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Published on February 17th, 2020 | by John OMeara

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CLIMBING INTO THE LIFEBOAT: ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS IN HANDSWORTH

Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935 and now has over 2 million members worldwide. It aims to provide a ‘toolkit’ for overcoming alcohol addiction in daily life, and draws on the reality that ‘an alcholic who no longer drinks has an exceptional ability for ‘reaching’ and helping an out of control drinker’ (AAwebsite).

I have never felt such a vibrant welcoming and helping atmosphere as I did when walking into the upstairs room at St. Teresa’s presbytery for the weekly AA meeting. I found a mix of ages, cultures, social backgrounds, men and women; realism and humour; deeply felt identification with each other’s experience, and using that to renew focus and determination; the sense of release in not having to pretend to be something/someone you are not; the amazement at re-discovering the minute by minute details of life – and most of all, of family life, where love and respect were replacing rejection and despair.

But this is underpinned by hard graft mentally and emotionally, facing unpleasant realities about yourself, and accepting that you can’t sort things on your own. There is no agenda in AA, no ideas of conversion to a particular cause or set of beliefs – just the cause of overcoming the devastation of alcohol; realising you need something stronger than yourself alone is seen as crucial to this.

Several people on either side of me said hello (the room was full of greetings, but also of people keeping to themselves). They clarified if I’d come with alcohol issues or as a visitor – the Thursday meetings at St. Teresa’s are all ‘open’ ones, so anyone is free to attend. They explained how things worked, but then left me in peace to make up my own mind about what was going on; I never felt uncomfortable, or that something in particular was expected of me.

The structure of the meeting was based on one person sharing the story of their addiction and its impacts, and others using this to find similarities in their own stories, and to draw out lessons about what they need to do, the rewards of doing it, and the consequences of not doing it. Several people mentioned their ‘sponsors’ – individuals who were prepared to share their journey, and use their own experience to encourage and challenge. Every contribution was warmly welcomed by the whole room.

There are 3 AA meetings every week in Handsworth: on Mondays at 8pm at Oakland Centre, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8pm at St. Teresa’s Presbytery. Across Birmingham and the Black Country there are over 80 meetings, and people can attend as near to or as far from home as they like. You can see where the meetings are by clicking on this link AAMeetings. Closed meetings (Mon. at Oakland Centre and all but the second Tues. of month at St. Teresa’s) are only for people with an alcohol problem who want to stop drinking; open meetings (Thurs. and the second Tues. each month at St. Teresa’s) can also be attended by family or friends of the alcoholic, or by people with an interest in AA.

At Oakland Centre at 8pm on Mondays there is a separate meeting for people who are living with or helping an alcoholic. All the meetings at Oakland Centre have a particular awareness of alcoholism in the Punjabi community.


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