Alcoholics Anonymous helps English speakers
By Kelly Frances
William recently celebrated his third year of sobriety, a feat he largely credits to international fellowship “Alcoholics Anonymous,” popularly known as “AA,” There is only one membership requirement: a desire to stop drinking.
Today, the veteran actor reflects upon his journey, the losses and gains that accompany sobriety, and the hardships that led him to the 12-step program at AA.
When asked what life without the bottle offers, he expresses cautious optimism.
“I was losing work regularly for showing up in poor condition, losing all of my money to my drinking, and having black-outs. Everything was deteriorating. Today, I have lost the temptation to drink, and am learning to cope with my life. I had to get a life, you see.”
Like many addicts, William knew he had a problem early on.
“I saw warning signs from the start,” he said. “I observed that there was absolutely no point whatsoever in sipping or savoring alcohol. I drank almost invariably to get drunk. Even after I had diagnosed myself as an alcoholic, I completely disregarded that fact. I had to keep going.”
“To be an alcoholic is to lack control while drinking,” explained psychiatrist Park Jin-seng, adding that the warning signs of alcoholism are consistent, and can be observed by family and friends — often before they are apparent to the alcoholic.
Visible signs include a consistent increase in consumption as tolerance builds, drinking alcohol instead of eating meals, solitary drinking, economic hardship, and regular black-outs, which Park believes to be “the most dangerous behavior.”
Indeed, it was William’s black-outs that ultimately led him to seek help.
“What finally scared the hell out of me was that if I drank, I blacked out, and if I blacked out anything could happen. And what happened during my drinking sprees got progressively worse. So, I came crawling into AA to save my life.”
In a culture that enjoys late night business gatherings with free flowing soju, the world’s best selling hard liquor, it can be difficult to differentiate between socially-induced drinking and true addiction.
William recalls his own first encounter with the Korean drinking scene, shortly after his arrival from Canada in 2002. What began as participation in congenial bonding led to a tumultuous battle with addiction.
“I was told that if I wanted to succeed in business here, I needed to drink. I subsequently believed that if I wanted relationships with women and to be less afraid, I needed to drink.”
“It is true that Korean society has a problem in its drinking culture,” added Park, “though alcoholism manifests itself in different forms.”
A commonly found type of addict is known as the “kitchen drinker,” or a householder who drinks in the kitchen secretly. In Korea, one in 10 householders aged 30-40 years suffer from this form of alcohol abuse. Disconcertingly, drunkenness is a common instigator of violence in the home.
A recent study by The Korea Legal Aid Center for Family Relations found that 59.1percent of assailants in domestic violence cases were drunk when they assaulted their partners. Some 25.7 percent of victims were intoxicated, and in 23.9 percent of reports, both the husband and the wife were drunk.
“Nowadays the prevalence of alcoholism is increasing, especially in the case of women,” Park said. “Groups such as AA or Al-Anon (Alcoholic Family) are not as active in Korea as in the U.S.”
“The treatment here is oriented to hospital therapy only. We need to develop more preventive methods, such as A.A., though it seems to me that Koreans are shy when it comes to expressing their feelings openly in front of other people.”
AA conducts approximately 29 English meetings a week throughout Korea, as well as providing a list of persons who serve as contact points in all areas of the country.
When it comes to seeking help, it’s important to remember that addiction does not discriminate.
“One encounters a compete cross section of human beings at meetings,” says William. “It’s not just the drunk in the park with the paper bag. (Alcoholism) affects every walk of life, [every] level of society.”
What would William say to those who think they have a problem, but are uncertain about taking action?
“If you can sit on the fence, you may be just fine and are in no need of AA or the help of a sponsor, the fellowship of AA or its 12 steps. If you cannot possibly sit on the fence, come on in. The water is fine.”
For more information about Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery related groups, visit www.aainkorea.org.