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Friends of Bill and Bob

Author: 10.06.2014 | society, interview, expert
On June, 10, 1935 in American city of Akrona society was founded that united men and women that suffered from alcoholism – Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

The first ones who decided to overcome their disease without any help from medics or psychologists where a broke American businessman Bill Wilson and his doctor who also had addiction to heavy alcohol consumption, Bob Smith.

Wilson underwent rehabilitation in a clinic and spent six sober months. However the man became haunted with a temptation to get drunk again. He called Dr. Smith and asked for a 15-minute audience. The meeting lasted several hours. This is how the idea of creating a society for alcoholics was born. 

It was then when an unfortunate entrepreneur Wilson made his most profitable deal and founded anonymous alcoholics community. Nowadays millions of people all over the world who call themselves Friends of Bill and Bob come to the organization with the words: “Hi! I am an alcoholic”, thus making the best investment into own future.

Alexandra Portyanko, journalist of OUTLOOK, managed to get acquainted with a person who has been a member of this society in Ukraine for 20 years and has been helping hundreds of people to overcome the disease. Alexandra tells about the outcome of her meeting in her article. (Owing to the fact that the organization is really anonymous, we won’t uncover the face of our interlocutor).

“We are sick to the extent to which we fail to get load off our minds”  

To my great surprise each meeting really starts with the words: “My name is Sasha (Dima, Lena, John…) and I am an alcoholic”. People pronounce this phrase every time although the majority of them remain sober for many years. “Alcoholism is a disease, an incurable one. Even if a person stopped drinking, he still remains an alcoholic”, – my interlocutor Oleg told me.

Main goal of the convention is to make a person speak about himself, figure out reasons and answer the question why is he drinking alcohol. “In the majority of cases alcoholics are people who are not heard, they rarely have a chance to get load off their minds. We help them open up and find answers to questions that had brought them to a dead end”.

For those suffering from the addiction it is an opportunity to socialize with the likes of them and realize that they are needed. “We only talk about ourselves, very rarely touching upon unrelated matters. We do not address the issue of politics at all”.

 “It’s not that I am an alcoholic because I drink alcohol – I drink alcohol because I am an alcoholic”

When I mentioned to Oleg, that alcoholics probably lack willpower and cannot resist their weaknesses, he answered that it wasn’t entirely so. “They differ from healthy people both physically and spiritually, and perceive the world elsewise, more exquisitely. They are often called people with no skin. And only when drunk they become themselves and feel cozy – the way we feel every day we are sober”, – remarks Oleg.

The thing that people normally read in the notion of “purposefullness” for boozers is an empty sound. They don’t have an aim of either creating a family or building a career and basically spend all their time looking for alcohol.

“They are often aggressive and their willpower is huge especially when it comes to getting booze. They simply channel their efforts to the wrong track and are unable to love the world when they are sober. A year ago a 44-year-old woman died who has been coming to the group for a long time trying to get rid of the addiction. She graduated from university with honors, worked as a school teacher. She was remaining purely sober for several years in a row to fall down and go into periods of heavy drinking with homeless. She enjoyed life in the streets. Alcoholics are neither better nor worth – they are just different”.

During AA meetings there are no lectures or moral teaching, they have no connection to any sects, religions or political groups. Here it is offered to solve problems that alcohol created in a person’s life. “We don’t ask anything – every person only tells things he wants and sees right”, – says Oleg.  Oftentimes people come under false names and no one from the group may have any idea about what they are doing.

“Based on their stories I can tell you that in different time periods group was attended by chief accountants of large corporations, talented IT experts, businessmen with two cars in their garages, and nearby them there were homeless without a penny to bless them with. People of creative professions often join our ranks; there were times when as many as six painters were participating in the meetings. There are a lot of women, once there was even a 16-year-old girl. But youngsters don’t stay for long because they do not fully realize their problem”.

Despite the stereotype brought to us by Hollywood movies concerning the thing that people attend such groups compulsorily and oftentimes simply remain silent, everything is different in reality. When a person comes for the first time, he or she starts talking trying to tell as much as possible. The newcomer is only asked two questions: if he or she has problems with alcohol and when was the last time he or she consumed one.

AAs live following the principle: “It is only today that I stay sober. I may start drinking again tomorrow, but not today”. Members of the community do not control each other and don’t encourage attending meetings. “A person chooses for himself or herself if he or she needs it, fortunately, groups’ schedules allow coming as often as every day or as rarely as once a year. There were people who only came once yet abandoned the destructive habit. Sometimes drunk people come to meetings; they are allowed in but aren’t given a chance to speak”.

The whole “treatment” is free of charge except for minor expenses for tea, coffee, cookies and sometimes renting premises. “Social services generally help with premises. When there is no such place, we simply meet in a café. In the territory of Podol a group was functioning for a long time that was gathering in a room of one famous fast food restaurants”, – my interlocutor tells. AAs also don’t accept charity in crucial respect.

Averagely 12-15 persons attend one session. “As the founder of the movement used to say, two persons and a tea pot are already a group. Frequently it is just like that”. 

AAs have good self-organization. They all together go on trips, camping or to a seaside on a regular basis. For instance, department in Poltava was organizing a summer camp for addicted people for a long time. Tents were pitched in the woods, conveniences were established, there was a program planned for every day. And, once again, a lot of communication and talks.

An alcoholic has democracy and slight anarchy combined in him

AAs do not cooperate with drug therapists and psychologists seeking help exclusively among the likes of themselves. There is no hierarchy, no bosses or mentors – everyone is equal here. 

“There are people who start thinking too high of themselves when they manage to overcome the disease. There was this man, had 15 sober years. Then he went to get education as a psychologist and started earning his living by relieving people from their addiction. He stepped by a couple of times to give us condescending lectures but this is not how things are done here so he never returned”.

“In the years of my practice I’ve seen a lot: some families were coming here to get cured; others created here new, healthy ones. There was one time a group was attended by father and son. Such cases aren’t a rare occasion, it is just hard to follow their future destinies. Oftentimes people who stopped drinking don’t feel a need to come back. No one is obliged to report about his life here. There are also a lot of tragic cases, and we try to talk about them in every session to remind once again that alcoholism is a deadly disease”.

According to Oleg, every alcoholic realizes that can fall down any minute and an “ex” prefix to this diagnosis doesn’t exist. People come here to stick together in their fight against the demon drink and keep defeating it every day.

A person can bring a relative or a friend to a meeting for moral support. There are also separate groups for members of boozers’ families. Same communities exists for people who suffer from other addictions: drug addicts and gamblers.

Camel is the symbol of the organization because this animal is able not to drink for a very long time.

For every sober time period members of the group get medals. “We present them, starting with 24 hours without alcohol. The utmost one is for 20 sober years”, – says Oleg, the winner of the latter award.

If your relatives or dear ones encountered the problem of alcoholism, you can turn to Ukrainian Alcoholics Anonymous Service Center using the following contacts: +38 (044) 384 22 09 or +38( 044) 592 95 13; e-mail: aa.ua.gso@gmail.com

All the information about the organization can be found on the web site:  www.aa.org.ua

Photos by Nik Panisov

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