I remember someone shaking my hand at the door and told me I was in the right place doing the right thing. No one had said that to me for so long. I got hope at that very first meeting."Molly, on joining Alcoholics Anonymous
Charlie fell down a huge hole.
He wanted to escape, but just couldn't.
A doctor threw down a prescription, a minister a prayer and a politician a speech, but nothing helped.
Then Joe jumped in the hole next to Charlie.
"Joe, why did you do that? Now we're both stuck."
"It's OK Charlie, I've been down this hole too and I can show you how I got out."
Across Australia, about 18,000 people are members of a group that doesn't sign you up, charge fees or align itself with any sect, denomination, politics, organisation or institution.
It offers no public opinions and doesn't endorse or oppose any cause.
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.
Just a decade later, the first Australian AA meeting was held in Sydney and now more than 2000 meetings exist, although many have closed temporarily or gone online because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The regular locations include Albury, Wodonga, Lavington, Beechworth, Stanley, Rutherglen, Corowa, Myrtleford, Wangaratta, Bright, Yarrawonga, Benalla, Berrigan and Finley.
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It seems a simple concept; people recovering from alcoholism talk about what they used to be like, what happened and what they're like now.
There's no doctors, clinics, counsellors or psychologists but somehow being open to others who nod in recognition works.
An analysis released in March by international health research body Cochrane examined 27 studies of alcohol use disorder treatments that involved 10,565 participants.
This review found AA led to increased rates and lengths of abstinence compared with other common treatments.
Border AA members Molly, Bob and George - not their real names - bear this out, having remained sober for 23, 29 and 32 years respectively.
They came to AA separately after years of drinking that cost them jobs, licences, health and relationships.
"I lost everyone," Molly said. "I lost every single friend and the respect of all of my family. I was a vulgar, trashy, disgusting person in my drinking, I really was.
"I had no respect for anybody, certainly not myself."
Bob recalled waking up one morning and realising he was broken, defeated.
"I thought I was not born to live like this," he said.
"Accept is the key word, I accepted that morning that I was an alcoholic, I accepted that I needed help.
"I knew that something had to change or I was going to die a premature death."
George faced the harsh reality that he'd lost the ability to feel joy or love.
"I looked at my own children and didn't feel anything," he said.
"I was vacant and when you're empty inside it's horrendous, a horrendous way to try and live."
Molly's first AA meeting in Melbourne involved about 200 people, mostly older men it seemed, while she was still in her 20s.
"I remember someone shaking my hand at the door and told me I was in the right place doing the right thing," she said.
"No one had said that to me for so long.
"I got hope at that very first meeting."
But that doesn't mean it was easy as she struggled with AA's raw honesty.
"Early recovery's a bit like standing naked in the middle of the MCG with 100,000 pairs of eyes looking down at you," she said.
"You just feel like you've got no protection whatsoever.
"I'd cringe in my seat, not because I hadn't done it or thought it, but because they were talking about it openly to a room full of people."
The simplicity of AA threw George for a while, but eventually he grew to enjoy the fellowship and the 12 step program.
"It's designed so that you can actually have a really in-depth look at yourself without blame," he said.
At meetings Bob found a place where he belonged and those who understood him.
"I just thought there's something about these people," he said.
"They're clean, they have self-respect, they have dignity, they don't even want to know my second name, they don't want my money, they don't want a signature, they don't want anything from me except my attendance.
"It didn't take long before I could start to see my life was going to improve through this and I would then in turn be able to help others."
AA board member Ruby Jones, who is not an alcoholic and so is able to be identified, felt the group therapy nature of AA contributed to its power.
"There's a lot of strength in people understanding you and helping you feel like you're not alone with a certain problem," she said.
"It's so important to make sure that people feel comfortable to talk about their story and make sure that they feel safe to talk about their story too.
"Once they kind of hit that point and they are able to express their experience, strength and hope, they find it so relieving, so wonderful, it keeps them coming back and they keep getting that support from others in the fellowship and learning how to live a life of sobriety, it's pretty amazing."
A sponsor, another member able to offer more one-on-one support, can also be valuable for a newer AA member.
"If they don't have a lot of support in their life, like friends or family, they may need somebody just to lean to, to express feelings and frustrations and just somebody to let them know that it's all OK and that it's part of the process," Ms Jones said.
Life for Bob, George and Molly turned around as they learned to stop having that first drink and AA meetings are still part of their lives.
"I'm responsible and reliable and I'm a 'go to' person rather than a 'run from her' person," Molly said.
"If talking about (the past) helps someone else, that's how I look at it.
"It doesn't excuse what I did, but it just means I can use it to help someone else."
George said becoming sober was difficult but AA worked because it offered a safe place to sit down, talk and listen.
"One of the rewards of recovery, one of the rewards of sobriety is to watch somebody come in really broken and to watch them grow," he said.
Bob felt the anonymity aspect - a constant for 85 years - continued to offer protection and encouragement to those within AA.
"It's about getting well by helping other people get well," he said.
"It's a wonderful example of humanity."
- For more details and Border and North East AA meetings, go to aa.org.au