Mike Dingman: Let's give addicts and abuse victims a way back to the light

By MIKE DINGMANNovember 5, 2013 

Today I am thankful for . . .

For the last few years there has been a craze on Facebook to post a comment about what the poster is "thankful" for every day in the month of November.

A lot of these Facebook fads are a little silly and initially I thought this one was as well. However, it can almost never be a bad thing to express such a positive message.

Some people proclaim their thankfulness for very simple and predicable things - family, friends, a roof above their heads and plenty of food to eat. Some are thankful for material goods, their giant televisions, recreational vehicles or the latest model pickup truck.

I'm thankful for a number of things.

First on my list - besides the obvious, family, friends and roof - I'm grateful that I was born in Alaska, which I consider to be the greatest state in the union. It's where I was born and where I will be buried.

I love Alaska for many reasons. I love that we have a diverse population and many different cultures. I love that we have a strong indigenous population with a powerful history and great pride in their people.

I'm thankful that we have some of the last untouched land left in the country. Open and accessible hiking trails, world class skiing, fishing and hunting as well as many other outdoor activities define who we are as a state and as a people. We are independent and not bound by assumptions of others. We think for ourselves, we are proud of that and our leaders reflect that.

I appreciate the fact that I am not consumed by addiction or abuse. The demons that ravage so many are mostly misunderstood by much of society. Rather than being offered help these poor souls are outcast in society and put in prisons.

Victims of abuse are pitied and avoided. Nobody wants to see the real life consequences of the violence handed down by many to those they claim to love. The bruises, blood and tears remind us of our own mortality so we look the other way, pretend we didn't see anything and offer pity rather than help.

The truth is we should be offering help, individually, as a state and as a nation. Instead of punishing addiction we should be offering help. Decriminalizing drugs and using the money we save on the failed "War on Drugs" could be used to treat the addiction that leads to their drug abuse.

Imagine a world where an addict can walk into the door of a treatment center and begin the healing process immediately at little or no cost for them. Imagine a world where we help our neighbors rather than criminalize them.

Envision a place where "choosing respect" is more than a slogan, but a way of life. Where those who batter others are held in disdain rather than ignored and allowed to continue their reign of terror. Where women who are trapped in abusive relationships can see clear and welcoming paths to a healthy future.

I'm grateful that I live in a country that provides the government the ability to change these things.

While we are thankful that we aren't engulfed in the flames of abuse and addiction let's also reach out to those who are. Instead of making them criminals and outcasts, let's welcome them back into society.

Post what you're grateful for on Facebook. It's a good practice, it's something positive to read and it will bring a smile on the face of your loved ones. However, when you finish drive down to the AWAIC shelter and ask the people who dedicate their lives to making those of others better how you can help them out.

Contact your legislators and encourage them to put more of an emphasis into treatment rather than punishment for those convicted of nothing more than being an addict. Regardless of how "tough on crime" you'd like to be - what we are doing isn't working.

It's time for us to welcome back those that we have cast aside. Today I'm thankful that we can offer help to those who need it.

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 90s.

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