Alcohol Can Affect Us All is a public information forum about an issue that has public and private consequences.
The forum, Thursday at The People Place, features speakers from Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon and is open to anyone who wants to know more about the programs and how they work.
Ashley (not her real name) knows just how well the programs work.
“The first time I went to meetings, I didn’t like it, it didn’t seem right to me. But then I went back a few years later and I’m so glad I did,” she said. “I always knew I was an alcoholic but I didn’t have the coping skills to live life without alcohol, not that I was doing very well with it.
“There’s no other place where you can go to share your shame, where there are people who want an old alcoholic to come back. They want to hang out with you. They said, ‘We’ll love you until you can love yourself.’ And they did and they do. It’s incredible.”
Ashley, who has been sober for almost two years, could not remember a time when she did love herself. She was raised in a respectable, upper-middle class home where her father was a well-thought-of, hard-working professional who got quietly drunk every night. The rest of the family had to be very careful not to disturb him and endure his rages.
“My mother did everything she could but that didn’t stop me from feeling lost and unloved. It’s sad and lonely when your own father doesn’t love you.”
Ashley was drinking regularly to help her sleep by the time she was 11 and started to party with friends as soon as she was in her teens.
She knew that things weren’t right and asked a school counselor for help. The counselor told her parents and she was labeled a “bad kid” for talking about her family. That sent her back to drinking with other youth who shared her despair.
“I grew up and turned into my father, except I was never violent with my kids. I promised myself that I would never do anything like that and I never did.”
She believes she has a genetic pre-disposition to alcoholism as she has since discovered that there were other alcoholics in her family.
“I barely survived my adolescence. In my 20s, I checked myself into a hospital to try to quit drinking and became addicted to drugs. I managed to quit the drugs but not the alcohol. I was a binge drinker but I had some control. I would make sure the kids were well cared for before I would drink. Drinking gave me the temporary comfort of oblivion,” she said.
“I had no esteem or self-worth. When you are told you are junk, after awhile you start to believe it. I wanted to stop drinking and I thought I could do it myself. I’d given up even trying to control it and I’d lost everything.”
It was then that a friend took her to an AA meeting.
“I felt a lot of compassion and an endless amount of understanding and love there. The beauty of AA is that as long as you keep going, it rubs off on you. I went from being spiritually and emotionally bankrupt with no will to live, much less sober up. Today, I’m not that person at all. It’s so different. Now I want to live. I want to give back — I can’t believe that I feel like that.”
As Ashley continues with the program, she has lost the feeling that something unknown and catastrophically awful is going to happen and she was going to be in big trouble.
“Every day I wake up and say, ‘thank you for this day.’ I actually look forward to each day. I’m still reveling in it. To be glad to wake up every day is something I did not know. I love being sober. I’m so much present in the moment and enjoy each experience.
“The change in attitude is profound. Going to an AA meeting is like walking into a room full of miracles. My healing has helped heal me relationships and I don’t have to drink to cope with life. I’m happy for the first time in my life and I have some great new friends.”
The Alcohol Can Affect Us All forum takes place Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at The People Place in Vernon. Admission is free and refreshments will be served.