Personal StoriesA selection of stories shared by our members
From Squandered Opportunities and Affected Lives to Sober Days
My name is Bob, and I am an alcoholic.
I have not had a drink for quite a few years now thanks to this Fellowship. I am happy and grateful for that.
I grew up in a council flat on the Harrow Rd in NW London/Harlesden, close to many pubs which I never went in to. I was the youngest of 6, with 8 years between myself and the next oldest. We did not normally have booze at home, and I don’t think any of my family or aunts and uncles etc are/were alcoholics. My dad was a coach driver and worked long hours, so we did not do much together but it was a happy home and I had friends at school and in the neighbourhood. At 15 my family moved out of London to a small village with 2 pubs and two shops. I played sports with other village boys and started going into pubs from about 16 onwards. My new school was boys only.
My drinking progression was slow. I did ok at school, not brilliant, but went to Uni where I met my wife to be, and we were married as soon as possible after the last term. My father had died 6 months previously. I realise now that some of my issues then were female relationships rather than alcohol-maybe the ‘ism’. Due to accommodation problems, we lived with my in-laws for a year and we all got on very well-in fact I had a new family for the next 20 years.
I got various professional jobs and did reasonably well but by the time I was 26 I recognised my drinking was becoming a problem and by the time I was in my early 30’s I was in rehab. Maybe connected, my son was born when I was 30 and my drinking transitioned, from most days but with limited gaps, to binge drinking. There was no going back; I became a serious binge drinker but with quite long periods between binges. One drink and the spree would last for between 2 and 5 days always ending in 2 days of sweats, shakes etc.
Although my employer at the time of the rehab was very sympathetic, I changed jobs while in rehab and went off as soon as I was discharged to a French speaking African country (I only spoke basic French) on a 7-month contract. Not a happy time, as I was soon drinking there although I somehow lasted the whole period. I fell out with my employer and was in financial difficulty as I only got some of my pay. During some of these years I was in and out of AA and, with and without drinking, my lifestyle was not sane. I may not have been insane but the things I did, including picking up a drink when I knew I was an alcoholic, were not sane.
Because I could present myself in quite a good light sober, I was quite good at getting jobs and I got a job with a Japanese company in Japan where there was English speaking AA and, although I got into a few ‘scrapes’, when my 2-year contract was up, the company wanted me to stay. I did love AA there, 2 meetings a week and every three months a retreat. Another big opportunity lost and there were to be more.
I joined another company involving world-wide travel, then another and was fired for being drunk in the office (I was in blackout-I have no recollection of what happened and have never asked my ex-colleagues who I still see occasionally). I worked in a factory on shift work for the next three months until I got another professional job which entailed travelling all the time and worldwide. I had a binge episode in Sydney during which I ‘lost’ my passport and came back on an emergency one. After 10 days back at work fending off work issues, my brain cleared, and I remembered my passport was in a foreign embassy in Sydney. This was in order to get a visa to go to that country! I had completely forgotten. I phoned that embassy in Sydney and they posted my passport back! I then paid for myself to go into a month’s rehab and with a more serious attempt at AA things went well for 7 years. I did not get fired and I was even promoted to Assistant Director. In another blaze of insanity, I decided to get divorced after not having a drink for 2 years. My son was 18 at that point and going off to uni, so I went freelance and went to work in Indonesia where I stayed 3 years and did very well and went to AA regularly there. I got married again in Bali to an English woman but was to have one last binge (one day at a time). We were married for 10 years and even though I was still sober my wife accused me of infidelity (not true) and being ‘outraged’ at such an accusation, I got divorced again. This time a very toxic divorce.
I was now back in the UK and a regular AA member having done what was suggested at last-programme, sponsor, meetings, service etc.
I then met my (third) wife at an AA meeting, and I am now 15 years sober, and 8 years married. Zoom has been very good for me, although I know it does not suit everybody. I did many more meetings a week on zoom and redid some steps with my sponsor. I am now doing a couple of zoom and a couple of f2f meetings each week and I have a regular home group in each. I never want to become complacent again!
However, I am not perfect but, on a daily basis and with the HP of my limited understanding, I have lost that obsession to drink today, and that part of the insanity does seem to have gone into abeyance. I am still doing a little work, mainly home based. My son lives in Asia and up to now (Oct 2021) we stay with him for a few months every year and life is good. I have made significant amends. I am glad that eventually I came to work the programme and I am grateful to have a daily defence against that first drink.
– October 2021
If drinking is costing more than money
For many people the wines of France are one of the reasons for visiting and living in this wonderful country. But “what if” the dream starts to be tainted by an uncontrollable desire to drink more and more and you (or somebody you know) find that drinking alcohol is causing a problem.
Nobody likes to be classified as an alcoholic because the image of a down-and-out in a dirty raincoat sitting alone on a park bench, drinking from a bottle wrapped in brown paper is the one that is normally associated with alcoholism. But it doesn’t have to have reached that stage – broken relationships, lost jobs, financial problems, losing the licence to drive, blackouts (periods when you can’t remember what you did the night before), secret drinking and behaviour unacceptable to your friends and relations are all part of the downward spiral.
One of the members of Alcoholics Anonymous writes:-
A Cautionary Tale (When ignorance is anything but bliss)
There was a time when I enjoyed a glass of wine or two with a meal or at the pub with friends. Then something changed. Due to a life event I discovered that a glass or two or three blocked out what I didn’t want to deal with emotionally, and it worked.
However, things progressed. I did not realise it but somehow along the way I had lost the choice of having a glass or two; that did not do the job and my drinking gradually escalated to the point where it became an absolute necessity to function.
Always having access to a supply became essential and still I did not realise that I had a problem. Of course I could control my drinking – if I really wanted to that is! I always had a strong will. So I tried to stop the downward spiral and to my great surprise I could not.
Fear, panic, self condemnation and loss of self-respect followed. Living both with and without my daily medication became a living hell.
What I had not realised was that I had an allergy to alcohol which condemned me to obsessively consume it, a progressive illness in fact.
However I did find the help I needed through the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. With their help I am now happy and sober because I accepted that for me alcohol is lethal.
If my story raises any doubts for you, or rings any alarm bells then get in touch with AA. You will not be judged by these guys because they know how hard it is to come to terms with the problem as they have all experienced it themselves.
Details of English speaking meetings in southwest France are given on this site. Just turn up at one. You will be made most welcome. The site also gives the contact e-mail addresses for each meeting. The telephone numbers listed on the site might be private ones so you may need to try more than once – but don’t give up.
You have absolutely nothing to lose and a life with choices to regain, I promise you.
(Copyright AA France South West Intergroup 2011)
I’ve been in the AA fellowship for 15 months now and I am immensely, immeasurably,grateful for the love, support and guidance I receive from everyone I meet. Those things plus some straight talking and “tough love” when I need them – which I do from time to time. During those 15 months I have heard many peoples’ stories, in meetings and workshops. Some of these have awed me, many have moved me to tears. Mine seemed so mundane, almost trivial, in comparison, not worthy of recounting. But I have come to realise that dramatic circumstances or tragic consequences are not the essential elements of our stories. Each of us has his or her own measure of the pain and suffering our alcoholic behaviour and actions caused to ourselves and those around us and each of us coming into AA to really work the programme has reached their personal rock bottom, has had to admit their powerlessness over alcohol and their inability to manage their lives.
As I said, mine came around 15 months ago. The 28th July 2013 to be precise, the day after my last drunk and my last blackout rage. The night of 27th July 2013 will be marked always in my memory. It could so easily have resulted in very tragic circumstances for some of the people closest to me and for myself. Miraculously no serious physical harm resulted from my words and actions that night; with hindsight I know that someone or something was looking out for me and prevented the worst. Such fortune perhaps defines the difference between the mundane and the tragic.
All I know is that the pain, the awful realisation of hurts caused, the feelings of desperation, bewilderment, bottomless remorse and guilt were, I believe, as strong and as valid for me as for anyone else I’ve met. I disintegrated and surrendered completely.
That last drunk happened whilst visiting the UK for what should have been a joyous family occasion, the christening of my third grandchild. That night I lost my wife of 34 years, alienated her family and dismayed and disgusted my own. I returned home to France alone. Within a few days, thanks to a friend who lives nearby I found and attended my first AA meeting. I was terrified, walking into that room. Wracked with guilt and desperation. I was welcomed. Everyone listened as I haltingly told my story, tears running down my face. Everyone listened; no-one interrupted or fidgeted or turned away. How could they do that, listen non-judgementally to despicable me? I was humbled, but so very relieved. When I had finished talking every person around the table introduced him or herself and summarised their own story. I began to realise I wasn’t alone and that these people understood, really understood, where I had been, where I was now and how I was feeling.
At the end of the meeting everyone came to speak to me, gave me their contact details, offered words of comfort and encouragement and even a hug. Their actions and words, their whole attitude, projected love and understanding. They gave me hope that maybe I could become like them, that I could climb out of my personal pit, stand up and start to live again. And so I continued to go to meetings and I began to work the 12 step programme and as a result my life has changed for the better, out of all recognition. I haven’t picked up a drink in 15 months and for sure that is a major factor in my recovery but it is the changes inside of me that have been the most astounding. Physically I feel 100% better than I was although I have some residual problems due to the toxic effects that alcohol abuse has had on my nervous system. I can handle these and there is hope that they will improve. Mentally my faculties are returning and my concentration is again as sharp as it ever was. Emotionally I feel I am well grounded and reasonably balanced; no more dramatic mood swings, no more anxiety attacks or depression. But the most significant change is in the spiritual domain. I lived in a spiritual vacuum all of my life and especially in my latter drinking days. Finding my higher power and tapping into the strength, guidance and love she offers me is the fundamental
difference in me today and is the foundation and source of the change in my attitude towards life. I have finally found some peace of mind and a degree of serenity.
I will always regret the bad things I did and the hurt I caused to people, especially to those closest to me. But you know, I no longer beat myself up about the past, I don’t fret about the future and, now divorced, I’m beginning to learn to know and like myself and live on my own, peacefully. I have the privilege and joy of doing service within the fellowship and enjoy helping newcomers and those who are seeking help for themselves or a loved one. I’ve found contentment and I believe that as long as I don’t pick up that first drink and I continue to live by the principles inherent in AA then all will be well and eventually I will find happiness.
(Cahors & Monflanquin groups)
(Copyright AA France South West Intergroup 2014)
Dan’s Story as his Sobriety continues!
Hi. My name is Dan and I’m an alcoholic. For the past 6 years I have been a very grateful abstinent and recovering alcoholic, a member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
AA is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other so that they may solve their common problem and help others to achieve sobriety. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for AA membership, we are self supporting through our own contributions.
Yes, AA does exist in France, as it does almost everywhere around the world – alcoholism is no respecter of geographical boundaries. Or any other boundaries for that matter; it affects men and women, young and old, from all backgrounds and all nationalities. The fellowship of AA is worldwide, class free and, as its name suggests, anonymous.
Here in our south west quadrant of France, in addition to many French language meetings there are 15 English speaking or bilingual groups. We are widely dispersed; our groups span from Mirande in the south up to Civray in the north, from Carcassonne in the east to La Rochelle in the west. Our members over here are used to travelling to attend meetings – the benefits immeasurably outweigh this small effort. You can find the closest meeting to you by looking at our website www.aafrance.net. There you will also find telephone numbers of people, recovering alcoholics, who you can speak to if you feel that you, or someone close to you, may have a problem with alcohol. If you really can’t travel then don’t despair, there are online meetings for which you will find links on the website – and of course you can speak to our contacts.
Did you know that it is estimated that for each drinking alcoholic at least 5 people around them are affected, usually (sometimes very) adversely? Often it is those closest to us who bear the brunt. I drank for many years, at first socially, then heavily and finally alcoholically. I tried many ways to stop or “control” my drinking and for many years I was in denial that I had a problem. Finally it cost me my marriage and the love and respect of many family members and friends and it wiped me out financially. The tally of people hurt by my drinking is way higher than the average 5. Of course, the primary victim was myself – it destroyed my life.
In July 2013 I surrendered; I was alone, out for the count, there was no more denial. I desperately needed help and I was lucky, I found my way to an English speaking group and my recovery began. Slow and painful first steps, keeping going one day at a time, concentrating on not picking up that first drink and regularly attending meetings. The people in my group were welcoming, non-judgemental, available, kind, encouraging and supportive, offering advice and guidance based on their own experiences. Funny how they seemed to know just how I was feeling and what I was going through – but of course they had all been there too. I talked and I listened, I tried to do what they suggested and gradually I picked myself up again. As I said, I am one of the lucky ones. I sought and found help and avoided the worst; alcoholism is, quite literally, a killer disease.
Six years down the line I’m not only sober but I’m happy, financially solvent again, able to deal with the ups and downs of life and be a normal, useful member of society. I have many friends both inside and outside the fellowship, my life is full of interest, activity and fun and the future is bright.
No-one can force someone else to seek help and engage with AA, the desire has to come from within. If your drinking is causing problems but you’re still telling yourself that you’re in control then you’re not yet ready. If on the other hand you’re “sick and tired” of being sick and tired, if you feel you’ve reached the bottom of your personal pit and you’re willing to do what it takes to stop drinking and climb back out then help is available for you as it was for me. Give us a call or come to a meeting, you’ll be welcome.
(Cahors & Monflanquin groups)
(Copyright AA France South West Intergroup 2019)
Newcomer to A.A.
What we have learned about alcoholism
The first thing we have learned about alcoholism is that it is one of the oldest problems in Man’s history. Only recently have we begun to benefit from new approaches to the problem. Doctors today, for example, know a great deal more about alcoholism than their predecessors knew only two generations ago. They are beginning to define the problem and study it in detail.
While there is no formal “A.A. definition” of alcoholism, the majority of our members agree that, for most of us, it could be described as a physical compulsion, coupled with a mental obsession. What we mean is that we had a distinct physical desire to consume alcohol beyond our capacity to control it, in defiance of all rules of common sense. We not only had an abnormal craving for alcohol but we frequently yielded to it at the worst possible times. We did not know when (or how) to stop drinking. Often we did not seem to have sense enough to know when not to begin.
As alcoholics, we have learned the hard way that willpower alone, however strong in other respects, was not enough to keep us sober. We have tried going on the wagon for specific periods. We have taken solemn pledges. We have switched brands and beverages. We have tried drinking at only certain hours. But none of our plans worked. We always wound up, sooner or later, getting drunk when we not only wanted to stay sober and had every rational incentive to do so.
We have gone through stages of dark despair when we were sure that something was wrong with us mentally. We came to hate ourselves for wasting the talents with which we were endowed and for the trouble we were causing our families and others. Frequently, we indulged in self-pity and proclaimed that nothing could ever help us. We can smile at those recollections now but at the time they were grim, unpleasant experiences.
Today we are willing to accept the idea that, as far as we are concerned, alcoholism is an illness; a progressive illness that can never be “cured” but which, like some other illnesses, can be arrested. We agree that there is nothing shameful about having an illness, provided we face the problem honestly and try to do something about it. We are perfectly willing to admit that we are allergic to alcohol and that it is simply common sense to stay away from the source of the allergy.
We understand now, that once a person has crossed the invisible line from heavy drinking to compulsive alcoholic drinking, they will always remain alcoholic. So far as we know, there can never be any turning back to “normal” social drinking. “Once an alcoholic – always an alcoholic” is a simple fact we have to live with.
We have also learned that there are few alternatives for the alcoholic. If they continue to drink, their problem will become progressively worse. They seem assuredly on the path to the gutter, to hospitals, to jails or other institutions, or to an early grave. The only alternative is to stop drinking completely and to abstain from even the smallest quantity of alcohol in any form. If they are willing to follow this course, and to take advantage of the help available to them, a whole new life can open up for the alcoholic.
(Copyright AA France South West Intergroup 2011)
I met AA in a funny farm in Oxfordshire which contained about 20% of those with an alcohol problem and 80% of ordinary lunatics. Two days after I appeared I was more or less pushed into a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous which took place in a hut in the garden. Members of AA had organised a weekly meeting in the place to be there if there were any inmates desperate enough to do something about their problem and then only if they had faced the truth that they had a problem.
I sat and listened to what was said and took in very little. I hadn’t had a drink for 72 hours so was not in the best of condition. Someone got hold of me after the meeting and asked if I’d like to go, the following Wednesday, to another AA meeting at Burford. I agreed, of course, because it meant getting out for a while. The same person continued to pick me up in his car and take me to various other AA meetings. I found it difficult to sit still for an hour and a half which was how long they seemed to last.
In retrospect I had no particular honest desire to stay sober but so enjoyed the fact that there were people who seemed to care. In truth I had reached the end of the road. As far as I knew there was nobody who gave a damn whether I lived or died. I had completely messed up my life from every angle. So, because these people in AA seemed to care a bit and because I thought the price of them continuing to be nice to me was that I didn’t have a drink, I didn’t have one.
I stayed in that place for some months, partly because I thought the insurance company was going to pick up the bill (I was wrong) and partly because my wife, who still vaguely existed, wasn’t keen for me to come home. Nor was I, come to that. Anyway I went home eventually and it wasn’t going to work. Too much muck had gone under the bridge. I stayed VERY close to AA, I suppose because I felt happier there than at home.
Eventually I left the Isle of Wight and the marriage and went to London. Life has not always been easy but I have stayed sober by which I mean I have handled life without an anesthetic of any sort. It’s got much easier as time has gone by. As I’m sure you know Alcoholism is a 3 fold illness; mental, physical and spiritual. An alcoholic, or at any rate this one, did a great deal of damage to each of the three aspects of the illness. The physical aspect made a quick recovery. The brain damage (for that is what it is) took longer and the spiritual side longer still.
It’s a long time since I had my last drink. I’ve stayed very close to AA, partly out of a sense of insurance and partly to tell others, if they are desperate enough, that it’s possible to have a life without alcohol or, as in my case, any mind altering substances. Sadly amazingly few alcoholics like me ever get well. It’s so simple. Don’t have the first drink.
Written by Robin, Mirande Group.
(Copyright AA France South West Intergroup 2014)
Keeping it simple
Growing up I had an unusual childhood in as much as my father took us all to live in central Africa and my brother, sister and I had very little formal education. My mother and some other mothers in the same position got together and did their best to teach us kids what they remembered from their schooling.We didn’t know anything much about pop music or football teams and players back in Britain. We moved house regularly while in Africa and rarely left the safety of the gardens which were mostly surrounded by high walls with broken glass cemented into the top. During my early teens we moved back to England and entered the School system. I spoke English without any kind of regional accent which made me sound very posh and I was quickly singled out and bullied for that and for not knowing anything about normal things like fashions, football, music and stuff like that. I really felt like I didn’t fit in. I couldn’t catch up at School with what the other children were learning plus what I did learn was regularly beaten back out of me.
Anyway leaping forward past several good lessons in how to fight I eventually left School with no qualifications. I began work immediately and struggled there too. I remember getting drunk for the first time in a pub in our local village and vomited all the way home and in bed too. Over the next few years I found I was more care free around others when drinking and my friends appeared to like me that way, though often I would recall the days that I was bullied at school and would start fights and randomly attack strangers or friends feeling a sense of vengeance.
I will leap right ahead here to when my life had become so dependent on Alcohol that I was destroying all romantic relationships and friendships not to mention destroying my relationships with my direct family. Life had become anything but simple, it had become my own private war zone. At one point I had decided to try and cut down and control my drinking often changing my drinking habits like where I drank and what type of alcohol I drank. I began to hate being seen drunk so I discovered speed (Amphetamines), stimulants to help me stay sober while drinking and that made things even worse in untold ways that I won’t go into. By now I had spent a short time in prison and was living out all the scenarios that I always said I would draw the line at and stop drinking before I got that bad. My standards were dropping at a frightening rate along with my self respect. I eventually decided to stop drinking all together. I often managed a couple of weeks but in reality failure after failure was the result as I kept thinking I would be ok to drink again after I had left off for a while. By now I was plummeting downward so far that I had lost all hope of feeling like a decent respectable person and knew that I was just some fool that was never supposed to fit in as normal anyway. I truly believed that this was how it was supposed to be for me, a natural progression from not fitting in as a young lad to being an adult, criminal, village idiot and public enemy number one rolled into one. I had moved to Scotland in the hope that my drinking would fit in better there. I discovered that, wasn’t to be either. So cutting a very long story even shorter, failure seemed to be the only constant and broken promises my only worth. One night I sat on a sand dune looking out at the blackness and the coldness of the north sea on a beach in Montrose in the Northeast of Scotland and wanted so much to walk into the bleak freezing water and end it all but couldn’t pluck up the courage, I was even a failure at that.
That night I prayed that if there really was a god up there, could he please give me at least a terminal illness that would do the job for me. I totally missed the irony in the fact that I already had one, it was called alcoholism and would have done the job very efficiently and finally destroy the hearts of my loving family too along with me. In the morning I woke up and instead of making anymore promises to my girlfriend, I looked at my hands and wished I could chop them off so that I couldn’t pick up another drink. But I had a light bulb type idea bing on in my head and thought of something that I had never ever considered before; I looked in the yellow pages and found the number for Alcoholics Anonymous. I rang and arranged to go to a meeting, I still didn’t know if I was an actual alcoholic but I never wanted to drink again and believed that these people would have the answer to that. If they tell me to chop off my hands to stop, I will gladly do it. I went along to my first meeting and for me I felt like I had come home at last. No one told me to chop off my hands which I am now grateful for but for sure if they had just said sit down and make some more promises and swear never to drink again and see what happens, I would have trudged my way back to that sand dune and asked for the courage to end it all. Instead there was a plan of action that was nothing like anything I had tried so far….thank goodness for that. I heard stories similar to mine and people spoke of the same feelings that I had been having and how they dealt with those and what happened. That day was over 21 years ago, one day at a time and I have never taken a drink again. I’m not saying you’ll be like me but if you feel like I felt then you are like I was then and there is an answer that can help you change that and help others too without losing your hands.
The best of it all was that I had very little education and I’m a plain and simple type of guy that doesn’t do well when things get too complicated, so this Simple program was as perfect for me as it is for the clever guys. There are all sorts of people in AA. Highly educated, highly uneducated like me but we are all the same and it shows when we speak of how we felt and how we feel now. I heard plenty of different stories in AA but what was always the same was the way we all felt. So if a new comer comes to their first meeting, they can here plenty of differences if they look for them in the details of peoples backgrounds, but I’m glad I listened to the way people felt. That’s what made me realize I was the same and start doing what was suggested and got better, one day at a time.
I now live in France with my lovely wife and loving family.
Chris C Member of the Perigueux Monday and Wednesday night English speaking meetings at Chancelade Abbey. South West France.
(Copyright AA France South West Intergroup 2014)