By Austin M. Davis
The grey plastic tables with foldable metal legs are set up in a large rectangle in the middle of the church basement on a Monday night.
The walls are canary yellow, except for a few sections that appear as if they were painted with a darker shade, like someone got the wrong can from the store.
There is coffee available closer to the kitchen and plenty of Styrofoam cups.
A woven basket is passed around, collecting money for the coffee fund.
Cupcakes will be passed around after the meeting.
The atmosphere in the big, fluorescent-lit room is cautiously celebratory.
A man sits at the table furthest from the stairs, facing the more than 30 men and women that are seated in chairs around the rectangle.
The man’s two daughters – “my two angels,” he calls them – sit to his left.
The younger, with light, curly hair, is no more than 10. She sits closer to her dad.
The older isn’t more than 14. She sits stoically beside her sister.
Around the corner of the rectangle of tables sits the man’s wife, occasionally touching her daughters’ faces, once to wipe tears away from the younger girl’s eyes.
This man – father and husband – is celebrating his “one year birthday.”
This is an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
Of the 30 people in the room, probably half get up, introduce themselves and reflect on the man’s year of progress. Everyone congratulates him – there are plenty of hugs – but they also refer to the reading the man selected. The topic was acceptance.
When the man rises to share with the room, his voice quivers. “I chose to be alone,” he says. He only lets himself cry when he looks at his daughters and talks about choosing to live.
He knows he’s not alone now. He has his family with him tonight, and he always has his A.A. family.
Like others who have been successful through the program, he faces his disease one day at a time – and with help.
“I haven’t gone to a meeting where I didn’t feel better after,” he says.
He thanks the group and sits back down.
“Congratulations!” his younger daughter says, loud enough for the room to hear.
Everyone stands and claps as the meeting winds down. People hold hands, recite the Lord’s Prayer, and finish with the mantra, “Keep coming back.”
As people chat and enjoy the cupcakes, a man named John helps stack the chairs and tables. When he’s done, he stands in the middle of the room, looking around. He’s wearing a dark T-shirt and a blue fleece vest with a zipper up the middle.
John, 66, says he had one accidental sip of liquor since February, 1988, but he spit it out.
Having recently celebrated his 25th A.A. birthday, he says that it’s important to stay emotionally level while celebrating accomplishments. “If the ego gets in the road…” John's voice trails off, implying the frightening unknown of returning to alcohol.
He describes himself as an alcoholic as having “a big ego and no self-esteem.”
John says he started drinking (“as much as I could get my hands on”) at nine years old.
“When I found that alcohol would take away that fear, I would consume more. I was full of fear. Very full of fear. My father was quite abusive. That made life very difficult,” John says.
He was kicked out of school in Grade 9.
He had a history with the law by the time he was arrested – and served jail time – for his first impaired driving charge at 16.
By 21, he says, he was a full-blown alcoholic.
After some time out west, he moved back to Saskatchewan.
“I bought a liquor store, or a liquor vendor,” John says. “Really what I was buying was that I knew then that I would have 24-hour consumption.”
It was under those circumstances that he drank himself into a straightjacket and ended up in a hospital in Weyburn. He was in a comatose position for three days and doesn’t remember any of it.
Even that wasn’t his rock bottom.
At 41 years old, a doctor gave John a maximum of four years to live.
“That was the beginning of not having a drink,” John says. “Mind you, I went and got drunk the next day after he told me that.”
When John went back to the doctor, his blood pressure was even higher and the doctor recommended A.A.
His first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was on Feb. 17, 1988.
After considering suicide, he attended treatment in Estevan during May and June of that year.
Over time, John went and got his Grade 12, and, as a tradesman, became a project manager. He doubled his salary. He got his pilot’s license.
“I never thought that I could learn or (that) I could do anything. But with the program teaching me some confidence, I found out that I could learn and do some things,” John says.
Most difficult, he says, was getting through his second divorce while staying sober. But he accepted everything that came at him.
He credits all this to being in A.A. and “living the program.”
John is now in a good place financially and plans on retiring in three months.
“I live completely 180-degrees different than how I lived before. It’s all attributed to living the program, talking to your sponsor, reading The Big Book and living a life that’s free of alcohol,” he says.
The program has been helping alcoholics since 1935.
Estimates released by A.A. in 2012 put the number of worldwide members at over 2 million in 114,070 groups. There are more than 93,000 members in Canada alone.
In 2011, more than 8,000 A.A. members from Canada and the U.S. participated in a random membership survey.
The data revealed that 65 per cent of members were men. The composition of membership was 87 per cent white.
The average age of A.A. members was 49. The two age demographics that made up over 50 per cent were between 51 to 60 and 41 to 50. Only two per cent were younger than 21, and six per cent of members were older than 70.
Adam would fall into the third smallest percentage of members’ ages: between 21 and 30 (11 per cent).
He’s been to six meetings around Regina since January, but wouldn’t classify himself as an alcoholic.
“I would say right now (I’m) an alcohol abuser,” Adam says, “but if you continue down that path, you’re going to become an alcoholic and it’s just something that sticks with you. So, if you can’t even prove to yourself that you can get past a month – or even a week – without alcohol, it proves you are going to become an alcoholic. That’s why it’s good for people who are alcohol abusers to go to those kinds of meetings, just to learn what can happen.”
Adam says the hardest part is following the last words spoken at every A.A. meeting: “Keep coming back.” He has to rely on public transportation to get to meetings and says that makes attendance difficult.
But in only six A.A. meetings, Adam says he’s picked up on the fact that the program performs as advertised.
“If you follow it, of course it works. If you shy away from the program, not so much,” Adam says.
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