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Dr Wendy Dossett

The programme offers unparalleled access to the meetings of the Mutual Aid support group, Alcoholics Anonymous.

The hour-long documentary, entitled ‘I’m an Alcoholic: Inside Recovery’ and made by Daisybeck Studios airs on BBC2 at 9pm on Wednesday December 7. The film explores the history of Alcoholics Anonymous, including its Christian roots in the United States of America in the 1930s. However, its principal focus is on the contemporary practice of AA in the UK today, 75 years on from its first arrival here. The film is especially ground-breaking for its use of cutting-edge technology to protect the identities of the participating fellowship members, thus preserving their anonymity. Anonymity is considered a spiritual practice in this community, as Wendy explains in the documentary.  

Central to the spirituality of Alcoholics Anonymous is the concept of ‘Higher Power'. In the programme, Wendy draws on her extensive research to bring alive the way contemporary members speak about Higher Power and to explain how beliefs about Higher Power function in their recovery from alcohol addiction. She shows how today, Higher Power ideas owe as much to popular culture and diverse spiritual sources as they do to Christianity, or even to the fellowship literature itself.

Wendy, an Associate Professor at the University of Chester, said: “Alcoholics Anonymous is so rarely, if ever, portrayed accurately in the media. This is unfortunate because people who might benefit from free and accessible Mutual Aid support for their recovery remain ill-informed and ill-advised. The myth that AA requires belief in the God of Christianity functions to exclude people. AA is in fact open to anyone regardless of their beliefs and the majority of members do not identify as Christian. Atheists, agnostics, and adherents to religious or spiritual traditions other than Christianity all work with AA’s Twelve Steps in different ways and bring their own interpretations to the process. My ethnographic work analyses how contemporary members, from a whole range of backgrounds and beliefs, creatively engage with the 1930s Christian and patriarchal language, without encountering fatal cognitive dissonance.

“I am so pleased that this ground-breaking documentary has been made. It will address many of the misconceptions about AA that present barriers to access, as well as helping to address stigma. AA itself offers such a valuable source of ‘recovery contagion’. It has also played a crucial role in spawning wider cultures of recovery from addiction, and this needs to be better known. I am delighted that the accounts of Higher Power beliefs collected in the Higher Power Project have made a valuable contribution to this important documentary.”


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