This article originally appeared on VICE India.
In India, there is a massive disparity between the vices a man can have, and those that a woman can, when it comes to being judged by people around you and the society at large. I come from a family where I, as a woman, can’t even mention the words “alcohol”, “smoking” or “drugs” at home. These are sins that do not exist out here—or at least that’s how we all pretend.
After leaving home for college in 2016, I got my first lick of freedom and what it means to do stuff without having to be answerable to anyone. After I graduated in 2019, I returned home to my family in Mumbai. But after having lived away all these years, I was unprepared to go back to a life that comes with censorship. What was the toughest though, was that over the past few years, I had become a secret alcoholic. There was no one around to tell me to stop, though the bigger problem of course was that I, myself, didn’t know where to stop.
It all started after I broke up with my toxic boyfriend after college. He was utterly sexist and believed that women are not biologically designed for sexual pleasure. The way we had sex often left me sexually and emotionally frustrated. I felt powerless for not being able to find pleasure in my sex life. I eventually broke up with him.
But when I moved back home, I started having sex with different people to fill the gaping hole which the lack of intimacy had left. This was enabled with alcohol, which made me feel liberated and reduced my frustration. The feeling of being with someone new almost everyday made me feel powerful, desired, validated. After a month though, the excitement faded. What remained behind was an empty habit.
I wasn’t even interested in emotional intimacy anymore, realising that one-night stands are hardly the route to take to get to that place. All I wanted was the thrill of being pleased in bed, which kept me going. I wasn’t able to stop even when I wanted to, even when the satisfaction and validation had drained out. Drinking alcohol led to sex, and regretting the sex the following day made me go back to alcohol. It was an endless cycle which I had grown tired of but just couldn’t figure how to escape from. My brain became accustomed to higher levels of dopamine (a neurotransmitter that activates the reward centre of the brain) and craved more, which means addicts go around looking for the next “hit”.
My life snowballed into an addiction without me even realising it did, but on the way, it made me feel alienated. I couldn’t share this side of me with my close friends and family. More than the fear of being judged, I myself wasn’t ready to accept this side of me. It was like falling into a pit—I drank to hook up to not feel lonely, but the more I did this, the lonelier I got. Soon, I stopped believing in real human relations or connections, and everything was just about that instant gratification that tricks you into thinking you’re working towards resolving your loneliness but in reality, just driving you deeper into it. I knew I needed professional help but I kept delaying it. I was just spiralling, with no idea how to press the brakes and step off.
And then, coronavirus entered all our lives.
Suddenly, lockdowns were announced which meant that hooking up with strangers or going out to drink were suddenly cancelled. My parents wouldn’t allow me to leave home at all. I reassessed my options but I realised I had no choice but to stay put at home where even the word “alcohol” is taboo, let alone discussing drinking.
The start of this period saw me sexting multiple men, all at the same time. But without the alcohol, there was no thrill to this. Not being with them physically didn’t give me the same sense of validation which had made me go on and on before. Quitting alcohol also meant my moods fluctuated, and I’ve had withdrawal symptoms show up. I felt toxic towards my family with whom I was locked in, and they often had to bear my frustrated outbursts without knowing where they came from. Eventually, I couldn’t help but accept the reality that there wouldn’t be any alcohol or sex in lockdown. The fact that the city I live in did not deem alcohol to be an essential commodity and shut down the liquor stores helped my cause too.
And as lockdown season wore on, my life took a turn for the better. What made me feel constrained till a few months ago, now made me feel empowered. The lockdown helped me to make necessary lifestyle changes I so desperately needed. The rules at home which once stifled me were now, in fact, an advantage in making me regain control over my life. With time, I was able to build on trust with my family as well. I also realised how my career had taken a backseat, and I’ve started looking for jobs. Over time, I was able to build positive changes in my life too, like meditating, working out, staying hydrated, and eating good food. Making these changes at home, I also got the approval from my family, which I hadn’t realised was actually very important to me. Validation, I realised, is a lot more fulfilling when it comes from a place close to you and is honest in its intentions.
Another thing that gradually changed was winning back friendships I had lost in the process. A lot of my previous hook-ups involved my male friends, and sex with them meant we ended up losing our friendship in the process. Now though, I value the friends I have a lot more, and they’re not merely a means to an end.
My house was almost like rehab for me in these four months of lockdown. It was much required and I cannot thank my family enough for saving me from crashing, without them even knowing what they were doing just by being themselves. At a time when social media is flooded with stories of the ill-effects of lockdown—increased domestic violence, abuse, greater friction between partners and families, pushing addicts over the edge and into relapse—I know my story is one of privilege. But I am glad I could put my toxic lifestyle behind me with the help of my family, without them even knowing how they’ve saved me.