By Kelsey Jacobson
On Wednesday, October 28th, five students from Bemidji State University shared their personal experiences during an event for Collegiate Alcohol Awareness Week. About 75 students showed up to learn about the effects of alcohol and how to be safe. The event made students question how they feel toward alcohol and their own personal experiences. Most people came to support friends on the panel and to hear the real stories from real people.
Taylor Wutzke, a freshman majoring in Elementary Education with a minor in Mass Communications, wanted others to know that even if a person drinks alcohol, it not only affects them but others as well. “It has played a big part in my life,” said Wutzke. This also was not her first time talking about her experiences with alcohol, as she has spoken to other colleges, state conventions, and high schools. She wanted students to be informed and aware about the effects of alcoholism as her father has been an alcoholic for 18 years of her life and it has not only affected her but her entire family as a whole.
Wutzke’s experiences with her father’s aggressive behavior when he drinks is something she has had to live with her entire life. She gave the audience a short snapshot of what she has been through by explaining how she has not seen her father sober for more than a week. Wutzke also talked about how she used to be a daddy’s girl and she remembers going fishing and hunting with him, but she doesn’t do that anymore.
Growing up, Wutzke realized how much her father drank out of a water bottle that contained vodka instead of water. Her father’s aggressive behavior soon became the new normal for her and one night stuck out to her as recalled her father coming home drunk. She didn’t know why he went into her room that night, but she recalls him becoming aggressive with her and she remembers waking up to bruises on her legs that morning. Afterwards, Wutzke couldn’t sleep at night and she believed this was normal—this happened to everyone. “Be strong, so others can be strong as well,” said Wutzke as she recited one of her favorite quotes.
Allison L., a freshman majoring in Nursing, got inspired by attending the Mental Heath Panel this year. She wanted to share her personal experience because she has come to realize people don’t like to talk about their personal struggles with alcohol but she wants to bring awareness to students who may be feeling alone.
Allison was date-raped and drugged one night at a friend’s home. She doesn’t remember getting into her car after the incident but recalls blacking out for 4 hours. She does remember playing monopoly with her friends that Thursday night and waking up on a railroad track with the police knocking at her door. The police then put her in handcuffs and escorted her to the juvenile center. When Allison went to the bathroom at the juvenile center she thought something was wrong—there were possible rape signs but she didn’t understand what happened to her until later. Allison thought she could trust the people she was hanging out with.
Allison wants students to know that only you as a person can change how you do things, such as your actions and reactions within your environment. She also hopes students understand that it is okay to talk to friends and family with what you are going through. Allison knew back then not to drink and drive, but that didn’t stop her that night. When people ask her why she got a DWI they don’t believe that she was a straight-A student when she graduated high school and the reactions she receives are usually judgmental. This event happened 6 months ago, so Allison still struggles with what happened to her that night.
“A lot has been taken from you,” said Allison in regards to rape. “Don’t let what you have done define who you are and what you can become.”
After the event took place, Allison believed it was her fault. She is finally starting to trust people again now that she is in college. “This is not what I wanted for myself,” said Allison. “I don’t like it when people see me as a rape victim, I want to be known as Allison.”
Chelsey Trettel, a junior majoring in Social Work and minoring in Chemical Dependency, and her second year participating in the panel on campus, wanted to show a different side of alcohol. “It doesn’t have to be the same old story everyone hears about,” said Trettel. She says that her past doesn’t define who she is and that others should not let it define them as a person.
Trettel’s father went to treatment 5 years ago due to his alcoholic behavior and her mother went to treatment when she was 14 years old for the same problem. Trettel thought having a single mom was a good thing until she grew up and realized it wasn’t. Her mother had to raise her on her own because her father left them when Trettel was at just a young age. “I wish my childhood was different,” said Trettel.
Her mother’s behavior toward Trettel has caused emotional and mental abuse growing up and is still a problem for Trettel today. Her mother used to comment on her weight and has been known to call her and tell her how selfish she is.
“I am the exact opposite,” said Trettel, now a CA on campus in Oak Hall. Trettel is a positive person, so no one would ever guess what she has been through because of her optimism toward others.
Monica Braun, a freshman majoring in Nursing, found out about the panel when Jacob Passa, a Health Education Coordinator at the Center for Heath and Counseling, went to talk to her FYE (First Year Experience) class. She decided to be on the panel in order for students to become aware about the effects of alcohol, especially suicide.
Braun’s family believes that her grandfather committed suicide because of his dependency on methamphetamine and alcohol after his wife left him. Braun’s grandfather also believed he was showing possible signs of Parkinson’s disease, which scared him. Braun recalls playing the guitar with her grandpa when she was young, but when she was in second grade, her grandmother and grandfather divorced after 22 years of marriage. Her grandfather then needed to be admitted to a treatment facility.
Braun remembers one day visiting family and then recalls people screaming that her grandfather had killed himself. Braun talked about how her grandfather had an argument with his wife that night and his wife decided to leave him in the middle of the night. He ended up drinking and the following morning his wife found him hanging in their garage.
Braun remembers her grandfather as a happy person, and that no one would have ever guessed he was depressed. She wants students to know that they are not alone, and that you are not the only person out there who may feel depressed, have secrets, or feel embarrassed. “No matter what, suicide is not the answer,” said Braun. She also described how depression is hard to detect. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” said Braun.
SJ Reed, a freshman from BSU majoring in Mass Communications, has been heavily influenced by alcohol, and wants people to learn the tools toward being safe when drinking. “If I can touch one person at the panel, that would make all the difference,” said Reed before the event. She wants students to know that alcohol is not as big and bad as it may seem and you can use alcohol and be smart about it. Being educated and aware makes the difference, and even though Reed’s personal experience with alcohol has been negative, she wants students to know that alcohol affects everyone differently.
Growing up with 14 siblings, Reed always considered herself daddy’s little girl. At a young age, her father left her and her mother because of alcohol, along with a number of different reasons. Reed had to learn right then and there how to be independent. At the young age of 8 years old, Reed’s father was no longer in her life.
When Reed was younger she never understood her identity until she got to high school and by then she relied on the male sex as a purpose to life. All throughout middle school and high school Reed used alcohol as her escape and described how she put a mask on in order to pretend that everything was fine.
After the panelists shared their personal experiences, Larry Hanus, a counselor and Clinical Director at the Student Health and Counseling Center, opened up the discussion about alcohol to the crowd. The panelists closed the event by bringing up using the buddy system and the safe cab when students are out drinking and to understand their limits of alcohol.
Hanus also shined a light on how students tend to put on a mask to protect themselves from the hurt they have been through, much like Reed talked about earlier. “It takes courage to break through the stigma,” said Hanus to the panelists after they shared their stories.