More than a drinking hub

Every week in the CBD there are 30 to 40 Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. There are early morning meetings, lunch time meetings and early evening meetings.

In fact, Melbourne’s first ever AA meeting was on Collins St in 1946, 10 years after the AA book was published in the US. 

“We call it the big book. It makes distinctions between heavy drinkers and alcoholics,” said Derek, who attends AA meetings in the Melbourne CBD.

Derek said the main difference was that an alcoholic has lost the ability to control how much they drink after they have one. For those people, the guidance of a program like AA can be invaluable. 

Derek started attending AA meetings just over seven years ago after a particularly bad Christmas incident. 

“I woke up in my office the next day and thought that’s it, I’ve had enough. I have values, most people do, and I was living beyond them,” he said.

“Towards the end of my drinking I’d signed myself up for a solo show in Melbourne Fringe as a way to distract myself from drinking. One of my mates who was helping me said he had friends who had gone to AA and it had worked for them.”

He pointed out that, while alcohol is obviously a big part of the CBD, so is AA.

The morning and evening meetings attract mostly CBD residents and travellers. The lunch time meetings are mostly city workers. 

Meeting structure and content varies depending on members and attendees. If newcomers are present, everyone is conscious to focus on what alcoholism is and the first steps to recovery.

If a meeting is full of long-term members, there might be a focus on literature and relating that to experience. 

And meetings can be open or closed, a detail that’s listed on the AA website. Walk-ins to open meetings are welcome, and that includes friends or family of alcoholics. 

Meetings often go through the 12-steps cycle, from step one to step 12 over 12 weeks.

“But if, for example, you’re on step three and you’ve been on it a number of times before, something always comes up because you’ve still got today. What did that mean for you today?”

While Derek has been going for seven years and never runs out of things to share in meetings, his wife Lisa has been going for 17. 

Lisa explained the AA principle of a higher power. For some people, this is the traditional religious concept, but for most it’s a simple recognition of needing help from others.

“For one guy, his higher power is a particular number tram, because it could go past Young & Jackson and he couldn’t.” 

Derek described the way that AA meetings can pull you out of alcoholism, or at least the way it worked for him.

He said that beyond the initial steps, the themes of helping others, staying out of your head and connecting with the world in positive ways stopped him from wanting a drink.

“Drinking is isolating, I just wanted to be on my own drinking,” he said.

“So the idea of being thrown into a large group of people who don’t want to drink and who help each other avoid drinking can change that whole mental situation.”

Find out more about AA here: 

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