Norm (not his real name) is helping organize the Vernon AA Round Up, takes part in meetings whenever he can and sponsors new members. For many years, it was something he could never have thought he would be doing.
“I started drinking when I was about 13, mainly to fit in with the other kids, to have a sense of belonging. Nobody in my family drank but looking back I can see I had some of the characteristics of alcoholic behaviour from a young age, negativity, not showing emotions and no sense of belonging,” he said.
The drinking continued throughout his teenage years when he and friends would often sneak out of school and church events to drink.
“My parents thought we were OK because we were at church. I felt better about myself when I had some alcohol in me. By Grade 12, I was drinking every weekend, even getting into bars and the drinking age was 21 then. I played rugby and the coach used to turn a blind eye to beer in the dressing room. I missed a lot of school but I managed to work part time and to graduate.”
Norm started working in construction and drank more and more.
“It was totally acceptable. If you didn’t drink, people thought you were weird. Now there is much more information about drinking and other addictions, even in schools. There is more access to AA and treatment programs,” he said.
After he married and moved to the Okanagan, he sometimes thought he was drinking too much, but never for long.
“I played fast ball and drank after games and after work and kept things acceptable at home. I also did a lot of fishing, hunting and camping where alcohol was always involved. I think many of the people I hung out with were alcoholics whether they realized it or not. I didn’t realize it about myself. My drinking progressed, even after my first child was born.”
In the late 1970s work took him to Northern B.C. while his wife and child stayed in the Okanagan.
“Things were good financially. I had no one to answer to, nothing else to do, so I drank more. There were no consequences.
His wife moved north and they had another child. Work slowed down.”
“I thought maybe I shouldn’t be drinking so much for any number of reasons, but I did. I was a functioning alcoholic, always working, but thing were bad at home.”
Another move, this time to the Lower Mainland with a new job and new friends.
“I didn’t drink at home. My thinking was if my family didn’t see me drink then it wasn’t a problem.”
The new friends got hold of seven tons of grapes and made 45 barrels of zinfandel so good that local Italians were buying it. They drank most of the wine, then made moonshine from the stems, seeds and skins in a home-made still.
“My wife and kids moved out. I thought it was a problem that could be fixed by accepting me the way I was. I did quit for about a year but it was a miserable year because quitting drinking is probably 10 per cent of recovery and the rest is the mental and spiritual part, how you deal with life and relationships.”
Norm divorced, moved back to the Okanagan and started drinking again.
I met my second wife, who was also an alcoholic and she tolerated a lot of drinking. I say I was drunk when I met her, drunk when I married her and drunk when I divorced her.
“I was getting sick and tired of myself and spiritually bankrupt and negative in my approach to everything. Even my drinking friends were suggesting I slow down. When my sister suggested treatment, I resisted at first. I finally let her take me to a treatment centre in the winter of 1996 but even then I had to stop for one last beer on the way. It took 58 days but I sobered up.
“I got into the AA program, which really opened up my eyes. I realized there was much more to sobriety then just quitting drinking. I stayed sober for 10 years then started slacking off the program. I became what was supposed to be a silent partner in a business, a bar and restaurant. What more does an alcoholic want than his own bar?”
When his partner left suddenly, he had to take over running the business and he started drinking again. In the back of his mind, he knew he had to go back to AA and he did.
“I’ve been sober for four years now. This time I know I have it. I have changed so much doing the program and being involved. That’s a big point. I have sometimes gone to meetings feeling bad but I went anyway and I have never left a meeting feeling bad.
“You can go to a meeting anywhere in the world. There are at least three meetings every day in the area, one at 7 a.m., one at noon and one at 5 p.m. and more in the evenings. Everyone has time to go. You find the time to drink, don’t you?”
As well as the regular meetings, AA has social activities, including campouts and national and international conventions for members in 180 countries.
Last year’s Vernon Round Up saw 2,700 years of combined sobriety in one room, one person for 54 years. Even that person said, “I’m sober for today.”
“People are getting help at a younger age and that’s encouraging,” said Norm. “So is the general public with awareness of addictions and treatment. If we change our thinking, we can get better. There’s help to do that.”
The 43rd Annual Vernon Round Up will be held Friday and Saturday at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 5151 Alain Rd. Registration begins at 5 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m. on Saturday. Throughout the two days, there will be speakers from both AA and Alanon, as well as meetings. The registration fee of $40 includes potluck desserts, breakfast, a dance on Saturday and a weekend of fellowship. For more information, call Jean at 250-351-5839.