'I saw a wee chink of light': reformed alcoholic who has been sober for 40 years says AA saved his life

A member of Alcoholics Anonymous in Northern Ireland describes how the organisation saved his life
A member of Alcoholics Anonymous in Northern Ireland describes how the organisation saved his life

AN east Belfast man who helped set up an AA group in Cairo and has been sober for almost 40 years has credited the organisation with saving his life.

'John', a former head boy at school who won a scholarship to university to studying engineering, discovered and began abusing alcohol at the age of 16.

He is now in his early 70s and continues to attend AA meetings at least three times a week.

"I came from a working class background with a father working in the shipyard and a mother who was addicted to valium. I was always a high achiever but it difficult to express my emotions - alcohol changed that," he said.

After completing a masters degree in psychology he went to sea working as a marine engineer.

AA's first meeting in Belfast in 1948 recalledOpens in new window ]

"At that point I could have been consuming a bottle of vodka a day. It all end with an altercation in Panama and I was discharged.

"One morning I woke up on the kitchen floor and my wife, who is still with me, gave me a look I'll never forget. It was then that I rang AA and asked for help."

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Having tried different addiction services over the previous decade, AA took a different approach by focussing on "emotions and feelings", according to John.

"It was September 1978 when I first made the call. I can remember standing at the bus-stop outside the office thinking I can't go in. A guy came out and ushered me.

"He started asking me all about my insecurities, all the things that go along with alcoholism. I began to see a wee chink of light."

Within four months, John was sober.

"Since January 2, 1979, I have not had one conscious thought about drinking. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for AA," he added.

John's career took off, with his work taking him to Egypt, Syria, India and the Ukraine.

During this period he suffered his first heart attack in Cairo. He was just 35-years-old.

"Thankfully I got the right medical help but I would later have another two," he said.

"I was out there with my family and I knew a lot of guys from the American embassy, some of them were alcoholics, so I decided to start a group. It became really popular."

Leaving the Irish News's Donegall Street offices on a spring morning last week - nearby the address that housed the first meeting - John said he was "taking a walk up to the Lisburn Road".

"I'm heading to a meeting. We have to give our message away to other people to keep it going."