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It is not an easy task to kick a bad habit. Those who lived with a drug addict, chain smoker, and alcoholic will attest to the idea that bad habits are difficult to break. It is easy to label drug dependents, substance abusers, and alcoholics as men and women of poor character and people who do not possess the inner strength to do what is right. It seldom occurs to those who made negative comments and passed judgments on these struggling souls to take a moment and reflect on the root cause of the problem. In Sherman Alexie’s short story “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem,” the narrator’s alcoholism was not only the result of wrong decisions but also profound changes in his cultural identity and social environment. Consequently, the narrator’s ability to overcome his destructive behavior did not come as a result of healing the external symptoms of his brokenness, it came as a consequence of finding a way to heal his spirit’s unseen wounds.
The Narrator’s Destructive Behavior
Sherman Alexie’s short story highlighted some of the profound effects of substance abuse. In this case, the person in the spotlight is the narrator of the story, and his addiction to the consumption of alcoholic beverages did not allow him to make a career or build a family. In addition, the short story provided insights that enabled the reader to have a deeper appreciation of the destructive impact of addictive behavior. As a result, readers were made to become more sympathetic to those struggling with addiction, which prevented them from espousing a judgmental stance. For example, the narrator wanted so much to make positive changes in his lifestyle, but he needed the help of others to overcome the problem. One can argue that he needed expert help, such as medical assistance available in a drug rehabilitation center. However, it may take more than medical intervention to help alcoholics exorcise their demons, so to speak. Consider the interaction and relationship that exist between Officer Williams and the narrator. The police officer wanted to bring him to a treatment facility (Alexie, 2003). The alcoholic narrator refused the offer. Nevertheless, when Officer Williams gave him some money, it was the first time that he had cash and did not use it to buy liquor. One can say that the police officer’s genuine display of concern for the drunk Indian’s well-being compelled him to become a better person.
The failure to understand the root cause of the narrator’s alcoholism leads to the prescription of cures and interventions that will only bring impartial or half-baked results. There were multiple scenes in the story when the narrator tried to use his self-will to overcome his demons and miserably failed a few moments after he decided to start a fight. Resistance was pathetic to say the least, because it did not take long before his addiction took control over his life. In the narrator’s recollection of his past life, he mentioned that he was not from Seattle. Therefore, his destructive behavior started probably in another city. However, the full-blown manifestation of his addiction was clearly marked when he was in the Seattle area. It is possible to prove this by analyzing the narrator’s conversation with Officer Williams, especially when the latter hinted that the narrator had to be rescued from different drunken episodes. In addition, the narrator established a personal relationship with the police officer, which proves that he was in the area for a long time.
When the narrator was already in the Seattle area, he was not only a homeless drifter; he also exhibited behavior suggesting that he was not in control of his life. He did things that a normal person would never do. For example, he used all the money he had to buy alcoholic drinks. One can argue that a normal person will probably think of food and his loved ones before spending all cash on liquor. It was as if an invisible, yet powerful hand was pulling the strings like a puppet-master controlling the body of a hapless toy.
An effective intervention should be rooted in understanding social factors affecting alcoholics. In an article entitled “Alcohol and Society: How Culture Influences the Way People Drink,” authors Santon Peele and Archie Brodsky (2016) highlighted the fact that the ability to appreciate different forms of information and the capacity to see various factors at work will not only lead to compassion but also to a more nuanced approach, ensuring a more successful intervention procedure. In other words, there are social factors affecting a person’s desire to kick the habit. It is interesting to note that in this short story, the narrator’s life experience demonstrated the need to focus beyond the physical aspect of addictive behavior in order to overcome its powerful hold and turn his life around for the better.
Going Skin Deep: Looking Beyond the Obvious Factors
It does not require a rocket scientist to reveal obvious triggering mechanisms for specific destructive behavior. In an article that appeared in the online version of USA Today, Naomi Riley (2017) made a commentary on a directive designed to limit access to alcoholic beverages in an attempt to reduce alcoholism among Native Americans living within a certain Indian reservation. The author explained the mindless reasoning behind the decision to focus on a solution based on deprivation (Riley, 2017). This intervention strategy is similar to other knee-jerk reactions aimed at curbing problems related to addiction or alcohol abuse. For example, due to the narrator’s tendency or habit of spending all his money and other resources to get drunk, one can make the argument that a pragmatic solution is to deprive him of his drug of choice. However, common sense tells readers that this is not the best course of action.
Reducing access to alcohol is considered to be an effective prevention measure that supposedly makes it impossible to trigger any type of destructive behavior. However, the root cause of the problem is not the consumption of alcohol but the irresistible urge to consume large quantities of alcoholic beverages. In Riley’s article, government officials managing Indian reservations exerted effort to shut down stores selling hard liquor. The author said that this is an exercise in futility because alcoholics will always find a way to satisfy their cravings (Riley, 2017). For example, Jackson Jackson was homeless and had no stable source of income, and yet he was able to get drunk. He did not have any qualms when he stole money from someone he considered his friend. It is important to realize that there is an invisible force that drives alcoholics to commit something they will regret. However, when they feel the urge, they will lie and cheat in order to get at least one drink. It is best to develop an intervention strategy that will help alcoholics to drastically reduce their need to drink. In order to neutralize a deep-seated yearning for hard liquor, beer, or wine, Jackson Jackson needed something greater than himself.
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It is more judicious to look for alternative solutions that are not centered on abstinence or prohibition. Observe closely any alcoholic or drug addict, and it is not difficult to come to the realization that active ingredients in the drink and banned substances affect how the brain functions. If the brain is the center of thought processes and the one controlling physical movements, it is clear that alcohol’s negative impact includes the profound destruction of the mind’s ability to make rational decisions. Therefore, it is no longer prudent to use force or any type of law enforcement action to compel or obligate people to minimize or stop the consumption of alcoholic beverages.
Using certain sections of Alexie’s short story, it is possible to develop a practical solution geared towards addressing felt needs. The short story provided details of the misfortunes of Jackson Jackson and the Aleut Indians. Thus, one can use this information to create an appropriate intervention strategy. In the case of Jackson Jackson, one doable alternative to drug rehabilitation is counseling. A good counselor can help him determine the root cause of his desire to get drunk on a regular basis. Consider, for instance, the effect if the counselor is able to pinpoint the real cause of the character’s dependence on alcohol. This is one of the core ideas in Ron Potter-Efron and Patricia Potter-Efron’s book entitled The Treatment of Shame and Guilt in Alcoholism Counseling (2012). For example, it seems probable that Jackson Jackson used hard liquor as some sort of a self-torturing device to punish himself because in his mind he did not do everything to keep his family intact. Evidence of self-loathing can be seen in the following lines when the character made a virtual confession when he said, “I never dated or married more than one woman at a time. I didn’t break hearts into pieces overnight. I broke them slowly and carefully” (Alexie, 2003, p. 1). A good therapist can perhaps steer him away from self-destructive thoughts and hopefully lessen his desire to die in one of Seattle’s many alleyways.
In the case of the Aleut Indians, it is obvious that socio-economic factors play a critical role when it comes to beating addictive behaviors. This idea was discussed extensively in Mary Townsend’s book Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing (2015). It is possible to make an assertion that they were paying for a mistake that they made while they were young and still naive about life’s realities. According to the narrative, the Aleut Indians came from Alaska seeking for adventure in a sophisticated city. When they lost all their money through profligate living, they got stranded in a foreign land, and yet yearned to come home. This terrible situation is the perfect application of the various works of charity aimed at helping those who are drowning in misery.
In the process of developing alternative solutions to neutralize the scourge of alcohol abuse, it is wise not to deny a human being’s ability to go beyond physical limits. This is manifested in a person’s capacity to endure pain and achieve things that were previously considered impossible. A change in a mindset can help alcoholics to see the benefit of living for others. It is also possible to improve the situation after realizing there are other ways to spend borrowed time. In Jackson Jackson’s case, he found salvation in his cultural identity. In other words, he found a new perspective. In this new worldview, he realized that he could not afford to behave in an extremely selfish manner the rest of his life.
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A significant part of the solution has something to do with the narrator’s cultural identity and social environment. The author condensed everything into one object – the grandmother’s stolen powwow regalia. The author made a connection between the narrator’s addiction and stolen regalia when he wrote the following lines, “I wondered if my grandmother’s cancer started when somebody stole her powwow regalia. Maybe the cancer started in her broken heart and leaked out into her breasts” (Alexie, 2003, p. 1). The author proceeded to develop this theory, equating the sacred beads with Native American culture and the grandmother as the representation of the narrator’s cultural identity. Thus, when the regalia was stolen, it triggered a chain-reaction of events that caused the death of the narrator’s grandmother. It came full circle when the narrator recovered the stolen item because, in essence, he was also able to recover his grandmother and his cultural identity. The story does not have a clear ending with regards to the overcoming of the narrator’s alcoholism. Nevertheless, there is a reason to believe that he was able to regain control over his life.
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In order to appreciate the narrator’s victory over alcoholism, it is important to see the connection between the stolen regalia, grandmother’s demise, and the man’s destructive behavior. It is also necessary to go beyond the physical factors related to substance abuse. In this case, it is prudent to examine the surface of the alcoholic’s negative actions because it is not enough to deprive him of access to alcoholic beverages. It was only after the narrator recovered his grandmother’s powwow regalia when he found the strength to change his life for the better. Other intervention strategies would have failed because alternative treatment methods focus only on the physical aspect. When the author made the connection between the stolen regalia and his grandmother’s breast cancer, it created a signal to look into the spiritual, psychological, and cultural aspects of life. It also prompted the reader to see the connection between the inner wounds and physical manifestations of those inner wounds. In this case, the narrator needed to heal the invisible defects and problems in order to deal with their physical outcomes.
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