CHENNAI: At first glance, Pradeep* appears like an average, middle class man working to make ends meet for his family. As he recounts every step down in his long tryst with alcoholism, it is hard to believe that the man with neatly combed hair and spectacles was the same man who used to be in and out of jail and often sprawled on the roads inebriated. Today, he says, he has actually started seeing the clothes his children wear, the kolam in his house and the flowers in his wife’s hair.
“At one point, my mother told me she wanted me to die as she could not see me alive this way,” he says. Taking to drinking after failing in his Class 10 exams, his alcoholism spiralled to a phase where he would wake up craving for alcohol and have his first drink of the day at 5 am.
“I got married at 20, and continued drinking even after having two kids. I was an auto driver then, and my wife was a domestic help. I would beat her, suspect her, and spend all my money on drinks,” he recounts with unhesitating honesty, at the 20th anniversary meet of Alcoholics Anonymous, Higher Power Group. The people and families shared their journeys, and the gradual de-addiction through the meetings. “I always associated alcoholism with someone who drinks cheap saarayam (arrack), beats their wife and uses bad language. I didn’t think that drinking whisky every day would also amount to alcoholism, and I never wanted to admit that I was a part of it,” says Ravi*, another member of the group.
Even when members from Alcoholics Anonymous came knocking his door, he genuinely thought they wanted his help for something. “They asked me to come for the meeting, they said they’d pick me up. I said I would go on my own, but they insisted. And I know why — if they hadn’t come, I would have never gone,” he says.
Lalitha, the wife of an alcoholic, recounted how she was happy only for three months of marriage after which alcohol ruined it.
“I would pretend to commit suicide, I wouldn’t eat and sleep for days. Now, after the meetings, things are better and I have started going to work, and living my life too,” she said.
The chief guests, Shyamala Swaminathan, a journalist and social worker, and Kanthalakshmi Chandramouli, a writer, appreciated the frankness of the speakers. As Kanthalakshmi told the group, “There is one word which comes to me — choice. We cannot choose the circumstances we are born into or our families. But what we can choose our friends, and what I see here is a group of friends, there are good vibes here.”
(*Names changed )