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Sober on the Border
By Susan W.
Before Alcoholics Anonymous (A. A.) was organized, people who could not handle their liquor and kept getting worse were simply treated as hopeless drunks. In 1935, Bill W., a New York stockbroker, and Bob S., an Ohio surgeon, with the help of Ebby T., who offered a concept of universal spiritual values in daily living, formed an organization to help alcoholics get sober and stay that way. By working with other alcoholics, Bill W. had gotten sober and maintained his sobriety.
Image caption: AA Logo: The “H” stands for honesty; the “O” for open-mindedness; and the “W” for willingness in the A. A. symbol
Dr. Bob scrutinized Bill W., a fellow alcoholic who had succeeded in staying sober. Bill had learned that people like himself and Dr. Bob were sick physically and emotionally, according to Dr. William D. Silk-worth of Towns Hospital in New York, where Bill had been a repeat patient. Dr. Bob soon became sober, and he, too, went to work with other alcoholics.
Working in Akron, Ohio, these early pioneers formed the core of the first Alcoholic Anonymous group. A second group formed in New York, also in 1935. A third began in Cleveland in 1939.
In 1939, the basic book used in this organization was published, simply titled Alcoholics Anonymous. Published in four editions, the latest in 2001, the “Big Book,” as it is affectionately called, contains the organization's philosophy and methods, including the 12 Steps to Recovery.
By 1946, the organization had developed its 12 Traditions, which help to keep A. A. “simple,” as Dr. Bob always wanted. Perhaps the most important tradition is this: the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. A. A. also follows traditions such as not taking sides on outside issues or controversies, political or otherwise, nor endorsing outside concerns. Following naturally is the tradition that all A. A. groups should be self-supporting, rejecting outside contributions.
A. A.'s 12-step program asks individuals to admit to themselves that they are powerless over alcohol and need to rely on a higher power, which is defined individually by each member. Alcoholics take a moral inventory and ask for spiritual help to remove shortcomings. Essential to this process are steps that ask individuals to make amends to all those who have been affected by their drinking. By the time A. A. members reach the last step, they hopefully will have had a spiritual awakening and will carry the A. A. message to other alcoholics.
A. A. members never say they are “cured.” They are sober or recovered alcoholics, who stay away from drinking one day at a time, attend meetings regularly and help each other. Anonymity is essential for this organization, as the name implies.
El Paso saw its first Alcoholics Anonymous group in 1945. Gene H. sobered up in 1942 and was a member of an Indianapolis chapter. A naval aviator who retired on disability, he came to El Paso in 1944. He and Bill H. gathered support for the first meeting, held in a room of the Cortez Hotel on Sept. 1, 1945. Four men and one woman attended. The Herald Post published a series of articles about A. A. in Feb. 1946. A group just for women organized in the late 1940s.
In a short history of A. A. in El Paso, Margaret Smith wrote that very soon after the members organized, there were clubs, a room or building in which A. A. held its meetings. The first club opened in 1947. In 1964, the Arid Club opened at 3327 Douglas Ave. and is still there. The Alano club opened its doors in 1971; it has changed locations and is now at 9400 Montana Ave. The Northeast Fellowship opened in 1982 and continues to serve El Pasoans at 4922 Hondo Pass, Suite E. Gratitude West began a year later in 1983 and has continued its work at 225 Derby in Sunland Park, N.M. Other groups meet all over the city.
Clubhouses are not affiliated with A. A. per se. They act as social clubs for the members, who pay for the use of the clubhouse. Land and buildings are sometimes donated or leased. Some individual groups hold their meetings in clubhouses, but they have to pay rent for that time. A basket for donations is passed during meetings, and the groups themselves decide the percentage of money to be paid to the club. The club's percentage is used for the building's rent and maintenance, utilities, refreshments and custodial help. The rest of the money is further divided into amounts that help support the local central office, the main central office in New York and other activities.
In 1962, four El Paso recovered alcoholics tried to form a Spanish-speaking group at the Arid Club but were told that the club was for English-speaking groups only. Undaunted, Joe O., Lorenzo R., Jaime G. and Joe J. divided the city into fourths and began helping alcoholics in South El Paso, the Thomason area, Ysleta and Fabens and Clint. The Board of the Arid Club reversed its decision in 1964, and the Paisano Group for Spanish speakers was begun. The group still meets every Tuesday night.
In 1964, Joe O. also started a group in Juárez, Mexico. More than 40 groups are active in Juárez, but they do not embrace the concept of clubs. Groups exist throughout Mexico and even include some meetings conducted in English, especially for travelers or those who have moved to Mexico but are not fluent in Spanish. One website noted that if travelers in Mexico cannot find an English-speaking group, they should attend one conducted in Spanish, for it is the fellowship that is so important in A. A. The author reminds travelers to look for the A. A. symbol, the blue triangle in a circle that is often located on building fronts or doors in Mexico.
The official A. A. website noted that the organization is active in more than 180 countries, and total membership is about 2 million. Membership crosses all lines: economic, professional, social, educational, age, racial, gender and others. Women form approximately 35 percent of current membership. Related groups include Al-Anon for relatives of alcoholics and Alateen for teens with alcoholic parents.
The Central Office of El Paso is located at 3318 Douglas Ave., phone 915-562-4081, which is also a 24-hour help line. The Central Office of Juárez is located at Av. 16 de Sep. #123 Esq. C/Artega, phone 0-11-5216143669. Spanish meeting information can be obtained at 915-351-1141 or 915-838-6264. A list of meeting times and locations and other information can be found on the Northwest Texas Area 66 website.