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December 15, 1995 - Image 48

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1995-12-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Teens Learn To
Cope With Alcohol

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ith its frequent refer-
ences to God and higher
powers and fellowship,
the Alcoholics Anony-
mous program can sometimes
seem like a place of worship.
Welcome to Sunday School.
Eighteen boys and girls, most
of them elementary-school age,
are sitting in chairs arranged in
a circle in a conference room at a
hospital.
For some, Dad is in the cafete-
ria out front, attending an AA
meeting. For others, Mom is in an-
other room down the hall, at an
Al-Anon support session for the
relatives or
friends of alco-
holics. An older
brother or sister
could be at Ala-
teen, a sup-
port group for
adolescents,
next door.
These kids
are in pre-Ala- -
teen. They have
recited the
Serenity Prayer
and promised to
protect each other's
secrets, just like the
grown-ups. Soon they
will read the "12 Steps" out
loud.
Right now, though, they are fid-
geting. Actually, they are past fid-
geting and nearing rebellion. They
slide in and out of their chairs,
poke each other in the ribs, guf-
faw at wisecracks about bodily
functions.
Mary, the adult group leader,
tries to maintain control. She
sends a particularly unruly boy
out of the room, then a girl. She
makes a boy throw away the gum
he keeps stretching with his fin-
gers.
None of this helps. It's as if the
kids have read the handwritten
message on the bulletin board—
"If we don't listen we don't
learn"—and d. -ided that learn-
ing isn't worth the trouble.
Then a moment of clarity cuts
through the chaos.
During a discussion about al-
coholism and its effects on fami-
lies, one of the boys, a newcomer,
softly relates that he sometimes
wants to sneak around the house,
find the alcohol his father drinks
and pour it down the drain.
"Will that help?" Mary asks the
rest of the group.
"No!" several of them shout.
"He'll just find more," a girl
says.
"More! More! More!" a boy
echoes.

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For the first time all night,
Mary smiles.
"Alcoholism is a family dis-
ease."
This is part of the AA belief
system, and it doesn't just mean
that the child of an alcoholic may
grow up to be one, too.
Instead, it means that one
person's drinking can ripple
through family and friends,
affecting them emotionally,
socially, psychologically, finan-
cially... in many ways.
"Living with the effects of
someone else's drinking is too
devastating for most people to
bear without help," the AA lit-
erature says.
Sarah, a 17-year-old girl, tried
to bear it alone. When she need-
ed to talk to someone about
her dad's drinking, she
turned to her
stuffed animals.
- "They were the
only ones who lis-
tened," she said.
They were a little
short on
counsel,
though, and
eventually
Sarah found
her way to
Alateen.
There she
could talk to, and hear
from, other teens going through
the same difficulties.
She has been going for about
five years new, and says the
group has helped her. She be-
lieves she is more outgoing now,
a better friend.
"When we get together, we
talk about ourselves, about what
we are going through," she said.
"We don't give advice. It's most-
ly a support and sharing net-
work."
Nationwide, there are about
2,000 Alateen groups. They are
part of the larger Al-Anon
branch of AA, which has some
32,000 groups worldwide, 17,000
of them in the United States.
(These support groups are not
to be confused with AA sessions,
where alcoholics go in search of
sobriety. These groups are for
people whose lives are affected
by someone else's drinking.)
The support groups use the
same basic structure and much
of the same literature as AA.
They talk about 12 Steps and 12
Traditions. They guard each oth-
er's anonymity. (The kids chant:
"Whom you see here, what you
hear here, when you leave here,
let it stay here!")
There are Al-Anon meetings



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