KOCHI: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” Every AA meeting starts with the group chanting this Serenity Prayer, originally by Reinhold Neibuhr. Alcoholics Anonymous, popularly known as AA, is an international mutual-aid fellowship of, and for, men and women battling alcoholism. This fellowship, which celebrated its 83rd anniversary on June 10, was founded in 1935, by Americans Dr Bob Smith and William Griffith Wilson. Today, it enjoys worldwide recognition for their 12-Steps and 12-Traditions that “helps in achieving sobriety”.
“First of all, people should understand that alcoholism or Alcohol Use Disorder is a disease and when someone says that he/she is unable to stop drinking, it is not out of laziness or lack of desire to change, but because of this mental disease. Understanding that alcoholism is a disease in itself is vital to helping others achieve sobriety,” remarks Shaji, who has been involved with AA for close to a decade. AA operates across the world with hundreds of groups in Kerala alone. They hold frequent meetings where members share their experience of having been an alcoholic and their journey to sobriety. “We are not affiliated to any religious body or association and we don’t pray to any one god. However, we do believe in the existence of a higher power. While we are powerless to change our realities, this higher power is what guides us,” shares John.
They hold meetings for alcoholics as well as their close family members who also suffer the consequences. “The only condition in joining this group is to have a desire to stop drinking. Here, we have people from diverse professions and economic/religious backgrounds, all fighting the same demon,” says Abhilash.
The primary block to accepting one’s drinking issues and talking about it, is ego. Alcoholics find it extremely difficult and shameful to accept their condition. AA understands their fear of revealing identities and therefore believes in preserving the anonymity of its members.
“This is an apolitical, non-religious and non-profit fellowship, which is unaffiliated to any institution or governing body. Most importantly, there are no registration procedures for the members. None of their details, personal or professional, are documented here because we value and respect each other’s need to be anonymous,” says Ramesh.
AA has a national toll-free helpline number in India through which lakhs of people constantly seek help. They also conduct free sessions, open to all, at different parts of the city explaining the route to sobriety.
“The basic concept here is that only an alcoholic will fully understand and relate to the problems of another alcoholic. How will a psychiatrist who has never experienced drunkenness help an alcoholic recover? Many of us here have tried de-addiction centres and other rehabilitation facilities but nothing worked, except AA,” explains Manu.
* Names have been changed to protect their identities.