The Freeport Experience

The Advent of SAA and the First Years

The events leading to the founding of SAA began when a number of Icelanders sought treatment for alcohol abuse in the United States. The Icelanders returned full of hope and inspiration and founded SAA in 1978. The trips to America became a regular feature late in 1975 when the first Icelandic alcoholics were admitted to the Freeport Hospital in New York. Yet four Icelanders had been admitted to the institution previously. That was in 1975 and in 1976. Icelanders had begun to go to the United Stated in significant numbers. These frequency of such trips reached a peak in 1978. Since then, these trips to the United States have grown scarce and they had become a thing of the past by 1984. The reason why these trips came to being are complicated and diverse, but most likely the main cause for these trips to the Untied States was the lack of a wide range of treatment options here in Iceland.

The Freeport Experience

The Icelanders would stay at the Freeport Hospital in New York State, where alcohol and drug abusers would receive exclusive treatment, over a period of two weeks. After the initial two-week treatment program they would undergo further treatment, in a four-week program. This post-treatment program was conducted at an institution named Veritas Villa which was also located in the State of New York. From 1978 on, this phase of continuing therapy would take place at a new institution, Rheinbeck Lodge. From 1978 on there were some instances where Icelanders would be admitted to the Hazelden Institution in the State of Minnesota in the United States. These trips to the USA were undertaken more through the intervention of the state Hospitals in Iceland rather than SAA. The relationship of SAA with the Hazelden Institution was never as close as with the other rehabilitation clinics in New York.

The „Freeporters“ Band Together to Form SAA

On their return the Icelanders who sought treatment abroad (49 in 1977, 149 in 1978) would keep in touch with other Icelandic patients with whom they had established ties in the U.S. and these people joined forces in realizing certain projects and banded together around common interests. Those who were most prominent in this group, although the contribution of other individuals should by no means be overlooked, were Hilmar Helgason, the first chairman of SAA and Hendrik Berndsen, the Vice-Chairman of the organization. The so-called Freeporters, who had undergone treatment in the United States, would assist alcoholics in seeking recovery in the United States. The Freeporters were responsible for the founding of the charity Skjoldur (Shield), which in turn founded a cohabitation center for alcoholics in 1976. The Freeporters also published a journal for a while, established the Freeport Club and were active in the
founding of SAA in 1976 and 1977.

SAA was then established at two meetings: the former was held in the Univeristy Cinema, the latter, in continuation of the former meeting, was held in the the Column Hall of Hotel Saga October 9 1977. At the latter meeting a series of statutes was agreed upon and a board was elected. The first chairman of the board and chairman of the executive board of SAA was Hilmar Helgason, who died at an early age in 1984.

Hilmar is the man having a cup of coffee on the front page of the magazine above. With him are two of the Freeport pioneers, Tómas Tómasson and Hrafn Pálsson (standing). The other two pictures above were taken in 2014 when a few of the Freeporters visited Vogur and were shown around by Þórarinn Tyrfingsson, SAA’s medical director.