Cassandra’s Story – Carrying the Message to the North

This is a description of my AA service adventure, in June of 2009.

It begins with leaving Pincher Creek June 1 around 5pm. Destination Calgary where I was to hook up with Joe S., chair of Remote Communities Area 78. June 2 at 6am, we are off to Red Deer to meet up with our other travel companions, Wayne D., chair of Public Information Area 78, and Roy S. After driving all day, we arrived in Grande Prairie around supper time. We had a quick bite, and then we were off to our first meeting, a launching point that would take us 12,000 km to some of our area’s most remote communities.

At 5am on June 3, we were on our way, hitting the Sixtieth Parallel midday, then crossing the Great Mackenzie River, and arriving in Yellowknife at 1 a.m. This was the first of many long drives!

The great vastness of the north is hard to describe, with populations scattered, some linked by air or river only. It’s not always possible to attend A.A. meetings in a neighbouring town. It is very difficult for groups to be in touch with one another, with vast distances between them.

The next day started with a visit to the Legislative Assembly, a tour of Old Town, and we even did a little fishing at the harbor! By early afternoon we met up with Sandra (chair of correction) and her husband Dave, to visit the North Slave Correction Centre, the only Federal jail in the N.W.T. The inmates made us a wonderful meal, and afterwards Joe shared his story, strength, and hope.

June 5-7, we attend the Yellowknife Round-up. Joe and Wayne gave workshops on R.C. and P.I. We enjoyed meeting the members from that community where A.A. is alive and thriving. We said our goodbyes to our new friends, and got on the road just after lunch.

We made our way south around the Great Slave Lake, crossed the mighty Mackenzie again, before turning east to Hay River. Our first stop was the jail – we hosted a meeting, which was very well received, and we were asked to come back the following day. Later that day we attended the A.A. group’s meeting, and enjoyed the fellowship until late in the evening, covering the traditions and the nature, or structure of an A.A. group. On June 8, we were back at the correction center. Joe, Wayne, Roy, and I shared our stories, and coffee. We left 500 speaker tapes for the inmates, and bid our farewells.

At 2pm, we arrived at the Nats” ejee K”eh Treatment centre (the ONLY treatment center in the N.W.T.). We were greeted at the door by the director, and began our tour. Afterwards, we sat down to have a chat on the importance of A.A. and groups to their clients. With so much evidence of the difficulty in maintaining A.A. groups in the north, we emphasized the group’s vital importance in the individual member’s sobriety. So many of those treatment clients would be going home to very remote villages where, if there were to exist an A.A. group, it would be their own immediate responsibility. With many thanks, we left 500 speaker tapes, and ventured to the next meeting.

At 4 p.m. we met with the community’s professionals. We were very well received, as our sharing session went on a few more hours after Wayne gave an awesome workshop on P.I. That evening we attended another A.A. meeting with G.S.R. labels only (just because they have no connection with the general service structure or other groups in the district). We left 500 speaker tapes, and because of the endless sun at this time of year, we went fishing!!

June 9, we were back in the car, headed to Fort Smith, where there are two minimum security centres (one for males, and the other for females). Here we saw the effects of alcoholism and abuse that destroy many of the Dene’ Indian community and culture. We told our stories, and we shared our hope. But it was here that we come face to face with a colossal cultural problem. It does not seem to be cultural differences so much, but rather, a combination of their distrust at anything the white man has to offer, and a deep dread at of losing more of their own cultural identity. Although somewhat different in nature and perhaps supported at a collective level, once again the two ugliest hurdles – pride and fear – stand between hopelessness and sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous. We left 500 speaker tapes.

The problems we face in our remote northern communities can be summarized as follows:

  1. Geographic separation and isolation
  2. Complex barriers based in cultural and historic experience
  3. A lack of familiarity with traditions and the service structure, and
  4. A reluctance to take responsibility for the existence of A.A. group and/or, an absence of the awareness of the group’s vital role.

The solution is, as always, carry the message. At this point however, two qualifications are of crucial importance:

  1. Are we willing to go to any lengths with our own time and financial contributions, so this especially demanding task can be carried out? In Area 78 we have been responding to the need with effort and contributions, and with sharing sessions, and special forums as part of that effort.
  2. Are we carrying the whole message of Alcoholics Anonymous, all three legacies, or do we imply through omission, that a lasting and quality sobriety is possible with a self-centred focus on recovery alone? Many of the people who are sober in the north became so while living in more active southern communities. But if they didn’t hear about the traditions, the importance of a home group, or the value of A.A. unity, they can’t carry the message back to their remote communities where it has never been heard. The Home Group is the heart beat of A.A. or the A.A. heart ceases to beat.

I would like, at this time, to thank District 17 for your confidence, and support while Chair of Remote Communities. It has enriched my sobriety more than I can say. I would also like to say good luck to Mallory, your new chair of this committee. I know she will do a great job for us, and my hope is that it will be as rewarding for her, as it has been for me. It is my honor to continue serving District 17 as your elected Chair of Treatment Facilities, Special Needs, and Accessibilities, and I look forward to learning new stuff and serving the district. Be cheerful and strive to be happy.

Yours in love and service, Cassandra K.