Alcoholics Anonymous members speak out to encourage people not to suffer alone
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The "disease" of alcoholism shouldn't stop people reaching out for help and support, recovering alcoholics have urged.
Three Waveney-based Alcoholics Anonymous members have spoken out about their battles to encourage others to seek the support they need.
A University of East Anglia study, announced as England enters a third national lockdown, found people drank more alcohol during the UK's first lockdown, with women consuming it more frequently, but men drinking in greater quantities.
"It made me feel alive and part of life."
For Robbie, alcohol made him feel "invincible and alive", but he has now been sober for around 18 months after attending regular AA meetings.
He said: "Alcohol always did something different to me than it did to other people. It made me feel alive and part of life and filled up all the cracks inside me and washed away all of my insecurities and fears.
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"It made me feel invincible, at the start anyway, and I needed it.
"However, my relationship with it turned quite quickly and I soon realised I could not control the amount of alcohol I was drinking and could not stop once I started.
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"What started as something so positive and harmless completely ruined my life and, in turn, I caused a lot of hurt and destruction to the people around me because of an obsession to drink being what steered me."
Robbie says "something shifted inside" one day, two days into a drinking binge, when he knew he wanted to change.
The 25-year-old has now been clean and sober for more than 500 days.
"I would black out and collapse when drinking and end up in hospital very weak, frail and ill.
"Alcohol took me to a dark place and I didn't want to be here anymore.
"One day, when I was two days into a drinking binge, something shifted inside me and I wanted to change. I could not carry on and the fight had left me.
"I no longer wanted to live the way I was and I asked for help."
After being recommended AA by a local drink and drug centre, Robbie began attending meetings.
He said: "I was petrified but wanted so desperately to change.
"I sat in the room and listened to other people talk about their experiences and I felt welcome and accepted.
"Today, I am part of a wonderful fellowship full of fantastic people who understand and love me.
"I attend three meetings a week and they are the highlight of my week.
"The programme has given me my life back and a faith that everything will be alright, provided I continue to do the right things and follow suggestions from my sponsor.
"Today I practice being the best person I can be on a daily basis and I do my absolute best to carry the message of recovery to the still suffering alcoholics and be of service."
"I couldn't understand how I could be only 27 and partied out."
For Carol, the support from AA meetings helped her accept her alcoholism at 27, and she will shortly celebrate her 60th birthday.
She said: "I couldn't understand how I could be only 27 and partied out. I drank with rich people in wine bars and I was being rapidly promoted at work so I couldn't be an alcoholic, could I?
"I knew my drinking was more disastrous than my friends', but after a run in with the police after I refused to pay for a drink once, I started to panic and think I was really heading for trouble.
"AA taught me alcoholism is a disease, not a moral weakness, and this helped me accept my condition.
"I also came to understand I was suffering from a mental obsession with alcohol.
"The AA meetings gave me, and continue to give me, identification with other alcoholics who support me to live a sober life, and I knew I was in the right place to talk about how ashamed I was of my drinking."
"I wouldn't give up my new life for my old one for anything."
Sharon started attending AA meetings after being rushed to hospital, and marked her four month milestone on Christmas Day.
She said: "For the first three months of my sobriety I just sat and listened to other people's stories and I looked for the similarities, not the differences, as they suggested.
"A week before I came to AA I was rushed into hospital with sepsis. On day three a doctor told me the news and he strongly advised I give up drinking for good.
"I stayed in hospital for seven days where I completed a detox.
"I was four months sober on Christmas Day and I wouldn't give up my new life for my old one for anything.
"I bought myself a new coat and pampered myself with a manicure, pedicure and hairstyle with the money in my pocked I would never have had if I was still drinking.
"I will keep coming back and carry the message to anyone who still suffers."
Each year, AA members welcome dozens of new faces starting on the road to recovery, particularly in January, with some groups set up to focus specifically on young people, and on women, following increasing numbers seeking support.
Meetings are continuing despite the coronavirus pandemic, with online Zoom meetings taking place, while socially-distanced face-to-face meetings were steadily reopening before the third lockdown was announced.
A local area number, manned 24/7 by members from East Anglia, has been set up on 01603 621 128 to put callers in touch with local groups, including 20 in the Great Yarmouth and Waveney area, while dozens more are held across Norfolk and Suffolk each week.
Meeting details are available on the national AA website at: www.alcholics-anonymous.org.uk.