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May 1988

Sober We Can

I had my last drink on November 2, 1948. One day at a time I have been sober for more than 39 years. Now I am a 75-year-old sophomore at Fordham University.

At the age of seven I became an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual dropout from life. It wasn't until I reached the ripe old age of 36 that I was offered the gift of sobriety. The Twelve Steps, suggested in the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, gave this helpless, hopeless alcoholic a chance to edit the proofs of a horrendous life.

My disease of alcoholism progressed rapidly while I was in high school; after five years I was expelled, so I never received a diploma. In November 1985, just after my thirty-sixth AA anniversary, I made up my mind to pick up a high school equivalency diploma. I went and took the test. When I arrived at the school for the examination, there were about 150 young people milling around the entrance doors. The young men and women were giving me strange looks, so I just stared back at them and said, "Don't mind me, fellows, I'm retarded." I was probably older than most of their grandfathers. I did so well in the exams that I decided, what the hell, I'll go for the whole ball of wax. For the first 36 years of my life fear of failure had been a dominating factor. In sobriety, I can still fail and consider myself a huge success. I was willing to give it my best shot.

Fordham has a "College at Sixty" program. I completed the agenda, received a certificate, and was eligible for the University at Lincoln Center.

I feel, as a recovering alcoholic, that it's not only my right but also my duty to express a candid opinion as to why there should be weekly meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous on other campuses throughout the country. Many alcoholics admit the disease of alcoholism had begun its fatal progression while they were still in college.

Fordham has been gracious enough to allow us a meeting room twice a week. The program here is a little over fourteen months old and we have three other students, besides myself, attending the meetings. Many of my friends in the Fellowship have been wonderful in support of our group.

Since the group developed here at Fordham, small groups have sprouted at New York University and Columbia. There has been an AA meeting at a midtown college (Hunter) for two years. It was started by two sober alcoholic students during the fall of 1985. At the present time there are a dozen recovering student alcoholics attending the weekly meeting. A Y.E.S. (youth enjoying sobriety) group also has been using a classroom for a meeting space for over a year at the same college.

Recently, through our New York Intergroup Association, I was able to contact another alcoholic who had just enrolled at City College of New York. He was seeking information about starting a group on the campus.

There are over a million and a half recovering alcoholics spread throughout the world. Many of these men and women had, through the progression of the disease of alcoholism, squandered the early opportunities in life to complete a college education. It is exhilarating to sit in an AA meeting and listen to recovering alcoholics share how they are resuming their education as part of the bridge back to life. I love to share with them the fact that I didn't get a high school diploma until I was 73 years old. Sober we can.

This morning I got out of bed ready to face the beauty of uncertainty for another twenty-four hours. As I began my daily routine of exercise, meditation, and breakfast, a wild fantasy began to grip my imagination. Someday there will be an autonomous AA group in every university in these United States (though I doubt if I'll still be around to see it happen).

We often hear at meetings that there are no coincidences in the Fellowship. I couldn't pick a more appropriate day to write about my sober dream. It was thirty-nine years ago that I read an article in the New York Journal American, entitled "I Was a Lady Drunk." I contacted Alanon House the same day, and I went to my first AA meeting the following night. My first meeting was on D-Day plus four years, June 6, 1948. On the original D-Day, June 6, 1944, I had been a drunken GI, on guard duty at an Air Base in England. The combined allied armies were invading Europe and the planes from our unit were providing cover for the infantry.

After that first meeting, another five months would elapse before I finally got sick and tired of being sick and tired and was ready to throw in the towel. At times I refer to my final surrender as the night that I conceded with Governor Dewey.

It was election night, November 2, 1948. Harry Truman was reelected president of our country, and much to the joy and surprise of most of the alcoholics around Alanon House, Red B., the drunk with all the lousy wiseguy attitudes, began to stay sober a day at a time.

President Truman once said "The buck stops here." This statement can apply to every recovering alcoholic in the world. I would love to ramble through thirty-eight and a half years of adventurous sobriety, but then of course I'd be diverting from our original theme. Can we plant the seed of sobriety at the university level?

If you are a recovering student alcoholic, and at a school which has meetings on campus, please show up and share your experience, strength, and hope with your peers. It is probably through the gift of sobriety that you--the ex-drunk who is not drinking today--are getting that diploma. Just try and remember that there are no degrees for staying sober. The sheepskin will just certify that, as a human being, you are trying to live a useful and productive life.

That last phrase in the AA Preamble reads: "Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety." Most of the happy alcoholics I know and admire are the ones who continue to carry the message to the still-confused, still-suffering alcoholic. It is my opinion that there are many full blown alcoholics on every campus in the country.

If you're a student, enjoying sobriety through the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous, please help to plant the seed of sobriety on your campus.

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