Shobha Warrier

  Confessions of an alcoholic
I have this strange fear of alcohol. Perhaps it has something to do with the Malayalam films that I saw as a young girl. There was not a single movie that did not show someone drinking and misbehaving with women. So I detested alcohol and all those who drank.

Still, I decided to do a story on the TTK hospital that treated alcoholics. I knew I had to talk to men who were undergoing treatment there.

As a journalist, I had listened to many women belonging to the lower strata of society talk about cruel alcoholic husbands, who beat them mercilessly every night. But it was for the first time that I was talking to an alcoholic.

A man in his mid-50s told me his depressing story. He had wasted more than 40 years of his life. He and his family went through many traumatic years before he was cured of the disease. Now he could look back at his life dispassionately.

It was for the first time that I felt sorry for an alcoholic. I found it difficult to hold back tears as he spoke. Here is his story, the story of an alcoholic who is at peace with himself today:

"I was a patient of the TTK hospital 10 years ago. For the last 10 years, I have not touched a single drop.

"I was born in a traditional, god-fearing middle class Brahmin family. My father was a bank officer. Being the only son, I was given everything I asked for.

"Everybody in my joint family thought that I would be the most successful among all us cousins. On the contrary, I am the only one who went astray.

"Nobody in our family touched alcohol. But even when I was in school, I tasted it. When I went to college, the frequency increased.

"I used to lie to my father to get money. Nobody in my family suspected me.

"My career as a sales person started at 21, in 1968. I started drinking more and more. I liked the high I got when I had alcohol. I manipulated time and people to experience that high. And I lost my first job because of it.

"I got another job without any problem. This time I chose to go out of Madras because I could drink without anyone from my family knowing it.

I was in Andhra Pradesh for one-and-a-half years. There too, I used to finish my job by 2 in the afternoon and start drinking.

"Soon I found it difficult to manage with what I was earning. I began manipulating the accounts and borrowing money from various dealers. To cut a long story short, I was dismissed once again.

"I came back to Madras and got another job. My father had his first heart attack when he came to know about my drinking problem.

"Soon I was taken to a psychiatrist. Everyday, after my visit to the doctor, I went and drank. I had no plans to quit drinking. I went to the doctor for my parents' sake.

"As days passed, I needed alcohol the moment I got up from bed. I had by then developed negative traits, such as self-pity, egoism, arrogance, disrespect, and so on. I cut myself off from everybody, as I knew nobody wanted me.

"Looking back, what saddens me most is that our relatives distanced themselves from my family because of me.

"I was a compulsive gambler too. I had been gambling since I was eight. I started drinking as a result of gambling, not the other way round."

"In 1980 I decided to get married.

"Financially I was very badly off. I was 35 and till then I had no intention of marrying. But as I had no money to drink, I suggested to my parents that they look out for a girl.

"My poor parents fell into the trap. Being a Brahmin, I thought, I would get some money and jewels as dowry, which I could use for drinking and gambling.

"I got married in March 1982 on a Monday. I was off alcohol for six days. Poor girl, she was shattered when I took to the bottle on Sunday.

"She was happy only those six days. After that, I made her life hell. I abused her physically. I grabbed all her jewellery, sold them for the pleasure of the drink. I was not in my senses.

"When my wife became pregnant, I kicked and beat her badly. She became a psychiatric patient and had to get medical help.

"It was my poor mother who used to take her to the doctor whenever she fell unconscious and ill. Nothing affected me -- neither her illness nor her sufferings. I was not bothered in the least about others; I was only bothered about alcohol, and myself. My primary purpose in life was to drink.

"She was in labour for 20 hours. During that time, she cursed god, me, my parents and her parents. She went through hell.

"My first child was stillborn. I swore on my dead child in front of all my relatives that I would not touch alcohol again.

"I buried the child, and went straight to a bar and drank. I had no human feelings. Otherwise, do you think a man who swore on his dead child would do such a dreadful thing?

"My second child was born in 1984. By god's grace she was fine. I was very happy to see my baby. For one whole year, I sat at home and looked after her as my wife was working and there was no one to look after the baby. I didn't feel the need to drink.

"When our child turned one, my wife decided to employ a girl to look after her. And I started drinking again.

"Once I started drinking, I began abusing my wife physically. I took her salary and drank. I even went to the extent of stealing her silk saris and selling them for paltry amounts to drink.

"I went from bad to worse. My father had another heart attack. My father who sold his property to pay my debts, my father who lead a very decent life, my father who always loved me -- he spent his sick days in a government hospital."

"One of my cousins in the US saw a write-up on the TTK hospital, and sent a clipping of it to my father.

"My father admitted me to the hospital. That was the first time I understood that alcoholism was a disease.

"I concealed from the hospital my gambling problem. I also didn't know then that it was because of gambling that I became an alcoholic.

"For six months, I was okay. I stayed away from alcohol. But there was no change in my personality because I was gambling. I had to borrow, steal and beg.

"Then I started drinking again, with greater vigour. I looked at my father's death as another reason to drink.

"Every time I started drinking, I lost more and more in my life. I had no money. I did not have a job.

"I used to beat my mother too if she did not give me money. My wife wanted to leave. My mother became so scared of me that she would not stay in the house alone with me. They never used to leave my daughter alone with me.

"All my relatives shunned us. My wife was not respected, my mother was not respected... and my five-year-old child was called the daughter of an alcoholic. Other kids did not let her join them.

"One day, my wife told me with tears rolling down, "I am leaving you. I have no courage to leave my daughter with you because I am afraid you may even sell your own daughter to drink."

"Those words really shook me. I asked myself, am I that bad? Will I sell my daughter for a few hundred rupees to drink?

"I wanted to be a good person, a good father, a good husband and a good son -- at the age of 43.

"I returned to the hospital. I am happy to tell the whole world that I have not touched alcohol for the last 11 years."

Shobha Warrier believes in telling it like it is

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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