Sunday, October 3, 2010

Alcoholism in London

You can't help but notice the pubs and bars everywhere. When I lived here 25 years ago they were on every corner. The pub was such a part of life that they seemed integral to the community. Now that's changed. Just as smokers are standing on street corners there are coffee houses everywhere.
I've just come from a 12 step meeting too. Over the years I've met and communicated with many doctors who have sobered up in AA from the UK. There's a powerful recovery movement among the British doctors. Such a change from my internship years when I'd met English and especially Irish trained physicians who drank matter of factly on call and one colorful fellow who took obstetrics call from the pub. The rising consciousness of the ill effects of alcohol abuse parallel the consciousness about the ills of tobacco. I'd heard obesity was a problem here but compared to the overt evidence of this in the US I've simply not seen it. My friend attributes that to all those subway stairs.
Not only do I remember myself after a night working as a weekend bar tender falling into hedgerows back, then it seemed somewhat of the norm. That said I've been here a few days and simply not seen any public drunkenness the likes of what I recall. That's not a scientifically or epidemiologically sound observation. Just my happy experience. Back then it was the end of the 60s and the early 70's and of course we were all young. The same goes on for sure to some extent but perhaps I'm just thankful to not have it so in my face. The same is occurring I believe as what has occurred with the smokers. As a former smoker I remember my attitude was that you should cut me some slack. That sense of entitlement just went with the territory but I don't see that now. Not with smoking and increasingly not with drinking. It's frowned upon and people are increasingly aware of the dangers.
I found this meeting tonight near Earl's Court. It was in my Iphone application called "STEPSAWAY". Coupled with the GPS it's again located a meeting for me near where I'm staying. The first time I was helped this way was visiting my Dad in Ottawa. He's 91. Telling him about how I'd found an AA meeting with my phone and how the GPS had located it and how I'd followed the flashing dot impressed him to no end. We're so very fortunate in our recovery process today. It was only 75 years ago that there was simply no hope for alcoholics and no cures known. Thanks to Bill and Dr. Bob it's been recognized that abstinence is itself a daily cure. Today there are Detox Units, Treatment Programs, Recovery Houses, Doctors are taught about Alcoholism and the benefits of AA, and even tell their patients. There are meetings everywhere and increasingly the means to finding them gets easier and easier.
Tonight a gentleman gave me a booklet from AA Southern Service Office, Jacob House, 3-5 Cynthia Street, London N1 9JF. Each week there's 60 pages of meetings that can be accessed with just a phone call to 020 7833 0022 in London. And that's just AA. There are Al Anon Meetings, for the families and friends of alcoholics. Then there's the meetings for all those with nearly any form of addiction from narcotics, cocaine, food, sex and even shopping as well. It's quite the recovery movement.
He also gave me SHARE, "Our Meeting Between Meetings", The Fellowships Recovery Magazine.
I confess I'd not thought AA such a big phenomena in London even though it's everywhere in Vancouver where I come from. I'd thought the same before going to Mexico City and learning that there's pretty well an AA meeting everywhere there as well.
I shared at this meeting that I was visiting from Vancouver. I also shared that my recollection of Earl's Court was a vague drunken night with Australians. Naturally I blamed the drunkeness on the Australians and English as a good Canadian boy such as myself would never abuse alcohol alone. However much to my own surprise without any help from Australians and English back in Canada I continued to drink to excess. I shared that I was happy today that I could now associate Earl's Court with sobriety.
Alcoholism is present in London but the cure is equally alive and well.
One young well coiffed and attractive woman shared that she'd let her drinking get out of hand and had gone to a very expensive treatment center in town only to be told that she had to go to AA. In AA she'd found the spiritual solution she'd not now found in a bottle.
It was liked Dr. Carl Jung joked, alcoholics were spiritual people looking for the spirit and getting lost in the spirits.
I'd been out for dinner a couple of nights here and seen all the once comforting old names, Jamieson, Pinot Noir, Bushmills, Seagrams, Cabernet, Guinness. They don't sound comforting today. Indeed they sound like the Sportsman, Players, Rothman's and other such names do to me.
When I was working here more than 25 years ago I think I thought drinking and smoking were manly too. I'm thankful that I have a different sense of manhood today.

Tomorrow I fly out to Milan for the International Society of Addiction Medicine's conference at the university there. I joked with fellow tonight who'd lived in Vancouver and knew a Brad there he'd once sponsored. I told him that I really hadn't got drunk in the past for myself but as research for the benefit of mankind. We certainly laughed at that. We get drunk because we like it. It's fun. It's fun and trouble. Then it's trouble. The secret is knowing that you don't have to take the down elevator all the way to the bottom but you can get off at any floor.

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