Avoiding temptation

Area AA offers marathon meeting to help during holidays

December 26, 2009


Editor’s note: To honor the anonymity of members of Alcoholics Anonymous, only first names appear in this report.

Just before 4 p.m. Christmas Day, Bob parked his truck in front of 612 New Bridge Street, a tiny storefront in downtown Jacksonville with the words Tri-County Alcoholics Anonymous painted on the plate-glass windows.

Located almost directly across the empty street, the neon sign of Shirley’s V Bar seemed to beckon him.

He looked briefly over his shoulder in the bar’s direction and then quickly went inside the AA office. Bob sat through a meeting without speaking.

“I haven’t had a drink in six years,” he told The Daily News after the meeting while opening a new pack of cigarettes. “It’s hard not to drink at Christmas.”

The festive holiday spirit can be a huge temptation to those struggling to stay sober. A marathon meeting at the downtown AA office allows recovering alcoholics a place to go during the holidays to talk about their problems, to listen to others, remember why they want to be sober, and to get the strength they need to carry on for one more day.

A marathon meeting runs every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Warm coffee, cookies, pies and people who are willing to listen wait for anyone who has a desire to stop drinking.

“Holidays are tough,” said Mary, a volunteer at the office. She said wandered into a Christmas meeting three years ago and has been sober since.

Mary said she felt scared and alone and desperately wanted to drink. Instead she found the AA marathon and it changed her life.

“Everyone is partying during the holidays and I needed a safe place,” she said. “I didn’t know a soul at the meeting. Everyone was strangers to me, but I felt completely safe.”

Mary said she stayed all night and is grateful to be clean and sober today.

“Being alone during the holidays is scary,” she said. “I found a place I felt safe.”

The holiday meetings are designed to give people a place they can escape the stress of the season and refresh in their minds why they want to stay sober, said Dave, who has been sober for 29 years.

“Sponsors are not counselors, we are not therapists, we are people who are going through the same thing and are here to listen to someone who needs it,” he said

As a retired Marine Corps officer, Dave said it shocked enlisted Marines when they learned he was in a 12-step program.

“Young Marines would find out I was in the program and say they didn’t think officers had those kinds of problems,” Dave said. “But every level of society has that kind of problem.”

Dave said AA is all about the desire to stop drinking.

The primary purpose of AA is to “stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety,” according to information from the organization.

John, sober since 1991, said he looks forward to the marathon meetings every year.

“Early in my sobriety, I would wake up early Christmas morning and couldn’t sleep and I would drive downtown and there would be four or five other people here and I would make it through the day.”

He said that is what AA is about: one alcoholic helping another to stop drinking.

“I drank too much. I drank when I didn’t want to. I drank when I had obligations,” John said. “A friend of mine told me six years prior that they could help me stop drinking when I was ready. In ’91, I called them up and they drove two hours to get me to a meeting.”

Even after 18 years, John said the holidays really tempt him to drink.

“It is good to come down here and find that I’m not alone,” he said.

The AA office is open six days a week and a meeting is held at noon every day of the year.

People who want to stop drinking or want to learn more about the AA program can call Tri-County Intergroup at 910-455-3666.

© JD News, Jacksonville NC

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