People Recovering addicts and their families gather in the Nilgiris to learn more about the National Adventure and Leadership School’s rejuvenation programme for alcoholics. They open up on how Alcoholics Anonymous gave them another shot at life
“Ellarukkum ore vyaadhi, ore marundhu.” Geeta sounds weary, yet strangely at peace. Everyone here suffers from the same affliction and the medicine is the same, and there is comfort in knowing she is not alone, she says. Geeta is the wife of a recovering alcoholic. “There is not a temple I did not visit, or a god that I did not pray to, for my husband,” she says. She learnt about Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) six months ago and began attending their meetings. Her husband Babu, a bus conductor, initially refused to accompany her but is now trying to give up alcohol. “I no longer visit temples. This is my temple. I celebrate AA occasions as festivals and buy new clothes on those days,” she says. Her friend from AA is Dr. Sumathi, whose husband Swamy could not stop drinking either. Sumathi was despairing, frustrated and angry about this for years. “I would constantly worry that he would show up drunk at a function or at my workplace and create a scene. I couldn’t think of anything else.”
But AA taught her to cope, just as it allowed 49-year-old Swamy to reclaim his life. The recovery process has been rocky, says Swamy. He had been drinking for nearly 30 years with short spells of sobriety in between. “I would drink only on weekends with friends in Dubai, where I had a thriving business. But gradually, a time came when I would wake up in the morning and reach for a drink.” Swamy began avoiding people, conducted his business only on the phone and even stopped driving. “I wouldn’t do anything that would keep me away from my drink,” he recalls. He became reclusive and depressed. When his brother asked him to seek help, he fought with him, but eventually agreed to go into rehab in Chennai. “I remained clean for a year. I thought I was over it and decided to return to Dubai. I stepped into the Chennai Airport, saw a can of beer, and relapsed. There was no family to stop me and I drank, at the airport, on the flight…” Swamy has been sober for two years now.
“Being with AA brought home to me that 90 per cent of us alcoholics share the same script,” says 48-year-old Hari, who has been sober for four years now. He started drinking when he was 24 and stopped when he was 44. He was in the armed forces and now works with an MNC. “We have all cheated, lied and manipulated. And we are in denial. We think we are in control and can stop drinking whenever we want to. We can’t. I wish I could be a normal drinker, but I know I cannot. I am like Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde — a nice guy when sober, but not nice at all after alcohol.”
The first two years are the most difficult, says businessman K. Srinivas, who has been sober for 19 years. He believes he was reborn 19 years ago, thanks to AA. He is the chief counsellor for rehab with the National Adventure and Leadership School, an organisation that has launched a rehabilitation programme for alcoholics. Latha, his wife, met and married him when he was on the path to recovery. But she knows better than to be complacent as Srinivas constantly reminds her that a relapse can happen anytime, in a split second. She recollects how Srinivas took her to an AA meeting on the day of her wedding and introduced the people there as his other family — the one that kept him off liquor and gave him a new life.
The recovering alcoholics and their families know only too well that sobriety is a fragile reality. Every morning presents a new challenge and fear that they may not make it through the day, and every night a prayer goes up in gratitude when it has been free of alcohol. There is fear of slipping back into the old way of life, but they believe AA will keep them back from the abyss. Says Srinivas: “Fear is good. Because we know now that the opposite of fear is not courage, but faith.”
(Some names have been changed)