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HomeNewsArchivesNot for Profit: Alcoholics Anonymous

Not for Profit: Alcoholics Anonymous

May 20, 2007 — With its foundation of 12 steps and 12 traditions — the guiding principles that have helped millions of people worldwide to recover from what was once considered a hopeless condition — Alcoholics Anonymous is alive and well in the Virgin Islands.
When Alcoholics Anonymous first opened its doors in the territory in 1959, there was one meeting on St. Thomas. The first meeting on St. Croix took place in 1962. On St. John, meetings started sporadically in the mid 1980s.
A large meeting might have consisted of five people on St. Thomas or St. Croix, two or three on St. John. Today there are 54 meetings a week on all three islands: 23 on St. Croix, 27 on St. Thomas and eight on St. John. Meetings now can include as many 40 anonymous people, most of whom understand that the success AA has had with one drunk helping another is unparalleled.
"The program," as it is often referred to, is spiritual, not religious — a fact that some in recovery say they misunderstood at first. The steps of the program refer to a higher power of one's own understanding.
When founder Bill W., newly sober, found himself alone in a hotel in 1935 in Akron, Ohio, thinking about going to the bar, he instead sought help from a minister. That minister guided him to Dr. Bob, who was a hopeless alcoholic. Together they helped each other stay sober, and later reached out to a third man. And so the story goes. Gradually, through word of mouth and eventually Jack Alexander's landmark article in the Saturday Evening Post in 1941, AA grew.
According to its traditions, AA has only one purpose: to help alcoholics achieve sobriety.
Anonymity is the organization's guiding principal. Not only are members expected to guard the anonymity of all other members, but the 11th tradition states, "Our public-relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films." This also includes television.
Therefore, any mention of members must and will be done using pseudonyms.
In meetings, members share their experience, strength and hope to try to help newcomers identify with them and to guide them through the steps they took that allowed them to become and remain sober.
Usually a newcomer has experienced some defining moment directly related to their drinking — a "bottom," as it is referred to in the program — that has driven them to come to their first meeting.
Karen S. said she had to become homeless to begin to get the message.
"I was that girl that lived on the beach under a dinghy because it kept the bugs away," she says. She also lived in a Dodge Dart in Red Hook that didn't belong to her. She lost that home when someone hit the car one night and the Police came. After being thrown out of every bar on the East End for fighting, and after trying unsuccessfully to stay sober on her own, Karen finally went to AA She's been sober on St. Thomas for 17 years.
Not everyone "gets it" the first time around. Megan L. says she wasn't ready when she first attended meetings in the '80s. "I had been aware for some years that I was an alcoholic," she says. But, she continues, "I couldn't grasp the program," adding, "largely because I wasn't ready to stop drinking." So after being sober for awhile, "when a difficult situation occurred," she says, she drank.
Finally, years later, she went back. This time, she says, "I worked the steps." In August she will celebrate 10 years sober.
Will S., also coming up on 10 years sober, says he knew there was something wrong for 15 years before he ever went to his first meeting. Car accidents, rehabs and other near-death experiences didn't convince him he needed to stay sober.
"My final bottom wasn't particularly dramatic,"he says. "I just got sick and tired of being sick and tired."
Often people express concerns about anonymity, especially those who are more high profile in the community.
One such person, John Z., who has attended meetings successfully for six years, says, "I consider the fact that I am a recovering alcoholic to be one of my most important accomplishments in life." He continues, "While I don't go around announcing I am an alcoholic, I have no shame about it." In fact, he says, "It's a matter of pride" to be in recovery.
Another member says, "I didn't care when people saw me falling-down drunk, so now I should worry about whether they see me going to an AA meeting?"
Meetings are designated either open or closed. Anyone is welcome to attend open meetings. Only alcoholics or those who think they may have a problem with alcohol are welcome at closed meetings.
Along with holding regular meetings, members also serve by reaching out to jails and institutions such as hospitals, which house many people suffering from the disease of alcoholism. All of this work is voluntary. No members are paid in any way for services they provide. Nor are there any leaders. However, the national and international service structure does include paid employees who work at the General Service Office and the World Service Office in New York City, providing literature and information to members and managing AA's archives.
AA also has a magazine called the AA Grapevine. It is referred to as "a meeting in print." The Spanish language version is La Viña. The publications have regular employees.
Not everyone who enters the AA program achieves lasting sobriety. But a PBS show on alcoholism, produced in the '80s when AA was experiencing exponential growth, concluded that AA worked far better than all other methods combined.
One member from Trinidad attending the Caribbean Institute on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse years ago once said of chronic relapsers, "Their lives improve."
Anyone interested in finding out about local meetings or Alcoholic Anonymous can call the AA hotline at 340-776-5283 or check the local Web site: www.aavirginislands.org.
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