GLADSTONE - Bad habits frequently begin early and that was certainly true with 'Mabel (not her real name), who has been in recovery for alcoholism for more than 20 years. Coming from a family filled with alcoholics, Mable began drinking with her friends when she was only 13 years old.
Although Mable admitted that she usually drank until she was drunk, amazingly, her parents never noticed.
"My mom didn't realize because she was drinking, too," said Mable. "In fact she drank so much that sometimes she'd end up in the hospital, but that never stopped her from drinking."
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
After many years of alcohol addiction and a trail of ruined relationships, Mable has been able to maintain a life of sobriety and eventual serenity for more than 20 years through Alcoholics Anonymous. She regularly attends meetings at the Delta Alano Club in Gladstone. The club is located at 601 Michigan Ave. For more information about the club and its programs, call 428-1184.
Mable never made much effort to hide her drinking from anyone and she and her friends even drank while they were going to school.
"We really drank a lot," she explained. "In my senior year, me and my friends would go out of home room and go down to the lake and drink and then come back to school."
Mable found herself pregnant in her last year of high school and married her son's father, who, unfortunately, had drinking issues of his own. They even experimented with drugs together - usually marijuana.
"We were both contributing to the bar life, shooting pool, or just drinking together. That was part of our daily life," she said sadly. "We always drank until we got drunk and then one of us would say, 'Let's stop off in this bar' on our way home and have a couple more drinks."
Mable said both she and her husband were fortunate in that neither of them ever got stopped by the police while intoxicated or ever got in a car accident. "It was unreal," she said, shaking her head. "God certainly had His hand on me as well as my guardian angel."
With both she and her husband abusing alcohol and drugs, it's not surprising that the marriage ended after only seven years and Mable found herself on her own supporting her young son.
Despite her continued drinking, Mable usually didn't have a problem finding work. Unfortunately, it was usually in a bar setting - whether she was serving food or working behind a bar where she, herself, drank at the same time.
In an effort to improve herself, Mable attended college and got a degree, but her drinking never stopped. But it wasn't long, while at a new job, Mable's supervisor confronted her.
"She wanted to talk to me about a codependency issue and advised me to see a counselor," Mable said. Because of her life as a child of alcoholic parents, she began attending Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) meetings. But it wasn't uncommon for Mable to have a drink or two before she entered the meeting room.
"I wasn't the only one," she declared. "People would come into the meetings and probably had a drink while sitting in the car before they came in."
Ironically, as an alcoholic herself, it didn't occur to Mable that she might have been better served in the meeting room across the hall in which the members of Alcoholics Anonymous gathered. In addition, it was about the same time that her son, who was by now in his 20s began drinking.
"But fortunately he never picked up the disease," Mable said.
She had been attending the ACOA meetings for about a year when her sponsor suggested to her that AA might be a better choice.
"There I was sitting on my front porch," Mable recalled. "I really didn't have anywhere else to turn."
But when Mable entered her first meeting of AA, she was amazed to discover that her ACOA sponsor was there as well.
"She ended up being my AA sponsor, too," Mable said with a smile. "A sponsor is so important. They're the ones who help you work through your steps and when times get tough and you want a drink - I know I did - they're the ones who help you through."
Attending meetings are imperative, Mable said. And when she first started, she attended meetings almost every day in a number of locations, one of which was the Delta Alano Club in Gladstone.
"The Alano Club was a life saver," she said, "It was like I had found my home." In more recent years, she still attends two to four meetings a week.
In the more than 20 years since she's been in AA, Mable said she has never relapsed and gives all the credit to the "grace of God." In addition, she has served as a sponsor to a number of newcomers.
"If they call me with a problem, I usually tell them, 'Let's get the big book (AA handbook) out,' and whatever they're dealing with at that particular time, we can usually find the answer in the big book," she explained.
Because of the close relationships that typically develop between the AA member and sponsor, they are always the same sex.
"There's never a woman with a male sponsor or a male with a woman sponsor," Mable said. "Not everyone is single and because you form a close bond, it's not a good idea."
Although Mable said it bothered her greatly in the beginning when a woman she was sponsoring relapsed, but as the years have gone on, she is better able to handle.
Mable said she has found another family within the AA fellowship.
"You develop relationships," she said. "They become a friend and like a member of your family. You're all in the same boat and that, in itself, brings a unique closeness. You know each other's pain."
Mable said her son is supportive of his mother's ongoing recover. "He says, 'Mom, whatever you want to do, that's okay with me.' But Mable realizes that their relationship suffered over many years because of her drinking.
"It's certainly better than when I was drinking," she said reflectively. "But even though I've apologized to him, that bond is never going to be the same."
But despite her years of sobriety, Mable said she is very much aware that she has to be vigilant to maintain it.
"Whether you're sad, lonely, hungry, angry or tired, when you feel one of these emotions in a day, you have to determine to stay sober," she said. "I've been through divorce, deaths, you name it, I've learned that alcohol is not the answer. My life in sobriety has meaning. I've found venues for myself and my belief in my God and my church are important to me. They (fellow church members) know about my past...I make no bones about it. But you'd be surprised at the people in church who I didn't know they were in AA, too, until they came up and told me."