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Overcoming Addictions – The Power of our Hometowns and Local Neighborhoods

by David Palmer

When World War II began in 1941, my father gave up his high paying public relations job on New York’s Madison Avenue, bought the local newspaper, the Summit Herald, in our home town of Summit, N.J. and went to work. He was forty, had a wife and kids, and was therefore exempt from military service, but he wanted to be closer to home in uncertain times and to contribute to the war effort. What he did was modest, certainly when compared to the heroic achievements of members of the armed forces but with his insights, exhortations and encouragements he reminds me how important America’s small towns and big ones, too, are in dealing with the nation’s problems including the failing “war on drugs.”

In the new book, “Drugs Unlimited. The Web Revolution that’s changing how the world gets high,” author Mike Power provides a startling expose of international drug trafficking on line where it is possible now to buy even banned drugs such as heroin, crack cocaine, crystal meth, LSD and Ecstasy from secret web sites with little fear of detection.” Drug cartels operating on our borders are bad enough but cyberspace may be even more menacing. My father had worked for newspapers in the past, including the New York Times, and he knew what he was doing. He felt the weekly Summit Herald could do a better job of reporting and interpreting the news for local citizens in perilous times.

Our Town

So he covered the news, emphasizing news of the war effort, and he wrote a column called “Our Town.” The title was derived from Thornton Wilder’s hugely successful play of that name which opened in New York in 1936. In “Our Town,” the play’s fictitious “Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire,” Wilder reveals, through the daily routines of some of its citizens, the transient nature of our lives and our failure to savor life one day at a time. My father’s column in the war years was intended to uplift and to encourage local citizens dealing with food and gas rationing and other inconveniences. He also honored in his column the young men, many of whom would never come home or would never be the same.

Aside from the war’s awful tragedies, I look back on those years as a teenager as a very happy time, a time when we smiled with our neighbors and friends at some of the shared inconveniences, planted “victory gardens,” rolled bandages and kept our lights off and shades down at night when the citizen air raid warden walked the streets. Our simple entertainments, among them Jack Benny, Bob Hope and Charlie McCarthy on the radio and first rate movies like Casablanca, Mrs. Miniver, Road to Morocco and Holiday Inn, gave us all a laugh and a stiff upper lip. During this time, my father also became a member of an exclusive and somewhat mysterious organization called “The Monday Night Club.” Members, for many years, had met monthly in each other’s homes to discuss local and world affairs. They dressed up in Tuxedos, had an elegant home-cooked meal, and then retired to the living room for the presentation of a “white paper” followed by a discussion.

As we tackle the serious alcohol and drug problem in Little Rock and as other communities develop their own programs, we should, as was the case in Summit, seek the help of the media in our communications efforts. We should also consider forming a more public and less formal citizens “roundtable” to help respond to local problems associated with drug abuse. In 1945, the war ended and my father sold his newspaper and went back to his job in New York. His achievements during this postwar period included writing a speech for Winston Churchill, Great Britain’s wartime prime minister, in association with the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg and for John D. Rockefeller III for the opening of New York City’s Lincoln Center in 1962. Today, as we contemplate the current and failing “war on drugs,” I think back on how local communities, like Summit, rallied for the war effort and how we can do the same thing with drugs one community at a time.

One Day at a time

When I reached the 25th anniversary of my sobriety ten years ago, I launched a local quarterly publication, “One Day at a Time,” focusing on substance abuse and recovery in Little Rock. I would begin, I decided, with this one community and see where it took me in my efforts to transform lives. During these 10 years, I have visited and written about local institutions and other resources dealing with addictions including treatment facilities, churches, hospitals, halfway houses and12 Step meetings. And I have interviewed school principals, policemen, prison administrators and inmates, grief-stricken parents, drug and traffic court judges, veterans, psychiatrists and pastors. In September of 2011, I discontinued the newspaper which was expensive and limited in circulation and devoted my time to writing a book, “Pathways to Serenity. Overcoming your addictions one day at a time” (available on Amazon in paperback, audio and digital versions) and to developing my website ( and my participation in the social media (primarily Facebook).

My aim this year is to develop collaborations in Little Rock that will help us respond to the drug addiction problem in “our town” and the goal, as Texas Tech’s Dr. Kitty S. Harris has advocated, is “a totally transformed life, a life free from addiction and filled with opportunities for full and complete participation in society.” Dr. Harris’s Center at Texas Tech, which I have visited several times, is a combination college, rehab facility and “think tank.” It is, in effect, a model “recovery community” which has been exported to the campuses of a number of other colleges and universities.

Prohibition Fails—AA Succeeds

America has been seriously trying to cut the abuse of alcohol and other drugs for nearly a hundred years. It began notably in 1920 with an attempt to cut off the supply of alcohol. “Prohibition” was an ill conceived federal government experiment which lasted 13 years, failed to quench the appetite for alcohol among the heavy drinkers and penalized those who drank responsibly. In 1933, the government capitulated and, with the passage of the 21st amendment to the Constitution, repealed the 18th amendment. Here’s the kicker. While the federal government’s “top down” program was a flop, two years later, in 1935, a local spiritually based alternative emerged in Akron, Ohio that succeeded spectacularly and has grown to worldwide influence.

In 1935, two alcoholics, Bill Wilson and Dr Bob Smith, founded Alcoholics Anonymous, a biblically based program of attraction which put its trust in God and rejected government and even large donor support. Over the next 80 years, possibly millions have sobered up because of AA, including me. And there are now more than 100,000 meetings worldwide including 400 a week in Little Rock where I live. AA is free, biblically based, and it offers the possibility of a cure for those who will follow its program. Twelve step programs are great, and I strongly recommend them, but they are not enough when the goal is to transform lives.    Drug abuse is, by some accounts, a trillion dollar a year problem in America. In his book, “High Society,” Joseph A. Califano, Jr. describes what we are up against. “On any given day,” he says, “100 million Americans are taking some stimulant, antidepressant, tranquilizer, or painkiller; smoking; inhaling from aerosol cans or glue bottles; or self medicating with alcohol or illegal substances like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, hallucinogens, Ecstasy, and other designer drugs.

Our Role in Recovery

Our purpose in Little Rock and in other communities we may ultimately serve is to inform, encourage and motivate local citizens and their families who are struggling with addictions in our town through our own efforts and through collaborations with other like-minded organizations. City Connections, for example. As we continue our campaign to encourage the citizens of Little Rock, joined by other like-minded individuals and organizations, we will continue to provide information and encouragement with six specific needs in mind:

  1. Mental health treatment: People who have depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorder and other mental health issues often try to treat them with alcohol and other drugs. Candidates for recovery must be tested for these mental health issues and, where indicated, be referred to doctors for treatment.
  2. Addiction treatment: Recovery from addictions requires abstinence and a change in life style. Alcoholics Anonymous is spiritually based and promotes a vital component of recovery—relationships. Treatment facilities, over 7,000 of them, provide more structure for recovery and are an option.
  1. Christian resources: there are nearly 2 billion Christians in the world and 350,000 churches. Many churches today, mainly evangelical protestant, are becoming much more proactive and entrepreneurial in addressing the addiction problem.
  1. Physical fitness: addicts are usually in poor shape physically and should have an exercise plan. Exercise, especially when done with others at gyms and athletic clubs, has an added benefit of providing personal interactions.
  1. Employment: having a job is vital. If all that is available is a lousy job, “take it,” as Joe McQuany used to say, or create your own job.
  1. Families and friends reconciliation: Begin to mend damaged relationships with family members and others. Those affected by the addict’s behavior also need healing and should attend Al Anon meetings.

To help us achieve our mission we have allied ourselves especially with Fellowship Bible Church and City Connections and with Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock. They have been especially proactive in responding to local community needs, and in the case of FBC, international needs. Over the years Fellowship has been involved in ministries around Arkansas and throughout the world. It has planted churches, partnered with other ministries across the globe and provided resources for outreach and discipleship. It has contributed to the support of One Day at a Time since our beginning ten years ago.

As for City Connections, it functions as a faith-based community cooperative where network partners both contribute to the success of others in the network, and receive direct and tangible support from the network as such needs arise. One of its services is to provide collaborative leadership (where needed) and support on certain essential community projects like addressing the drug problem with ODAT.

With regard to Arkansas Baptist, the college has four core values which fit with our agenda:

  1. Working with the churches and faith based organizations to improve the moral climate of their communities based on God’s Word.
  2. Focusing on rebuilding the African American family.
  3. Creating educational access with support toward success.
  4. Creating an entrepreneurial mind-set for building independent and sustainable urban neighborhoods and communities.

To sum up, people who know about the scope and consequences of substance abuse, who discover where to get help, who see how other people recover, and who learn about the availability of both secular and spiritual resources have the best chance of avoiding addictions or recovering from them and can go on to help others who are fighting the same battle.




























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