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April 6, 2009 | by  | in Features |
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AAAAAAAAAAAA?

As I wandered among the variety of club stalls during the very first week of uni, I felt there was something missing. As did the boy-racer who found no car club, or the vegetarian a meat free society, or the poor old Satanist find their lair.

Maybe I was an even rarer breed of student, wandering the quad alone. Here I must say that I already belonged to a certain club, a club with over 2 million members at last count, where a meeting is held in every city, suburb and town all over the world. The rarest of possibly any student type—a student who does not drink. The club is Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA as it is more widely known.

But is there such a group hidden among what is recognised the world over as one of the largest groups of binge drinkers in society? Something like almost 10L of alcohol was consumed last year by each kiwi—over the age of 15. You know you’re in there somewhere! We students defiantly count as a large percentage.

Before getting all heavy on it, this isn’t some rant about student drinking by some straighty180. If it bothered me that much then I shouldn’t be sitting in the uni bar drafting this article. But it seems that with binge drinking in NZ being among the highest in the world and where we, as students, are particularly targeted for alcohol consumption, some of us might be saying, enough is enough. It’s a choice that more and more young people are making.

Basically members of AA take the first step through its doors by admitting they have become powerless over alcohol, and therefore life has become unmanageable for them.

Drinking is such a huge part of being a student. So, go for your lives if that’s right for you. But if there’s such a thing as a student who would be up for some support in that area, then maybe a student division of AA isn’t such a bad idea.

AA meetings are mostly informal, and anyone with a desire to stop drinking is welcome to attend. Some on-campus support for these students could be extremely helpful. As it is a shaky path to take, the support and fellowship of such meetings is hugely important and successful at keeping members clean. Some people need these meetings just to get through the day without drinking. It’s not likely these guys are found on a university campus, but it makes you wonder.

An organisation, or fellowship as they like to be known, that can reform some serious problem drinkers and keep them there with simple and honest 12 step guidelines is quite phenomenal. Well, still—so what? Should the people who found nothing to their tastes during the club days quit their whining and join an OTT group? Of course there isn’t going to be everything for everyone. Just sporty types, religious ones and anyone with a bank account.

Victoria University provides heaps of services in areas such as health, fitness, mind, and any other study related issue so it surprises me that an all-encompassing force such as drinking and the alcoholic dark side hadn’t been covered. Other than the counselling sessions offered, there isn’t much for a problem that can do serious damage to study and the overall quality of life. But wait; there is someone with a huge commitment to students in this area. Ruth Moorhouse has been a strong voice on alcohol harm reduction, chairing meetings as well as advocating for tougher restraints on alcohol consumption. Moorhouse explains her role by saying: “The Reduce Harm Group was established in 2003 with the goal of reducing harm among tertiary students in Wellington by reducing the level of hazardous drinking. As Director Student Services, I convene this group. Other members include representatives from Wellington City Council, the Accident Compensation Corporation, Public Health, the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand, the Hospitality Association New Zealand, and VUWSA.”

She also says that Victoria University takes the “well-being of its students on and off campus very seriously, and actively works to reduce the level of hazardous drinking.”

With this in mind, it should be relatively easy to take the steps needed to convene with AA in support of a student based meeting—again I am surprised with all the above measures being outlined, that no such group already exists. There are whispers of the authority in charge being hot and cold on the matter.

Some say it’s going too far with talk of shutting down Mount St Bar, with various people commenting that ‘they’ were prepared to take away measures of drinking—being decidedly tough—and then looking the other way and pretending like a heavy drinking culture does not exist at Vic.

And indeed our own editor, Jackson Wood, reminisces on days a few years ago when the Mount Vic bar was “pumping.” Then one day the taps were replaced with more expensive booze. The problem with this, Wood elaborates, is that you get students heading to cheap supermarkets and liquor shops to buy the deals. They drink a lot more, in an unsafe environment or at home where no limits are in place. At least when we’re all in a bar getting pissed, there’s Host Responsibility laws, security and basic safety measurements.

So the culture is there, certainly. To drink while studying goes without saying, so it’s an issue of controlling it and catering for it in a way that everyone can benefit from. Such as having safer drinking events, access to support groups and an option to still get down and party—without getting totally trashed. VUWSA events coordinator Dusty comments that certainly there is an emphasis on having non drinking based activities during Orien-tation Week. He comments that it was really encouraging to see the success of the Swim/Run 101 this year. “To have people getting up that early and hitting the water was quite impressive,” he says, “Something we hope to see more of in the coming Orientations.”

There was also the Hangover Hangi, which was specifically alcohol free and family friendly. A lot of care has also been taken when designing this year’s pub-crawl ticket, especially after the controversy between certain venues’ advertising methods and the University (See news story last week). Good to know they have our vulnerable backs. The ticket reads, “There is no pressure to have a drink at each bar, remember there will be activities and competitions at each stop so you will need to have your senses about you to be in to win any of the great prizes.”

So is it possible to go on a pub crawl and not drink? Maybe not. What else then? I’ve definintley learned to appreciate live music more and remember it the next day. I even bring my camera home! It really is hard to find a weekend activity that doesn’t cause some kind of temptation to drink—so I guess I think it would be interesting to find something equally entertaining to do. Is there such a thing, other then an AA meeting? They’re not that bad really, all these normal looking folks, some of whom look like butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths. Some you wonder how they ever reformed. But there they are. Clean, clothed and sober. Walking miracles.

If you argue the fact that AA seems to be against student culture, then that focus exactly is what should be explored. If drinking is such a huge part of the student experience, then what would happen if it was taken away? Or it was even that option? This option is what we all, as people experiencing the student lifestyle, have an entitlement to. The right to explore life on the flipside. But that same question still sneaks up on the hopeful wide-eyed newly-sober alcoholic. What the fuck do we do for fun? Other than drinking—it was our worst nightmares come true to imagine any kind of situation where alcohol wasn’t available. Life became planned around it. So finding stuff to do became a challenge.

My energy drink intake has defiantly upped. Better watch that one! Seriously though, that is why we all drink right? To have fun, relax, unwind and get down to it. At almost every single gathering everyone at least has a beer. BBQs, beaches, flat warmings, birthdays, every holiday and it goes on and on. For some people these situations become sources of horror stories, where time and time again things had gone too far, with family and friends saying “not again,” to everybody’s disappointment. To suddenly find yourself in that situation and get through it, remember it, and actually—to complete surprise—have a great time, well, it just makes you think, maybe this is possible.

But it definitely helps to hang out now and again with others that are going through the same shit. So a meeting or two up here at the uni, would be good. Something informal. With three months of sobriety up my sleeve I figure I may not be the best candidate to champion a meeting, so I went to a Group Leader in an AA chapter of Wellington. In AA these guys are called Old Timers. The meeting was in Island Bay. This was actually the most important part of this articles shaky progress, as AA is huge on anonymity, hence ‘Alcoholics Anonymous’. They are super careful not to participate in any kind of media. I figured I would talk to the Old Timer about a student division of AA and the idea of a meeting happening at Vic Uni. Currently AA runs many different types of groups, such as a Women’s Group and a Newcomers Group, but there is no student based group in sight. I’m not saying there is a definite need for students to gain control of their drinking, I’m just saying I know I’m finding it hard to balance sobriety with meetings and university. And if there are others out there who are feeling the same way, then as a result of my talk with the Old Timer I know we could get a meeting happening up here at campus. If I am indeed the only one, well I better get my ass to a meeting downtown quick smart, and maybe invest in a car too! (Alright bike then, you greenies you.)

Anyone who would like to call AA can phone their helpline on 0800 229 6757.

Anyone in the same boat and interested in a meeting can email me at aameetingstudent@gmail.com.

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