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GUEST VIEW: Ray Mowers was poster man for Alcoholics Anonymous

Ray Mowers, 84, of Cromwell, died Saturday, March 18. Contributed Photo

Sometimes, the generosity of one person can fundamentally change lives for others in the community. Late last month, the Cromwell-Wright community mourned and celebrated Ray Mowers' life. Among his achievements are his work as the local "go-to" man for people struggling with alcoholism.

In an interview five years ago, Ray — who grew up on a Cromwell farm — talked with me about his life and work.

"I was a home builder in the cities," he explained. "I didn't think I had a drinking problem. I wasn't a drunk. A friend of mine killed a kid on a bicycle. He had to choose between going to jail and Alcoholics Anonymous. I went to AA with him," recalled Ray.

Alcoholism, Ray learned, is no respecter of wealth or station: "Our group included business executives, surgeons, preachers and working men. I came home with all this reading and paraphernalia and thought, wow if we could only live like this!"

He stayed sober for two years.

But one day Ray's chiropractor asked him, "Could you stop and have a couple of drinks before you come here. You'll be more relaxed."

So Ray began to drink again.

"One night, after just one drink, a guy bumped my car in a gas station," Ray said. "I got mad and punched the guy. I was arrested and jailed for just six hours, and it took three years to settle the case. While in jail, I vowed that I'm never going to take a drink again. I'd made my mind up!"

Ray credits AA with changing his life and those of his grown children, two of whom have been sober for many years. Although AA offers its members anonymity, Ray decided to be a visible advocate, hoping that others in trouble will come to him with questions. He returned to live in the Cromwell area with his wife, Kathleen, and became active in the local AA.

The 13th century poet Rumi spoke of the conviviality of the tavern, drink as a way of getting beyond the self, of soul-singing. But if you are drunk, Rumi advised, sleep in the tavern — do not go into the streets where children can see you. And to be wise, you must eventually leave the tavern to find the soul, to find the true way home.

"Companionship is what it's all about," Ray reflected. "AA is a way to find people that you like, and who, like you, don't want to be chained to drink. My higher power has always been in my AA group and my AA friends."

Friends of mine have found groups right for them: all men, all women, couples, for instance.

For years in our community, Ray put out the word that there was a place to go for those struggling with alcohol: Alcoholics Anonymous. He welcomed inquiries and invited folks to meetings. Wright, McGregor, Moose Lake and Cloquet — all host AA meetings weekly that provide a welcoming place for people to share their dreams and challenges, and find support. Many people come through AA. Some don't manage to quit, some do, and of those, some continue to be steady AA goers, respecting the power of alcohol and happy for the comradeship.

AA is remarkable for being run entirely by its participants, without hierarchy or paid staff — low cost, big impact. Anyone can form an AA group: you don't have to apply or be certified. You find a place to gather: in Wright at Bethlehem Lutheran Church; in McGregor, at a trailer house. Someone greets and makes coffee for a month. Then another takes over. You can toss in a dollar at night's end to help cover costs that might include cleaning or buying coffee fixings.

We don't talk about alcoholism enough. Ray Mowers shared with me that it's hard to take the step to go to meetings.

"People are embarrassed to show up at AA, but not embarrassed to be falling off a stool in the bar," he said.

Is it a disease? Yes. Is it preventable? Yes, but not by vaccination or simple diagnostics. Americans have successfully campaigned against smoking, encouraging millions to quit and mostly eliminating second-hand smoke. Alcohol, misused, is much more destructive — on those who drink excessively and on their families, communities as well as random victims of drunk driving.

If you are with someone who is drinking too much, screw up your courage and talk to them about it. Look up nearby meetings on the Minnesota AA Meeting Locator site (www.aaminnesota.org). Offer to go with them. For friends and family members, Al-Anon, the meeting for co-dependents of alcoholics, or Allateen, for children of alcoholics, offer support networks. I'm hoping someone else will take Ray Mowers place as enthusiastic poster man for AA.

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