AA In Corner Brook

October 7th 2011

It was Christmas 1982 and there sat Tommy at the dinner table with his wife, six children and his mother.

Weeks earlier, his fourth-oldest daughter had asked him not to ruin Christmas for everyone again this year by getting drunk.

Tommy had promised her he would not have a drink. Not until after dinner, at least. But there he sat at the dinner table with a raging buzz that had started with “the straightener.” He needed to deal with the hangover that had greeted him Christmas morning.

Someone at the table said something Tommy took exception to. He snapped a comment right back and the fireworks began. Within 10 minutes of the family sitting down for what should have been a moment to bring them all together, Tommy found himself sitting at the table all alone.

“It’s all right, dad,” said his son after letting Tommy contemplate his broken promise for a little while. “Everyone makes mistakes.”

Tommy, not his real name, realized right there and then the mistake he had made was turning his back on Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) earlier in the fall.

He had called AA on his own, hoping members would show him how to drink responsibly. When he realized AA was about giving up drinking altogether, he conveniently skipped out of his house before the two members he had contacted came to pick him up for his first meeting.

After the Christmas Day experience, though, he knew it was time to give AA another shot. Later that evening, he had a glass of rum and water. Then, he had another — the last drink he has had in the nearly 29 years since.

Dry spell ended at first

Tommy, now 84 years old, had actually stayed away from booze for six weeks after making that first call in the fall of 1982. One night of drinking, even though it was in moderation, was enough to end his dry spell.

“Within a week, I was right back to where I was the night I first called AA,” said Tommy.

It wasn’t just Christmas that Tommy had ruined. He was drinking heavily before he got married at age 30 and the sudden increase in responsibilities that came with having kids only exacerbated the problem. The two or three beers at the tavern after work devolved into staying at the bar until closing time and going to work hung over almost everyday.

“I had small children and don’t remember much about their first words or first steps,” said a regretful Tommy. “I caused my family a lot of problems. I was never cruel to them and they were always fed and clothed, but there were a lot of things they could have had and should have had if I didn’t drink the way I did.”

Tommy never had a car until he was 39 because he was afraid he’d drink and drive, not to mention he would rather spend money on booze than gas. When he finally did buy a car, it wasn’t long before he was sloppily navigating the back roads in order to avoid the police. The one time he was pulled over wasn’t a deterrent. The officer knew his brother and let him go with just a warning.

By the time Christmas rolled around in 1983, Tommy was nearing a full year of sobriety and was well on his way to repairing his relationship with his family.

“I wondered how I was going to sit at the table and face my family after what went on the year before,” he said. “I wanted to make amends and, you know what? I sat to my Christmas dinner and ate it and I don’t think I even thought about being an alcoholic that day. That’s when I knew that, if I could do this for one year, I could keep going.”

Tommy knows he is lucky to be alive these last three decades, let alone to have regained his family’s respect.

It’s all because of the call he made to AA on Christmas Day in 1982, the continued support of that fellowship, the inspiration from his family and his determination to stick with the program.

The program offered at AA is more than about putting down the drink, as Tommy learned. It’s also about learning how to deal with the myriad of emotional and social hurt the alcoholic’s drinking has caused.

This weekend, Tommy will be among more than 200 AA members from across Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia expected to be in Corner Brook for the 47th annual assembly for Area 82 of the organization.

Reaching out

AA is not just about helping oneself, said Tommy. Part of its mandate is to reach out to those still struggling with the alcoholic demon inside them.

Since he stopped drinking, Tommy has dedicated the rest of his life to helping others do the same. And he has helped many others, acting as their mentor on their difficult path to overcoming the disease of alcoholism.

“Some people don’t make it at first, but then they finally get it,” he said. “Some don’t get the opportunity to come back. I know an awful lot of people who have died too early because they couldn’t give up booze.

“I definitely consider myself one of the lucky ones and I want to help get other people sober.”

To find out more about AA in the Corner Brook and surrounding area, call 639-1682, 785-5048 or 686-2456.

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