07 June 2011
By Raymond Billy | Resonate News
“Dysfunctional” is the word Tyler resident Anita Billups used to describe her childhood family life. She remembers her father as a “rage-oholic” who passed the physical abuse he endured in his upbringing along to his own children. When she was 15 years old, her mother retreated, leaving Billups and her five siblings under the management of a man who couldn't manage himself.
Billups, 55, began drinking shortly after her mother's departure “to numb the pain,” she said. She was an alcoholic for more than a decade — and avoided coming to terms with the trauma of her youth. Now sober for 28 years, the Dallas native said she is not concerned about the recent push to liberalize alcohol ordinances in Smith County cities. She said the only thing wrought by restricting people's access to alcohol is annoyance.
“I don't think it matters,” said Billups, an insurance agent. “I'm not sure what the reasoning is for fighting alcohol sales, but if people want it, they're going to find it,” she said.
An often-cited rationale for curtailing alcohol sales is the threat intoxicated drivers pose to other motorists. During the Memorial Day weekend — a time traditionally rife with drunken motorists — Smith County officials arrested 29 people they suspected of driving while intoxicated, up from 25 during the holiday last year. Tyler — where residents may order alcoholic beverages in restaurants and bars but not purchase for take-home consumption — was the site of 20 of those arrests, up from 15 in 2010.
Billups believes incidents of drunken driving in the county are largely caused by people consuming alcohol on the way back from purchasing such beverages outside of the cities in which they live. She said opening the door to increased access to alcohol might reduce that kind of behavior and make roadways safer.
“Having alcohol closer in town might stop accidents,” she said. “I certainly don't think alcohol sales will lead to an increase in drunk driving.”
An analysis by Resonate News — which cross-referenced Texas Department of Transportation statistics with U.S. Census Bureau data — calls into question how effective Smith County's alcohol restrictions have been. According to the analysis, seven of the 12 Texas counties ranked immediately above Smith County in terms of population ranked lower in terms of alcohol-related vehicle crashes in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Three of those counties have “wet” designations, meaning they allow residents to order alcoholic beverages at restaurants and purchase them for take-home consumption. The other counties are considered “partially wet” — as is Smith County — because they do not ban alcohol sales outright.
Marvin Salcido, pastor of Church On The Move in Tyler, said he favored restricting alcohol sales because more conservatives policies prevent people from becoming drinkers in the first place.
“Alcohol is addictive. There will be those who might moderately drink, but many people become addicted and that destroys lives and families,” Salcido, 48, said. “Why allow something to take root when it destroys so many lives?”
Salcido's father was an alcoholic who died of injuries sustained during an alcohol-related wreck at the age of 29, leaving four children behind. His father was a passenger in the vehicle, having been out for a night drinking with a buddy. Salcido's mother coped with the loss of her husband by consuming alcohol “to self-medicate” Salcido said.
Despite the fate suffered by his parents, Salcido began drinking as as teenager “because it was available,” he said.
Even after committing his life to Christ in 1986, he briefly remained a substance-abuser, he said. Five days after his conversion, his brother Melvin and a pastor drove two hours to his home in Hobbs, N.M., and prayed with Salcido that he would be “delivered” from his vice.
“I prayed and asked God to fill me with the Holy Spirit,” Salcido said. “At that moment I could feel myself being healed. It was like a syringe sucking the desire to drink right out of me.”
After struggling with alcoholism for 12 years, Salcido said he discarded all of his cases of beer the evening of his brother's visit and has been sober ever since. Salcido — who moved to Tyler in 1995 to start his church — said the city's strict alcohol ordinances have likely helped it keep serious crime to a minimum.
Melinda Cook, 52, also favored Tyler's tight rein on alcohol sales because she said it helped keep the substance out of the hands of underaged drinkers.
“If alcohol were available to take home, teenagers would get older friends to go into convenience stores and buy it for them,” said Cook, who manages an antiques store in Tyler. Cook was alcohol-dependent for nearly two decades. She said alcoholism was rampant in her family and that she became ensnared by the condition in her early 20s because “of my genetic makeup.”
Cook said she got sober in 1997 after she examined “my behavior and what it was doing to my family and friends.” She said she is in favor of Tyler's current policy of allowing alcohol sales at restaurants and bars but not for take-home consumption.
“I'm not against drinking. Some people think it's wrong to drink, but I don't. It's getting drunk that's the issue,” she said. “Of course, some people can't drink without getting drunk, and I was one of them.”
Salcido said he wouldn't mind seeing Tyler ban alcohol sales altogether, saying “the more restriction on alcohol, the better.” But, he acknowledged that restrictions aren't likely to slow down a certain segment of the population at this point.
“For those who want to get drunk, it's hard to communicate with them the danger of what they're doing,” he said. “You can't get through to them until something tragic happens in their life where they see the consequences of drinking.”
He pointed to his own experience for those seeking recovery from alcoholism.
“My strong conviction is that the Lord Jesus is where to turn for help,” Salcido said, later adding “he's a healer who can set people free.”
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