When Al* went to his first Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting in Mexico City nine years ago, he did it in the belief that his addiction was to drugs and not to alcohol.
Al, who talked about his addictions during a recent telephone interview with The News, said he went to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Mexico City, but got nothing out of it because it was all in Spanish.
Al is gifted in mathematics, but says he does not have the linguistic facility to learn new languages.
“I can’t understand Spanish and I never will,” he told a reporter.
For that reason, when he heard there were Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in English at Union Church in Lomas de Chapultepec he decided to pass himself off as an alcoholic to get the help he needed to kick cocaine.
After awhile he learned that he had a drinking problem, too.
“Everyone who does drugs, drinks,” he said.
Al’s drinking started at the age of 15 with a beer. A gifted athlete, he was on his college’s wrestling team and majored in drinking and drugging. He and his friends threw keg parties on a regular basis to earn money, smoked marijuana every day and dropped microdot acid.
Al, who is in his 50s, began his odyssey with illegal substances in 1975, when he smoked an opiated Thai stick.
“I was addicted,” he said. “We partied all the time. We drank all the time. We smoked pot every single day. We smoked so much that when we were not high, we felt high.”
At that point, Al did not do cocaine because it was expensive. That situation changed after he got a job as a security officer at a pharmacy. He started taking Valiums like they were candy and started a love affair with cocaine.
Despite his penchant for drug abuse, Al became an accountant and was promoted to comptroller of a company.
“I had such good stuff from my friends that my ears were bleeding,” he said. “I didn’t think there was anything wrong being a drug addict, being violent…”
Eventually, he bought a division of a major company.
“I made a lot of money fast,” Al said.
Then things turned sour. He began having attacks of mania and switched from cocaine to vodka because cocaine made him paranoid. Eighteen years ago, he moved to Mexico and continued his substance abuse.
He got a disability and continued to do drugs until he lost his company and hit bottom nine years ago. He went into a cocaine-induced catatonic coma and several months later began rounds of treatments in mental hospitals and rehabilitation facilities.
Now he has been clean and sober for the last nine years and he credits his friends in his English-speaking Alcoholics Anonymous group for his recovery.
“We all depend on each other,” he said. “If they [the meetings] were not in English, I never would have gotten better.”
In typical AA fashion, Al expressed his gratitude for AA’s program. It has members follow 12 steps and it runs its affairs according to 12 traditions.
“I go to every meeting and I never, never don’t want to go,” he said.
AA’s 12 steps to deal with addiction start with the admission of powerlessness over alcohol and acknowledging that one’s life has become unmanageable because of an addiction and that only a higher power can restore the person’s sanity.
Among the next steps are asking a higher power for help and doing an inventory of one’s character defects with a sponsor, asking the higher power to remove the defects and making amends to people hurt along the way.
AA was started in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith, both recovering alcoholics. The organization began to take off in 1939 with the publication of the book “Alcoholics Anonymous,” referred to in 12-step circles as the “Big Book.” It tells the stories of individual alcoholics and their paths to recovery. AA is the granddaddy of 12-step programs, with groups using the steps to deal with addictions that run the gamut from overeating, gambling, relationships with other people, and even love and sex.
There are an estimated two million A.A. members in 180 countries. The only requirement to join is having a sincere desire to quit drinking. The international fellowship holds meetings that involve using slogans, topics, AA literature and the steps to get better. Some sessions have speakers who share the stories of their recoveries with the group.
There are no membership fees, although a collection is taken at every meeting. AA prides itself on being self-supporting, multiracial and apolitical.
Groups meet at the Union Church at Paseo de la Reforma 1870.
Information about AA meetings in English in Mexico City may be obtained by checking the web site mexicocityaa.com.
*Names have been changed