Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Sober Celebration

On New Year's Eve, AA members renew pledge during an all-night party

At the Pawcatuck Community Center, residents of southeastern Connecticut and parts of Rhode Island gathered to greet the new year by lifting a prayer, not a glass: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

So began the first of the round-the-clock Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at the center as part of the 11th Annual New Year's Eve Alkathon, a 24-hour event held to give alcoholics — along with family members and friends — a safe place to be during a time of year many said can be especially difficult.

By the time the Alkathon, which began at 6 p.m. Monday, concludes at the same time tonight, an estimated four hundred to five hundred people will have participated. The local event, which organizers said they modeled on similar ones all over the country, intersperses 15 open AA meetings with dinner and breakfast buffets, raffles and a break to watch the First Night Westerly fireworks.

Those gathered for the first meeting of the evening celebrated their sobriety, which some measured in months, others in decades. They shared stories of their struggles with alcoholism, and they offered encouraging words for new arrivals.

“When I was dropped off on the doorstep of Alcoholics Anonymous, alcohol wasn't a problem, it was the solution,” one man began. He spent his first AA meetings explaining that alcohol wasn't his problem, he said, but slowly realized, as everyone else described his or her problems with alcohol, that he was hearing his own story.

A woman recounted her daily struggle, when she lived in New York, not to enter the liquor store she passed on her way home from work. Each day she'd tell herself, “I'm not going to go in today,” and each day her feet rounded the corner and carried her in, she said. She tried AA as a last resort while thinking of ways to kill herself and found sobriety.

“I heard, 'You don't have to drink.' That had never occurred to me.”

Many said they had to hit a low point before seeking out AA meetings or taking their 12-step recovery program seriously and described lost jobs, severed relationships, ill health and in one case, a drunk-driving accident that nearly killed the other driver. Their message to fellow alcoholics: there is hope.

An Alkathon volunteer announced that by his count, about 20 adults present — a number that would grow steadily as the meeting proceeded — had roughly 175 years of sobriety between them.

“We have an expression: You can go from Yale to jail and back again,” said Mark, another Alkathon volunteer willing to share his first name.

Two and a half years ago, he said, he picked up a drink after a long period of sobriety. In short order he lost his job, went through a divorce and found himself living in a homeless shelter on whose board he had previously served.

“As of tomorrow I will own the company I was fired from,” Mark said. “That's what can happen.”

The message of the Alkathon — and regular AA meetings — is that “you don't have to drink again if you can't stop,” Mark said. “There will be someone tonight who will have had a drink tonight, and tomorrow will be their first day sober.”

source: The Day

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