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September 1988

Letters Are My Lifeline

If anyone had told me I could be alone but not lonely in the heart of Africa, I would not have believed them.

My parents are both alcoholics. My father made it in AA, my mother did not. I knew AA was there, at least in the big cities in Zimbabwe. I grew up believing that I could handle alcohol, even if my parents could not.

Then my parents left Zimbabwe and went to live in England. The restraints were gone. It took only three years to graduate from a sometimes careless social drinker to a full-blown alcoholic.

I had this terrifying vision of becoming like my mother, who was one of the living dead. But my blackouts were increasing; my family was falling apart. One day sitting on the porch in the warm African sun (with a hangover), I could see a tunnel--long and black with no light at the end. With trembling fingers I dialed the AA number in the phone book.

A soft Scottish accent answered. The next Sunday I made the trip into Harare, forty miles away, to visit the AA woman I'd spoken to on the phone. I wasn't too sure at first that this would be the answer, but the following week I went in again, stayed the night with her, and went to my first AA meeting.

How many times since have I heard the words, "It was like coming home." At the meeting I was Liz, not anyone's wife, mother, daughter, or aunt. Just Liz. I started going to meetings every second Friday night and staying over. I deliberately blocked the thought of my husband's growing resentment at being left to look after three children.

There was another aspect of it, too. As much as I loved AA, I felt like an outsider, always looking in with my nose pressed on the window pane. Members were friends with each other, they'd arrive and leave together, make social dates with each other, talk about conventions, trips, and special speakers. It seemed that all the best things happened when I couldn't be there.

I learned so much--all head knowledge. It hadn't reached my heart. I could talk the talk as they say, but my resentment blocked me from being able to walk the walk.

After about six months I started to drink again, just a little I thought. I was genuinely surprised when my husband noticed, and said that AA wasn't working, so I couldn't go anymore. I replied angrily that if I couldn't go, I would just drink on Friday nights instead.

This was when I learned that alcoholism is a progressive disease. A year followed, the blackest year of all. Finally a concerned and loving priest took me into Harare, to meet with an AA woman he had contacted. It turned out to be the Scottish woman. She gave me a copy of the Loners/Internationalist's Meeting (LIM) bulletin. I wasn't sure this would work, but I had nothing to lose. The idea of writing to people fascinated me. I'd always loved writing. So I nervously wrote to GSO in New York. I wouldn't have been surprised if no one answered, but I didn't drink for two weeks, waiting for a reply. The response from GSO was warm and loving and so was the first letter from a Loner sponsor. I figured I would stay on the wagon just a little longer. And more letters came, people writing to me. It was unbelievable. Every time the LIM arrived, I would write to five or six new listed Loners, and Loner sponsors. And I stayed sober (or was it just dry?).

Somewhere along the line the dryness became sober. A new chapter began: making long distance friends. Some letter-writers remained as acquaintances, some faded out, and some developed into real friendships. I wrote to people all over the world, good friends I now had in some strange sounding places. Basically though, it was the Americans that responded with a warmth and generosity I'd never known. One friend in particular has become a household word in our home. He sends books, articles, tapes, all manner of things that bring such a rich dimension to my life. He's a friend I can say anything to, sharing strength, hope, and experience as well as pain and joy. I have learned so much.

Three and a half years later and my vigor for writing letters hasn't faded. It has often been my lifeline. So many times a letter has arrived at just the right moment, with just the right words for a situation in my life.

I now go out socially more than I ever have in my life. Often I will sit and write a long letter in the afternoon. This somehow strengthens my resolve, and reinforces my thinking in a positive way. In a small, somewhat old-fashioned and backward community, most of our new social circle doesn't know that I am an alcoholic, and I can relax and enjoy myself, knowing that I've been talking to a friend in AA in a letter that very afternoon.

I write at least one letter almost every day of my life. In a very real way, I experience more meetings in a small African town than those who live in the capital city.

Recently I attended an AA conference in Harare. Some of us shared and talked about how it can be so easy just to attend two or three meetings a week, listen to a drunkalog, and then do nothing for the rest of the week. Some had slipped and some had gone back out.

I can see how easily I could have fallen into that trap, had it not been for letters and reading a lot of AA literature. In letters we often discuss what Step we're on and how to go about living the program in all our affairs.

I can see now how very much I have to be grateful for, when to begin with, my resentment at my inability to get to AA meetings almost destroyed me.

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