Ground Zero

My name is Dorothy and I am an alcoholic and we are making this tape on October 8th 2011, which is ten years and one month after the attack on the World Trade Center.

My interest in this comes from the fact that I am an alcoholic, but I was also a nurse and at the time. (sic) On September 11th I volunteered to go down to go down (sic) to the Ground Zero Site and to sit in an aid station, with the idea of giving first aid to those people who were injured while doing rescue and retrieval. I was down there over the course of several nights and I was known to a lot of the New York Fire and Police department community because I was an emergency room nurse. The police and fire, the uniform services, would frequently come into this aid station to wash out their eyes, to wash out their hands, to get first aid from minor cuts. They saw me and they knew I was in the Fellowship and we would chat.


After a couple of nights, I realized after the way the situation was set up down there, was that people went down to the World Trade Center site and they didn’t leave. The Red Cross in the City set up Respite Centers so the workers that were on the pile doing what they had to do and then (sic) they would go into one of two Respite Centers and usually sleep in a recliner because they were there so long. Some went to the Red Cross and asked the Red Cross meetings for AA meetings down in the Ground Zero area.

At the time I was the institution chairperson for NYC intergroup and my friend Richard S was the chairperson for Cooperation with the Professional Community in the South East NY. I got a phone call from someone from the General office who I am not too sure to this day, who it was. I remember getting the phone call and what the phone call said. But the person on the phone said "that the Red Cross had called us" and "they want AA meetings at Ground Zero". I said "OK" and this person said "just get it done" and hung up the phone.

I remember calling up Richard and saying to Richard "what do we do-how do we do it?"and Richard said " well we need to get volunteers and we need to find out how the volunteers go where they go " and that was the beginning of our working with a wonderful women from Red Cross who was a friend of AA. She really helped us a lot in terms of telling us where to go and so on, but the people who were doing the clearance for volunteers did not quite know what to do for us.

They said "well are you part of clergy? Are you part of mental health services?"

They were presented with these alcoholics who were there to do service and they did not know exactly how to categorize us.

The first day we went down there was on a Saturday, three or four volunteers went down to get cleared, they spent the entire day there, and I don't think they got cleared that day. The next day was Sunday, and that was the day I went down to get clearance and the AA members were milling around, trying to get clearance to get into the Ground Zero area. They were ineffective.

I had been doing some volunteer work for an outside entity not AA and I knew some people who I thought might be helpful. I was able to call one women's assistant and I said “this is what is going on, and AA (sic) which I am a member was asked to bring meetings but we are having trouble getting clearance, from the Red Cross”. There was kind of a silence and then she said "Don't use your phone; I will call you back in a few minutes". She called me back in a matter of minutes, maybe ten or twenty minutes and said "you are cleared. Go back to the Red Cross". We went to the Red Cross and indeed we were cleared.

The first day three people went over to what was the St. Johns university Building on West Street and they were given a classroom on the second floor, they went in and it became sort of a combination of a meeting room and hospitality suite.  We were there twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, six hour shifts.  The AA members were there to talk to people if that is what they wanted, to conduct an AA meeting, if that is what they wanted. I mean I was truly impressed with people who were really the trusted servants of the workers who were of the fellowship and had been down there for a long time.

There was another site that had been opened up and that was at the Marriot Hotel on West Street and we were given a room there to do  the same kind of thing,  but it was on the other side of the pile because it was very difficult  to get from one place to another . You really had to know where to go and you most frequently needed a police or a military escort of the grounds to go from the one site to the other.

While it was a terrible tragedy and sad needless to say, the thing about it was to me was the fact that when I was there, I really felt like I was doing something helpful and it really helped me to cope with my own feelings about my country being invaded, and being "bombed"   The AA people who volunteered to go down there….there were so many. We were only allowed sixty badges. Sixty ID badges to go in and do this work.  So Richard and I called people we knew in the fellowship who we thought might be able to do this because if you signed up to do this and got a badge, you were making a commitment to the project that you would require you (sic) to be there at least twice a week and we didn't know if you were going to be there from six in the morning to noon or midnight to six am.

The shifts were long and we tried to make sure there were two alcoholics at all times at each respite center because it was a long shift and we just thought it would be better if we had two people there. We tried to do a man and a woman at the same time but we took who ever came at the time.

After this project was over and I look at my mail, I still kind of laugh about it because I got so many phone calls that month, over six hundred, and the six hundred were responses from people resulting from word of mouth. It wasn't like we could take fliers and run from meeting to meeting. We didn't have that kind of time. People were calling Richard and I up and saying “I am sober so long, I live such and such a place, and I would like to help”. We explained to them about six hours shifts, at least twice a week, you had to go to the Cadman Plaza Brooklyn to get cleared, the clearances were for only for two weeks so at the end of two weeks you had to go back to Cadman Plaza and do the whole thing all over again.

So it required some considerable commitment and energy to participate in this but there were a lot of people who wanted to do it and a lot of people who did do it , and  I am internally (sic) grateful to them. It made me realize that the hand of AA will always be there and for that I am responsible.

Certainly AA was there!

Of note is the fact that I kept the names and the phone numbers, of all the people who called me saying they wanted to volunteer for Ground Zero, and in January and February of the following year, I needed some people to chair some meetings in institutions, I was the institutional chair for NY Intergroup and when I started calling those people who volunteered for service I was very excited knowing that I had all these people who wanted to do service.

"This will be great"; I thought. We will get them to do the institution meetings carrying the message. I have to tell you that not one single person said they would be willing, to do the institution work.  Some of my friends laugh at me. They say "Dorothy is having a hissy fit", because no one wanted to do institution work.

Now ten years later I look at it and realize that is what happens. There is a friend of mine who says there is "some sexy exciting service and then there is other service that have can have an element of drudgery"

I got sober; I never, ever dreamed   that I would be involved in something like that. I am so grateful to the fellowship and my home group and South East NY area for trusting us and letting us do it. No one hung over us and said "you are not doing it right". Richard and I would just talk to each other and come up with a plan to get it done .

I am very very grateful!!!

Interview with SIA

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