Did you know that alcohol abuse is on the rise in India? Even though recent research has stated that it is better to be a teetotaler, social drinking has now become a popular and common lifestyle choice. Alcohol consumption is cool now – and there is a good chance many young people might not even know if they have a drinking problem.
Ex-addict and law student Aitijya Sarkar, 22 talks about what made him turn to alcohol, how he crossed over from social drinking to alcohol abuse, and what he did to overcome his addiction. Over to him.
Initially, alcohol helped me with an outlet
I believe drinking is a non-issue. The problem arises when you associate it with the happening or non-happening of a certain event. You got good grades – you drink. You didn’t – you drink. Your family broke apart, and it has been a day, two days, week, month, year – you drink. You broke up – you drink. Everytime you feel any emotion –happy, sad, bored, lonely – you drink. In the process, it becomes a way of life, a habit that you see yourself fall back on every other day for one reason or another.
Drinking helped me with an outlet. At a time, when all I wanted to do was fall apart, it helped me do just that. Initially, it wasn’t about the high, it had more to do with seeking a distraction from the pain I’d buried within me. You see, my family was falling apart. My friend had just tried to hang herself. My sister was in the depths of despair, doing things you wouldn’t want your sister to do.
It wasn’t long before I got hooked on the bottle
In my first year, I started with a quarter of liquor shared between two people. Then it became a quarter for me, then a half, then a liter, then three liters. I would give up on food, I would misappropriate money my parents had given me, and I would be broke – all just to drink. The high was amazing, but almost every other night, as I lay on my bed all alone, without any intoxicant or friends to distract me, I would be miserable.
Passed out in a sea of vomit, I would finally face how miserably alone I was. Everyone loved the happy, drunk Aitijya. No one cared for the real me.
But the next morning, I would wake up again, put on my mask, and go back to the same old lifestyle. I didn’t know then that instead of helping me deal with the pain I’d buried within, my “friends” wanted me to be a version of me that was more in tune with what they wanted. I would drink, puke, and pass out to drink again. Anything was better than having to deal with my loneliness.
One quarter shared between two people, turned to one for myself, then a half, then a liter, then two and three, and so on. I was a high functioning alcoholic. My day began and ended with a drink. In between, I did things as usual, but over the months it took a heavy toll on me.
It was never enough. As long as the bottle wasn’t empty, as long as I was not on the verge of blacking out, I kept drinking. I downed one bottle after another.
When I realized I was addicted, I was crippled by guilt and shame
One night, at a friend’s birthday party, I’d had more than a couple of liters. I remember walking out of the house because I couldn’t afford to be around people. I was on the verge of a breakdown.
As I walked with closed eyes, I passed out next to a ditch on the road. My friends took a photo of me and put it up on Snapchat. Not one person saw to it to take me home. While I cried and cried, passed out on the road, they looked on from the balcony. They thought that this was hilarious.
I swear as I look back, this pains me even today. I remember skipping college the following week because I just couldn’t face anyone. That’s when I realized the situation had gotten out of control.
Next came the guilt and the shame. Once I identified that I was addicted, I had to try and curb my habit. I couldn’t. Rather, I didn’t want to. The guilt was terrifying and crippling. This weighed me down, adding to what I already wasn’t dealing with.
Now I know that it wasn’t just me: almost every addict I’ve met since then is crippled by the shame and the guilt. I tumbled deeper and deeper into the hole I was in until darkness was all I could see. It felt familiar. It felt known. When misery is all we’ve known for a while, we tend to start believing that this was how it was going to be for the rest of our life.
We resign to our fate. We resign to our misery. That’s just what I did.
The road to recovery started with a suicide attempt
Alcohol abuse had given me a host of sleeping disorders – insomnia, panic attacks, night terrors – for which I was put on meds that I abused. Things were so bad that I started hallucinating in broad daylight. I would see and hear things that weren’t there and skipped sleep altogether. I remember not sleeping for five days straight, to drink, and pass out.
It got too much. I thought death was better than a life like this. In three months, I tried to kill myself. Luckily, my family stepped in and ensured I got professional help.
I went to a total of 6-8 therapists immediately after my suicide attempt. Here’s the thing that not many people know about therapy in India — there are very few qualified therapists in India who know what they’re doing and actually understands what therapy is.
The problem is worsened by this vision of therapy we seem to have in our heads — therapy is not supposed to “fix us”. Therapy is employing one with the tools to help themselves – and this comes from speaking to someone with a degree from Harvard.
So therapy can just give you a little direction, maybe some insight and a little push, but the real self-discovery is still going to have to be done by you.
That being said, it is difficult to find a good therapist in India – people who know what it is to be someone from our generation. There’s this disconnect from issues that are inherently new to our generation.
Everything I did to get better was done by me – and no one else
The only good thing about the people I went to was my diagnosis as an alcoholic – thus identification of the problem. I then devised ways to be better.
How? Well, it started with making a choice. I asked myself: Is this how I saw myself five years down the line? Is this what I was meant to do? I sat down and made the choice to accept reality and embrace change so I could move forward.
Next, I separated myself from people who furthered my addiction. Months after my suicide attempt, I cut myself from every single person who only wanted me to be “fun”. No more fitting in. No more lack of belonging. It’s better to be alone than be in the company of people who don’t get you.
Third, I surrounded myself with people who picked me up when I fell off the wagon. These people constantly looked out for me by telling me to stop, even nagging and fighting me just so I didn’t give in. This is easier said than done, but there are people like this. Friend. Family. Anyone. Find them. Talk to them. Find your support system.
Lastly, I told the people in my life about my journey. I shared what bothered me, moved me, and made me happy or sad. Give wings to what you feel, what you believe in. Not everyone will accept you, but, knowing the people who don’t want to stand with you is better than having people who just want the fun, drunk you.
Today, I drink in moderation.
If I drink today, I won’t drink for weeks or months. Everyone around me knows about my past and if I tell them I don’t want to drink, they respect that and don’t push me. I have reached this stage only because I now know what moderation is and have invested in real friends. I have realized that life does not have to be a hazy reality.
If you are struggling, find what makes you crave the bottle so much and deal with it. Tell the people you trust about your struggle. Fight for the voice within you that tells you to stop. That’s your conscience. I’ve come to learn to listen to it.
Ultimately, intoxication will not make your problems go away. A bottle can only hold so much. Someday, it’ll overflow.
Psychologist Sonal Sonawani, 29 shares a few tips to recognize early warning signs of alcoholism and how loved ones can help:
1. Drinking alcohol regularly or even every day cannot be termed as having a problem with alcohol. To know if you have a problematic substance use, you need to have a significant level of impairment or distress over a 12 month period, especially if there are persistent, yet unsuccessful efforts taken to cut down alcohol.
2. Even if you are not drinking, if there is a significant craving or desire to consume alcohol that affects your work and/or relationships, you need help.
3. It is very important to understand that this behavior is classified as ‘alcohol use disorder’. As is true with several other disorders, it is beyond the person’s control and they need a lot of social and moral support. Judging someone with a drinking problem is only going to worsen it as alcoholics usually feel guilty about their behavior.
4. Remember, alcohol is mostly used as a form of escape. It is essential that you help your loved one realize what they are escaping from and help them engage in more contributive activities. Socializing in a non-alcoholic atmosphere really helps. Most people drink because they feel lonely. Your loved one needs to know that he/she is not alone and they have you as emotional support.