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Reply #4: It's more than four paragraphs. But, Mods, it is not copy-written material. [View All]

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Aristus Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-15-09 10:56 PM
Response to Reply #2
4. It's more than four paragraphs. But, Mods, it is not copy-written material.
I hope you like it.

My impressions of alcoholism and of Alcoholics Anonymous were formed very early in my life when I watched the movie Days Of Wine And Roses as a kid. (Despite my parents open-minded approach to what we kids could watch, Im still surprised they allowed me to see the film at age seven or so.) I remember being frightened and repelled by the sight of Jack Lemmon drunkenly trashing the greenhouse where he had hidden half of his booze stash, shouting Where is it? Where is it? over and over in his desperation for another drink.
I had the opposite reaction when, near the end of the film, he joins AA and gets clean and sober. Even at my young age, the powerful redemptive force of his desire to quit drinking impressed me.
In both the Fall and Winter Quarter Course Evaluations for Behavioral Medicine, I was asked what prejudices, if any, I was able to overcome during the run of the course. I answered that after having worked so long with the homeless, the impoverished, the mentally ill, and the drug addict, I felt I had few prejudices left to overcome. That was not strictly true. When I drove to the scheduled AA meeting, I had all kinds of images running through my head of the kinds of people I might expect to encounter there. A bunch of desperate-looking characters all chain-smoking and grasping hopelessly at the tattered shreds of a tentative sobriety, maybe.
When I walked in, I was greeted by Chris, a clean-cut guy in his thirties who worked as a real estate agent. He told me he had been sober for five years and had been a drinker for ten years before that. He introduced me to David, who would be celebrating his first birthday, his first full year of sobriety, that very evening. As eight-oclock rolled around, they introduced me to Jsus, who would be chairing that nights meeting. Jsus welcomed me and smiled when I told him my purpose for being there. He said he hoped my colleagues and I would help to raise awareness of the benefits of AA to all of our future patients.
To a certain degree, the meeting played out along the lines of many clichd Hollywood movies about AA. The chairman introduced himself to that nights gathering: Hi. My name is Jsus, and Im an alcoholic.
Hi, Jsus!
All evening, people would introduce themselves that way:
Hi. Im Fay, and Im an alcoholic.
Hi. Im Kelly, and Im an alcoholic.
Hi. Im Eric, and Im an alcoholic/drug addict.
They would repeat this, like a mantra, anytime they had something to say, or an opinion to offer. At first, it struck me as an effective way for each person to solidify his or her identity as an addict, and confront the harsh reality that there is no cure for alcoholism, and that they would be recovering addicts for the rest of their lives. But after a while of listening to rote recitations: Brian/alcoholic. I just wanted to say it started to seem like the self-flagellation of a medieval penitent.
(On a side-note, there were a few desperate-looking members present; dirty, ragged, unshaven, seemingly at the end of their rope. But no one was chain-smoking. Like every place else, AA had had to accommodate the new laws regarding smoking in public. Jsus announced that there would be a smoke-break halfway through the meeting, and there was a designated smoking area off to the side of the building.)
The meeting began with a reading the famous Twelve Steps of the AA program. I wont include them here, but the reading was done in relays, with volunteering members each taking a few of the steps and reciting them aloud to the others. This was followed by a reading of the Twelve Traditions of AA, which I had never known about until that night. I was impressed by the fervor with which Alcoholics Anonymous and its members protected the good name of the organization from any taint of politics, ideology, commercialism or social favoritism. Their mission was crystal clear: getting sober and staying sober.
After the Twelve Traditions came a group recitation from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the Bible of AA, and treated with as much reverence and solemnity as The Good Book itself. It was written back in the 1930s, and Im sorry to say, seemed overtly preachy and didactic to my ears. But I refused to discount the respect the members had for its teachings, or the effectiveness it seemed to have in convincing alcoholics to get sober and stay that way. I was moved by the passion so many members had toward the notion of sobriety; as if sobriety was a rare and precious gem the possession of which they couldnt quite believe, but were terrified of losing.
When Jsus announced the promised smoke-break, most of the members dashed for the door, fumbling in purses and coat pockets for cigarettes as they went. Kelly, a Physical Therapist, stayed behind to talk with me about P.A. School. She had once had an ambition to attend xxxxxx (my P.A. School). But when I encouraged her to give it another go, she assured me she enjoyed being a P.T. very much. As we talked, I noticed she seemed to be less haunted, less ravaged by addiction than the others. She seemed to be happy, whereas most of the others seemed to be just barely hanging on, and not even happy with that. It occurred to me, in probably only a minute way, that many people in recovery must live in a kind of agony; endlessly craving just one thing: a drink. All the while knowing that that one drink will lead to another, and another, and ruin their lives all over again. AA encourages its members to live from day to day, but some of the people present seemed like they were scratching by from hour to hour.
After the smoke-break, the members rounded out the meeting with personal testimonials; how and when they had started drinking, how they became addicted, and in what ways their addiction had devastated their lives. I felt again the soul-crushing pain so many of them seemed to be living with. A litany of broken marriages, estranged children, lost jobs, bad decisions, and run-ins with the law. It pressed down on the atmosphere of the room like a lead weight. However, this oppressive feeling was relieved as each of them talked about the spiritual comfort they received at Alcoholics Anonymous; the fabled Higher Power or God as we understand Him of the program. As a Christian myself, I felt awed and deeply moved by the transformative power of their faith. No matter how deep and burdensome their pain might be, they understood that taking up drinking again would only make it worse. And they were going to rely upon God and the support of their fellow members to see them through.
I joined the members in closing the meeting. We stood in a circle, clasped hands, and recited the Lords Prayer. As I spoke the words so familiar from my childhood upbringing in the church, I felt tears welling up as I prayed silently that God would help all of them through their time of agony, and give them peace.
As Jsus adjourned the meeting, I thought about the barriers many of them would face in their struggle for recovery: spouses too immersed in their own troubles to be supportive, custody battles for their kids, parole officers to meet with, sales goals to attain, and over all, the unquenchable desire for a drink. I had seen enough at the meeting to convince me that most of those present that night would succeed. They were just too determined. Grimly determined to help not only themselves, but also any of the others who needed help.
As a P.A., I want to remember that determination and assist my alcoholic patients to avail themselves of it. Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program is not easy. Its not slick, its not smooth, and it doesnt lend itself to breezy marketing techniques. AA sponsors come right out and tell their new charges that this will be the hardest thing theyll ever do, but that it will be worth it. I want to show my patients that they will have such a solid, unshakeable foundation upon which to build their own recovery.

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