“All of us are going around with an entire story of our lives, completely different from the story of our lives that anybody else would tell. So much of our lives never breaks the surface.” – Claire Messud in The Guardian.
I have decided to use that quotation as a mast for my story series of posts and what better way to acknowledge the power of that quote than a story from my own life. In all fairness, I must also give credit to Ursula for the motivation for this story. She wrote something powerful in her comments on my last story on The Zamindar which resonated with me and hence this motivation.
I have been quite an open book about my life and readers who have been reading my posts since long would attest to that. To a large extent, one of the influences for such open writing has been an old quotation from Sylvia Plath. “…….. everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Strangely enough, another beautiful life ending prematurely, but not before leaving behind a treasure trove of very quotable quotes.
In June, when I was visiting my cousin at Navi Mumbai, my sister in law requested me to meet a young couple and advise them about a problem that they were facing. I did. The young man was in deep trouble due to alcoholism and his wife was in a highly distressed state. I spent over an hour with them and guided both as to what needed to be done and advised them that I would arrange for someone else from their locality to visit them and assist them. On my return to Pune, I found out details about the Alcoholics Anonymous chapters there, found a member and passed on the information to him. That member met up with the young man, arranged for a suitable sponsor for him and thus started the process of recovery for that young man. That young lady started off with Al Anon too. Both the wife and the husband still talk to me on the phone and keep me updated on the progress being made by the young man.
This is one among the many such stories that I can write about alcoholics and the disease and what a stellar role that the AA fellowship throughout the world plays in saving many lives that would have otherwise ended like my friend Balaji’s did.
The point to this story is not that I was able to help but, the fact that my sister in law knew that I would be able to help an alcoholic. This story is about how I came to be associated with the AA fellowship and why I do not take cover under the anonymity part of the programme. Many people know and contact me when help is needed.
If one particular stretch of time could be isolated for being the worst that I have experienced, it was the period between October 1998 and January 2000. My son Ranjan was reaching the peak of his addiction to alcohol and I could not identify the problem.
The reason for this inability to identify the problem was that I come from a family and circle of friends where alcohol consumption is a matter of routine and just about every one drank every evening and during week ends in the afternoons too. There was and still is no stigma attached to drinking in this environment and as I write this, almost all of my family members will be having their sun-downers. Ranjan grew up in an atmosphere where alcohol was part of domestic life and there was always stock of various kinds of drinks available at home and socialisation meant that everyone drank.
I personally drank every day and my life too revolved around a social life enhanced with alcohol. I never had any occasion to black out or get involved in accidents or fights caused by excessive drinking, but was hooked on alcohol as much as I was hooked on to la dolce vita.
During that difficult period, I was commuting between Pune and Tirupur. I had set up residence at Tirupur whereas Urmeela and Ranjan were in Pune as Ranjan was in a job at Pune. I was commuting because Urmeela was unable to manage Ranjan’s alcoholism and would call me now and then to come and help. During this period Ranjan had to be hospitalised a number of times to be detoxified and it was also the time that Urmeela had her first of many strokes without having them recognised as such.
To cut the story short, I approached a friend who was very active in the AA Pune who started mentoring Ranjan and taking him to AA meetings. Ranjan was exposed to AA but continued to drink. During one of my visits to Pune when I tried to talk to him to moderate, he simply told me that I had no business telling him to when I was an alcoholic too. I asked my friend about this and he said that it would be a good idea for me to set an example by giving up alcohol myself. In the meanwhile, Ranjan decided to corner me further and gave me a questionnaire that the AA gives people who are unable to make up their mind as to whether they were alcoholics or not. On answering that honestly, it shocked me to find that I could be classified as an alcoholic. I could not believe this and rang up my cousin and physician to find out if this was really something that Johns Hopkins uses and he confirmed that it indeed was. I went into denial but decided to study further and using the AA contact got myself a copy of The Big Book. I studied it in detail while at Tirupur and as often happens in my life, another synchronicity took place and I quit on May 22 1999 about which I wrote here.
That however did not immediately have the effect that I had hoped it would on Ranjan who continued to drink. In June 1999 on one of my visits to Pune, I attended my first AA meeting to which Ranjan took me. After that meeting I left Pune with the assurance from AA members that Ranjan would eventually quit and that I should worry about my well being.
Things got progressively worse and I finally had to quit my very lucrative assignment in Tirupur and return to take charge of my family’s life and I did that by end September. I saw Ranjan at his worst between then and till he quit. I would take him to AA meetings and after the meeting, he would drink. I however got involved in the AA movement and got to know some wonderful people who readily helped during those very difficult days.
Ranjan’s trysts with hospitals continued but he kept accompanying me to AA meetings. Finally, he hit what the AA calls rock bottom and on January 7, 2000 he told me in the morning when he woke up that he had had enough and wanted to stop. After he went through the few days of withdrawal problems, he started off on what the AA calls the 90 meetings in 90 days and Urmeela and I went along with him to all of them.
As I write this, he too has been sober since that time as I have been. Both of us also took the 12 step programme and both of us have benefited from that experience. I also joined up with an Al Anon group.
Both of us have made some very good friends in the fellowship and the warmth and dedication that the fellowship shows is something that only members know and appreciate, Both of us are well known in the Pune AA movement and people approach us for help. Increasingly, it is Ranjan who is involved and I am very proud of the work that he does. He mentors many people of his age group and has started a group near our home which has become a popular center for recovering alcoholics who had to commute to the city center otherwise. I have stopped attending meetings due to my physical limitations but am in touch with all their activities and visiting members of the fellowship and we have mini meetings at home quite often. Many addicts of other substances too have come into our lives and with the help of Narcotics Anonymous have come out of their addiction and now live fruitful and joyful lives. We are also in touch with or aware of some rehabilitation centers to which we recommend addicts to go to for recovery.
So, Ursula, I am no stranger to denial, addiction and recovery. I just did not know anything about them when Balaji had his problems. In fact, there were many others that I could have perhaps helped had I known about the disease and the AA / NA / Al Anon programmes. Admittedly, the programmes do not have a one hundred percent success rate, but the success rate is high enough for me to suggest that it be tried and to that effect, I do not mind being known as a recovering alcoholic in the AA programme nor does Ranjan. In fact, the more number of people know, the better, as some lives may be saved.