(Sreelata Menon shares the story of a friend, who went from doting on her husband to walking out)
The dictionary definition of alcoholism is ‘a chronic disorder marked by excessive and usually compulsive drinking of alcohol leading to psychological and physical dependence or addiction’. But what the dictionary doesn’t tell you is the overwhelming pain and acute distress it can cause. To other people.
I didn’t realise when the drinking slipped from being fun to an abusive nightmare.
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Late nights, parties, evenings filled with chiffon and champagne and we were having the best time of our lives. Insidiously things changed. Our get-togethers began to continue into the night even after we returned home. Just the two of us. One wee drink for him would lead to another and then to another. It was harmless fun, or so I thought. But soon our usual post-party post-mortems, at first such a great laugh at other people’s expense, slowly began turning inwards. “Why were you talking to so and so? Can’t you see how small I felt? My wife flirting with my CO.” Harsh words crept in when I retaliated. Turning in was the only way to combat it.
At times I would wake up to find him still angrily drinking long into the wee hours. A few hours’ sleep and the morning would bring back the wonderful man he was before he had been binging.
It was like nothing had happened at all. The abuse, insults, vile threats all forgotten. As loving as ever, he would get dressed and leave for office. And I would forget and forgive.
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But before long, those evenings after became more nightmarish and soon enough the evenings out also stopped. He had his bottle for company. And then would begin the verbal slap-fest. “We are not compatible, we should never have married and you are nothing to me.” And I began to fearfully wonder when and how this wonderful man had become the abusive devil he was. I began hiding his bottles, sending the servants home early. Didn’t want them to see me locked out of the house and pleading to be let in. Storming out of the house in the middle of the night every now and then, he would return only in the early hours. “Where did you go, who were you with?” No answer. Just the sound of the door slamming in my face.
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I began sleeping in another room. I would argue. I would shout back. For every vile comment at night I would have ten. It angered him more. I would also remember his insults and recount every one of them angrily in the morning when he was sober and loving. So now our mornings also became poisonous. If abuse was the norm at night then cruel baiting became the order of the day. But humiliated beyond words, I was losing my self-confidence.
He at least had an excuse – alcohol. I didn’t. I began feeling guilty. Was it somehow my fault he was drinking?
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For a while I avoided our friends, his course mates. But then when they were around he was always nice, affectionate in fact. So I began feverishly seeking them out, inviting them home. But the nightmare would return when they left. And when my devoted maid asked me one night if I wanted them to sleep in, I knew they knew.
But if I thought my humiliation was complete, there was more. One day his colleague looked at me sympathetically and suggested we seek counselling. Did he know? Why was he telling me? Did others know? Apparently the nights he disappeared he was in one bar or the other till he lost his coherence and the barman would call one of his course mates to take him home. So ranting and raving, tripping and stumbling he was always helped home. They had all kept quiet. And I hadn’t known. That was the last straw. I felt betrayed and totally bereft of all dignity. It was a defining moment. I figured that I could no longer stand the humiliation. It had obviously gone public and had been so for some time. Whatever love I had for him had perhaps long faded. Withered away by unseemly alcoholic onslaughts, now so did loyalty. Thank God we had no children. So I collected my courage. Packed my bags. And left.
And here I am years after the fact. I’m in a good place now. And I’ve got my dignity back. Dignity is the single most important thing a woman has. No relationship or man is worth losing one’s dignity over.