Mahurangi Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) members say alcohol abuse has increased during lockdown, and families are suffering the consequences.
But they add that help is at hand, and the fact that AA meetings have been conducted on Zoom during lockdown has opened up new opportunities.
One man has been doing 6.30am Zoom meetings with AA groups in Germany and the UK, in addition to his regular meetings in Mahurangi.
One local AA group shared their experience of AA with Mahurangi Matters on condition of anonymity.
Members sum up AA as a place where people meet to share their experience of how they overcome their struggle with alcohol.
“We’re not professionals, just ex-drunks. I have a PhD – Poor Hopeless Drunk,” says one.
Group members say they use their negative experiences as a way of helping each other turn away from drink.
Meetings begin with the serenity prayer and then attendees are asked if they would like to share what they have done to stay recovered.
Despite the prayers, AA does not have a religious affiliation, however it is considered a “spirituality-based programme”.
“Religion is for those who don’t want to go to hell. Spirituality is for those who have been to hell and have come back,” a member says.
Members’ understanding of God is flexible. For some, God stands for the great outdoors, for others it’s Gathering of Drunks.
They say the 12-step programme is about changing one’s attitude towards alcohol and accepting responsibility.
“When I arrived at AA my ass was on fire. I had lost my kids and my job. It dictated who I associated with. I would lie, cheat and steal to get another drink,” says one.
“I was head boy at school, and I couldn’t figure out how this had happened to me. At AA, I was hearing similar stories from others, but I was also hearing about their recovery.”
AA is not just for people who have hit hard times – anyone who wants to stop drinking is welcome to join.
“One guy was a new father who tripped on the stairs while drunk and decided that he wanted to be more in control of his life. He came to AA and never stopped.”
AA welcomes new members, assures them their identity will remain secret, and they will be accepted without judgement.
“The worst thing anyone has ever said to me at a meeting is that it would be a good idea to wait until after the meeting was over to have a drink.”
The Al Anon organisation supports partners and families of alcoholics. Its programme mirrors the AA format.
“It’s easy to see the damage that is done to an alcoholic, but it’s harder to see the damage its doing to those that are close to them,” an AA member says.
Members add that there is a culture of denial when it comes to alcoholism as people try to hide or ignore the problem. This can put a burden on those close to an alcoholic, because they suffer while having to pick up extra responsibilities.
“People often say they were more affected by their non-drinking parent than their drinking parent. The alcoholic parent is out cold by 7pm whereas the other one is stressed and angry.”