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August 1992

Baby Boomers

Alcoholics under the age of 30 have been coming to AA in Nebraska for several years. Most were welcomed with open arms, while some were met with much skepticism. But in the late 1970s and early 1980s there began a trend that has since become commonplace: young alcoholics by the hundreds showing up at the door of AA asking for help. The following is a thumbnail sketch of that influx of young people, and what Nebraska did to insure that the hand of AA was truly there. Today much of our state has designated "young people's" AA meetings that are thriving, lending a hand to the still suffering young alcoholic.

During the spring of 1981, a handful of young AAs saw a need. The local treatment centers and halfway houses were "pumping out" more and more young sober alcoholics. With not much sobriety, yet a lot of enthusiasm and fellowship, this group set out to Minneapolis for the 24th International Conference of Young People in Alcoholics Anonymous (ICYPAA) in July of 1981.

We went to see how other young people in AA were getting along. We had a lot of questions. How do you start an "official" young people's AA meeting? How do you get active in service? What do you have to do to become part of AA as a whole? Is the Big Book current enough for us? These are the '80s! And of course, how can I meet that attractive girl from Chicago?

We were in awe as approximately 3,500 sober alcoholics from all over the globe, the majority under the age of 30, converged on the Radisson Hotel. Everyone had a ball, and like AA everywhere, we commenced to make fast friends. As found on page 17 in the Big Book, ". . .There exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness, and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful."

The feeling of sharing a common peril, a common age, and most importantly a common freedom from the prison of self and booze was almost too powerful. We all agreed that alcoholism had caused a great need in our community and the responsibility of providing an atmosphere of identification was ours.

In August 1981, we started the Young People's Meeting in Omaha. Our first turnout--150 people. Yes, the need was there! We quickly elected officers and split up into four meetings; two smoking, a nonsmoking, and a beginners meeting. Our goal: attract young alcoholics through identification and expose them to a set of principles that had saved our lives. Ultimately, we wanted to host an ICYPAA.

As alcoholics go, we were no different. There were arguments. There was a lot of hanging on to just the fellowship and consequently getting drunk. But through it all, many survived. People who in 1981 were 14 and 15 are still sober today with 10 and 12 years. Some meetings were started out of resentment, or a desire for power (I want to run something!), but all were started out of a need, for today there are 1,200 to 1,500 young alcoholics in the Omaha area alone.

As a fellowship within a Fellowship, we stayed right. We had our cliques, but as in all cliques those that practiced solutions (strong sponsorship, service, meetings, a relationship with God, the Steps) survived, and those who stayed in the problem soon disbanded.

As we grew, our "twisted" motives fell by the wayside. No longer did we need to stay in our little group and show those "old alkies" how it's done. No competition between old and young. We were all in this together. Many of us got older sponsors and started spreading out to other meetings.

We no longer had to prove to other young people that we were better. Initially, we wanted to host an ICYPAA. We wanted to do this for some good reasons: 1) To get more people involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, 2) to show young people that there is life after booze and it's a darn good one! 3) to carry the message to more young people through this forum. We also had a couple of not-so-good reasons: 1) Show young alcoholics everywhere how to put on a conference, 2) show them where the best AA exists, and 3) prove to the over-the-hill gang we're a force to be reckoned with. Once the constructive action was taken, however, the not-so-good motives dissipated. There was no need to prove ourselves to anyone--AA had tricked us again. We did a few simple things (that were hard!) and we learned a most valuable lesson. As long as we stay in control, our lives run rampant with fear, resentment, pain, and hostility. Once we surrender to the ideals of AA, we become happy, useful, peaceful, and whole.

Back to our story: A conference was started. In July 1983, the Great Plains Roundup was held with an attendance of just under 800, and it was a great success. There were speakers who were young sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous, but there were more who were just plain members of AA. We learned another invaluable lesson: Young is anyone who still has growing to do, and AA is a lifelong journey. Last November, the Great Plains Roundup IX had an attendance of 1,500, twice what it was nine years ago. Some of those on the committee of the roundup were there for the first young people's meeting back in 1981. Ironically, many of us who were around for the baby boom of AA in Omaha are classified as over the hill in Omaha today. Yes, what goes around comes around!

There is a story an old-timer once told that goes something like this: "Why is it," said a rich man to his sponsor, "that people call me stingy when everyone knows that when I die I'm leaving everything I own to this clubhouse and AA?"

"Let me tell you the story of the pig and the cow," said the sponsor. "The pig was unpopular and the cow was beloved. This puzzled the pig. 'People speak warmly of your gentle nature and your soulful eyes,' the pig said to the cow. 'They think you generous because each day you give them milk and cream. But what about me? I give them everything I have. I give them bacon and ham. I provide bristles for brushes. They even pickle my feet! Yet no one likes me. Why is that?'

"Do you know what the cow answered?" said the sponsor. She said, 'Perhaps it's because I give while I'm still living!'"

Living is giving. Giving is loving. Loving is God. We have experienced God, because many of us are still sober and active in AA despite the odds against us. To those we sponsor under the age of twenty we can be overheard saying, "The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead."

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