices of Recovery. Understanding the sound of silence led us to the making of our language and it’s resounding and growing joyful noise about the reality of recovery.
Orange County California’s The Purpose of Recovery organization, TPOR, is offering a series of informative learning experiences through virtual presentations. We have done The Science of Addiction and Recovery and a most recent one was on Recovery Messaging. William White wrote,
Many of us have carried a message of hope on a one-to-one basis. This new recovery movement calls upon us to carry that message of hope to whole communities and the whole culture. It is time we stepped forward. Shape this history with our stories, our time and our talents.
Across the board all the moms and dads mention one golden rule of Inuit parenting. Never yell at a child.
Our movement can’t be successful when led solely by those impacted by addiction and accompanying injustice. We need to share our message and inspire allies and others to come join us in the new recovery movement. The learning opportunities in the Recovery Messaging are the result of years of study, revision, feedback, and evaluation of retention and useful purpose. Among the slides is the information that choosing the language of recovery is key. It is followed by examples titled “Say this, not that.” Examples of current language, alternatives, and reasons. I have focused on a few words. The latest is relapse. I prefer and promote set-back. It leads to a mindful slogan. Get back, on track, and don’t look back. Labels have a sticky side for a reason. stigmatizing labels like “addict” and “alcoholic” stick when identity as a “person in recovery” is positive and appropriate when recognizing substance use disorder.
With others from TPOR, I completed a 10-week CRAFT course, Community Reinforcement and Family Training. It teaches family and friends effective strategies for helping their loved ones to change and seeking to better themselves. Of course, words were involved—words and the nature of response. What to say and when might promote a change of behavior remembering, it’s a process not an event. Use reflection with positive reinforcement and patience and take pride in small changes. I learned of a counselor who suggested 80% listening with reflective and positive attention and 20% “I” centered response, I feel, I see, I hear, to promote understanding and trust. I do not have family issues but as a peer recovery coach, it adds greatly to TPOR and my tool kit.
I read an article about a book titled Hunt, Gather, Parent by Michaelean Doucleff. She visited and wrote about visiting and embedding with families in small villages in Mexico, Alaska, and Tanzania She observed parenting by the moms and dads in the villages. What caught my attention is her statement,
The children’s conduct and behavior was very good. Say what? Doesn’t yelling put more power in words no matter whether addressing a child or adult? In the context of this writing, the words we use to encourage behavioral change should not need volume to communicate. Too many decibels are numbing and dumbing. I like the expression, “He drives words with a velvet hammer.” The voice I hear and the words I hear are mine. I pay attention.
Don Coyhis is President and co-founder of White Bison, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Don is the founder of the Wellbriety movement The book Red Road to Wellbriety is a book of healing that is culture-specific to Native Americans, but it may be used by all people. He and William White have written many words together about addiction and recovery in Native Americans with cultural considerations and challenging the “firewater myth” among them. I love the words I read.
Native purification and healing practices (sacred dances, the sweat lodge, and talking circles). Such elements as teaching metaphors (e.g., the medicine wheel), symbols (e.g., the sacred pipe, eagle feathers), rituals (e.g., sweat lodge, smudging ceremonies. These words say healing to me. Don Coyhis wrote,
Words are important. If you want to care for something, you call it a flower. If you want to kill something you call it a weed. A word to the wise, use words wisely.
Merlyn Karst — Recovery Ambassador