FEATURE: Seeing how Alcoholics Anonymous help people turn their lives around

Alcoholics Anonymous poster
Alcoholics Anonymous poster

Reporter Daniel Jaines attends a meeting of Alcoholics Anonmymous to see how people turn their lives around. Names have been changed to protect the identities of the individuals in this story.

A recent meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous showed me the support and honesty offered by those who are willing to listen and share.

The meeting began with the organisation’s 12 traditions and 12 promises – which basically set out the values and aspiratons at the heart of the organisation – along with a moment of silence for ‘still suffering alcoholics’.

Guest speaker Sam from Luton, a member for 15 months, told the room of his troubled childhood - the eldest of three brothers he was a lonely frightened child who had two alcoholic father figures and who struggled to fit in, ‘terrified’ to leave the house but too scared to stay.

As he grew up he found sport made him feel alive. He found a male role model in a boxing coach for two years, but sadly he passed away two years later and Sam lost his confidence. He was late diagnosed with depression.

As a teenager he got a part-time job and began to go out.

“For six/seven years it was everything it should be to people, great fun, confidence, a basic extrovert,” he told the group.

He said for those years he didn’t feel the need to drink other than socially.

He met his girlfriend - now wife - and after they moved away his life went downhill for the next 16 years.

He described how he would try to hide his problem from his wife, hide vodka in water bottles, black-out and turn up to work hungover.

He told of some of his clear moments, going to America to visit family and not touching a drop - before coming back home and immediately remembering where the alcohol was.

He told of his recovery, one moment sparked when he blacked out walking his dog, followed by a stay in rehab and joining the AA - and ‘ghosts’ of family members visiting him to tell him it was going to be okay.

Boston members shared their experiences and identified with him - some heartwrenching, some scary, some stories even brought me close to tears.

Some of the members identified with childhood issues - bullying, isolation - while others spoke of the support or lack of it from outside the group.

One member, Daniel, told of his life of crime in his youth, ending in him having to flee the country to escape both police and people who were after him.

Away from the country he gained work as a DJ, which only fuelled his alcoholism.

His revelation came one day when his mother visited out of the blue and told him his grandad - his only male role model, who owned a business and had always supported him - had died of cancer while he was away.

His family hadn’t told him of the illness in case he came back home and was caught by police, or worse.

He later had a vision of his grandfather, dressed in a suit, who came to him, hugged him, and told him: “Everything’s going to be .”

Another member, Bob, told how his experiences had taught him to understand others.

He said that as he came to the meeting, a man had asked him for money for a coffee.

Instead, Bob invited him into the meeting and said he would make him one, but the man declined and said ‘maybe later’, however, Bob said sometimes ‘later’ meant different things and in AA it could be a few months until he came back, but that he would be ready to help him.

Another member, Cyril, told how during his alcoholism he had black-outs for 10 days at a time - waking up to find bin bags all over the kitchen, and cans on the counter.

He said: “I avoided mirrors, because I saw a 120-year-old person looking back at me.”

All the members praised AA and the process they had undergone, though some had had recent set backs they were supported by the group.

Others said the AA members were their family.

One woman was too afraid to even hand her daughter a Christmas present, instead dropping it off and running without waiting to see her.

She believed the present was most likely going to end up in the bin. She said she wasn’t ready to make amends yet.

It seems AA isn’t as anonymous when you get inside - in fact, contrary to the definition of the word the members of AA are more full, frank and honest than a lot of people - they have to be to get through their problems and to get support from fellow members.

To contact the group visit www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk or call 0845 769 7555.