Alcoholism in women — a recovering addict shares her emotional story
A personal journey of addiction, recovery and mental health
I thought that alcoholism in women was a unicorn — only men become drunks. Women are always portrayed sipping mimosas during brunch or elegant glasses of red wine with your girlfriends after work.
Not a 20-something hot mess drinking to cope with stress and ending up losing friends and her job.
The morning after my office Diwali party, I woke up with bruises on my knees, a dishevelled bedroom and a text from my boss telling me not to come in.
I had no memory of what happened, just concerned messages from colleagues explaining that I got a ‘bit too carried away’, yet again. I’d fallen over things and people – never get drunk in front of your CEO who you hold a grudge against, is all I can say.
It wasn’t the first time either. I’d been hungover at work, I’ve even fallen asleep at my desk.
I had already alienated family members and worried friends. This was my rock bottom.
Why I drink
There’s so much expected from us, but we’re told ‘don’t complain, don’t give up, keep hustling and stretching yourself’. Ultimately, the rubber band snaps and breaks.
For me, it was a soothing salve to get through daily life. In college, we drank to pass the time. Alcohol also cured boredom, exam stress and performance anxiety on first dates.
After moving cities and living alone in Bengaluru, the circle of admirers I had growing up grew apart and moved on. I felt left behind, just trying not to get fired at my first job for constantly messing up.
Alcohol filled this pit of anxiety and low self-esteem. It was cheap, easily available and helped me sleep better than any rescue remedy or meditation app.
My friends joked about my sudden love of drinking. I hadn’t exactly been a teetotaler, but my idea of a party for a long time was nursing Jamaica Passion Breezers.
Drinking changes every part of you
All our nights out ended with me having to be carried home. “I want to go out but I’m not going to be her babysitter” I’d overhear people commenting. It only drove me to drink more to feel less.
My parents questioned my changing personality, but alcoholics become pros at hiding their addiction.
My mother sat me down for a talk on one of her visits, but I’d mastered manipulation by then. It’s just stress about work, mama, you’re being ridiculous. Everyone in their 20s feels like this. That smell is just the perfume, you know they all have an alcohol base?
My aches and pains turned into illness. Relationships ended as all my aggression would come out on whoever was unfortunate enough to call me their girlfriend at that point.
The flu landed me at the doctor’s clinic.
A few tests later, I was sitting in front of a grim-faced doctor uncle getting a serious life talk. I was only 28, but drinking my life away. I was given three options – cut down, stop drinking or risk cirrhosis.
“Alcohol can affect pretty much every part of your body, from your heart to your liver to your nervous system, and it can also have significant effects on your mental health,” explains psychiatrist Dr Emmert Roberts.
Finding myself in an anonymous group
When I lost my job, something just clicked in me. It was the only thing I enjoyed in my life, something I had worked hard to succeed at, and I had ruined it.
How do you picture an Alcoholics Anonymous (Al-Anon) meeting? I didn’t know such a thing existed outside of the movies, that too in India.
Meetings take place regularly across the country. This would be the way I could get help without anyone knowing.
I was greeted with warmth and acceptance at Al-Anon, despite being the only woman present. I recently got my 90-day chip to mark my sobriety.
Every day is a struggle when you know just how easy it is to walk up to a shop and buy an inexpensive bottle of desi tharra.
There’s nothing glamourous or poetic about alcoholism in women. Without a recommendation from my previous job, I’ve had to start again from the bottom.
Accepting and acknowledging your circumstances is the most difficult thing to do. But once you say admit it’s not casual drinking, and you’re not just a party girl who likes to have fun, everything changes.
“There’s a shame attached to alcoholism in women. That we’ve lost the control we’re supposed to have over our lives. If we can’t take care of ourselves, how will we be good for others?” says mental health counsellor Urvashi Bhatia. “Alcohol is considered unladylike. So, when we struggle with it, we want to hide to failure of being a ‘good woman’.”
I feel lighter now, even with the demon of drinks sitting on my back. Don’t shy away from seeking help. Alcoholism in women is a disease like any other and you’re a champion if you can get through it alone, but you don’t need to.
*Names changed upon contributor’s request.
As told to Sara Hussain