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Anonymity is key. “My name doesn’t get used. No members’ names here get used. I can’t stress that enough,” said a hotline operator for Alcoholics Anonymous in St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert counties.

To learn moreFor support or information about Southern Marylanders struggling with alcoholism, and for times and locations of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, call 1-800-492-0209; or visit www.somdintergroup.org. To learn more about Alcoholics Anonymous, visit aa.org.

Alcoholics Anonymous stresses that people have the right to protect their identities so that they can feel comfortable reaching out for assistance, without judgment.

The St. Mary’s resident didn’t want his identity publicized, but he did want to share his story. It was important, he said last week, because the new year is a time when “we generally see a spike in membership.”

Alcoholics have often lost loved ones, he said. Some have wrecked their families. They’re lonely. They can’t drink like they want to at home, so they go to the bars.

They drink their way through the holidays, “and we’ve screwed up quite a few of them,” he said. Their actions cause physical, emotional and spiritual pain for themselves and people who love them. When they hit their “bottom” they’re ready to find peace.

Sobriety is a gift, and, he said, “We really want to give this away to people. We really want to help.”

There are Alcoholics Anonymous meetings just about every day of the week throughout St. Mary’s County, in towns including California, Mechanicsville, Lexington Park, Ridge and Valley Lee. The only requirement for membership is to want to stop drinking. There are no fees.

“This is a program of attraction, rather than promotion,” he said. Alcoholics Anonymous doesn’t go out and solicit members. “We just want to let people know that we’re here and they can reach out to us. We want to attract people who want help.”

Sometimes, the group has 24-hour parties when the resolve to refrain from drinking alcohol might get weak, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, he said. They get together during New Year’s and throughout the year for picnics, to hear speakers who have been through similar struggles, and just to call a sponsor for support, anytime.

“It’s a language of the heart,” he said. “You get to hear someone else’s experience, strength and hope.”

The hotline operator attends five or six meetings a week. He said he had to hit his bottom to make it to where he is today, five years of sobriety. He’s been an AA member for seven years.

Arriving there wasn’t easy. “It’s a living hell for almost all of us,” he said. “What really gets us, too, is when we first take away the drink.” Compulsion consumed him. If he wasn’t thinking about having a drink, he was thinking about not having one.

He said AA’s 12 steps helped him make it through those darkest days.

It was through his work with AA that he met his current wife, who also is a support. They’ve been married five years and celebrated an anniversary New Year’s Eve. But, she also has battled her own demons.

“I found myself very, very, very alone. I didn’t even like myself anymore,” she said last week. She knew she’d reached her bottom when she’d pushed away everyone who cared for her. “I was barely employed. I was physically addicted.” A once vibrant woman who used to run up and down the field with her boys at football could barely get up in the morning, and then would curse the birds because of their singing.

Alcohol, she said, “was my ruler. It was my God. It was my rock. It’s a very, very cunning and baffling disease,” she said. “It takes very wise and centered people. When your disease takes over, your perspective of everything is completely off.”

And it’s not much easier for family members, friends and co-workers of alcoholics, she said. “There’s one thing that loved ones don’t understand. They can’t fix us.”

Al-Anon is good support group for loved ones coping with alcoholic family members or friends, she said.

As for the alcoholic, she said, “pray for them.” Encourage them to get help. But let them know they can’t drink at your home, she said. When you go out, go to restaurants that don’t serve alcohol. “If you’ve tried to help them before [and it didn’t work], it might be time for some tough love. You might have to let go.”

In those dark times, people can search their hearts and their intentions, the hotline operator said. Alcoholism can be a hopeless disease. Only with support, he’s sober one day at a time.

Now, “life is great,” he said. “People tried to tell me what life was like on this side. Like, we could actually be happy and sober.”

nclark@somdnews.com