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Quitting Is Just the First Step


Quincy W. begins the day with a prayer from the Big Book. Even after a dozen years, she has it taped to the bathroom mirror in her one-bedroom apartment on a street of apartments in Sherman Oaks. "Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do thy will," she reads, ignoring the reflection of her unmade-up, 30-year-old Judy Garland face. "Take away my difficulties that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of thy power. . . ."

Normally brazen, often profane, Quincy used to ask God for a man. To be honest, she still did until a few months ago, even though she knows full well it's the women, not the men, who keep you sober.

The first drinker in three generations to achieve sobriety, Quincy started drinking when she was 8. She quit at 15. She quit again three years later.

For alcoholics like Quincy, a concert promoter for rock bands, physical cravings aren't the problem. In fact, drinking isn't even the issue anymore. She says it's just life now, and that's, like, huge.

Long-term sobriety, a highly individual and little studied phenomenon, is a daunting prospect, especially for the young who relapse repeatedly, says Betsy McCaul, director of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Comprehensive Women's Center. The diligence and commitment required to achieve it are enormous, she says. About a third of the alcoholics who enter treatment succeed, a third relapse repeatedly and a third drink themselves to death, providers say. "Instead of being shocked when somebody fails, we ought to be stunned when people make it," she says.

Part of a relatively new, small but growing group of young people with long-term sobriety, Quincy has immersed herself in Southern California's ubiquitous 12-step subculture. First, she joined Alateen, a program for children of alcoholics, then Alcoholics Anonymous, the global self-help recovery program, later another 12-step group for codependents.

Almost half her life has been structured around a daily routine of practices and meetings, workshops and friends--a fragile daisy chain of women who also depend on the program and on one another. Quincy numbers her friends, most of whom are in AA, in the hundreds, and they must book her weeks in advance for tennis or roller-blading, parties or dinners. On her computer, 31 boxes in a 42-day calendar are filled with birthdays, sober birthdays, trips, committee meetings, parties and a convention--plans she'll scrap instantly if she hears someone needs support for a do-it-yourself detox, or inspiration to stick with their program.

Unlike Quincy, many of them are unable to stay sober. Over the years, she estimates she's been to as many as 30 alcohol-related funerals, including her father's.

At meetings, Quincy is a popular role model, a young old-timer who sits in the front and shares her experiences in the language young newcomers can relate to. Her friends know her as an open book, loud, funny and subject to serious mood swings.

Her friend Toni, 33, a former colleague who does not have a problem with alcohol, is amazed by Quincy and her AA friends whose lives seem intense and operatic compared with hers. "Life is one big drama to those people," she says.

Toni has counseled her friend through several failed relationships, all with men from AA. Recently, Quincy has agreed that she might find more reliable prospects if she dated "normies," men outside AA. But then she thinks, Who else besides another alcoholic would ever understand me?

Alcoholism May Be Passed On Genetically

Researchers have made major strides in understanding the neuroscience of addiction in the last two decades, yet alcoholism is still imperfectly understood as an idiosyncratic mix of circumstances, biology, personality and behavior. Studies now suggest that two-thirds of the risk of becoming an alcoholic is genetic, though scientists have yet to find the genes that make children of alcoholics more susceptible than others.

Quincy says she knew right away drinking was more than just a youthful experiment for her. In hindsight, she says it felt as if her disease, slumbering since her birth, had been awakened.

The eldest of three, Quincy grew up in Encino--the cradle of backyard barbecues and swimming pools--at a time of cultural upheaval. Her father, a graphic designer for the recording industry, and her mother, a secretary, regularly entertained industry executives and artists at their shady compound.

In those days, no one considered it unusual to give children a taste of alcohol, and Quincy's father even invited his daughter to drink and paint with him in his backyard studio. The smells of linseed oil, alcohol and the sweet tobacco from his pipe, mixed with the sounds of classical music and their laughter, would forever be a part of her love for him.

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