Message in a bottle

Jan 03, 2013, 09:26 IST | Hemal Ashar

First ever overseas delegation of recovering women alcoholics to visit city to meet women struggling with the disease and stigma here

The New Year brings with it promises of a new lease of life for women in this city and other metros battling alcoholism. These women who have fallen prey to the lure of the bottle are doubly stigmatised in society. Firstly, they are saddled with the guilt and shame of being an alcoholic.

Secondly, because they are women, there are a number of stereotypes that come with that baggage -- the prime being that if they drink, they must be easy or loose women, which means sexually available.

Now, a delegation of recovering women alcoholics from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Australia will be visiting India this month from January 13 onwards, (they will be in Mumbai from January 25 to 27) on a unique mission. These women aim to bring their message of hope to women alcoholics in India in AA recovery. The delegation comprises 92 women, out of which two are non-alcoholic trustees. They are set to criss-cross the country with local AA fellowship to carry their message, to share their strength and bring hope to women alcoholics.

Program co-ordinators from Mumbai say that, “This is to address a hidden but growing problem -- that of uncontrolled drinking or alcoholism amongst women here. We do have a smattering of recovering women at AA trying to come out of both their drinking and attendant social stigma, but that is very, very limited and to just a few metros.

It does not even cross the double-digit mark in total. Though drinking amongst women here is much lesser than in Western nations, it is present. Alcohol abuse is prevalent more amongst tribal women, low income groups, commercial sex workers but there is also the rich upper crust.” Statistics show that this demographic is changing in small but noticeable ways. “Off late, the problem is affecting a younger, adolescent segment too through some new-age influences,” say representatives. 

The idea for the delegation visit emanated during the Asia Oceana Service Meet, (AOSM), the fellowships of AA in Asia Oceana get together every alternate year. The ninth AOSM was held in Chandigarh during July 2011. Two delegates from each country represent their fellowship. It was then that the problem of women’s alcoholism in India came up. Initial discussions centred around sending a delegation from overseas on a visit here.

A spokesperson said, “In these meetings, various aspects were discussed, notable amongst which were possible ways of carrying messages to countries where the AA message is yet to reach. At Chandigarh, India representatives shared their views about women alcoholics in the country.” Happily, that chapter did not close at Chandigarh but has fructified with this impending visit.

Salute to sobriety: AA in Mumbai held a special meeting to felicitate AA member John K who marked 50 years of sobriety, in 2010. John K had become an alcoholic when he was 12

The Australian AOSM delegates discussed this and the fellowship as it is known suggested that they send an AA women’s delegation to India with an objective of reducing social stigma, inspiring women alcoholics to seek help and assist in forming women’s AA groups. Each delegation member has paid their own way for the trip and does not have any sponsor.

Though this is broadly termed as an Australian delegation there are women from New Zealand, Canada and few other countries too. They all have diverse professional backgrounds and come from all age groups.

There may be language barriers and certain other obstacles in communication but the AA is working to iron everything out. The visit forges a new path, because this is the first time an overseas delegation is coming in to India to address this problem in women. They will participate in public awareness meetings; interact with professionals working in the field of alcoholism, industries, schools and colleges, doctors and look at treatment facilities.

The exchange is significant because it is the first large scale acknowledgement of the problem. Firstly, it is important for both the alcoholic and society too, to acknowledge that they have an issue here. Like alcoholics themselves, sometimes kin and friends remain in denial that the person they know is an alcoholic.

That is why AA meetings begin with alcoholics introducing themselves as: ‘I am so[-and-so. I am an alcoholic’. In a country where alcoholism is shrouded in shameful secrecy, where those struggling with the bottle are seen as weak, wicked and even vile and stereotypes -- many fuelled by our movies predominate, the first step itself,acknowledgement of the fact is a huge one. It is also the bottom rung in the ladder of recovery to follow.

It is also time for all to realise that alcohol addiction is not a male preserve, it cuts across gender, class and age. Tear up the veil of secrecy, eyeball it and confront it. It is a bitter pill to swallow, but swallow it one must to start combating alcoholism, which is a disease but not a disgrace. 

January 13 to 18: Delhi
January 18 to 19: Kolkata
January 20 to 21: Chennai
January 22 to 23: Bangalore
January 24 to 27: Mumbai

What is Alcoholics Anonymous?
Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA is the largest single resource of recovery for people afflicted with alcoholism -- with its adverse physical, mental, spiritual, familial and socio-economic connotations. 

Personal Stories
Recovering women speak out 

Liberation for Kathy
I am originally from England, I was brought up in Lancashire. Those were the days when you could ride on your bike for miles with the wind in your face and be totally carefree. I followed my dream to become a nurse, and then a midwife. Where many of my fellow nurses were drinking and smoking, it did not interest me then. I married a New Zealander. As the years progressed and three children later, unknown to me, I became depressed. All that lay ahead of me was work, and more work. Apart from the children who eventually became teenagers, I was holding down a full time senior nursing position. Looking after three teenagers and if that was not enough my husband joined us up in a multi marketing business for our spare time!

In unity, there is stength: An AA meeting at Andheri where some people shared their problems

Alcohol became my panacea. I used to hide the bottles, well, I thought they were hidden but I was fooling myself. I joined an AA group. Unfortunately it did not work. The bolt from the blue came when our 19 year-old son committed suicide. I found him hanging in his sister’s bedroom. My alcoholism took a turn for the worse, the guilt, the shame, the only thing I knew was to drink to obliterate this from my psyche. What had I missed, why did I not see this? I was totally absorbed in my grief and I feel my other two children suffered because of this. I wasn’t there for them.

I went into treatment and was directed to AA. At one of the first meetings a woman came up to me and said “Kathy, you don’t ever have to drink again!” So simple! So simple! Yet it worked. This woman went on to be my sponsor. Yes, I haven’t had a drink again. I discovered that God hadn’t left me! He is with me, no matter what, he is always there! It was finding God which saved me. Without this revelation, I think I would probably be dead as my alcoholism lead me to some very dark places.

Today my life is so different. I am very close to my two children. My son got married to a beautiful, young woman and we are all looking forward to the birth of their first baby. I have a wonderful relationship with my daughter, she was very damaged by her brother’s suicide and I have been there for her.
The marriage, well, we got divorced. I am now free to live the life I choose. Miracles do happen!


Jane’s journey to wellness
My name is Kiwi Jane and I am an alcoholic. My home group in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is ‘Women In Fellowship", Auckland, New Zealand. My sobriety date is May 5, 1984. I believe I was born with the illness of alcoholism. I was adopted by loving people and although my father was a respected, successful gentleman he and my mother drank everyday. I thought this was normal. (Today I know that my father and brother suffered from alcoholism.) I had a privileged upbringing with private schooling and travel and my mother was always there for us.

By 13, I was drunk for the first time and by 16 was in a hotel bar every weekend. I met the man of my dreams in a bar and married him. At 17, I was a mother and trying to control both -- my and my husband's drinking. By 21, I separated from my husband as he was violent when he drank, and I needed to keep our child safe. I later divorced him.  I was the manager at a sports club for seven years and was free to drink as I pleased. My child was cared for by my parents when I worked. I did not think I had a problem as I did not drink everyday and rarely at home.

My drinking took me to places and associated me with people I would never have normally been a part of. I became very hard hearted. I did not cry or laugh for years. I believed that the world was a hard place and that nobody cared about others. After many attempts at sobriety over the years, my ex-husband found AA. I was pleased that he had addressed his illness of alcoholism and could not believe the change in him. My drinking got worse and although I was financially stable I had to admit I was physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. My ex-husband told me that I was alcoholic, that no human power could help me and that God could and would if He was sought. He suggested that I go to Alcoholics Anonymous for myself.

I went to AA and at my first meeting was amazed to see people presenting so well, they laughed and appeared to be accepting of their illness and what had happened to them as a result of their drinking. The thing what impressed me the most was their degree of honesty about themselves and the fact that they took responsibility for their lives and were willing to make changes. I listened to their stories, and though I had not experienced all of what I heard, I did identify with them when I listened to the similarities and not the differences. I conceded to my inner most self that I was an alcoholic and needed to stop drinking. I was encouraged to keep coming back and to get a home group so members could support and know me. I committed to do this and that helped me to come out of my isolation from others. Both men and women assisted me in my journey of recovery.

Today I am 28 years sober. I have a relationship with a loving God. I remarried my ex-husband in sobriety. I am a loving wife, daughter and mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, educated, good employee now working in the alcohol and drug fields and a friend. I am able to care greatly for others, especially those afflicted with the illness of alcoholism. I am the person I always hoped to be. I am no longer driven by fear, I can cry and laugh with freedom. What a precious gift.
– K Jane

If you think you need help you can email: in strict confidentiality 

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