By Bonnie Carroll—
If we are lucky we have had amazing women in our family who loved us, taught us and inspired us to become the women we are today, and I am a member this lucky generational sorority of women sharing their truth. The Joyce girls who preceded me were great beauties, were very bright and were my family of women whose example provided me the knowledge, strength, faith and humor to overcome every challenge life has thrown at me. My mother Rose, my aunt Catherine, and my aunt Dolores all gave me lessons and talents that made it possible for me to approach life with courage and confidence. To say that I am beyond grateful for their presence in my life would be such an understatement.
In the 1930’s my aunt Catherine, who was a talented dancer moved to New York to join a popular dance troupe that was performing on Broadway. She met a young sailor after a performance one night and agreed to let him walk her home, but on that walk home her life changed forever as he pushed her in an alley and tried to force himself on her. When she put up a fierce fight to stop him from sexually assaulting her he beat her brutally breaking her eardrum. Subsequently, she lost her job because she was unable to hear the music, and very quickly her life spiraled into an alcoholic nightmare, where she found herself homeless, hopeless and alone. She was spending her nights at the Bowery Rescue Mission, where she was provided meals and a place to sleep.
My family, who were from Ireland and understood only too well the hideous death an alcoholic faces on their journey to jail or the graveyard, were all praying and making novena’s that God would be kind and take her quickly. However, in March of 1941 the Jack Alexander Article on Bill Wilson and Alcoholics Anonymous appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, and when my aunt Dolores read it she sent a letter to Bill Wilson, care of the magazine, to ask if anything could be done to help her sister who was terribly ill, and was spending her nights at the Rescue Mission.
Seventeen years later as a teenager I had a conversation with my aunt Catherine and she told me that some people came looking for her at the Bowery Rescue Mission to tell her about Alcoholics Anonymous, and how they explained to her that these twelve steps were helping people get sober and restore their lives. I continue today to thank God she heard their message on that day because she went to live in a place with other recovering people, where she chose sobriety and put her trust in what was a relatively unknown program. She said working the steps of the AA program gave her new faith, and the courage to return to the world of the living.
Since 1879, The Bowery Mission has provided homeless New York women with meals, shelter, and medical care leading to residential programs that offer men and women the opportunity to transform their lives.
It is touching to note that the mission work and history is ongoing. On Wednesday, April 13, 2016, over 200 guests attended a luncheon at the Rainbow Room on the top of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, in Rockefeller Center in support of The Bowery Mission Women’s Center. The Spring Benefit Lunch was hosted by Gayle King, co-host of CBS This Morning and editor-at-large of “O” The Oprah Magazine.
During a Q &A at the 2016 luncheon King stated “Everybody has a story to tell and The Bowery Mission Women’s Center wants to give women the opportunity to do exactly that. Whether they have faced homelessness from job loss, domestic violence, or addiction, women are welcomed and encouraged to find new ways to rebuild their lives and tell a different story.” The event raised $95,000 for career training at The Bowery Mission Women’s Centers in Harlem and the Upper East Side marking the third annual benefit lunch to raise awareness and funds for The Bowery Mission Woman’s Centers. The Bowery Mission has doubled its capacity to serve women in the only faith-based residential programs of its kind in Manhattan
According to my mother, my aunt Catherine came back to Chicago over two years after her encounter with these recovering people, and she was experiencing the ‘freedom, growth and happiness’ that billions of people have subsequently experienced as sober members of Alcoholics Anonymous throughout the world. My aunt Catherine was devoted to helping other alcoholics, she cherished her loving relationship with her only daughter, and died a sober woman in her 80s.
I know that my family blessing is just one of countless stories relative to the healing power that this Jack Alexander Article prompted. As a publicist and journalist, I felt compelled to share Catherine’s story which still brings tears of joy to my eyes, and remains a real lesson in solution to my family members, and hopefully those who will follow us.
The Jack Alexander Article (from the March 1, 1941 issue of the Saturday Evening Post) tells the story of how between 1935 and 1936, Bill Wilson worked with Dr. Bob (a physician and fellow alcoholic) to develop a new approach to ending their addiction to drink, and how together they created a program called Alcoholics Anonymous, which was described in a book that he wrote under the pseudonym of “Bill W.”
Alexander pointed out that A.A. was unusual because it threw out the traditional thinking about alcoholism, which regarded it as a moral failing, a mental weakness, or a personal choice. It clearly defined the condition as a disease, which could never be cured but could be successfully managed. In 1950, when Alexander wrote a follow-up article, the program had grown to 3,000 groups with 90,000 members. The estimate of AA groups and members as of January 1, 2016 from the AA general service office shows worldwide groups at 117,748 and member numbers of 2,089,698.
Carl Jung’s letter to Bill Wilson on January 30, 1961 regarding the AA program was a response to a letter from Bill Wilson concerning spirituality and alcoholism. Bill Wilson was nearing the end of his life, and felt a need to tell Carl Jung how profoundly he had been affected by his views. Jung stated in this letter that he saw a higher power was obviously bringing to the alcoholics in the AA program, including a former patient he had worked with for many years, the ability to achieve sobriety. Jung’s recognition of the “higher power” importance in the steps of the AA program confirmed an earlier description of an alcoholic as being one who is allergic to alcohol and spiritually bankrupt.
Paying forward is now the new term being used in church groups and charitable organization by young people to describe the act of giving of yourself to assist those in need. For many years now I have tried to give my time and what I can afford financially to support the Rescue Mission near my home because of my own family experience. Just knowing these organizations continue to reach out to help the homeless and the hopeless change the course of their lives, and directing them toward a path of health and happiness is so inspiring.
‘Ignorance is Bliss’ is not a phrase that applies when dealing with the disease of alcoholism, but “Knowledge is Power” or “Let Go and Let God” are truly spot on. I hope reading this may remind people to support these organizations that often operate under great financial difficulty, but have continued with love to provide help and hope to people like my aunt Catherine, as well as hope to countless loving family members who are praying for them. Information on your local Rescue Mission can be found on the web, and www.aa.org provides information on Alcoholics Anonymous in the US.
Bonnie Carroll has been a food/travel/lifestyle writer since 1983. She is the founder & publisher of Bonnie Carroll’s Life Bites News (www.lifebitesnews.com), does travel and food reporting on local Radio/TV, and contributes to a variety of national and international travel/lifestyle publications. She is a member of IFWTWA and NATJA. Contact her at [email protected].