When alcohol drinks you. Alcoholics anonymous in Bali

"Encounter with understanding is the first step towards healing." In Bali, there is a huge number of gatherings, groups based on interests, sports, art, even science. But not always do people unite for fun, sometimes it is a serious problem, the solution to which is much easier to find together. We are talking about the AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) community in Bali. Here they help individuals return to a normal, healthy, and fulfilling life by providing them with tools and resources to combat the disease known as alcoholism.
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Fighting this ailment is a complex task. And it's much easier to cope with it when you have the support of people who understand you and have already walked part of the way. The famous "12-step program," recognized worldwide, has become salvation for many people striving to break free from addiction, not only alcohol-related. It first appeared in 1935, and we'll talk about it in more detail.
To give you an idea of how widely recognized AA is worldwide, I'll list several individuals who are its members. You may have heard of them. Mel Gibson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jessica Simpson, Joe Manganiello, Daniel Radcliffe, Drew Barrymore, Demi Lovato, Lindsay Lohan, and many others. Since the society is anonymous, these individuals themselves chose to make their participation in the program known.
Despite the significance of the alcoholism problem, it is not customary in our society to openly discuss it. This makes the work of Alcoholics Anonymous even more important, as they provide a safe space for open discussion and support.
We met with representatives of the AA group in Bali. They shared their experiences, talked about how the "12-step program" works, and how it helps people overcome this cruel addiction.
We discussed in detail with members of the Alcoholics Anonymous society what it is all about, who it can help, and also delved a little into the history of the society. At the end of the interview, you will find a real story that happened on the island. Several people gave me the interview, but I intentionally combined them into one character to preserve the individuality of experiences and the anonymity of the storytellers.
BaliLife: How did your society come about? What is your program based on?
AA: It happened historically in 1935. This was the year the "12-step program" came into being. It happened as a result of a conversation between a stockbroker and a doctor. They were Bill Wilson and Robert Holbrook Smith, known to AA members as "Bill W." and "Dr. Bob." They met in the city of Akron, Ohio, USA. Well, that's where it all started. We are not an organization in the conventional sense of the word. This is a community to which we are only related, perhaps, as members. Well, also as servants.
Today there are hundreds of thousands of groups, millions of participants around the world, practically in any known language. Our organization, as we say, has an inverted management pyramid - a service system that goes from the bottom up, so to speak. Any two anonymous alcoholics familiar with this program, gathering together somewhere in any part of the world, can call themselves a group of anonymous alcoholics.
In other words, there is no global leader, president, or owner of all communities. There is a main office, but, as I said, it deals with servicing, that is, helping those who organize and lead the group. Essentially, all this is independent, people are united only by a common idea and program. There are no membership fees, no membership cards. Everything is absolutely free and without any obligations on the part of visitors.
You can choose any Alcoholics Anonymous group anywhere in the world. Come in, introduce yourself as an alcoholic, and everything you say will be accepted as true. It's completely voluntary; we don't force anyone to be part of this community, to leave it, or to join it; it's a personal matter for each individual. And, of course, it's completely anonymous. We fully maintain the anonymity of our members at the level of the press, radio, and television. In other words, we don't advertise ourselves through the program. We only make the principles of this program attractive, which help us and other people who are part of the community to stay sober and help other alcoholics stay sober.
BL: Why did you decide to create this group in Bali?
AA: In February 2019, several members of our community decided that we would like those living on the island to have the opportunity to participate in the "12-step program". Not all of us speak English, so attending English-speaking groups has always been challenging. Moreover, there are people who come here, for example, on vacation, and our program involves regular actions even on vacation. And one of the actions offered is attending meetings. In 2019, we organized ourselves, and almost immediately the pandemic hit. During this time, we transitioned online.
Online meetings are a whole different story. Groups are conducted in almost all languages, meetings are held on Zoom, Skype, and other messengers. You can join and try anytime. Again, this is completely voluntary, free, and anonymous. You can find information on relevant websites and attend meetings online.
And so, for a while, we also met online. When the pandemic started to subside in 2021, we found a venue and started meeting in person again.
BL: Can you briefly explain the "12-step program" itself?
AA: For a long time, people suffering from alcoholism have been criticized. They were labeled with many diverse labels, in fact. About weak willpower, about destructive qualities, and so on. And only relatively recently, a certain group of people started from the premise that alcoholism is a disease. An illness. A disease not only of the body but also of the mind.
And from the moment when alcoholism began to be regarded as a disease, everything really took off.
It's important to say that the Alcoholics Anonymous program has a spiritual basis.
Because of this, prejudices may arise, but it is necessary to understand that our program is spiritual, but not religious. That is, it does not adhere in any way, in any form, to any existing religious denominations or anything similar. That is, spiritual experience is the possibility of this spiritual, moral turning point in the psyche necessary to deal with alcoholism.
The history of the Alcoholics Anonymous community is closely connected with many historical figures. And among them in the history of Alcoholics Anonymous, people like Carl Jung, Rockefeller and his nephew Roland Hazard, and people like Dr. William D. Silkworth are mentioned. And Bill Wilson was one of those who, in fact, invented or rather correctly said, interpreted these "12 steps" and wrote them in the form in which they are used to this day without changes. Some elements of the program were borrowed from other communities of that time, but, of course, the final result is unique.
There is a certain portion of people who, under no circumstances, can consume alcohol or any other substances without causing themselves constant and increasing harm. It's like a mechanism is triggered that ultimately leads them to a sad end, one way or another, and they cannot stop themselves. At the same time, they can understand and realize the full weight of what is happening.
For example, the first hundred members of the community, who were quite successful individuals, controlled all aspects of their lives except for alcoholism. Here we position alcoholism not as a problem of a person's character or as a lack of willpower, or that they are simply bad or poorly educated, but rather as a disease.
Furthermore, we identify a certain group of people who are afflicted with this disease and none of the existing methods of healing, starting from psychology and ending with isolation in monasteries or psychiatric hospitals, help them recover, but complete abstinence and adherence to the "12 steps" do help.
Alcoholism has two main symptoms.
Like any disease, alcoholism also has specific symptoms by which it can be identified. The first symptom is that a person cannot consume alcohol successfully in any quantity. We call this an allergy.
An allergy is an abnormal reaction of the body to something, to any substance. For example, if I have an allergy to strawberries, I eat them, and I get a red face, hives, or other manifestations. And these manifestations can be noticed.
However, when we diagnose an allergy to alcohol, there are no pronounced external symptoms that can be detected in a person. When I drink, I don't know, do you feel the same way when you drink? In other words, I think I'm drinking, and that's how everyone feels when they drink, but that's not the case.
This is the first problem, meaning I have an allergy to alcohol. And this allergy also manifests itself in the fact that I cannot stop once I have started drinking.
"Some ancient Chinese philosopher said that first a person consumes alcohol, then alcohol consumes alcohol, and then alcohol consumes the person." This is what happens with an alcoholic, and it is a manifestation of the allergy.
The second symptom is very important – it's mental obsession. It may seem that I have a problem with alcohol consumption. All I need to do is not drink. Just don't drink, and everything will be fine. But here lies the problem. A person who is prone to alcoholism or is an alcoholic has no psychological defense against the first drink. Sooner or later, he will start drinking anyway. Even knowing the consequences that await him and understanding that it will lead to his downfall in all areas of life, he cannot not drink. I cannot not drink. We cannot get rid of the physical part of our disease. I will be allergic to alcohol in five years, in ten, in fifteen, and until my death.
BL: In your view, who should come to your group? What is the effectiveness of your method? Whom can you help, whom not, and who might still be too early to seek help from you?
AA: If a person wishes to quit drinking, they have the right to come to an Alcoholics Anonymous group, stay, and consider themselves a member of the Alcoholics Anonymous community. There is a physical aspect and a psychological aspect. For me, the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is a community that unites people who have suffered from alcoholism to some extent. The program helps people with chronic addiction. Because those who can overcome it on their own rarely stay with us. Only an alcoholic can help another alcoholic, understand them, that is, there will be identification, a living example. What happens at the first meetings, the inspiration that people get. A person gets to know us, and since the program is absolutely non-religious, it is suitable for anyone, regardless of their wealth, religious beliefs, religion, whether they are agnostic or atheist, and regardless of their social circle, because the disease does not divide us into wealth or any other categories.
Among us, people of absolutely different spheres, faiths, and wealth recover. And besides attending meetings, of course, we also have one-on-one work with sponsors, your mentors. We have a favorite saying: "How do you relax? I just don't stress."
I just don't stress out as much anymore, so I don't have to resort to any substance, that's it. Well, and, actually, the effect of the program. The effect of the program is solving all external and internal problems.
BL: Is there any time frame? How long does it take to complete the program?
АА: In my mind, it's ingrained at the level of neural connections that pain can be alleviated with some substances. To constantly remember about my illness, there is a principle of the 12th step, which is helping others. So as soon as I go through the program with a sponsor, I start giving back this program, and consequently, in this chain, by helping each other, we help ourselves. As I mentioned before, only an alcoholic can understand and help another alcoholic.
Thus, in this program, we are for life. But don't let that scare you, because besides working groups, we have social gatherings, we go to events, we relax, we spend time together. Like they say at marathons now, in terms of money and social circles, the society I'm involved in shapes me. And here, the necessary society is formed, essentially, an alcoholic just learns to live. Yes, an alcoholic learns to just be a good person and simply live, essentially, it's all very simple. And we are surrounded by similar people, we share the same interests, we find groups based on interests, some of us surf, some go hiking, some go to parties, some bake cakes, basically, anything goes.
In addition to recovery, we also relax together, we gain a circle of new friends, warm, loyal, devoted, wonderful. And we live this new life of happiness, joy, and freedom.
BL: You mentioned that the effectiveness of the program is close to 100%?
АА: Look, if I follow the program, it can't be done at 30% or 70%. It's like going to the doctor and being prescribed three tablets. I can't choose for myself which tablets I will take and which I won't. Therefore, if I do all the actions prescribed by the step program, then I don't know people who do not recover spiritually. From this obsessive thinking of ours. It's quite difficult to track complete effectiveness, there are people who come and then go to other groups. But, for example, when I came, I didn't stay right away, I came, left, and left again, relapsed, but I still came back here. Here I can live in society, live my normal life and get used to it.
BL: And are there enough places for everyone interested?
АА: Yes, for now, but we hope that we will have to expand. We hope that more people in Bali will learn that the problem of alcoholism can be solved.
BL: How is anonymity maintained? How do you deal with it?
АА: Anonymity is maintained by not using our names.
You can give yourself any convenient name. Naturally, we do not store or distribute any data about the visitors of our society.
BL: So what do these 12 steps represent?
АА: I think it's better to say in general what these steps represent; going into detail is too long and doesn't make sense, especially since they are detailed in the book "12 Steps". It's mostly just communication and working with sponsors. I'll tell you how I see it. For me, the steps represent spiritual principles. That is, each step contains some spiritual principles that I can practice through specific actions. For example, if I come to a meeting and state my name and add that I'm an alcoholic, I'm practicing the principle of honesty.
If I've been lying to other people my whole life and saying that no, I'm not an alcoholic, everything is fine, I'm in control, I can stop at any moment, then this action of admitting I'm an alcoholic in a safe atmosphere in the group is important. I'm practicing the principle of honesty.
And so, each of the steps is associated with specific actions that I need to perform to practice these principles.
And eventually, these actions help me apply these spiritual principles in all aspects of my life. This ultimately leads me to spiritual awakening. That is, to the moral turning point necessary for my psyche to get rid of this obsessive idea of ​​using. My life as an alcoholic is an example of egoism in all its manifestations. And such a egocentric life is filled with endless suffering. Because I'm constantly in conflict with the world around me because it's not how I want it to be.
The "12 Steps" program is my way out of this egocentrism and finding some spiritual support in my life that fills, first of all, my life with meaning, it eliminates all this horror of existence. And these 12 steps, essentially, are about tidying up my life, such a general cleaning, eliminating those defects of my character, shortcomings that prevent me from experiencing a beautiful spiritual experience, being happy, joyful, free.
BL: Tell us about the book with the "12 steps", please.
АА: It's called the Big Book. Essentially, it's a manual, and you just need to take it and read it with your sponsor. On your own, with your sick mind, you'll read between the lines. It's a complete description of alcoholism from A to Z and a clear instruction on what needs to be done. All our actions are based on this book.
When Bill and Bob decided that we needed literature to spread our ideas and attract those alcoholics who are still suffering, the community didn't have any money back then. Well, the community still isn't sponsored by anyone. We exist solely on the voluntary contributions of our members. But literature was needed. As a result, to print the first version of the "Big Book," the cheapest paper available was used in the printing house. I'll remind you, this was quite a while ago, and sheets of cheap paper were much thicker than expensive ones at that time. The initial version of this book was thick not because there was a lot of information in it, but because it was printed on cheap paper. In general, the book is a manual, an instruction for treatment.
BL: How do meetings go, and how does working with a sponsor happen?
AA: Three times a week, we have general meetings, and working with a sponsor is done in a different place, by choice, wherever it's more convenient for them. It's important to remember that you can find online meetings constantly, practically at any time of day and in most languages. There are thousands of them worldwide. Working with a sponsor, however, is individual; how much time, where, and when, all of this is discussed and decided between them personally.
BL: How is a sponsor chosen?
AA: It happens intuitively. It's called finding a sponsor. So, there's a sponsor and a sponsee. Nobody makes it their job. It's always an act of altruism from one person to another. And nobody is higher or lower. One person just shares their experience with another person. A sponsor can be any person, any member of Alcoholics Anonymous who already has experience going through the steps in the Big Book.
BL: Is there any specific time, distance at which you can say that a person has recovered, successfully completed the program?
AA: The 12-step program is not some kind of training that you can complete, hang a diploma on the wall, and go live your new life. Because alcoholism is a chronic, progressive, incurable, and life-threatening disease. It turns out that these spiritual principles initiated in the steps and actions that I take to practice these principles, as an alcoholic, I need to do constantly because otherwise my disease will return, the same obsession of the mind will return to me, and since my allergy hasn't gone anywhere, I will inevitably start drinking again and as a result, probably die from it. Essentially, it's like a patient with some other serious and severe illness, like a patient with asthma who uses an inhaler; they don't ask themselves when their asthma will go away. Or like a person with diabetes who uses insulin. Few people would probably be willing to sacrifice their entire lives for treatment without understanding how serious their condition is. In our Russian culture, alcoholism is essentially part of this culture, so it's very difficult for us to go through this. Sooner or later, I think, any alcoholic reaches a point of complete despair when he realizes that nothing helps him, he can't stop, and everything is going downhill. And at this moment of despair, I think it's very important for him to know about the existence of Alcoholics Anonymous, to understand that he's not alone, that there are people who will understand him. In fact, this community saves lives. And at the moment of this despair, a person doesn't ask questions like how much time it will take to enlighten him and so on. He comes to save his life. And when it comes to life and death, all these trading processes simply fade into the background.
I would say that thanks to this program, I have achieved a result in the daily, hourly, constant feeling that I now have what I once used alcohol for, but at the same time, I am no longer dying and not causing harm to the surrounding world, to my loved ones, to myself.
Story from one person's life.
One of our friends called for help because his partner was on Bali in a ten-day binge. She had nothing left to pay for accommodation, and she hadn't been in touch or doing her online work for over a week. He was very worried about her and asked us to at least go to her address and possibly help in some way, or at least check if she was alive and what was happening with her. Our anonymous brother told our girls about it because in our community, girls talk to girls and guys talk to guys. The next morning, we went to her. We spent a whole day with her, talked, laughed, cried, cleaned up her room, watched a great movie. She sobered up for a few more days, and then she came to our "Just for Today" group in Seminyak. And she has been recovering ever since. She stayed on Bali for a month, she has now returned to her hometown and continues to recover there. And she still has a sponsor in Bali. And to this day, they go through the "12 steps" program together online. It was precisely after this that we thought that there may be people who do not know about our existence, but who have similar problems and need help. And we would like to inform people about us, about the fact that we exist, about the fact that there is a way out, about the fact that you can live with this disease. Moreover, you can not just live, but live happily.
Contact Information:
AA global website in English: https://aabali.org/meetings-2/
Phone: +62-819-1838-1227
Address: JI Drupadi No. 101, https://maps.app.goo.gl/QUViNerJTrnSo7vC7
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