'I Was On the Verge of Suicide'
Stroud AA members discuss their battle with the bottle ahead of Alcohol Awareness Week
8th November 2011
By Nick Wakefield
ALCOHOL is a drug responsible for the second highest number of deaths each year in the UK after smoking. In the lead up to Alcohol Awareness Week from November 14 – 20, reporter Nick Wakefield spoke to members of Alcoholics Anonymous.
EVERY day of the week across Gloucestershire, thousands of people gather together to help each other overcome an all-consuming and debilitating illness.
“I believe the people who have the best chance are the ones that are broken,”
Neil, AA member and volunteer
The men and women who meet are young and old, rich and poor, from every ethnic background and walk of life, all with one problem in common – alcoholism.
This month marks Alcohol Awareness Week from November 14 – 20 and while most will have heard of Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA as it is globally known, few probably realise the sanctuary of hope and strength it provides to millions.
“I was on the verge of suicide - that was where alcohol took me,” said Graham, 53, who has been attending one of two weekly AA meetings at St Laurence Church Hall in Stroud for the past decade.
“Physically I was passing and vomiting blood and mentally I was just insane.”
Corinne, who attended her first meeting in Stroud when she was 27, added: “Alcohol took me to dark places and stripped me of my dignity, self respect and self esteem.
“I pushed away all my friends and family and could not get through the day without hitting the bottle.”
Here in the Five Valleys, meetings are held at different venues seven days a week, from Stroud to Stonehouse and Tetbury to Dursley.
As is the case with everyone on the AA programme, Graham and Corinne’s identity remains anonymous.
What is clear is the constant source of support they offer and receive themselves as members – an ethos deeply rooted in the charity’s ‘12 traditions’, which all recovering alcoholics on the programme commit to.
These are the list of guiding principles first drawn up by AA founder Bill Wilson when he launched the organisation in America in 1935.
Far from preaching the dangers of alcohol abuse and heavy-handedly shaming drinkers into quitting, the message promotes wholehearted unity towards a better quality of life with just one requirement for membership – ‘a desire to stop drinking’.
“When I listened to the experiences of others I knew I was in the right place,” said Corinne, who describes her life before as ‘narrow and empty’.
“They were talking about how I felt and I was no longer alone. I was given hope.”
Contrary to cliché perceptions about AA meetings, in which everyone takes turns standing up and sheepishly admitting their alcoholism to the group, the reality is that nobody is compelled to talk if they do not wish and judgement is never passed on those attending.
The programme is no quick fix but rather a new way of life that members continue to embrace even after they quit drinking – as is true of Graham and Corinne, whose sobriety depends on their continued attendance at meetings.
As well as ensuring their own recovery, both have also volunteered their experiences as more seasoned members to support newcomers, which is encouraged in the first of the AA’s ’12 steps’ where it states, ‘personal recovery depends upon unity’.
Another such volunteer, or ‘sponsor’ as they are known, is Neil, 41, who mentors three members at a meeting in Cheltenham.
“I believe the people who have the best chance are the ones that are broken,” said Neil, whose own father died of alcohol-related problems.
“If they come into the programme at 18 I am thrilled for them, it could be the start of their new life.
“Alcoholics drink because they are generally maladjusted to life. That is where the steps come in – it teaches you how to live properly.”
Graham, who is now remarried after two divorces and has been sober for 10 years, added: “Once you get through the programme of recovery the whole point is you give that to someone else.
“But you can only help people who want to be helped. If you are an alcoholic you can never drink, simple as that.
“It is about having a life. I had a miserable existence before.”
The same transformation is also true of Corinne, who today describes her life as full and happy.
“I no longer feel afraid and I can look people in the eye,” she said.
“I have a responsible job, a lovely home and am able to laugh and enjoy myself again. I have freedom.”
* If you are concerned about your drinking go to www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk or call AA on 0845 769 7555 to find out about local branches which could help.
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