Alcoholics Anonymous is an association of men and women who have come together regardless of their background and with the common goal of assisting members to overcome alcoholism. This association is comprised of recovered alcoholics, recovering alcoholics, or individuals who only seek help in combating alcoholism. Through regular meetings, members are able to disclose their experiences as either former or recovering alcoholics with other members to help them in overcoming alcohol dependence. These meetings are in essence a platform for members to express themselves freely without any fear of being judged for expressing what they have gone through or what they go through. It also serves the purpose of helping people with alcohol additction to know that they are not alone in this struggle.
Apart from helping addicts to recover from alcoholism through the sharing of experiences or group therapy, the association recognizes God as the Supreme Being who can cure alcoholism. No membership charges are required to join Alcoholics Anonymous, although members can contribute any amount to cater for printing expenses, refreshments or booking fees for meeting venues if they wish to do so. Therefore, it is evident that the chief aim of this organization is to assist their members to remain sober and to help alcoholics and recovering alcoholics to overcome alcoholism. This paper will outline my experience at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, what I have learned, and how my attitude towards alcoholics and alcoholism was changed.
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Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting
I managed to attend an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting at Sabal Palm on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Most of the attendees arrived thirty minutes to the commencement of the meeting. The meeting comprised of twenty individuals including myself, and we were required to sit in a circle. I understood this as an integral part of group therapy so that speakers and attendees could see each other while sharing experiences. This boosts the confidence of members and respect for other people’s contributions, including their views on various issues and their experiences. The gender ratio of those in attendance was 2:3 with eight attendees being women, while twelve attendees were men. In terms of racial make-up, there were five African- Americans, eight Native-Americans, five Hispanic individuals, and two White people. The type of drug use that had brought those in attendance together was the abuse of alcohol.
The meeting was chaired by Chris who introduced himself as a recovered addict who had abstained from alcohol for the past eight years. New members were then asked to introduce themselves by their first name only, followed by the current members of the group. Chris took us through step one of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. This was acknowledging our helplessness in overcoming alcohol addiction and our inability to manage our lives effectively. In my view, this is the most substantial step because individuals humble themselves and accept that they are indeed alcoholics and their addiction is a vice that they cannot control. In essence, it means that they are willing to accept help for their problem; it also makes them receptive towards accepting help to overcome their alcoholism. For instance, a humble attitude will make them open to share their experiences confidently, ask questions, and acquire new information and ideas to aid their road to recovery. This attitude will also help them to interact with other members and build meaningful relationships devoid of any pressure to hide their addiction or being judged negatively, which is vital to their recovery.
Discussions from other members were also welcomed after Chris’ contribution and those in attendance actively gave their views on topics. Contribution to these topics was only at the behest of a speaker. Otherwise, there was a respectful silence and attentiveness when one shared their experiences. The discussion incorporated a range of topics, including relapse factors that most members faced on a daily basis, how alcoholism had an adverse impact on almost every aspect of their lives, and their progress so far on their road towards sobriety.
In terms of relapse factors, I have received insight into what makes a recovering alcoholic consume alcohol again after a period of abstinence. Some of these factors include the fear of experiencing withdrawal symptoms or attempting to avoid these symptoms altogether. Those in attendance who had experienced these symptoms made it clear that withdrawal symptoms were unpleasant and in some severe cases, they might require medical attention. The desperation to avoid these symptoms is what may drive a person who used to be alcohol dependent to go back to consuming alcohol, as it seems like the obvious solution to counter withdrawal symptoms.
Environmental factors also have a role to play in causing relapses among people who battle alcohol addiction. For example, celebratory occasions like weddings or Christmas can cause a relapse. The positive feelings evoked in these situations make one feel like celebrating, and naturally, it is easy to start consuming alcohol again. This happens because alcohol is readily available during these occasions and it is consumed in large quantities when making merry. Negative feelings induced by factors such as fear, frustration, stress, anxiety, or work place pressures may cause relapses as well. Therefore, alcohol will present an opportunity for a recovering addict to escape reality and forget their problems, even if it for a short while.
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Consuming minimal amounts of alcohol in the belief that one can control their alcoholic intake and is no longer alcohol dependent is another cause of relapses. Voluntary exposure to a situation that once held one captive increases the chances of one falling victim to the same vice. The chief aim of seeking help for alcoholism is to stop drinking altogether because it is quite easy to pick up the habit again even if one feels that they are in control and can manage their intake. I also noted that being in an environment where alcohol is consumed, such as a restaurant, or watching advertisements can induce cravings that may lead to relapses.
I have come to understand that some factors inducing relapses are psychological. These factors include psychiatric disorders such as anxiety disorders. Persons with a history of anxiety disorders slip into alcoholism because they use alcohol to “treat” their anxiety. Trying to overcome addiction generates a cycle whereby they experience anxiety, resort to alcohol, and experience severe anguish when they try to rein in their alcohol use. I also learned that mental illnesses such as schizophrenia contribute to relapses. Most schizophrenics use alcohol to curb the effects of their medication, which leaves them dependent on alcohol. Therefore, attempts to give up alcohol are thwarted by their use of medication with adverse side effects, making it easy to consume alcohol to numb their reaction to these drugs.
Other issues discussed were the challenges that members had faced as alcoholics. These challenges ranged from divorces to the loss of jobs and money due to their addiction. Most of those present blamed themselves for these setbacks but they were positive that they would get their lives back on track once they conquered alcoholism. Some attendees recounted incidents whereby they had acted inappropriately when drunk and the embarrassment that they faced on the realization of what they had done when sober. Others shared their progress on rebuilding their lives and gaining the trust and respect of family members whom they had involuntarily pushed away when they were alcoholics. They also shared accounts and anecdotes on their progress in avoiding alcohol and their struggle to remain sober.
Attending the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting has changed my perception on alcoholics and individuals who struggle with alcohol addiction. During the meeting, I felt welcomed because the members made me feel at home. Overall, it was an enlightening experience to be in the presence of individuals who were bold enough to speak about their experiences in addition to seeking help to fight their addiction. This experience was an opportunity for me to experience alcoholism through the eyes of those who had faced it. I also gained a new-found respect for those who had managed to overcome alcoholism and those who were brave enough to seek help. I no longer judge alcoholics as failures or people who choose to be drunk all the time. In addition to this, I am more aware of the struggles alcoholics face in overcoming addiction and the support that society and their families need to accord to them. I have also understood that no one chooses to be an alcoholic. Most alcoholics are the victims of wrong lifestyle choices or the desperation to overcome factors beyond their control such as psychiatric disorders or mental illnesses. Others become alcoholics to escape reality due to their perceived powerlessness to counter hard situations. My attendance of this meeting made me aware of how misinformed I was about alcoholics and alcoholism in general. I was also humbled to be in the presence of individuals who have turned or are in the process of turning one of the greatest setbacks in their lives into messages of hope for others in the same situation.