Personal Growth - To hell and back
by Life Positive
October 2009: Hitting rock bottom
I had been drinking until late, and I passed out around midnight. On most such evenings, I would fall asleep listening to music, the earphones still plugged into my ears. Dinner being the last priority of an alcoholic, I would come to, somewhere in the middle of the night, drink some water before tossing around, and go back to a restless sleep full of guilt-ridden memories. My parched mouth and the alarm set for 5.30 am woke me up. I realised I had promised my child to draw some difficult diagrams in the practical notebook for submission. Coffee did nothing to calm my frazzled nerves, and the practice of drawing on the rough page almost torn with over use of the eraser, left me swearing. I reached out for a can of cold beer in the fridge, the first time I had done that at 6 am, and as the withdrawal eased and I began to breathe evenly, I drew beautifully. Two more cans down, everything was done – I had even packed both lunch boxes, set out breakfast for my kids, and was enjoying a cigarette in the balcony.
In self-help meetings, I hear people talk about hitting rock bottom. That day I did not know how badly I was going to define the term itself. For the first time in a career spanning 18 years, I reached office quite drunk. For the entire first half I masked the smell with many cups of coffee, and kept leaving my desk for the staircase, which was our smoking zone. I still do not know how many people that day knew how inebriated I was. At lunchtime, I proceeded to go out with two of my colleagues, sending them away after food, on the pretext that a client was coming to meet me at the same restaurant. Luckily, I had called a friend who arrived an hour later to find me slumped in my chair with unconsumed drinks still on the table. As she tried to get me up on my feet, I had a nasty fall that finally woke me up from my stupor. At five-star hotels, they have some sort of a nurse. She came to check me for broken bones and conducted me out of the hotel on a wheelchair, as I was unfit to walk. As I tumbled from my wheelchair into the rear seat of my car, I could hear my driver click his tongue in despair.
Addiction begins happily
I was a happy, healthy, academically bright child of loving parents. In spite of frequent transfers in a career in the armed forces, my father ensured that my siblings and I secured admission in convent schools in whichever station he was posted. I still remember my mother making endless trips for admission tests, fee payments, school tailors, stationers, sometimes mid-term even, to make us comfortable in yet another new school. My grandmother who lived with us was a solid rock, holding our hands through vaccination-induced fevers, difficult teachers, overnight preparations for songs and recitations. She would tell us stories of gods and kings as well as her life, and how she and my grandfather had migrated from Kerala to Mumbai when no one dared. Sheltered life in cantonments, luxurious British time mansions, gardens large enough to play soccer in, guava, tamarind and mango trees galore, travelling in first class railway compartments for vacations spent in Delhi with our maternal grandparents, and our one and only aunt, Dad’s sister – life was idyllic.
Eventually Dad’s retirement, graduating from college and PG over, I was in a metro working for one of the top national dailies, enjoying every moment of what then was presumably my passion, sales. Meeting ad agencies and their clients, chasing sales targets, and revelling in the big city life of movies, restaurants, bars, discotheques, music concerts, plays – it seemed I was living my dream.
At the age of 25, I was married. It was the happy culmination of an office romance – advertising sales meets journo, second floor meets fourth floor and so on. We were blessed with our first child within a year and having written off the crèches and maid alternatives, I was blissfully enjoying my sabbatical having put in five years of great work, promotion every year, and a small fortune sitting in my PF. My baby’s sibling arrived three years later, and in two years was ready for playschool, exactly five years from when I took my break.
It always begins with the first drink
I took my first drink of alcohol officially authorised by my fauji Dad. Nothing happened to me, as I did not get drunk or feel woozy after any of the subsequent chhota pegs that I consumed under my father’s supervision. However, the very first time that I drank on my own, away from home, in the company of friends, I got very disturbingly drunk. I enjoyed drinking socially but the amount I drank seemed to keep increasing, and one or two out of 10 drinking occasions would be terrible displays of bad behaviour, followed by weeks of abstinence until the nerve to drink again surfaced. The only time this stopped was during pregnancy, out of worry that my kids might be born with congenital disorders.
Married life was not the proverbial walk in the park. The decision to take the sabbatical and moving cities due to my husband’s change of job had left me very lonely. In the total absence of adult company, and with his working hours of 4 pm to 1 am, I was out on a limb. I drank progressively higher amounts of alcohol, but managed my home with rigour. At a certain point, I stopped complaining that he did not talk to me, was not there for me, and did not share the duties of bringing up two kids. Even on his weekly day off, we would be drinking in separate rooms – he had the TV for company, and I had the stereo and then my computer to listen to and to chat through. All along, however, my justification was, I never once missed waking up on time, sending the children to school or getting a meal to the table, in short any of my home-maker duties, without realising the huge emotional and spiritual dent that the drinking was making on my well-being. The final blow came after he lost his job, and I went back to work to support all of us for the next 10 years with sporadic contributions from his part-time and freelance earnings. As I grew in seniority and earning capability, we drifted further apart and my drinking worsened leading to that fateful October night in 2009.
Saved by a spiritual fellowship
I was saved, rescued, redeemed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Founded in 1931, it is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope that they may recover from their common problem of alcoholism. Members meet usually in the evenings to share and inspire each other. Today, it is three-and-a-half years since I quit drinking. AA taught me that for an alcoholic (as opposed to a social drinker), it is the first drink that does the damage. The only hope lies in total abstinence one day at a time and in following the 12-step programme of recovery. The steps help alcoholics make peace with their past, honour their present moment, and build the foundation of a healthy, happy future life of peace and serenity. Every day members are empowered by the Serenity Prayer wherein they pray, “God, grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can and wisdom to know the difference.”
In this journey, I have found courage and solace from many healing spiritual practices and self-help programmes. I try to carry the message to those who are suffering the way I did. All the self-help and spirituality books I read add to what I learn through AA literature. Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now shows me how as an active alcoholic I was in total denial of the present moment. Alcohol in the early stage of drinking took me to an imaginary utopia of unspeakable beauty, and when I had too much, it made me wallow in the miseries of the past and worries of the future. Today, I can celebrate the glory of the present moment. I have made my peace with the past and taken responsibility for the future.
When I studied and got my reiki mastership, I learnt the importance of gratitude and letting myself be a channel for Universal energy to flow, just as AA taught me to surrender to a higher power saying, “God is doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”
Addiction? No, it is a disease
One of the dictionary definitions of addiction is, “The state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or something that is psychologically or physically habit forming to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.” Yes indeed, it is physical and psychological slavery, which drives one to desperation, depression, and ultimately death. Substance addiction as in habitual and enslaved consumption of alcohol, narcotics, or other mind-altering substances, even prescription medication, is the worst form of self-induced suffering. The sufferers have no idea of how they created the need for the substance, consumed it, continually trapped in its clutches, and finally succumbed to the physical, mental and spiritual havoc it wreaked on their life.
Today I know that alcoholism is a disease. It comprises a genetic physical predisposition to crave and consume alcohol, even when one does not wish to. It makes the person mentally obsessive, as alcoholics are either drinking or thinking about how to control their drinking. Moreover, it leaves the alcoholics spiritually bankrupt, with no faith in themselves, no respect or honour among fellow human beings, and no connection with the Divine.
I know from others’ experiences that my drinking had nothing to do with my happy childhood, my incompatible spouse and unhappy marriage. Alcoholism does not depend on gender, age or socio-economic category. For every uncouth drunk passed out on the street, there is a beautifully manicured hand breaking a long-stemmed champagne flute on a designer granite floor, cooled by central air-conditioning.
You have the will, not the power
I therefore, do not deceive myself thinking I could have used my intelligence or will power to seek respite from this malady. I have built back my self-esteem brick by brick, the quality of my relationships has improved and I feel truly blessed to have received the reprieve I prayed for.
Bio: The author now runs a wellness and rehabilitation centre to help people heal. She can be reached for any queries on substance abuse on her email email@example.com
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