II’m here because I woke up covered in blood,” says a tearful Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) in the 2016 film The girl on the train. She stands in a sterile room while a dozen strangers sit in a circle on plastic folding chairs, embarrassed to avoid eye contact with her. “I’ve got bruises all over my arm since I fell and someone helped me up,” she tells them.
This is one of countless on-screen depictions of an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting, and it is perhaps one of the most dramatic. “Hello, I am [insert name] and I’m an alcoholic,” is a classic refrain used in movies and television, where a character struggling with addiction reaches breaking point and attends AA for the first time. rocket Man (2019). mad Men (2007). smashed (2012). These include all depictions of AA meetings. There’s even a scene in Pixar’s Water Delight Find Nemo (2003), which alludes to an AA meeting – when Bruce, a great white shark voiced by Barry Humphries, presides over a Fish-aholics Anonymous meeting. “Fish are friends,” sing the toothy sea creatures in unison. “Not food.”
but I’m an Alcoholic: Inside Recovery, a new BBC Two documentary airing tonight (7 December) reveals what AA meetings are really like. For the first time since the founding assembly in Britain in 1945, cameras are being recorded at a meeting in a hotel room in the Dorchester. On-screen depictions of AA often over-dramatize the meetings. And those scenes have become predictable; a lonely man stands completely vulnerable in front of a group of strangers and reveals their life story. The reality is very different.
“I think people have this bizarre idea that they have to jump up and tell their life story,” says a doctor in the BBC documentary, alluding to what we’ve learned from film and television. “If they want, they can, but that’s certainly not expected or required.” The girl on the train, Blunt’s character spills all about her marriage and her darkest moments during an AA meeting. While it’s true that members are encouraged to introduce themselves and admit they are alcoholics, the reality is that you can participate in AA—the world’s longest-running addiction treatment program—and say nothing at all. Some may attend AA months or even years before speaking at the gathering, the documentary reveals.
AA meetings have followed the same structure since the organization was founded in 1935 by stockbroker Bill Wilson and physician Robert Smith in the US Baptist Bible Belt. They founded it in response to increasing alcoholism in the post-Prohibition era. Now in 2022, with alcohol problems on the rise in the UK and more people seeking help, I’m an Alcoholic: Inside Recovery anonymously interviews AA members by altering their faces using deepfake AI technology. The resulting documentary is a harrowing yet uplifting story of recovery, showing how AA has made the difference between life and death for many people in Britain for 75 years. “Realizing that you are not alone is a remarkable revelation,” said one anonymous participant. “It showed me a way out of the darkness,” says another.
The only place the film falls short is its failure to address how AA’s Christian ethos can alienate people of different faiths, or no faith at all, given the proportion of people who identify as Christian in England and Wales , has fallen below 50 percent for the first time this year. In AA’s Twelve Steps, members vow to “commit their lives into the care of God,” while step six “calls upon God to remove all defects of character.” In a way, it is amazing that the organization has remained so steadfast in its religious roots for 75 years.
But what makes the documentary effective and moving is to show that AA isn’t about delivering a theatrical monologue to a group of strangers, it’s about supporting each other and admitting you have a problem as the first step to sobriety .
I’m An Alcoholic: Inside Recovery was broadcast tonight (Wednesday 7th) on BBC Two.
If you or someone you know has alcohol dependency you can call the national alcohol helpline Drinkline confidentially on 0300 123 1110 or visit the NHS website here for information about the programs available to you.
If you are experiencing or struggling with feelings of hardship and isolation, The Samaritans offers support; You can speak to someone free of charge and confidentially on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com or visit the Samaritans website for details of your nearest branch.
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If you are a US resident and you or someone you know needs mental health help right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a hotline near you.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/im-an-alcoholic-inside-recovery-b2240730.html I’m an Alcoholic: Inside Recovery debunks the AA myth that movies and television have shown us for years