THE world lit up and fear and anxiety faded when 12-year-old “Nicole” had her first alcoholic drink.
Her father was a violent alcoholic who made the family’s life a misery, but the whiskey her friend smuggled to a sleepover changed all that.
“I’d found the answer to life. It stopped the fear and I just drank until I passed out,” Nicole says.
On reaching adulthood, drinking to oblivion became an almost daily event, destroying relationships and nurturing self loathing.
“I turned into someone I wasn’t,” she says.
“I would become belligerent and sarcastic, or overly friendly and do something I wouldn’t normally do.”
Nicole held down a job and raised children, but waking up with no memory of the previous night took a toll.
“I wondered what I did and who I needed to apologise to…and the guilt, shame and absolute terror because I knew I couldn’t stop.”
Eight years after joining AA she hasn’t had a drink, and completed a university degree to become a health professional.
All thanks to a friend giving her the AA’s Big Book.
“I identified with it immediately,” Nicole says.
She attended an AA meeting in Beaconsfield shortly afterwards, returned the next day, and has never looked back.
She concedes it was hard going at first: “I cried for three weeks.”
AA member stories are very similar, says “Bob”, who spotted Nicole across the cafe and came over to check she was okay.
Keeping an eye out for each other’s welfare is part of being in the AA “family”.
Bob, who’s been on the wagon for 34 years, says alcoholism is more complex than downing the contents of a bottle.
“Biology kicks in, and where a heavy drinker at the end of the night says ‘I’m done’, you’re still going because you have a craving you can’t stop.”
It’s a “mental obsession with alcohol”, Nicole agrees, “A physical, allergic reaction.”
Anyone can turn up unannounced to the free AA sessions – the only requirement is a desire to stop drinking – and while there’s a spiritual element to the 12-step program, it’s not aligned to any religion or group.
For more information on the meetings across Fremantle, Melville and Cockburn go to aaperthwa.org or call the helpline 1300 222 222.
by JENNY D’ANGER