Good things happening at Suburban Fellowship Center

Road to addiction recovery for many in Forest Park

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By Tom Holmes

"The Suburban Fellowship Center (SFC) saved my life," declared Dan [not his real name]. Dan uses that dramatic language, because he considers alcoholism to be a disease which is terminal, if not in terms of one's physical life, then almost always in terms of marriages, friendships and/or jobs.

The SFC is a group of about 300 members of Alcoholics Anonymous who are serious about getting and staying sober. The building they own at 7438 Harrison St. in Forest Park is home to a host of activities designed to do just that.

The property is not officially affiliated with AA, but has been used for 12-Step meetings since the early 1960s. The SFC website lists 46 "closed meetings," i.e. meetings for recovering alcoholics only. In addition there are scheduled two Al-Anon meetings for the "friends and family of problem drinkers who are seeking understanding and support" and one open speakers meeting on Sunday mornings where non-AA members can sit in on a meeting.

Because it offers so many meetings SFC serves as a kind of port of entry into 12 Step recovery for many in this area. Many hospitals, rehab facilities and family doctors will refer people with drinking problems to the programs on Harrison St. Dan said, "Most people begin with us until they start to feel comfortable with recovery. They then begin branching out and finding meetings that they like to go to."

Because learning to work the 12 Steps well is a process, people with many years of sobriety attend meetings at SFC to help the newer people along. "You mature as you go along," Dan explained. "I have 18 years of sobriety, but I need support just as much as the newer people, so I go to other meetings where I can get that."

SFC also plans activities which are more social like the Sunday morning breakfast they serve—all you can eat—for just $5. They run a bingo night on Saturday, plan alcohol free dinner dances, hold two retreats for men and two for women, have AA literature for sale and rent busses to go to Cubs and Sox games. They have a picnic coming up and provide information on AA meetings and events all over Chicago and the suburbs. 

The rule at all meetings is anonymity with only first names being used. The reason for anonymity is safety. "There's a lot of fear involved in taking the first step into AA," Dan explained, "fear of the unknown, fear of being sober the rest of your life, fear of losing your best friend, alcohol—the best friend that is killing you."

Karl [again, not his real name], who has been sober for 24 years, said that safety is so important in AA meetings, because the 12 Step program asks participants to become very vulnerable, to be honest with themselves first and then with other people. "One of the things you learn as an alcoholic," he shared, "is you learn to hide. You lead a double life. You let people see what you want them to see."

Safety is necessary because the fourth of the 12 Steps states, "We made a searching fearless moral inventory of ourselves," and the fifth step says, "We admitted to God, ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."

Dan said that what goes on in most good meetings is story telling. Participants share their struggles with the group. "We're like broken records talking about the same issues week after week," he said, "and most people don't have the patience to listen to that, but as we tell our stories we see heads in the group nodding their heads in understanding. If you don't let it out, it gets stuck in your head and it drives you crazy."

AA is a fellowship of people who are all in the same boat, powerlessness over alcohol. In that sense, it is a great leveler. The first step declares or confesses, "We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol—and that our lives had become unmanageable."

In many ways SFC in particular and 12 Step programs in general feel a lot like church. Step two, for example, states, "Came To believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity," and step three begins with "made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to God. . . ."

However, AA is clear that their program is spiritual but not religious. The third step ends with the words "God as we understood Him." Some people in AA consider the people in the meetings as their higher power.

In that sense the 12 Steps do not come from doctrine based on revelation or some therapeutic theory but is rather a program that has proven itself to work. Karl emphasized that he sticks to the discipline provided by the program because his experience with himself and others is that when you don't, you relapse and start drinking.

Dan put it this way: "Doctors can transplant lungs, but they can't do a thing about this disease. Psychiatrists can give you a pill, but they can't take 'that thing' out of your brain to make you right. I went to rehab because I just wanted to break the addiction, but I didn't realize how big a thing addiction was. I never looked at myself until AA."

Reader Comments

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Anthony from Lagrange park  

Posted: December 21st, 2014 10:08 AM

Whats the problem jerry? Nothing better to do but slander vulnerable people who are doing something positive. Usually its jealousy, and it probably is w you also. You saw people standing outside smiling and enjoying sobriety, while u are miserable but dont know how to change. I guess its easier to slander people than to change yourself. I could go on and on and fall in to your trap, but im not saying this to make myself feel good. Just making a point that ignorance is easy, try some humility.

Wow  

Posted: December 9th, 2014 10:10 AM

I go past this place every day (either walking or by car) and have seen people outside smoking and drinking. Mostly looks like coffee to me! I find it very hard to believe that anyone who goes there would dare be drinking a beer just outside the door. Makes absolutely no sense. Jerry, next time you see something like that, perhaps it would be best if you got out of your car and asked them before assuming it's beer. I don't care if it was light enough to see it wasn't yellow. Lemonade?

change agent  

Posted: December 9th, 2014 6:32 AM

@Jerry: Your comments about SFC and AA are a flagrant violation of the civil spirit purportedly intended by the Review to be fostered and upheld here. It is particularly shocking to the conscience that you have chosen perhaps the most benign and successful "help" program conceived in modern day to jeer at, denigrate and tear apart six ways to Sunday. For no apparent reason and to no conscionable end I might add. You should humble yourself before these people;and certainly never the reverse.

jerry from forest park  

Posted: December 9th, 2014 1:22 AM

Pimple, I didn't say they did, I said I saw someone outside the building, (standing in front of their door) smoking and drinking. As for hiding who they are, bull, people know who the are because they have a drinking problem. Anyway, since you have never been there how do you know what they do when they have their secert meetings. By the way, I never said I could spell, as for attacking people you are so much better than I am because that's all you do.

change agent  

Posted: December 9th, 2014 1:01 AM

Jerry, SFC does not serve beer so you never saw anyone depart that building with a glass of beer.Or "urine" (as you charmingly put it). Period. Therefore you are a vicious liar randomly attacking SFC and AA. Reread the "arti"K"le"(your word) and contemplate the notion that it's necessary for people in recovery to maintain anonymity for their own protection and safety -- They mean from people like you, Jerry. Is that clear enough?

jerry from forest park  

Posted: December 8th, 2014 4:53 PM

@change, yes I read the artickle and considered the source. But I was talking about something I saw, not read. Anyway you need to make up your mind, the FPR is a rag that can not be trusted or it has good stories, can't have it both ways. Again with the baseless name calling, random insults, false accusations, I must have missed something in my comments. Your rants never change, well pimple rant on, we both know what you are.

change agent  

Posted: December 8th, 2014 1:17 PM

@Jerry, as it turns out I gleaned all the information I referenced from simply reading the article. I find it interesting that you didn't extrapolate the same details when you read it yourself. Or did you just read the headline, look at the picture and figure, "Hey, people in recovery, they should be real easy marks"? Like a vulture over prey. Your entire opus here consists of NOTHING but strings of random insults, false accusations & baseless name-calling. You're such a disgrace to yourself.

jerry from forest park  

Posted: December 8th, 2014 8:42 AM

@change, I find it interesting that the other day you never heard of them and now they are the greatest thing since sliced bread. You need to go there maybe they can help you with your lieing addiction.

change agent  

Posted: December 8th, 2014 6:33 AM

@Jerry: Your remarks are on par arrogant & thoughtless. SFC is a venerable community treasure in good sted for over half a century! We should all be inspired by it's message that helping others is nothing more than self-help, and that surrendering to reality is the first step to salvation and surrendering to our own higher selves is the second. And we all need saving from something, Jerry. You can mark my word on that. Namaste to SFC. Thanks to the Review for the spotlight on this organization.

jerry from forest park  

Posted: December 7th, 2014 10:59 PM

Well pimple, I mean @change, it is like you to comment on something you know nothing about, I mean you do it all the time. As for these people, good for them if they are making it, but unless that person I saw outside their place was drinking urine, which I doubt that was beer I saw. And yes it was light enough to tell the differnce.

jim from forest park  

Posted: December 7th, 2014 4:22 PM

I have attended 100's of meetings in the last few years at this building and have never seen any one drink a beer. This place is a life saver for me, and hundreds of others. I grateful the this AA meeting place!

Maggie s from FP  

Posted: September 5th, 2014 6:46 PM

I'm proud to have this organization in FP.

jerry from forest park  

Posted: September 3rd, 2014 11:40 AM

I guess that's why I have seen some them having a beer and smoking outside of the building.

A Forest Park resident. from Forest Park IL USA!  

Posted: September 3rd, 2014 10:52 AM

I have as one that had self esteeme issues in my teens and twenties I attended E A. EMOTIONS ANONYMOUS! I have friends and relatives that have and do attend AA , NA NARCONON, ETC! A good friend goes to meetings at that center. KEEP GOING BACK!! I know he will. Nice story dear Lady Lotus.

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