AA — The power of 12 steps

March 14, 2011

By PATRICK H. DONGES

Seventy-five times a week at assorted locations in Saratoga County, men and women of all ages and backgrounds gather to help one another find, and retain, the strength to not drink.

They are meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, a fellowship of alcoholics following a 12-step program of alcohol abstinence. The program was developed in the 1930s by a New York stockbroker and an Ohio surgeon.

Of the 75 weekly meetings in the county, 37 are based in Saratoga Springs.

It is estimated that today there are 1.2 million members in the United States, 2 million members worldwide in 117,000 meeting groups in 180 countries.

The program is based on 12 suggested steps toward recovery, beginning with admitting that alcohol has made life unmanageable and that a power greater than oneself can bring one back to sanity, and ending with the spreading of the message of AA to other alcoholics.

There is only one requirement to join their AA: the desire to stop drinking.

Most meetings consist of suggested readings and or discussions of AA literature and stories shared by group members of their experiences and recovery.

There is no set leader for most meetings; someone opens the door and it is decided among group members at any given meeting who will begin and who will share. The meeting, typically an hour long, will continue with a reading of a section of the AA handbook, typically from the chapter titled “How it Works” that includes a reading of the 12 steps.

Following the reading, members will share their stories of alcoholism, addiction and recovery. Meetings typically close with members standing in a circle and saying a prayer.

While individual members of AA may choose to speak to the media, it is understood that their decision is not endorsed by the group at large. Anonymity is protected and respected. Continued...

Several other 12-step programs have spawned from AA, such as Narcotics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous. Al Anon and Ala-Teen, for family members of alcoholics, are also offshoots of AA, with meetings often held at the same time and location of AA meetings.

The 12 steps mirror the experiences of William Wilson, known as “Bill W.,” and Dr. Robert Smith, aka “Dr. Bob,” the two alcoholics who founded AA.

Curtain Call Theater at 210 Old Loudon Road in Latham is currently staging “Bill W. and Dr. Bob,” a story of the two men and the personal agonies they suffered under the influence of alcohol. (Performances continue Thursdays through Sundays through March 26. For schedule and tickets, call 877-7529 or go to www.curtaincalltheatre.com.)

As described in the AA handbook, “Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism,” also known as the “Big Book,” Bill W. began drinking during his service in World War I and continued when he returned.

“Liquor ceased to be a luxury,” he writes in the book, first published in 1939. “It became a necessity.”

His failure to capitalize on several business opportunities, the loss of his house and the pleading of his wife for him to quit drinking did not compel him to stop. It wasn’t until a visit from an old drinking buddy who had gotten himself sober, Ebby Thacher, who offered his experience of surrendering to God as a format for recovery.

According to the book “Ebby: The Man who Sponsored Bill W.,” Thacher continued his own battle with alcoholism, spending the last two years of his life at the McPike Farm in Ballston Spa. The state’s McPike treatment center in Utica is named after Margaret and Mickey McPike, who ran a residential treatment center for alcoholics at the farm from 1958 to 1979.

Wilson, an atheist, was initially skeptical of Thacher’s story of recovery, but realized that his friend had been in the same hopeless predicament he was in and found a way out. He also came to the realization that he could base his recovery on whatever conception of a higher power he could imagine.

“Here was something at work in a human heart, which had done the impossible,” he wrote of Ebby. “I was convinced that God is concerned with us humans when we want Him enough.”

Wilson and his wife joined The Oxford Group, a non-denominational religious organization based in England that espoused a program of self-improvement. Continued...

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It wasn’t long after he had been attending Oxford Group meetings that Bill was tempted to drink again. After a business trip to Akron, Ohio, he found himself at a bar fighting off the urge to pick up the bottle, retreating to a church directory in the hopes of finding someone to talk to.

Through church connections, Wilson met Dr. Bob, another alcoholic struggling with the disease. He began to attend Oxford Group meetings with Wilson, but relapsed quickly.

June 10, 1935, the day Dr. Bob took his last drink, is widely celebrated as the day AA was born.

© The Saratogian


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