The Tangle – Home of Indiana’s First AA Chapter
June 1, 2012
By Stephanie Carlson Curtis
“At last – A Therapy For Alcoholics – With a Follow Up.”
This is how a newspaperman described the Tangle, a family country home located in the area of 106th Street and Keystone Avenue, which became a haven where alcoholics sought help. In a 1940s advertisement, Indiana’s first home of Alcoholics Anonymous reached out to doctors throughout the state promising a place to dry out, rehabilitate, build important relationships and check accountability for those struggling with the disease – alcoholism.
Doherty Sheerin, affectionately called Dohr by family and friends, was a closet alcoholic. According to writings, he was described as a religious family man who was full of fun and steady as a rock. Friends never saw him drunk. When he became ill with a damaged liver, family and close friends were shocked. Doctors told him he must stop drinking or lose his life. Checking into a rehabilitation facility, he was treated for alcoholism but couldn’t stop, and his drinking became more intense. Former friends turned their backs upon learning that Doherty was an alcoholic.
According to Tom, Doherty’s brother, “I had decided that concealment was neither wise nor possible, but this came as a shock. Dorothy had been telling me for years that Doherty was drinking too much, but I shrugged it off on the theory that all wives think their husbands drink too much.”
As Dohr lost control of his alcoholism and became destructive, Tom was granted guardianship of his brother and checked him into Sacred Heart Hospital in Milwaukee, where Dohr was treated for nearly two years. When Dohr returned to Indiana, he lived at The Tangle under the care of an attendant. While in the hospital, Dohr had come across a magazine ad about a new organization in Cleveland called Alcoholics Anonymous. On the day of his release, he wrote to the organization. In 1940, not too long after he sent his letter, a Mr. M. showed up at the front door. “I’m from Cleveland. I’ve come to help you get to work,” he said. According to written accounts, Mr. M. was a traveling salesman named Irv Meyerson who was sent to teach Dohr about the Twelve Step Program, principles developed throughout the years that formed the Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous.
From that moment on Dohr, known as Doherty S. to his fellow recovering alcoholics, made history after holding his first AA meeting at The Tangle in October of 1940. Those in treatment were known on a first name basis, their last names identified by only the first letter to retain the person’s privacy – hence the reason for the organization name – Alcoholics Anonymous.
The Alcoholics Anonymous website reveals a story born in Akron, Ohio, in 1935 when businessmen Bill W., a New York stockbroker, and Dr. Bob S., an Akron surgeon, were determined to cure their hopeless drinking problem through separate struggles. Eventually they met, shared their mutual suffering and sparked the formation of AA. Through hard work, fellowship and spiritual guidance, Bill became sober and was able to continue his recovery by working with others. Bill emphasized that alcoholism was a malady of mind, emotions and body. While Bob, a physician, had never viewed alcoholism as a disease, he took Bill’s advice and ideas to heart, got sober and began reaching out to others adversely affected by alcohol.
Once Dohr connected with AA, there was no turning back and he went on to help thousands of people in their journey to sobriety. Until his death at the age of 62, Doherty lived a sober life, continued to reach out to others fighting the disease and tirelessly introduced new visitors to each other, expanding the Indianapolis AA and becoming a key participant in what has grown to become a global movement that helps people from all walks of life find sobriety.
*** The information in this story is a compilation of historical accounts from various written materials and websites.