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November 30, 2002
Column #1109

Alcoholics Anonymous: The Most Thankful People

     GAITHERSBURG, MD - Three days before Thanksgiving I had the privilege of attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Never have I ever met such a high percentage of truly thankful and joyful people. They thank God and their fellow AA members for their recovery.

     First, I identified myself as a journalist who would take notes. I pledged not to identify any individual. Later one participant warily noted my typing on a laptop and expressed reservations. A brief debate ensued. ''Tom,'' who invited me, said, ''If what he writes prompts one alcoholic to seek help, it'd be worth it.'' 

     A vote was taken and 90 percent agreed. No one voted no.

     ''My name is Thorton and I am an alcoholic.'' The entire room of 25 people said in a chorus, ''Welcome, Thorton!'' 

     He introduced Dorothy who got the same welcome before telling her story: ''Twenty-three years ago when I first came here, I was an alcoholic who did not drink everyday. I was a binge drinker... I thought of John Denver's song, `Serenity is a long time coming.' I did not know the problem was alcohol...

     ''I am tremendously grateful to you. I knew at my first meeting that my life would change.

     ''I had four children and became a single parent. It was really rough. Staying sober was the easy part. I had you, and the group had a profound perception that we were not able to stay sober apart from the grace of God. I did not want to be here. I was profoundly arrogant and judgmental. But when I came to these meetings, you melted my heart and my fear..'' she said.. 

     ''Today I can not believe my life is my own. This year I have had three surgeries. It was a rough year. But I would come to these meetings, and deep down inside, I knew that when we turn to God, all will be well with us. Take time to be quiet, to be still, and know that all is well. AA is always here. I can come any day I want to. I will stay sober. I grow more and more in love with this program and am more and more grateful to AA than anything else.''

     When I told Tom I wanted to go with him to an AA meeting. He said, ''Fine. Here is a list of the meetings. Pick one with an `O' that's open to outsiders.'' I was stunned his pamphlet listed 1,800 AA meetings held in one week in metro Washington! In suburban Maryland on Monday there were 35 during the day and 73 at night! 

     The group I was with meets five times in a week. Love permeated the room.

     Dorothy referred to ''The Big Book,'' officially known as ''Alcoholics Anonymous,'' first published in 1939 when there were only 100 members. I bought a 4th edition (2001) which notes that previous editions have sold 13,148,000 copies! It is best known for publicizing the ''12 Steps'' of alcoholics moving toward sobriety:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him....

     Less well known are 12 Promises of AA, which Dorothy wanted to talk about:

1. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness...

7. Self-seeking will slip away...

9. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. 

     Robert said before AA ''an immediate fear kicked in. My past was a mess. Now the worst has already happened. Some people fear going to hell. We WERE in hell. Now I know if I blow it, I can always make amends.''

     Thornton declared, ''With Thanksgiving coming up, alcohol is a three-fold disease: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.'' Boisterous laugher erupted at a new version of an AA maxim: ''Alcohol is a three-fold disease: mentally, physically and spiritually.''

     He continued, ''I thought of me one Christmas making a pass at a friend's daughter, shameful stuff. What a difference our family gatherings are now. No liquor served. It is nice to be friendly and loving. If I were drinking, it would be a mess.''

     Melvin picked up laundry, where a clerk said, ''Have a happy Thanksgiving.'' Suddenly Melvin felt gratitude:. ''The promises are totally related to gratitude. Before I was always working because I did not want the fear of financial insecurity. I had to make more money. But the more money I had, the greater was my fear of losing it. 

     ''You don't work on the promises. You work at the (12) steps. 

     He smiled, ''The promises are a gift.''

     Do you need AA? Its number is in your phonebook. 

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