To booze or be abused, that is the question

Raj K. Verma

Aziebu Shaiza’s seminal article “adulterated alcohol/ illicit stuff” referred to adulteration of liquor in the state. This, and the brouhaha raked up by the unfortunate demise of the lately departed Zaren Murry have urged me to draw inferences from the two incidents to present a new dimension based on my personal experiences. 

As a recovering alcohol abuser myself (is there such thing as an ex-abuser?) I can only empathize with the authors of the various write-ups and know where they are coming from. Substance abuse is like Hotel California (“you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”). I am recovering from a liver transplant necessitated by end stage alcoholic liver disease. My testimony of this journey through pain was carried by a daily and evoked many personal responses since then via SMS, phone calls and email. There were messages of solidarity, empathy, encouragement and some, just heart rending pleas from voices dying (pun intended, albeit a bit sick) to be heard from a mist of alcoholic haze. This has helped me move from remorse to resolve.

As with any horizontal slice of a vertical issue, there are two layers to it. In this case, the personal and the impersonal, the personal pertaining to my inner being and the impersonal to my immediate social environment

During my prolonged illness, I got used to the succor and comfort provided by loved ones and friends as I played Russian roulette with death for almost 2 years. This provided me with a “Linus” blanket around which I built a comfort zone and derived much solace and strength. The ‘miracle’ transplant happened and I got more than just a new liver. I now share a profound relationship with my Maker and cherish every extended minute He gives me as a celebration of life on earth.

But this is not as easy as it seems. The blessed love and attention showered upon me during bedridden times have pampered me and I now wrestle within in trying to rehabilitate myself into the mainstream of being a member of a social setup. At times, I feel diffident and aloof, unsure and unconfident. Like a baby walking its first tentative steps, I seek support more than nurturing, and reason from God for resurrecting me. I acknowledge His mysterious ways rather than to question His motive. I see the world from a fresh perspective through different lens. 

More than anything, I need purpose in life that shall protect me from treading destructive paths again. This is my personal agenda. However, human existence on earth is only as simple or complex as we make it. The pressures of everyday life from a society with large expectations bear heavily on weakened shoulders. In a state of flux, I try to remain the same old Raj that people knew so well. Nevertheless, have I changed? What is my identity? From living-dead to nearly-dead, have I come alive?

Now the other side of the slice. I have found a new niche in society. I am driven by a purpose to do good in the furtherance of God’s Kingdom, and I do not see the need for standing on the pulpit to do this nor breathing fire and brimstone. I do not condemn or condone, nor sermonize or spiritualize. I evangelize realization and moderation. Excess of anything is destructive. I do not ask, “Why booze?” but “Why the need to abuse?”

In my new avatar, Aziebu’s realism about prohibition and Zaren’s need to do social good makes me draw parallels with my own life. Aziebu says he has been to hell and back. So did Zaren and so have I. But we were the lucky ones whose voices can still be heard and what we talk is what we walked. We are purpose driven and it fills us with a different (non-toxicant) fire in the belly. 

But even as we speak and do, our social environment raises inhuman expectations of us. There is a tendency of stereotypical labelling and people expect us to have changed ephemerally. Now that is abuse! Speaking for myself, I drank a lot and I still do. Old habits die hard (with the person) but not me. Only difference is that the whisky has been replaced by apple juice. Even the colour is the same! What is important here is that it is my choice and not influenced by anyone. With due apologies to the Bard, I still enjoy the company of ‘Bacchus and his pards’ without visiting, as Aziebu aptly put it, Bacchanalia. 

No doubt, Zaren too found fulfilment in his mission by his own choice. It is a tragic reflection of our times that his passing away brought to light the societal misconceptions by which we are judged. In his case, because he preferred to go about his job quietly rather than shout from the rooftop rafters. Alone, he celebrated his triumph over evil in his own way, as society remained a mute spectator. Only death made his voice heard, echoed by his peers today.

Every substance abuser goes through a phase of denial before accepting that there is a problem. Until then we only try to justify through reasons that are unique and most original, and beyond argument. Likewise, I argue that society too is in denial if it cannot accept the fact that we exist, and therefore we are. No amount of socio-labelling or stereotyping can deny the fact that society has an ugly side to it. Beauty and ugliness is in the eyes of the Maker and not the (mis)interpreter. Ugliness can sometimes conceal an innate God-given beauty and vice versa. That is why we have religion and places of worship – so that we may discover that inner beauty. Society must accept this fact before judging what is good or evil. It is God’s will that counts in the end. Remember, God wants people who are willing children rather than worthy men.

To carry the argument further, I opine that former abusers are reformed and not transformed. We have not undergone a metamorphosis to sub-human or super-human status. We all gave up our destructive habits for selfish and personal reasons and not because we attained instant nirvana. But life is more than a celluloid dream. We remain what we were- members of a multi faceted society.  Just as we are trying to rehabilitate ourselves, society too must reconcile to the fact that it has a responsibility to accept and support us. We are fuelled by resolve and need to be driven by a purpose that justifies our existence, without which we would be dead. Is society providing an enabling environment to support this?

The trappings of civilization, modernism, culture, religion, law et al is the one-size-fits-all garb we wear to cover the thin veneer that hides our primal self, which rears its ugly head occasionally to reveal the beast within. If you do not believe me, go read today’s newspapers. Reading William Golding’s “Lord of the flies” makes us realize this. Society today needs to accept the fact that substance abuse, AIDS, war, discrimination, killings etc is a transient manifestation of our primordial identity as animals and humanism is hypocrisy. To do this society needs to reconstruct and reform with understanding and wisdom before attempting to restructure and transform with pre-emptive design and intent.