Experience, Strength and Hope.Life in the South of France, on the Cote d’Azur – the sun and the sea, and thoughts of chilled Provençal rosé wine, lovely but not for me. I am an alcoholic.
My drinking career started aged 14 when I discovered the feeling of love and warmth my friend alcohol gave me. My drinking career ended just over 40 years later when alcohol had become my own worst enemy. It was first suggested to me I was I an alcoholic at the age of 17, and I repeatedly spent a month in rehab in London until May 2002, only to drink on the way home from the hospital. I continually refused to accept that I had a problem with alcohol.
An English expatriate friend, living in Paris from June 2010, soon asked, “Do you think you have a problem with alcohol?” He gave me a list of English-speaking meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous in Paris, of which there were more than 30 a week. I went to my first AA meeting in February 2011, and was sober and not sober over the next fifteen months. I had periods of sobriety, well to be honest, I had periods of not drinking; I was never sober in the true meaning of the word. These dry periods ranged from a few days to a month, and once three months. I lied. I cheated. I denied I was an alcoholic. I was, I am, a classic example of denial. Me? No. I don’t have a problem with alcohol. I could not admit it, only deny it.
Early in 2012, the chance to move from Paris to Nice arose, to do the job I was already doing and the job I loved. The date was set for June 1st, 2012. I went on a drinking spree on May 21st. That spree was to cost me my job. I was on my knees. Alcohol, King Alcohol, was in control of me.
I had no reason to stay in Paris and I took the decision to move to Nice as planned, although jobless. The contract was signed on an apartment. I was going to share with the Paris friend who had given me the information on Alcoholics Anonymous. I had an AA sponsor (another woman alcoholic who acts as a trusted friend and guide) who agreed to help me when I was 2 days sober, and who still is my sponsor. I had a list of AA meetings on the Côte d’Azur. It was time to stop the denial.
My first meeting in Nice was Tuesday June 12th, 2012. I was 18 days sober. I felt humiliated. I was frightened. I cried openly. I was ashamed of myself. I didn’t listen or pay attention in Paris. I didn’t want to. I wasn’t an alcoholic. Now I was an alcoholic and I had to listen. This was the beginning of the rest of my life. One day at a time. A phrase that is vital to my sobriety. The idea of not ever having an alcoholic drink again seems impossible. The idea of not having an alcoholic drink today is easier to accept and that is key to how AA works, One Day at a Time.
As I write, I am now 20 months and some days sober. There’s been laughter and tears, there have been highs and lows, there still is laughter and tears, there still are highs and lows; however, I am sober and it is amazing. People told me “keep coming back” and I have done so. I continue to do so. For me, the spirit of Alcoholics Anonymous is one of hope. People have shared their experience (what brought them to AA), their strength (what keeps them coming back to AA) and their hope (what lies ahead so long as we do not take that first drink).
There are 13 English-speaking meetings weekly in Nice alone. That’s 2 per day except on Monday. There are a total of 32 meetings per week along the Côte d’Azur ranging from Monaco in the east to Aix-en-Provence and Montpellier in the west. There is a 24-hour a day helpline. There are numbers of members to call on the AA Meeting List. There is a website with all this information on it. There is a wealth of literature available. Above all, there are people who understand and anyone with a desire to stop drinking has every opportunity to do so.
The incredible variety of meetings on the Côte d’Azur means there is something for everyone to hear. There are literature-based meetings, meetings where alcoholics share their stories, meetings based on the 12 Steps that are the principles that each alcoholic bases his or her life on, meetings for newcomers – everyone had a day one, even people who are now several years sober and indeed me too, as my story tells you. In all meetings, there is one unique thing – you meet, you hear and you talk with other alcoholics. By meeting and talking with another sober alcoholic it is possible to stay sober.
The variety of people in Alcoholics Anonymous is enormous – all nationalities, businessmen and women, people who came for a holiday and stayed, writers and artists attracted by the beauty of the South of France, housewives and hoteliers, the unemployed making a living as they can and many others. Alcoholism is an illness for which there is no known cure at the moment. It is a disease that has been likened to an allergy. It is a disease that sets off “the phenomenon of craving” and like any disease it can affect anyone. Alcoholics understand each other and by sharing their incredible journeys and their day-to-day life with each other, we stay sober. One Day at a Time.
My rock bottom can be summed up in a sentence taken from a true story of recovery as it appears in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous: "She finally realised that when she enjoyed her drinking, she couldn’t control it and when she controlled it, she couldn’t enjoy it."
Today I don’t need to drink thanks to the wonderful programme of Alcoholics Anonymous that exists here on the Côte d’Azur. AA was readily available to me when I came to live here. I was looked after and encouraged to go to meetings, to ring people, to go for coffee, to put books away at the end of meetings and to make tea. I am extremely grateful for every suggestion made! Now, I try to do my bit to carry the message to those who still suffer and who have not yet found the rooms of AA. To those of us afflicted with alcoholism, sobriety is a gift and it has been suggested I “pass it on”. It is another suggestion that I am very happy to follow.
By AA member, South of France
Contact English-speaking AA South of France on 0820 200 257 or see www.aa-riviera.org