Helen May says it was after she was introduced to a local woman in Yangon struggling to cope with an alcoholic father that she decided her outreach for people affected by a person’s alcoholism might prove useful in Myanmar.
Ms May recently began Al-Anon meetings six weeks ago, the gatherings held every Tuesday night at 7 pm at The Phayre's, 292 Upper Pansodan Road in Yangon.
Ms May tells Mizzima that the meetings are aimed at the families and friends whose lives have been negatively affected by alcoholism, something she has experienced personally.
“It has helped save my life, given me serenity and restored some of my family members I wanted that for Burmese families too,” she said.
Al-Anon Family Groups meet in over 130 countries to help families and friends of problem drinkers recover from the impacts of a loved one’s drinking. Members help each other by practicing the “Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous” themselves, by welcoming and giving comfort to families of alcoholics, and by giving understanding and encouragement to the alcoholic.
It is an often overlooked issue – how families and friends cope or fail to cope with somebody who is seriously addicted to alcohol.
Tackling the problem in Myanmar is similar to the challenges faced in other parts of the world.
“It is difficult for people to understand that often the family members are more hurt, confused, by the drinker. The stigma and shame that is associated with the disease. What will people think, [such as] my family, friends, and work colleagues. That is why we only use first names and what is said at the meeting is not repeated outside the meeting and who you see at the meeting is also not disclosed,” she said.
After six weeks, they now have three local members, an expatriate who speaks fluent Myanmar who is married to a Myanmar national, and two other expatriates.
Ms May said there have been many enquiries after posting the meeting on the Yangon Expat Connection.
“I do refer people to Alcoholics Anonymous who have contacted me from the Yangon Connection. They are professional people working in Yangon and everyday Burmese but their anonymity is a priority to them,” she said.
As Ms May noted, one expatriate woman who attends was married to a Myanmar national who committed suicide because of his drinking.