The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Staying afloat, away from the liquor
- Alcoholics Anonymous draws up meet-and-act agenda to beat the bottle

“Hi. I’m Alex. I’m an alcoholic and I am a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA),” are his words of introduction. About seven years ago, he was “a complete drunk with no hope. The doctors had given up on me. I had severe tremors, about 45 per cent of my liver was damaged by cirrhosis and I weighed about 39 kg. Whatever I ate I threw up violently, along with raw blood, and I was drunk 24 hours a day.”

That was when he turned to AA for support. For Alex (name changed on request), the biggest achievement is returning to a degree of normalcy. “Because, with alcoholism, the family and friends of the alcoholic, too, are affected. Guilt, shame and the tension of not knowing whether your husband or father is going to be dumped like a sack of potatoes by a rickshaw-wallah on your doorstep, or spend the night in jail. The stigma exists because most people don’t know that alcoholism is a disease of the obsessive-compulsive kind with a genetic predisposition, and is so recognised by the World Health Organisation and the Indian Medical Association, amongst others,” he adds.

Working with doctors, psychiatrists, nursing homes, detoxification centres, the police, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC), the district magistrate and other district officers, AA is intent on spreading the word, “to just let people know we are there”, in the 20th year of it’s existence in Calcutta. “At AA, we are just a bunch of drunks helping each other to stop reaching for the bottle,” smiles Alex. “It’s impossible to do it alone.” At the moment, there are about 11 groups with around 500 members in the city, with an average of three meetings in one day, and anyone welcome to attend.

The next project, for which the paperwork has been finalised, is to work with inmates of city jails, for which 10 volunteers, “recovering alcoholics” of AA, have been lined up. The aim is to change the mindset of society and help those who have been written off by everyone. More plans are on the drawing board to work with the CMC, and sensitisation of the police.

It is to talk about these and other issues that the members of AA are gathering at the Seva Kendra on February 22 and 23 for the 4th National Service Conference. “Last year, the mayor had attended, and promised us his full support, claiming that a lot of CMC employees were suffering from this problem,” Alex says. “This year, there will be delegates from all over the country, particularly veterans from Mumbai, sharing their vast storehouse of knowledge.” There will be two sections a day, with a lecture and then a session for the 80-odd participants to share their experiences. “Alcoholism is a chronic, life-long problem. We just want to let people know there is help at hand,” Alex sums up.

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