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Young People in Recovery


Three young people in recovery shared their experiences of personal transformation on their journey from alcoholism to sobriety when they addressed a Greencoat Forum on 11 June 2013 at the London centre of Initiatives of Change. Ollie H, Elizabeth R and Pravin I told how recovery starts with an act of humility: acknowledging one’s powerlessness. For each of them, this was triggered by someone else sharing their story, who’d been through the same struggle.

The evening’s presentation included a short film from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a talk back session and live music played by Les D and Jim S.
The Nature of Alcoholism

In his opening remarks, Kelly Burks, who was chairing the event and who also works for a charity helping young men with drug and alcohol problems at Feltham Young Offenders, outlined the distressing nature and problem of alcohol:

‘Alcoholism is a malady that cuts through the entire social strata. Many alcoholic drinkers suffer from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.’ He outlined the destructive nature of excessive use of alcohol in today’s society, which also affects young people:

• The UK has one of the highest rates in Europe for A&E admissions of 15-16 year olds due to alcohol use with some 13,000 hospital admissions each year linked to young peoples drinking; (Source: Dept. of Education – ESPAD Survey (2009))

• There were an estimated 917,000 violent, alcohol related incidents in 2011/2012;(Source: Office for National Statistics)

• Alcohol misuse is a factor in 30% of suicides each year;(Source: Mental Health Foundation)

Kelly also reported that an estimated 70% of young men in Feltham Young Offenders have a problem with drink or drugs. These young men are ‘shaped by their environments’ and caught in a ‘revolving door of relapse and re-offending’, only to serve years behind bars due to alcohol-related problems, because they cannot stop drinking on their own.
Surrender and Powerlessness

Elizabeth R commented: ‘… alcohol was what brought me to my knees. I hated the person that I was and I wanted to do something to change it’. The human traits of self-centeredness and pride can stand in the way for many alcoholics, Elizabeth confessed: ‘In my head the Elizabeth movie is constantly playing, where I am the star and have an Oscar winning role. I had to have the humility that I am not special - I am just another alcoholic.’

Finding someone you can trust and who understands is part of recovery: ‘The relief from sharing my story with my sister – [also a recovering alcoholic] – helped me feel that I was not alone. [...] Being young and in recovery has given me my life back. I surrender to a higher power as I don’t want to die today.’ Elizabeth explained that a Higher Power for her is not religious but simply a power greater than her.

Pravin I talked about how alcohol controlled his life, caused his family suffering and how recovery enabled him to make amends with the people he hurt: ‘My drinking got to the point where I was going to AA just to get my family off my back. [...] What AA has done for me in working the Steps, getting sober, is to get rid of my obsession in thinking about drink every day. I have managed to get my life together and make amends with the people I hurt [...] It was one of the most precious things at the end of my mum’s life - she got to see me sober.‘
The Evidence for Young People in Sobriety

The powerful stories shared by each young person provided real evidence that human attitude can change at any stage of life. Sobriety can be achieved for young people regardless of circumstances and background. The question was asked: ‘How could we do better with the medical profession?‘ A doctor associated with Feltham and the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust (RAPT) commented: ‘What is likely to persuade is what works - there is evidence in the reduction of reoffending or relapse through AA’s 12-Steps’. It was reported that the National Institute of Health and Care of Excellence (NICE) has recently incorporated 12-Step programmes in its advice to doctors.
Alcoholics Anonymous Early Links to the Oxford Group

Ollie H gave an impassioned account of AA’s history and the synergy with the Oxford Group, which later evolved to become Initiatives of Change. He detailed how AA is indebted to Frank Buchman, the Oxford Group’s founder, whose action and beliefs encouraged the co-founders of AA to ‘surrender their lives to God’ for a reformed life. This act of surrender to a ‘Higher Power’ underpins AA’s 12-Steps for recovery and sobriety.

He spoke of Dr Carl Jung’s view of alcoholism as a ‘spiritual malady’ and his contribution in helping alcoholics: ‘Jung said [to Rowland Hazard III, an alcoholic who became an early member of the Oxford group]: “My human power cannot relieve you. However, it is possible for spiritual experiences where a person is relieved by some kind of “surrender to God” […] my recommendation is to align yourself with a religious movement and surrender.” ’

Inspired by these early role models, Ollie commented: ‘I am a person who’s been struck by lightning from being a dying alcoholic. People have been put in places, on my path by what I see as the hand of God. I surrendered in 2007 and I haven’t taken a drink or drug since that day.’


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