We have to put our money where our mouth is and we have to provide more treatment because this is an epidemic in our country. —Rep. Mike Noel
SALT LAKE CITY — Many who know the conservative Utah legislator from Kanab don't know of his long family history with alcoholism that goes back to his paternal grandfather, says Rep. Mike Noel.
His grandfather was an alcoholic who abandoned Noel's father as a child, and the 5-year-old and his siblings got bounced around between the homes of relatives. That experience, along with family genes, contributed to his father's lifelong alcoholism, Noel believes.
Tuesday, the southern Utah representative told several hundred people, who packed into the Capitol rotunda Tuesday for the annual "Rally for Recovery," that Utah must spend more to treat drug and alcohol addictions.
"I know that treatment works," he told the crowd. "We have to put our money where our mouth is and we have to provide more treatment because this is an epidemic in our country."
State and federal funds now provide substance abuse treatment for around 16,000 Utahns, but the need exists for as many as 100,000, said Travis Wood, a lobbyist for Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness, or USARA, which organized the event.
Those who attended — recovering addicts and alcoholics, their family members and others — cheered speakers enthusiastically echoing throughout the building marble halls. Many held signs; one read: "Forgive Me My Past, Allow Me a Future."
Noel says his father became mean and abusive when he drank. Once when Noel was a child, for some reason his father told him at the dinner table, "Wipe that smile off your face."
Struggling not to cry, he tried to obey, Noel recalled. But his father apparently mistook his expression as a smile and struck him, knocking him to the floor.
At age 75, 10 years before he died, the family decided they'd had enough. They hired a professional facilitator and held an unannounced encounter session, Noel recalled. Each family member in turn told their father and grandfather how his life of drinking and abuse had hurt them. They had also reserved a spot for him at the Betty Ford Center in California.
His father said, "nope," he wouldn't go, but from that day he never drank again, and his family relationships began to be repaired, Noel said.
Noel's wife is also an adult child of an alcoholic, as were many of his friends growing up, he said. In later years, the family learned that Noel's alcoholic grandfather had died alone in a New Orleans flophouse, he added.
This year, rally organizers seek to pass a bill that would allow recovering addicts and alcoholics to have controlled substance-related crimes expunged, which they say would reduce barriers to jobs and housing. Sponsored by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, SB182 requires a five-year waiting period, a court hearing and other requirements.
Noel said he is preparing legislation to increase funds for substance abuse treatment in county jails.
Linda Backstrom, a volunteer coordinator for USARA, said the rally is held "to let legislators know we're in recovery, and we vote, and we care about what our legislators do."