|Facing Life & Alcohol:
AFTER THE PARTY'S OVER
By TAMARA HARTMAN
Sixteen of the bravest people you will ever
meet sat down in the basement of a church in Queens last week to admit to each other that
they were all imperfect. They had hurt themselves and people they loved. They had lost
control, and they were willing to search for a way back to a healthy life.
One friendly, fatherly
looking sort of man stood up and told his name. He said he was a John Wayne fan . . . and
they all always drank in those movies. He told the room of familiar faces and beginners
about the weakest moments of his brothers life and of his life. He talked about
"re-hab" and how at the time he wasnt one of "those" people,
though he was living through it. He wandered in his story sometimes, lost his place, and
then picked up again.
A well dressed, energetic young woman stood
in front of the group to say "partying" took over her life. Cocaine and alcohol
set the schedule for her day and she covered it up with lies . . . succeeding in work but
falling apart in life. She "needed a meeting" on that night, which means that
she was starting to feel she had all the answers and that she didnt need to speak
out or follow the twelve steps.
Finally, a gentleman in his late 50s
stood up and explained that he went to his first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting because
he hoped it would impress a judge to be lenient on him and his numerous DWI arrests. Those
cute little sayings and "steps" and "traditions" were sappy garbage
and it wasnt for him . . . until one day it was, and it saved his life. The man made
the 16 laugh out loud as he talked, and they understood. Then they applauded.
And when the three were done the group
gathered together . . . still anonymous by last name but knowing some of the most intimate
details and failings of each others lives . . . and they asked for help.
"God grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the
difference," they said.
While the borough rings in a
new millennium with champagne toasts and caviar resolutions, it will harder than usual not
to stand out if you refuse a bit of the bubbly. Never are the social aspects of alcohol so
strongly in play as when we deck the halls for the holidays and join celebrations with
family and friends. But for the alcoholic, who is always recovering and can never take
even one drink without starting on a deadly path, the holidays are a time for standing out
from the crowd and the social traditions, whether they like it out there or not.
Alcoholism is the third greatest killer of
Americans . . . right after heart disease and cancer. It is a health problem that attacks
the young and old, lawyers, businessmen, housewives, police officers, teachers,
journalists, and even social workers and doctors who often end up feeling they should be
able to "heal themsevles." There is no telling for certain where or who it will
strike, and once it does, it eats at all the relationships in an alcoholics life . .
. work, sister or brother, husband or wife, lover, child and grandchild.
Every week in Queens alone, AA groups meet
at over 250 different locations spread throughout the borough . . . most places holding
two meetings a week. Thats not including "Al-Anon" meetings for the family
and friends of alcoholics and "ACOA" meetings for the Adult Children Of
AA meetings are classified as
"beginners" for newcomers to the program, "closed" for alcoholics
only, "open" for alcoholics and their family and friends, or "big
book" where the principles of AA are reviewed and explored.
And their 12-steps a term now part
of our popular culture include principles that could be basic in any life, like
believing in something greater than ourselves (step 2) and taking time to take a personal
inventory (step 10).
Any visitor to an open
meeting, Al-Anon meeting or ACOA meeting can gather pamphlet after pamphlet of
information. They are designed to hit on all the basic questions and be as comforting as
possible to someone touched by alcohol feeling alone in the universe and yet
hearing their own feelings expressed by people who have this socially unpleasant problem.
One "A Brief Guide To Alcoholics
Anonymous" explains "A.A. was started in 1935 by a New York stockbroker and an
Ohio surgeon, who had both been hopeless drunks. At first, most A.A. members
also had been seriously ill; their drinking had sent them to hospitals, sanitariums, or
jails. But more and more people began to hear about A.A. and soon many alcoholics found
they did not have to let their illness do that much damage. They could recover in A.A.
before their helath had been totally wrecked, while they still had their jobs and their
A.A. is now established in about 146
The A.A. "Guide"
says that not all alcoholics have the same symptoms, but some of the signs that many show
They find that only alcohol can make
them feel self-confident and at ease with other people;
They often want just one
more at the end of the party;
They look forward to drinking
occasions and think about them a lot;
They get drunk when they had not
They try to control their drinking by
changing types of liquor, going on the wagon, or taking pledges;
They sneak drinks;
They lie about their drinking;
They hide bottles;
They drink at work or in school;
They drink alone;
They have blackouts where they cannot
remember the next day what they said or did the night before;
They drink in the morning to relieve
severe hangovers, guilty feelings and fears;
They fail to eat and become
They get cirrhosis of the liver;
They shake violently, hallucinate or
have convulsions when withdrawn from liquor.
At your first A.A., Al-Anon,
or ACOA meeting, someone will most likely come up to you and tell you their name
first names only. In A.A., annonymity is sacred and essential to honest discussion and
They will ask you your name, and they will
probably shake your hand.
They may also ask if this is your first
meeting, but that may be obvious, and they may ask if you have a sponsor. A
"sponsor" is someone who has been in the program a long time and who gives you
their number to call whenever you need to talk. They may also ask if you have a "home
meeting," which is a meeting that you attend regularly and is usually close to home
but doesnt have to be.
The remainder of any first meeting is about
listening respectfully. Most beginners later say that they didnt buy what they were
hearing at their first meeting. One ACOA beginner said they just wanted to run and talk to
friends who didnt have an alcoholic in their life so they could be re-assured that
they were normal. Reactions vary to hearing other people talk about challenges, fears and
problems that they feel are personally and uniquely their own.
Queens residents in need of
somewhere to turn to can also find help at the Citys municipal hospitals, which
provide specialized patient care services. In Queens, there is an alcohol clinic at Queens
Hospital Center (82-68 164th St., Jamaica) where social workers help through individual
and group therapy sessions, and the medical staff is also available to assist with the
critical days of detox. Appointments can be made with the clinic by calling 883-2750.
For those whose dependence on alcohol is
amplified by the tortures of mental illness, some facilities offer Mentally Ill Chemical
Addiction (MICA) treatment services.
"Chemically dependent people who are
also struggling with problems like depression, often get sent to detox and rehab without
anyone addressing their mental illness," explained Judy Conklin, a drug and alcohol
counselor at the Long Island Consultation Center in Rego Park. "When we administer
MICA treatment we can address two problems at once."
Conklin, who has 12 years of experience
counseling people who are fighting dependency, said that many programs also offer
after-care services to help people get back on their feet. Some recovering alcoholics
enter halfway houses where they can stay in a safe environment for three to six months
while looking for employment and attending nightly meetings.
"We hope people would stay through the
first year of sobriety," said Conklin of the after-care programs. "That first
year presents the greatest chance for a relapse, especially the first 90 days."
All alcohol treatment centers require a
state license issued by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse. For
information on the center or on programs available in your area, call the state office at
At a second floor office in
Forest Hills, hundreds and perhaps thousands of recovering alcoholics will help each other
not to take that first drink this New Years. This is the Queens Intergroup of
Alcoholics Anonymous where from Christmas Eve through New Years day the coffee pot
will stay on and alcoholics from around Queens and many out of town visitors will take
part in the Holiday Share-Thons.
For those seeking recovery, Intergroup is
often the first contact. Their 24-hour phone volunteers handle countless calls from people
seeking hospitals, de-tox programs and rehabilitation centers. Their Share-A-Thons will
run 24 hours a day from 10 p.m. Dec. 24 through Jan. 1 at 10 p.m. at 106-03 Metropolitan
Ave. But their phone lines are open 365 days a year and can lead you to a meeting any
given night in any part of Queens. For their information and support, call 520-5021.
Richard Fasanella contributed to
New York Intergroup
Hispanic Intergroup of Queens
Alcoholic Crisis Centers
In Queens: 322-3455
Flushing Hospital Medical Center
45th Avenue at Parsons Blvd.
Queens Hospital Center
T Building, 82-68 164th St., Jamaica
883-2740, 2742 or 2744
Saint Johns Hospital
327 Beach 19th Street, Far Rockaway
Queens Intergroup has detox and rehab information