By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Realizing you need help helping yourself is half the battle for addicts. Having a place to go once you make that realization can be a lifesaver.

It not only saved my life, it gave me a life, and I want to give that to others, said Robert Back, a survivor of alcoholism and a champion of the Alcoholics Anonymous system.

At 53, Back said hes finally found peace. Being sober for five years, he credits his sister first, who asked him to join her at a meeting and credits AA for being there for him when he was ready.

As of April 1, it wont be as easy for the AA group to be there. Meetings are held in the building known as the old high school next to the Flynn Center. The building is owned by Del Norte County which has plans to renovate and set it aside for use as government offices. The change will push AA out of its home of 47 years.

Losing that hall is a big deal and I dont think people out there know it. Its a lifeline and you bet, it has a lot of sentimental value, Back said.

Uprooting AAs meeting place is causing a slight panic, Back said, because, besides the over-used Serenity House, AA members have no place to go.

Having a place for the group is crucial to the recovery process, he added.

We can do it together, but we cant do it alone. Its about sharing how we handle the trials and tribulations of every day - because its not so much the addiction thats hard to deal with, its everyday life, he said.

The point, Back said, is even if a member screws up he or she can hear how that other guy got through it, then see how to handle it better next time.

For now, AA will meet in the small building on H Street known as Serenity House, but one of the philosophical tenets of AA is to be a self-sufficient group with a place of its own.

With at least a few hundred dollars to offer as monthly rent, Back and others representing AA have contacted local churches, realtors and have asked the county for available space.

So far, theyve had no luck and the clock is ticking. Despite the sense of urgency, Back seems centered and sure a solution will come soon.

I believe in miracles now, because I am one, he said, and added that his mission is to give back what was given to him.

Back is a mechanic and has been since the age of 18. He became certified in 1965 - right out of high school and made a decent living as service manager of a Volkswagen and Porsche dealership in Yuba City.

He describes his life as a downward spiral of destruction since then. Back said he didnt start at the bottom.

It was a snort here and a joint there. Eventually I started injecting cocaine. It got to the point where my body couldnt even keep food down. The only thing I could keep in my stomach was beer, he said.

Several years ago he arrived in Crescent City. His sister lived here and his bus ticket ran out, so he stayed.

I had a bag on each arm and nothing else, he said.

Even though he lied about his alcoholism to get a job at Coast Auto, Back said the disease finally got the best of him. He said he ended up living in a box and wandering the streets.

With tears in his eyes, Back recounted the moment his sister Kathy Back pulled him out of it.

I was staggering down the road on my bicycle. I was headed for the liquor store, that one on Ninth Street, and my sister saw me.

She reached out and asked me if I would go to a meeting with her. I did. That was Feb. 23, 1996, he said. She never gave up on me.

Back went to 300 meetings in 90 days. Now he chairs many of the AA meetings and serves as a sponsor to other recovering alcoholics.

I got involved in doing meetings at the jail and juvenile hall, too. Some of these guys I used to drink with. Now theyre in there going, Wow, if that wreck can do it, so can I he said.

When hes not conducting meetings Back keeps busy at his auto repair and hobby shop on Northcrest Drive.

Hes come full circle, and says its his mission to help others do the same.