I had always been an awkward kid. A little nervous and eager to please, I could put on a show just to be liked a little more. I was the first to offer help when somebody needed a favor. I would go out of my way to fit someone else’s schedule. I could never say no – to anything. The temptation of being appreciated for my enthusiasm was far greater than feasibility. I was okay as long as I thought people liked me. It didn’t matter why – it only mattered that they did. Approval meant I wasn’t invisible. Since I wasn’t bold or outgoing enough to make friends and had no siblings, I was glad when accepted into groups. I would change my mold to everyone’s needs and was happy not to have an opinion.
I gave myself extra credit for doing well in school. I thought I was better than others since nobody I knew had to deal with a broken family. My problems were “serious” because I started at a disadvantage. My under-developed brain couldn’t grasp the idea of subjectivity. Where I am from, the concept of divorce was objectionable twenty years back. And if for a moment I were to forget of my familial discord, people’s concern about me reminded me of the distinction – a dysfunctional family was disgraceful sure, but it also inspired pity.
During my late adolescent years, this translated into seeking comfort in relationships – a fix for my emotional vulnerability. A teenager, acting out due to raging hormones, with undertones of a victim mentality. The only way to remedy that was indulging in bad relationships. For several years this continued, and I slowly started to use alcohol to suppress all of the negative emotions I felt. It didn’t help, of course. What I thought would pull me out of my rabbit hole was only pushing me further down. There were times when I woke up with no recollection of the previous night and got into verbally and physically abusive fights. I wasn’t doing very well in school either and graduated two years after my classmates. I worked at a call center to support myself till I earned my bachelor’s degree. Yet, somehow, none of it was enough for me to stop.
I was not an alcoholic, but I wasn’t casually drinking. My otherwise mediocre life didn’t seem so mediocre in bouts of reckless bingeing. With every additional drink, I was louder, friendlier, braver. Reveling in the thrills of acting on impulse. I became this person I liked – uninhibited and bold enough to say things I wouldn’t in a thousand years. I was coolness personified and believed it too. The more the drinks, the longer the night, and my need to keep it going for a little bit longer. I failed to notice how the intensity of this callousness disguised in personal freedom grew with the number of drinks I had for the night. But I couldn’t stop. Because when the alcohol wore off, I was no longer my ideal self.
When you use a substance as a social lubricant to quell your nerves, it backfires. Extreme low moods followed the charade and bravado. The thing about addiction is that it doesn’t just affect one part of your life. It affects all of it. Cascading down to your work, your family, and everything in between. The polarity in my behavior was evident in every aspect. I was pulling all-nighters one day, then cooped up in my room for two or three days straight out of the guilt. My dependency on a substance, a person, or an emotion kept me going. I had learned to drown out my sense of self to be part of the herd. Every day was just like the last, and I leaned to the bottle in a desperate attempt to keep things just a little more interesting. I felt more myself when I was a little tipsy. The conversations I had with people that otherwise felt too shallow to keep me intrigued started to feel genuine. I was evading all responsibility under the pretext of being out of my senses.
I could go on about the adverse effects alcohol had on my anxious personality, but enough has been said about it already. The stories are mostly identical – extreme euphoria and then hitting rock bottom. I was either –
- Turning to alcohol in happiness, misery, and boredom while I reasoned my lack of self-discipline with procrastination because temporarily, it felt good. It was such a significant part of my life that everything else had started to feel small – every major and minor event enriched with a glass of whiskey.
- Living in a bubble of denial, numbing myself to everything – except when the repressed emotions started to show up in my drunken stupors. My issues were only addressable in the absence of sobriety. And I had learned to self-medicate through the shame of the morning-after with even more alcohol.
- Letting things happen to me than taking charge of my life. My addictive tendencies showed up not just in my relationship with substances but with friends, family, and everything I truly cared about.
Not everybody is in a love-hate relationship with alcohol. Most people I know are perfectly fine with a couple of drinks every other night or even occasional binges. But I’m not one of them. Some are more susceptible than others to fall prey to these cyclical behavioral patterns. Chasing meaning in everything but themselves. If you are genetically predisposed to alcoholism, or even depression, if there is a history in the family, it doesn’t take a lot to give in. I’m not saying that is the only reason. But it’s an element to factor in. My parents didn’t have a strong presence while I was growing up. Maybe that helped aggravate a pre-existing condition. Maybe it didn’t. I’ll never know. I tried to deny it too. Several times. I blamed it on hormones, on my childhood, or some external entity that worked against me, making me act the way I did. But I got sick of that too.
I haven’t given it up yet, but I’m slowing down. I can’t vouch for the positive changes of being alcohol-free because I’m still learning to be a social drinker – hoping I will no longer need to – even in socially awkward situations. I tried drinking just on the weekends, but that doesn’t help if you don’t know when to stop. I now drink with friends. If we’re celebrating and stick to wine mostly. Also, the physical symptoms of a hangover in my 30’s have effectively helped dial it down. So, it’s not all downhill from here. I know moderation is not the answer to addiction but one step at a time.
If there’s anything I have learned in all of these years; is the clarity of thought I have now is unparalleled. I don’t try to soothe my wounds using the bottle as a crutch. I drink at a pace where I am not gulping down a shot and three drinks in an hour. I am learning to enjoy it than seek comfort in it. Not waking up to debilitating hangovers has been life-changing too. Taking a step back hasn’t been exhilarating, but you have to realize you are much more than the effects a substance has on you. If you could relate to anything I have mentioned, ask yourself why you’re reaching for that glass. There are better ways to deal with a crisis than numbing your senses. We have one life – thanks to the spectacle that was 2020 – that phrase is now more relatable than ever. Your past doesn’t define you. A chemical definitely doesn’t define you. If not others, prove it to yourself. Yours is the only opinion that matters.