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Former mayor an example of how alcoholism treatment has changed

Posted: Tuesday, June 12, 2001

In the late 1940s, Carl Milsap was tossed out of town on a blue ticket.

"You're walking down the street, the U.S. marshal puts his arm around you (and) says, 'Come with me,'" Milsap said.

He was walked down to a ship and up the gangplank, where the marshal handed the captain a one-way ticket to Seattle and told him not to let Milsap come back.

His crime? Alcoholism.

"I was a hard-drinking man," Milsap said. "Harder drinking than most. They didn't like that."

Today alcoholics are generally treated with compassion and understanding, said Matt Felix, director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency's Juneau office.

"Historically we looked at the alcoholic as someone who didn't have a strong will or moral character to give them the fortitude to stop drinking," he said. "We learned over the years that it's both a physiological and psychological process that takes place over time. We've come to ... objectively look at the process of addiction and who gets addicted."

Rather than being given a one-way ticket out of town, alcoholics are offered treatment and counseling at centers such as the Juneau Recovery Hospital.

"I designed and built it in 1980 to treat alcoholism as a disease and to treat the individuals humanely and to stop methods of dealing with them that were inhumane - like blue ticketing," Felix said.

For Milsap, who turns 81 this week, being blue-ticketed - the name comes from the idea that the police purchase the ticket out of town - eventually led to his recovery. While in Los Angeles, he found a fellowship dedicated to helping alcoholics.

"It was through their help that I found sobriety and got a good life again," he said.

He returned to Juneau in 1959, driven partly by the desire of his first wife, Gloria White, to return home.

"My wife was from here," Milsap said. "She's from an old pioneer family and she wanted to come home. I wanted to come back - I had amends to make to some people I'd hurt in the process."

Four years after his return, he was elected mayor.

"They called it the 'borough chairman' job then," Milsap said.

He moved on to work with the Juneau Credit Association, a collection agency, before being selected by then-Gov. Walter Hickel, then in his first term, to serve as executive director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. He later worked for the federal government, then as a banker, and retired as director of airports for the state. He now lives in Michigan.

Milsap said sobriety is still a pivotal part of his life. He founded a Juneau chapter of his fellowship, which has since grown into several groups, and continues to speak around the country and work with others struggling with alcoholism.

"I work with the younger people who are alcoholics, addicts - hardly anybody comes through the fellowship anymore that isn't cross-addicted," Milsap said. "Originally when I sobered up it was mostly alcoholics. Very few people were into drugs when I sobered up in 1956."

His speeches center on his own experiences.

"People reach a stage where they know their drinking or their drug use has taken over their lives and they know they should do something about it," Milsap said. "All you can do is tell them what happened and it's up to them to make a decision what to do about it."



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