A former alcoholic shares his story

APRIL 15 — A few months ago, I wrote about Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias and how, possibly, he was afflicted by sexual addiction. 

Since then, I have received numerous messages from people sharing similar struggles. 

I even had a brief and very eye-opening conference call with leaders and counsellors who’ve worked with people fighting all kinds of addictions. 

It’s clear to me that addictions abound in the community; what’s less clear is whether we understand the severity of the problem.

This is why I am grateful I had a conversation with my friend Rakesh. A former alcoholic who went through years of rehab, his honesty with his battles and losses due to alcoholism (from which a few deep scars still remain) will hopefully offer some insight and hope to those who need it.

1. When did you start drinking? How, or why, did it become a problem?

My first taste of alcohol was perhaps in my late teens. I never quite liked it. Then in my twenties, it started liking me. 

We began to get along well. Like most relationships, it began sporadically, then the frequency increased and naturally intimacy set in. 

With my newfound love, the existing loves had to give way; not even my wife was allowed to interfere with my booze bonding time. In due course, naturally, my marriage collapsed.

My job? Oh, I was drinking at work and it wasn’t long before people knew. My boss at the time, instead of firing me on the spot, retrenched me and gave me a month’s pay. In hindsight, this was a real act of kindness from a person whom I owe a lot to. 

Now for the bad news.

I got separated from my wife, went back to my parents’ place, then left. I bummed around, worked as a security guard for a while but fell off the wagon and got seriously loaded on vile cheap stuff.

Then the beginnings of redemption came in the form of three hard-landing punches from an ex-colleague. He literally knocked sense into me and put me in a rehabilitation centre, Breakthrough Drug Rehab Centre. 

Checking into this centre, and having my son, must rank as two of the best things that ever happened to me.

2. Everybody 'drinks' once in a while, but not many would identify as alcoholics; what intensity of drinking would you personally consider qualifying as addictive?

Everyone who drinks is already a potential alcoholic.

The next drop is just a trigger waiting to be pulled. Alcoholism is when your entire schedule is made around it. It’s when the thought of the next drink runs roughshod over your priorities.

You know alcohol is starting to sink its roots in you when you can’t stop thinking about it and every moment constitutes an obsessive longing to hit the pub, or open a bottle on your own.

You may have gotten stoned on Friday night but come Saturday afternoon, after the hangover, you’re already dreaming about the next hit. 

You know alcohol is starting to sink its roots in you when you can’t stop thinking about it and every moment constitutes an obsessive longing to hit the pub, or open a bottle on your own. — AFP pic
You know alcohol is starting to sink its roots in you when you can’t stop thinking about it and every moment constitutes an obsessive longing to hit the pub, or open a bottle on your own. — AFP pic

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And your soul glows with longing at the thought.

As such, I’m sceptical about even so-called “social drinking” and what-not. We never know when or if we can fall into the abyss of infinitely desiring alcohol; the next glass could be the first of 20 which knocks you out.

3. When did you realise you needed serious help? What did you do? What happened?

As with most alcoholics, I never thought I needed help. Typical machomale ego, “Hey, I know what to do, okay? I’ll deal with it.”

But there came a time (especially when I was working as a security guard, too much free time and your mind is playing devil and angel like with Tom in his frequent bouts with Jerry), when you feel the helplessness hit you like a tonne of beer bottles. 

I realised that I’d forgotten what life was like without alcohol; I practically forgot how sober evenings felt like. I barely even knew what sobriety or normality was any more because alcohol tends to colour even the moments when I wasn’t stoned and blacking out.

What did I do? Nothing. I continued telling myself I might get fed up and be done with it. It never happened. It never could.

Hence, my huge gratitude to that friend who literally beat some sense into me. Thinking back all these years, I’m so glad he did. If not, I’m sure I may have sunk even further.

4. How was the rehabilitation process like? What did it help you achieve, and how did it do so?

My rehab began in detox for four days. Locked up.

Great time to rethink what happened, I value those four days. I felt like Steve McQueen in Papillon. After detox, I joined the full rehab programme.

The centre is run by Pastor Samuel Krishnan, himself once a former drug addict who went to rehab, picked up the Bible, became a pastor and was soon tasked by his church to run this centre. This man knows addiction inside out. 

His style is more sharing than teaching per se. He frequently used Biblical stories and passages to talk about strength and conquering our inner demons.

The discipline in the centre is maintained with plenty of love and, sometimes, punishments like being forced to miss the nightcap or tea break (which meant a lot to us).

In the centre, I started to understand myself a lot better. There’s nothing like being put amid other alcoholics and addicts and realising that you are grouped in the same sack of scumbags and societal refuse... and realising that you’re one. 

Whatever terrible or disgusting character traits I believed these folks possessed, it didn’t take long for me to realise I had them all too.

Pastor Samuel always insisted that it is a defect in character that causes downfalls. The centre is not about getting us to stop drinking or jabbing our veins. 

No. Rehabilitation is about building character.

5. What is your perception today of alcohol? Do you think it should be banned? How can we prevent more cases of addiction?

Prohibition triggers crime. Bootlegging was a huge issue in the USA in the 1920s and 1930s, giving rise to Al Capone. Banning alcohol will only make things worse; there will be homemade hooch and cheaper stuff that can kill you.

Also as I learned from the centre and there were many examples there, there’s the concept of transfer addiction i.e. one quits alcohol but “transfers” to drugs and it’s back to square one.

The solution is why not transfer your addiction to something healthy and which you like and will not hurt you and others. 

My addiction now is just movies, and writing about them. I’m glad to be rediscovering gems that had once eluded me (eg, some great James Cagney films). The best thing is that being a movie fan keeps me away from thoughts of alcohol. 

As for prevention, just keep an eye on those around you, especially those you love.

You never know when they are going to slip into any form of addiction (video/computer games addiction is another growing issue). Encourage each other to open up, let honesty and sincerity rule. 

Truth will always prevail. Don’t bury it till it’s too late and you need Indiana Jones to dig it up. 

* Rakesh is more than happy to chat with anyone who wishes to talk about alcoholism, recovery, rehab, etc. It’s his dearest wish that more people can be saved from this affliction and even more, avoid it from the very start. He can be contacted via email at [email protected]

** This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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