'We are anonymous, not invisible': Recovering Northamptonshire alcoholics bid to raise AA profile
In a drive to promote the support that Alcoholics Anonymous provides in Northamptonshire, two recovering alcoholics, who have been sober for over 30 years, tell the Chronicle & Echo how the fellowship has steered them away from cliff edge.
The Northamptonshire Intergroup - made up of 30 AA groups in the county - is marking Alcohol Awareness Month by raising awareness of their profile.
At a glance, the AA is a self-supported group, which helps members to sustain total abstinence by staying away from one drink at a time through a 12-step alcohol recovery approach.
As part of that approach, members are asked to maintain anonymity.
'It's the first drink for an alcoholic that does that damage'
One member, Tom, who now lives in Rushden, grew up in New York in a family where alcohol was readily available.
He said: "I first came to the UK with the American Air Force and I recognise now that my alcoholism was at an early stage.
"Alcohol is a progressive disease and my story will show you things got worse as life went on.
"I was an everyday drinker. In those days I wouldn’t drink until after work but that would change over the years.
"At this point I was in my early twenties. Looking back, I was always getting in trouble with the authorities because of my drinking.
"Part of my story is on that on the day I got promoted to sergeant, I celebrated a little bit too exuberantly and got busted the same day and lost the stripe the same day I put it on.
"I was never one of those people who counted how much I was drinking, I was just having another one and another one.
"What I didn’t recognise, what I understand today, it's the first drink for an alcoholic that does that damage. Alcohol made me comfortable with myself. Without a drink in me I was like a square peg in a round hole, I never quite fitted in, I didn’t belong. But once I got a drink in me I was the life and soul of the party."
In a turn of events, Tom, who was once jobless, homeless and was admitted to rehab, married a British woman and finally got his life back on track.
He now has four children, three grandchildren and has been sober for over 30 years.
'I know that my drinking was affecting my family'
One group member from Corby, who goes under the name Steve, swore he was never going to drink because he grew up in a household where his dad was a heavy drinker and did not want to start drinking because of some unpleasant things he experienced in his family.
He said: "I did still drink at the age of 18 and very slowly I started to enjoy it. It wasn’t long before I started to experience blackouts where I couldn't remember what happened the night before.
"I would cringe sometimes when I was told about it but that would pass and on I go. I was probably in my middle twenties when my drinking started to get out of hand and I started to miss work, I was in the building industry. I got to the stage where I would lose jobs I couldn't go to work and basically I had lost control of my drinking.
"I started to experience fear, terrible loneliness. I know that my drinking was affecting my family.
"I can remember once when I actually ended up having the fire brigade come to the house because I was drunk and I fell asleep in bed with a cigarette and the next thing I remember is the fire brigade pulling me out of bed and if it wasn’t for the fact that my head was under the blanket I probably would have died. Worse than that, I could have killed my brothers and sisters and my parents, you know.
"I was still enjoying my drinking but I was only unaware of the effect the drinking was having on my family.
"I have never felt so lonely in my life even though I was surrounded by my family. I have stopped many times but I could not stay stopped.
"AA has given me a good life. It has saved my life without a shadow of a doubt, I would have been dead years ago if it wasn't for Alcoholics Anonymous.
"I enjoy going to my meetings and mixing with my AA friends. I was told when I first come round that 'it's about living our lives once we stopped'."
Steve has also been sober for over 30 years and has watched his nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren grow up.