AA : Alcoholics Anonymous

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Gamblers, alcoholics can get help on road

""Irving S." is a one-time compulsive gambler who credits a self-help group called Gamblers Anonymous with keeping him away from the gaming tables here and anyplace else that legalized gambling is a way of life.

"I've lost enough money to buy the Empire State Building," he says. When he travels, he makes a point of seeking out a local chapter of Gamblers Anonymous wherever he goes. "I'll tell my wife, 'Tonight's a meeting night,' and that's it."

Like many other Americans confronting problems of drinking, gambling, drug addiction and overeating, Irving (Gamblers Anonymous uses only first names and initials) relies on regular meetings with his self-help group to keep him from falling back into his old ways. The need for this support continues even while he is vacationing.

Fortunately, a number of self-help groups have recognized this problem, and members are urged to keep up their attendance while away from home. "It's the only thing that works," says Irving, who lives in Los Angeles.

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National chapters

"Jennifer R.," a spokesperson for Cocaine Anonymous, agrees. "We find that being out of town is a sly way of picking up (the habit) without people being aware. Nobody will find out. It's a real vulnerable time. It's important to stay connected."

Similarly, Weight Watchers, a fee-charging organization that helps people maintain healthy eating habits, recommends that its clients keep attending weekly meetings while on vacation. "It works," says Debbye Siegler of Weight Watchers of Washington.

Some of the largest groups - among them, Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous and Weight Watchers - have an extensive network of chapters nationally and worldwide, and a few publish a directory of meeting places and dates. More than 76,000 AA groups hold regular weekly sessions worldwide, says a spokeswoman, and travellers should be able to find a chapter somewhere near any major tourist destination.

This may seem a nuisance to the unafflicted, but the bright side is that the visitors often make personal contacts at the meetings. At the very least, they can get good advice on where to eat and what to see from the locals. "If you're from another city, they will welcome you," says Irving. "Everybody relates to you; you relate to them."

Even a difference in languages doesn't have to be a barrier. A recovering alcoholic who does not want her name printed says she attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting while vacationing at a health spa in Cuernavaca in central Mexico. The function was conducted in Spanish, but a local member provided a simultaneous English translation for her.

"But you almost didn't need it," she says. She could easily tell when a speaker was describing his problems with alcohol - such talks are a part of AA meetings everywhere - and then there was "the part where his eyes lit up." She knew he was recounting the aid he had received from his participation in the organization.

Cocaine Anonymous has a network of about 1,000 chapters in the United States and Canada, but when Jennifer wants to travel elsewhere in the world she contacts Alcoholics Anonymous or Gamblers Anonymous for a reference and attends one of their meetings. "I'll go to any of them that have a '12-step program,' " she says, referring to a 12-point statement of beliefs that is fundamental to the work of Alcoholics Anonymous and similar "anonymous" groups. In the 12 steps, members acknowledge their need for help.

Jennifer is about to be married in Fiji and already has lined up an AA contact there. "We recommend finding a contact before you go." She also will take along her organization's supportive reading material. Another help is to write as a way of expressing your feelings - either in letters home to someone who is your sponsor or counselor or in a private journal.

Other help for travellers with similar problems of addiction is coming from some unusual sources.

For the past five years, for example, the Princeton Alumni Council has arranged for on-campus Alcoholics Anonymous meetings during the university's annual class reunion weekend in early June. "We've had several letters from members," says reunion organizer Jack Wagenseller, "who said that the meetings were the only thing that made it able for them to come back."

Brief announcements in the Princeton alumni magazine alert graduates that a meeting place will be set aside for the reunion weekend, which can draw a crowd of 6,000 former students and their spouses.

Stayed sober

In Los Angeles, two recovering alcoholics - brothers and both members of Alcoholics Anonymous - have founded Sober Vacations International, a travel firm that offers non-alcoholic getaways at such unlikely places as Club Med resorts, aboard cruise ships and on white-water rafting expeditions. The idea is to provide support in relatively remote vacation settings where AA would not be expected to have a local group.

One of the partners, Steve Abrams, 36, dropped out of law school because of alcoholism. Since 1980, however, he has stayed sober with the help of AA. Five years ago he founded Abrams Travel, a general travel agency; Sober Vacations is a division of the agency. The other partner, Guy Grand, 40, fought both drug and alcohol addiction. He is now in his third year of recovery.

The brothers came up with the idea for Sober Vacations while staying together at a Club Med beach resort in Ixtapa, Mexico, last year. The thought of holding support meetings in a beautiful setting appealed to them. They took their first group of 300 recovering alcoholics and families back to Ixtapa in May. The success of the trip convinced them to offer a series of similar getaways for the coming year.

At Ixtapa, at least twice-daily support meetings of about 45 minutes each were scheduled, once in the morning and again in late afternoon. About 50 per cent of the tour members attended one of the morning meetings, says Grand, and about 95 per cent came to an evening meeting. Workshops also were offered, and some tour participants gathered for midnight discussions on the beach.

In their planning, says Grand, the brothers have picked Club Meds - a French-owned group of sports-oriented resorts around the world - that also have children's Mini Clubs, providing supervised youth activities. Not only does this permit families to travel together, but "it eliminates half the drinking. They are not so wild." At Ixtapa, bartenders created flamboyant fruit drinks without any alcohol for the vacationers.

Initially, Club Med was "leery," says Grand, perhaps anticipating that non-drinkers would not fit in. "They had an image of us going around with Bibles in our hands." As it turned out, the non- drinkers were active participants in all of the resort's social and recreational programs. Tour members could dine with Ixtapa's other vacationers, but a room also was reserved for them where no wine was placed on the tables.

During the week, members of Al-Anon, a support group for families of alcoholics, also held meetings. The age of the travellers ranged from 2 to 79 and included a mix of singles, couples and families. Sobriety lengths, says Grand, had a similar broad range - from 11 days to almost 30 years.

For more information about support services for travellers:

Sober Vacations International, 2365 Westwood Blvd., Suite 21, Los Angeles, Calif. 90064, (213) 470-0606.

Alcoholics Anonymous: With 76,184 local groups worldwide, AA publishes a set of four meeting directories: Eastern United States, Western United States, Canada and International. They are available from Alcoholics Anonymous, 234 Eglinton Ave. E., Suite 502, Toronto, Ont. M4P 1K5 (416) 487-5591.

Gamblers Anonymous: The organization has 600 chapters world- wide. A directory is available by sending $2 (to cover postage) to Gamblers Anonymous, P.O. Box 17173, Los Angeles, Calif. 90017, (213) 386-8789.

The Toronto branch of Gamblers Anonymous can be reached by calling (416) 366-7613.

Weight Watchers: About 25,000 weekly meetings are scheduled in 24 countries. About 17,000 of them are in the United States. There are Weight Watchers groups in Puerto Rico, Canada, most West European countries, Australia and New Zealand. An initial registration fee of $22 is charged, and the fee for attending a weekly meeting ranges from $6 to $10, depending on the locale. A participant can go to a meeting daily for a week for one weekly payment.

Weight Watchers advises travellers to look in the phone book for the number of the nearest local group. For other information: Weight Watchers International, 6610 Turner Valley Rd., Streetsville, Ont. L5N 2P1 (416) 826-9200.

Cocaine Anonymous: The organization maintains a directory of meeting places and times. By phoning the office, you can find the location of the group nearest you. Cocaine Anonymous Worldwide Services Office, P.O. Box 1367, Culver City, Calif. 90239, (213) 559- 5833.

For the names and phone numbers of other self-help organizations, contact the National Self-Help Clearing House in New York, (212) 840- 1259.

Holidays a tough time for reformed alcoholics; Alcoholics Anonymous

'Tis the season to drink and be merry, but for hundreds in Edmonton it's also time to wrestle with their biggest demons - alcohol and drugs.

For reformed alcoholics and addicts, this is the most difficult season to survive sober.

Besides the temptation of liquor, the emphasis on family revives the bitter memories that initially caused many to seek solace in intoxicants.

As a result, Alcoholics Anonymous, which normally conducts 120 weekly meetings in Edmonton, is holding meetings around the clock, starting every hour on the hour, through New Year's Day.

Narcotics Anonymous, a similar program for people wanting to get off drink or drugs, is conducting meetings twice a day during the holidays.

"It's so no one has to be alone," Everett, a 43-year-old member of AA, explained.

For most reformed users and drinkers, just having someone to spend time with is the main thing, he said.

"People tend to look back and remember all the bad things that happened - they're still living in the problem instead of living in the solution," said Everett, who quit drinking eight years ago.

"When I first sobered up, the holidays were difficult. It's a time when you're used to the fast lane, the action, the drinking and the partying, all the ripping and tearing around. All of a sudden here you are sober and usually by the time you get to Alcoholics Anonymous you're alone, you've drank up most of your friends and your family, they've just had enough of you.

"We're helping each other by phoning and staying in touch with each other because it can be more noticeable at Christmas."

James, a 41-year-old member of NarcAnon, gave up drinking and drugs almost five years ago and also understands why reformed addicts feel the pangs at Christmas.

"It's a real bad time of year for anybody who has been alienating themselves from their family with the kind of lifestyle that goes along with drinking and drugs," he said.

An addict for 24 years, James said he believes that addiction has its roots in a lack of self-esteem: "A person who has a problem got it before they started using the drugs, it's a living problem, something inherited from the family in a lot of cases." He said that when an addict's problems is rooted in a miserable childhood, Christmas is always a tough time to stay sober.

By Your Side Every Step of the Way

As we take our first tentative steps away from 2005 and its tragedies of human conflict, I want to talk about a war I respect. It is a struggle with one's own heart, and it happens all over the world in the meeting rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous at almost any time of the day or night. ("And the thing of it is," my uncle Sandy said many years ago at an AA meeting celebrating his 10 years in Alcoholics Anonymous, "if you want sobriety and work hard for it there is no way in the world your struggle will fail. People in AA just won't allow it to happen.")

My uncle's words were with me as I mounted the steps to the Alano Club in downtown Chilliwack a couple of weeks ago. I was there to celebrate another cherished family member's tenth year of sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.

The birthday meeting was held in a large room in the club. The people gathered there were friendly and informal, welcoming me warmly, but paying special attention to a lovely woman attending her first AA meeting.

A small bustle ensued as the birthday cake was placed on a podium and a long table readied with AA literature. Much talk and kibbitzing went on, the laughter accompanied by the sound of perking coffee. Then the clock struck 8 p.m. and people settled down to the real business of the evening: helping themselves and helping others.

The chairperson called for a moment's silence to remember those still struggling with the illness of alcoholism. (It was suddenly quiet, so quiet that snatches of conversation could be heard from the lounge just adjacent to the meeting room where we stood, heads bowed.)

A woman read the Twelve Steps of AA, beginning with "Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path..." Another woman read the preamble to Alcoholics Anonymous, from which I offer an exerpt simply because the words are so pragmatic--and so hopeful:

"Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety."

Then one after another the people spoke, directing their words to the newcomer in their midst, saying profound things with simplicity and sincerety: We don't care who you are or what you do, we're just glad you're here. The storm is not all there is, my friend. A new life will form from the chaos, we know that to be true because we have been where you are now. The road is long and we can't walk your distance for you but we will be by your side every step of the way.

The meeting closed with the serenity prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Later, while driving home and thinking of the potent mix of camaraderie and self-examination that is an AA meeting, I suddenly seemed to hear Sandy N. at a birthday party many years ago, his words ringing down the years and making my heart glad:

"Until AA my heart was like a closed fist and now it's open to the world. I had no idea such richness was possible."

Happy New Year, AA. Thanks for being there.

Home is Memorial to AA Founder

The grand old hotel was in such bad shape that Ozzie, hired as a manager, feared it would collapse.

But the birthplace of Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, has bounced back. It now offers rest for pilgrims to Wilson's grave nearby, calm for visitors who need peace and a spot for folks turned around by AA to gather.

Staffed by volunteers, the inn, known as Wilson House, is a living memorial to the man who is revered worldwide for his healing plan for alcoholics.

"It's a place for people to come and give thanks to God for their new lives," says Ozzie, who in the AA tradition goes by his first name only.

Wilson was born in 1895. He lived in the hotel, his grandmother's, for only a few years before his family moved to the Griffith house across the street. Ozzie and his wife, Bonnie, are building a library of archival material about AA to be housed at the Griffith place.

Wilson House, a quiet inn with a large wrap-around porch, was renovated to the style of the 1840s, when it was built. Its history is inescapable. AA and religious literature rest on shelves and coffee tables. Testimonials and photos of Wilson hang on the walls.

The hotel carries legends about the inn -- such luminaries as Charles Lindbergh and actress Myrna Loy stayed there in the 1920s -- and about Wilson. Staff say he built a glider from scratch when he was a boy, and his sister Dorothy crashed it into a haystack (she was unhurt).

Guests leave their testimonials and their thanks to Wilson, known in AA as Bill, in a big guest book. "I expected a miracle and I received so much more," one states.

The miracle that AA members talk about began with Wilson, a stockbroker, and Robert Smith, a physician. Although both were from Vermont, their fateful meeting and partnership began in Akron, Ohio, in the early 1930s.

It was Wilson who came up with the famous 12 steps that underpin the AA program and others such as Al-Anon, Debtors Anonymous and Overeaters' Anonymous, spun off in recent years.

Wilson House is a for-profit enterprise, while the Griffith house is owned by a nonprofit foundation. Honouring AA traditions, neither is affiliated with AA in any formal way. By avoiding affiliation with a larger network, you avoid "problems with money, property and prestige," Ozzie's wife, Bonnie, says.

For Ozzie and Bonnie, who manage both properties, keeping Wilson's memorial intact means running them along the principles Wilson made famous.

So no souvenirs are for sale -- no postcards, T-shirts, coffee mugs. Letting people take away tokens would detract from the fullness of their experience.

"What you take away, you take away in your heart," Ozzie says.

There's no promotion, no advertising, either. The Vermont Tourism and Marketing Department had never heard of them. Until three years ago, the inn didn't even list a phone number.

"People find it by word of mouth if they're meant to find it," Ozzie says.

Alcoholics Anonymous hosts annual event

Finding comfort and strength in the experiences of others was one of the main goals of the annual Alcoholics Anonymous gathering in Sydney this past weekend.

An estimated 500 people attended the 'Mid Winter Round-up of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) of Cape Breton' weekend held at Malcolm Munroe Junior High School Friday through Sunday. Delegates at the gathering included A.A. members and their family and friends, from across Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

'Bob' (not his real name), an A.A. information spokesperson, said Saturday that the annual gathering is a way for A.A. members, and their family and friends, to come together and share in one another's experiences, strengths, and hope for the future.

The weekend gathering was considered an open meeting, meaning any member of the community, alcoholic or nonalcoholic, could attend with the only obligation being to maintain the anonymity of A.A. members.

Bob said a wide cross-section of alcoholics - from all walks of life and varying lengths of sobriety - attended the event. In fact, Bob said having people with years of sobriety talk and share their experiences with people who have just recently joined A.A. is an especially important part of the gathering.

"We have people here who have been sober and active in Alcoholics Anonymous for over 40 years," he said.

Bob said it's important for newcomers to A.A. to see alcoholics who have really turned their lives around.

"We come in here in an effort to help the suffering alcoholic," he said.

The weekend itself consisted of a number of speaker meetings and discussion groups not only for A.A. members but also for members of Al-Anon and Alateen groups. A banquet and dance was also held Saturday night.

Bob said while there were serious discussions about alcoholism and recovery during the weekend, there was also an overriding atmosphere of fun and celebration.

"We have a lot of fun with one another," he said. "People come together to celebrate their recovery and to enjoy their recovery."

The annual A.A. winter round-up also provides an opportunity for people to learn about how the group actually works, said Bob.

The primary purpose of A.A. is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.

"The only requirement for membership in Alcoholics Anonymous is a desire to stop drinking," said Bob.

Bob said it's also crucial for people, especially newcomers to A.A., to know that anonymity is and always has been the basis of the A.A. program.

A.A. consists of more than two million members and 100,000 groups in 150 countries. There are 27 A.A. groups in the Sydney area.

A.A. has been in existence on the island for 53 years and the winter gathering has become an annual tradition.

Alcoholics Anonymous is there for you

Sobriety is the beginning, not the end. The program of Alcoholics Anonymous provides a tremendous power and a great knowledge, which will bring about a change in a person's life.

This power and knowledge will enable an alcoholic to change, and for an alcoholic to be able to say no thanks to a drink and make it stick, is a tremendous experience.

--Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope, with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others recover from alcoholism.

--A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes.

--Their primary purpose is to stay sober and to help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.

The following are answers to some of the frequently asked questions.

Alcoholic?

First, let's clear up the meaning of the word alcoholic as it is used here. Alcoholic simply means anyone whose body chemistry is such, that they are supersensitive to alcohol. An alcoholic is anyone whose body chemistry makes moderate, social drinking impossible.

The word alcoholic means anyone whose drinking brings misery, sickness, regret, despondency, lost opportunities, unhappy family relationships, or trouble in general.

What is A. A.?

A.A. is a fellowship of people who have suffered from continued drinking. As the name implies, the fellowship is for alcoholics only. The word anonymous means that your membership will not be divulged to the public unless you wish it so.

What is an A.A. meeting?

A.A. meetings are friendly get-togethers for the purpose of discussing the problems of alcoholism.

Why should I join A.A.?

If someone asks you to join, it is because it is believed you are a person who is having some problem with your drinking, and the person asking you believes you could attain a happy long-life sobriety in A.Aa.

What is the cost?

Nothing in money, except what you wish to throw in the hat at your meetings. The real cost is time - time to attend meetings, time to think, and time to lend a helping hand when it is needed.

Maybe you are reformers or prohibitionists ?

We are not reformers. If you do not wish to stop drinking that is your business, and in that case we have nothing to offer you. We are not prohibitionists. If you can drink moderately, congratulations. BUT, can you?

What kind of people join A.A.?

Some alcoholics hesitate to approach A.A. because they fear the members may be dregs of society. Far from it! You will find people from all walks of life. Regardless of your financial, social, or educational status, you will find understanding friends in A.A. We all meet on a common basis of friendship and understanding.

Can A.A. teach me to drink responsibly?

No, that is impossible. All-time sobriety can be yours or you can have drunkenness.

Does A.A. use medicine?

If fellowship is a medicine, then A.A. uses medicine. But that is the only kind of medicine.

Will A.A. lend me money, find me a job, find me a place to live?

No. That is not the purpose of A.A. You can get those things if you first get sobriety.

ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS CONFERENCE Beating bottle that consumed him

JOE ADMITS he can't afford the price of a drink today.

'I used to go into a bar and say to the barman, 'Give me a double scotch and give yourself one, too.' Then I'd put $20 on the bar. A real big shot.

'If I did that today, I would have to put Kathleen (his wife) on the bar, I'd have to put my kids and my grandchildren on the bar. I'd have to put all my friends and acquaintances on the bar and say, 'Barman, I'll exchange all this for a double scotch.'

'I'd have to be insane before thinking that. The price would be too high. If I took a drink, I would go back to the way I was and I don't want to do that.'

Joe remembers the way he was -- a young family man, with a loving wife and four small children. But his love affair was with the bottle.

Joe told a family panel at the 24th annual convention of Hamilton- area Alcoholics Anonymous that his drinking only caused pain for himself and his family. The convention was held this weekend at the Royal Connaught Hotel.

'The only effect booze had on me was I would get belligerent. I would get sarcastic with people and I never had any fun.

'If I was laughing in my drinking days it was probably because someone else was crying because of what I was doing,' he said.

Joe's wife, who joined the spouse support group Al Anon, remembers her husband's drinking days.

'When Joe joined AA, our oldest child was 5 and there were three more younger. All my time was taken up with the family. Joe was a side issue. He would come in drunk and upset the whole household. I thought, 'If I could get rid of him things would be OK."

She says she couldn't understand why she was so miserable, even after Joe joined Alcoholics Anonymous.

'I didn't know it was a family disease and the whole family was affected,' she said.

The early years of their marriage were difficult.

'We would go to a party and he would say, 'Tell me when I've had four drinks.' To tell Joe he had four drinks you'd be picking yourself off the floor.

'I used to think if one of kids was drowned or got hit by a car, he would see what he was doing. You would wonder how he was going to come in, in a good mood or a bad mood. Then you start taking it out on your children,' she said.

Kathleen credits Al Anon with turning around not just her marriage, but her life as well.

'I feel Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon have shaped our lives,' she said.

Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the best organizations without question, the programs the support system and help you can get is amazing. Having seen someone abuse alcohol who eventually realized they needed treatment and going to AA meetings getting sober and turning their life around is just amazing. If you know anyone with a drinking problem I highly suggest an alcohol rehab, once it's a problem there is little anyone who is not experience and trained can do to help the person with their addiction.