Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing my People

If we change our story about alcohol, if we stop accepting it as natural, normal, and necessary, if we stop telling ourselves that alcohol is medicine, that it dissolves grief, maybe we won’t have to stand at so many gravesides and mourn so many senseless deaths.

Harold Johnson, Firewater: How Alcohol Is Killing My People (and Yours)

This book by Saskatchewan Crown Prosecutor and Woodlands Cree native Harold Johnson is a remarkable analysis of alcohol and its continued acceptance as a substance, despite the well-documented evils associated with its use. In this book, Johnson points out the problem is not addiction per se; the problem, for all of us, is that alcohol is a dangerous, addictive, and deadly substance. The problem is that alcohol short circuits our basic goodness. The problem is that alcohol is easily available. The problem is that there is no hope. The problem is hypocrisy. The problem is lack of leadership. The problem is that we tell ourselves stories about how wonderful alcohol is, about how it destresses and relaxes, how it lubricates social experiences, how it increases our enjoyment of life. The problem is, these stories deny the realities of the substance, and the emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual damage and chaos that it causes. The problem is that red, white, yellow, or black, we all tell ourselves stories that teach ourselves there isn’t really a problem, or that the problem is just a few drunks.

Johnson exposes the old stories and suggests new ones, ones where we avoid alcohol and emphasize connection, ones were we quit judging and condemning an individual and instead look at the wider sociological and cultural factors. As Johnson says, we need to tell ourselves new stories that emphasize responsibility and connection and that help us understand, the problem isn’t an individual’s problem, it is a social, political, economic, and spiritual problem.

This book has a lot to recommend it to sociologists, psychologists, and anyone interested in alcohol, alcoholism, and healing. It is a fascinating case study. It is a sophisticated and powerful narrative. It is an open and honest recounting. Most of all, is a calling to quit telling ourselves delusional stories and instead, awaken to the truth and take necessary action to transform, not by judging, not by punishing, but by telling ourselves healing stories, and changing our world based on those.

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