Seventy-Five Years Of Support

By Pamela Cowan

June 11, 2010

There are no membership fees or any corporate or government funding, yet Alcoholics Anonymous has not only survived, but thrived over 75 years.

On Thursday, the organization reached a milestone anniversary -- 75 years of helping people achieve sobriety, one day at a time.

"We are self supporting," said Ed, a Regina member whose last name is not used in keeping with AA's tradition of anonymity.

The organization began in 1935 in Akron, Ohio when two alcoholics got together to discuss their drinking problems. Since then, the movement has swelled to an estimated two million members in more than 180 countries.

More than 40,000 members from around the world are expected to gather at a 75th anniversary celebration being held July 1-4 at AA's international convention in San Antonio, Tex.

Ed, a member for 13 years, attributes the organization's longevity to "attraction, not promotion."

"What happens is (newcomers) see what we've got and what they haven't got -- they identify when we speak about our problems with alcohol," he said.

In Regina and area, 56 AA groups hold 80 meetings weekly.

"Once I hit bottom, after my second marriage separated, I checked AA out and I identified," he said.

Members can voluntarily join, while others come to AA through court orders or referral from drug and alcohol treatment services.

Every week, Charlie Swift, a registered psychologist in Regina, refers numerous clients to AA.

"We, as a society, are blessed to have AA in our community, in our country and in our world," he said. "So many have benefitted from AA and AA always has an open chair for those who suffer."

Often, alcoholism is accompanied by denial, shame, guilt and stigma, Swift said.

"The men and women who go to AA find that there is understanding and compassion and support for their recovery and that there's help and there's hope," he said.

"The spiritual support, the group consciousness does so much to get them centred and balanced again. The 12 steps have done so much for many worldwide."

A 24-hour answering service in Regina links callers with AA members.

"We'll go out on a 12-step call to meet with the person and try and take them to a meeting," Ed said.

Virtually every treatment program in the fields of addictions and compulsive disorders uses components of the AA program, Swift said.

"I see in my practice a tremendous number of people who have multiple conditions," he said. "You really can't do psychotherapy when they're under the influence of mood altering chemicals ... Treating both at the same time is where the success comes from because if we only treat the alcoholism, but don't address the depression, we're setting them up for failure.

"So too, people who are only treated for depression, but the alcoholism is ignored -- it's doomed for failure."

AA radically changed Ed's life.

"I've learned to accept life on life's terms, not life as according to Ed," he said. "In other words, live and let live."

The Regina Leader-Post

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