Kristin Kowalski Ferragut
Alcoholism, Suicide, Mental Illness and the “Justice” System
For the past three days I’ve been working on poems on this theme, but want to dispense of measure and structure and explode like a gunshot — messy and as scattered as I feel. Thus this post.
What is implied in being an alcoholic is underlying anguish that one bears, perhaps dysfunctionally, but bears just the same. It’s likely different for different individuals, but in my experience, this is a truth for the alcoholics I’ve been fortunate to know. They give cause for worry and have my ever-ready problem solving tendency going. Although I don’t think I’ve ever been instrumental in “curing” one, but have in little measures offered comfort and understanding. It’s not something I’m capable of judging.
It’s difficult to imagine another’s demons, the things that keep others awake at night. How brave of some folks to face them night after night. Although, the alternative… I can hardly judge that either. Sometimes there is no rock bottom from which one can bounce back.
Is it possible someone reading this might not have loved an alcoholic? Is it possible that some people really think that one can cure oneself through sheer will? Believes that everyone possesses the same capability to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps.” Impossible. Some people just can’t. I think that’s important to realize — not everyone can be blamed for their disposition or inability to expel their demons.
I think the “justice” system treats alcoholics particularly horribly. I can’t speak too much to all of that. It’ll just get my ire up on a global rant, because I hate it all — the “justice” system, prisons, courts, punishments… All of it. I don’t have a solution. But as a society, I think we miss the mark on compassion. All of the lip service paid to alcoholism being an illness seems just that: lip service. “Just don’t drink,” is actually a sentence; a court order and sometimes a death sentence. Seems cruel and unusual to me, especially in a system that offers no therapeutic alternative, no public health care, and private health care is still not a realistic option for all.
We all have different ways of coping with life. Some of us turn to poetry and allow the worries and sorrows to wash through us. Some have religion and/or powerful faith. Some immerse themselves in work. Some turn to the bottle. It seems to me the choices we have over our vices, distractions, escapes, and comforts are not wholly of our own predilection, but also a function of experience, circumstance, predisposition, and skills.
“Suicide is slow with liquor,” as Ozzy Osbourne sang. Today I honor those who hung in there and chose the gradual demise through drinking, rather than a gunshot. I am thankful for the extra time their path allowed me, and in some cases still allows me, with such beautiful, tortured souls. Apparently, not everyone can do that.
I’m also thankful for knowing those amazing friends, artists, and musicians that took their own lives. It’s very sad. And can’t help but lead to that plaguing “What if…”
I can only assume they did the best they could.
I often say, “Life is sometimes just about endurance.” (And then laugh because it feels particularly goofy to quote oneself. But whatever gets one through, right?) It’s easy for me to say, because I’ve been lucky. A beautiful sunset near-always supersedes any internal anguish I may feel. Not everyone can wait for the sunset or see it’s beauty past their own torment. I have to bow in honor of those who can’t and still hold on, while also respecting those that can’t and don’t, while trying to keep the “What ifs” at bay with the help of all of my wonderful friends and thinkers that stay alive. Thank you for doing so!