When My Glass Remained Full
From years of uncontrolled drinking to sobriety, how I extracted myself and found a new purpose in life
Every day, with single-minded dedication, I would make my way to the nearest liquor store. Whether mid-morning, early evening or when the store was about to down its shutters, I would be found striding towards it purposefully. One thought playing in my mind in a loop: "Oh God, please let the shop be shut." But then, it would be open, the gleaming bottles calling out my name. Within a few minutes, clutching a plastic bag with a bottle rolling around in it, I would walk away. Alternately euphoric with the purchase and despising myself for having made it. Happy that I had my fix for the day, yet loathing myself for my utter lack of self-control, helplessness and slavery to the bottle.
WELCOME TO THE LIFE OF AN ALCOHOLIC. I had started off with the occasional drink at parties, which soon became more than just a couple. For an inherently shy person, alcohol made it easy for me to open up. I started enjoying my drinks while socializing. Booze-laced afternoons stretched into alcohol-sodden evenings, which tapered off into incoherent, hazy nights. This was the story, every single day. Remarkable bonds and friendships were formed over alcohol. It was also quite hip to be a guzzler. I got to be the soul of the party, with a full glass by my side, strumming my guitar, singing, flirting, cracking jokes … Life was good.
Drinking hard numbed the demons shrieking in my head, enabling me to forget just about every disturbing facet of my life and allowing me to do things that I wouldn't dream of when sober. A drink (or five) transformed me into another person, a person I really despised in the cold light of day.
ONE FOR THE ROAD. There were plenty of late-night parties after which I drove back home. I met with my first major accident on the night of 18 December 2005. Had I not been driving an SUV, I wouldn't have survived. My vehicle, which was pretty much new, was badly damaged. I was devastated and angry at myself. You would think I'd have learnt my lesson. But my mourning extended to just two days of abstinence. On the third day I was back, reaching for the bottle. My then girlfriend would often drink with me. But she became apprehensive whenever I would get high, which was regularly.
She told me that I tended to be obnoxious and got angry at little things when drunk.
However, I could rarely remember the details the morning after. My capacity to consume alcohol increased. And so did my loutish behaviour. She watched helplessly as I transformed into an acid-tongued, bitter, angry and aggressive man with every gulp. She did what any other person would have done--she left me.
THE GLASS WAS ALWAYS FULL. I lived with my mother and sister then. My mother had severe rheumatoid arthritis and my sister Shraboni was also crippled by the same disease. Unfortunately, Shraboni had also been diagnosed with stage III brain cancer. As much as I loved them both, drinking provided an escape from my worries about them. Obviously, they were upset with me. I understood their anger and disappointment, but the capacity to rein myself in was just absent. By now, most of my friends had witnessed my transformation post alcohol. It made them terribly uneasy; besides they were worried for me. But I just wanted to drink. Soon, they stopped inviting me over. With the resulting anger and bouts of self-pity, I drank even more. Frustrated and annoyed at myself, I ran into trouble with the law multiple times, and woke up a few times in different police stations with a blank head. There were several miraculous escapes from death due to drunk driving. I am extraordinarily fortunate to have survived with two scars and a bad knee. Also, I was plain lucky that I hadn't hurt anyone else.
THE BOTTLE THAT BROUGHT CHEER. After I lost my mother to a lung infection in 2013, the next three years were spent in an alcoholic stupor. A few months later, the tumour in my sister's brain started spreading. She had to be hospitalized on several occasions. But I was incapable of dealing with her doctors as I was drunk most of the time. And when I wasn't, I would be too scared to face reality. I knew it was just a matter of time before my sister was gone too. Agonized at the thought, I hit the bottle with renewed vengeance. In the interim, there were days, sometimes five at a stretch, when I managed to stay sober. Those were a godsend. I would sleep well, eat well and feel positive. I would vow never to get back to drinking. But then a momentary lapse and I was back to square one.
THE HANGOVER STARTS TO CURE. By the middle of 2016, I was drinking like a man possessed. I was aware that my sister had just a few more months to live. Most of my friends would not talk to me, as they knew that I was always inebriated. I felt lonely and was furious with myself. My mother had passed away knowing her son was an alcoholic. I could not be fully responsible while my sister was hospitalized. As her cancer spread rapidly, I sensed, for the first time, that if I continued drinking in this manner, I too would die. And I would die a very lonely man.
That is what ultimately led me to seek help. I called Madhu ma'am.
THE BATTLE WITH THE BOTTLE BEGINS. Ms Madhu Juneja taught me in school. She was one of those rare teachers who believed that backbenchers were students too. And she continues to be one of the most beautiful, patient and understanding people I have met in my life. She had found out from my school friends that I had been drinking excessively. When she realized the gravity of my situation, she advised me to seek professional help and guided me to Dr Puneet Dviwedi. The first day I went to meet Dr Dviwedi, I was drunk. But he heard me out. And so began my arduous battle against alcohol.
I was put on meds, yet there were sleepless nights, anxiety and cravings. However, I was determined to stay my course. There were people who believed I could not win. And there were those who soldiered on with me as if it was their own battle. I had my last drink on 11 November 2016, and my sister passed away on the 22nd. In her last 10 days, I tended to Shraboni, cooked for her and communicated with her in my full senses. Though by now she was incapable of grasping much, we did share a laugh or two together.
20 MONTHS OF SOBRIETY. Looking back, it seems I have enacted the part of a lead character in a film that lasted longer than I would have liked it to. The scars and the bad knee are the only reminders. I now begin my day with a five-kilometre jog, meditate daily and eat healthy as far as possible. I feel more alive now than ever before. Sounds cliched, but I do feel like I have been born again. I am experiencing freedom and joy in the purest forms possible. I relish my food, my sleep, my time with friends, music … I am regaining my confidence and dignity. People I know have a new-found respect for me. And what is overwhelming is that I have managed to not only follow a healthy lifestyle but have also inspired a few people to give up drinking or drink in a responsible manner! Friends have occasionally turned to me to intervene and counsel people with a drinking problem. I have happily stepped in, fully aware that tips and advice from me would perhaps make a difference in saving an individual or a family from the grip of alcoholism.
I do have my share of regrets, but I try not to dwell on them. If I do reflect, I look back to learn. I am learning to put the past where it belongs, not lug it along. Though, there is a distinct sense of loss and disappointment that may or may not go away. I guess addiction extracts a lot out of you. I am now cocooned in the love and warmth of some of my closest friends who stood by me despite my most unpleasant behaviour. I meet them and party with them. They drink, and I don't. But every time I see glasses being raised to a toast, I pray that they may all know when to draw the line.