Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Not an alcoholic

Fifteen pairs of eyes turned expectantly on me.

My mouth turned dry. As each woman introduced herself and described the agony of addiction and despair that had brought her there, my heart sank further.

By now I knew the introductory formula. “Hi, my name is Cynthia Rodrigues, and I am…”

I paused. The grandmother next to me squeezed my hand. Other heads nodded encouragement, willing me to lay my burden down.

But I couldn’t bring myself to complete the statement.

The others, veterans of many an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, interpreted my hesitation as fear, shame and denial.

Fierce confusion assailed me. The women around me, a mix of ages (the youngest 14, the oldest 73), and socio-economic and educational backgrounds, had been honest about their own truths. How would they take mine?

“…NOT an alcoholic.”

Shocked gasps escaped the lips of the women. Granny’s hand shrank back, as if it had touched something slimy. On the faces of the others, I saw the equivalent of doors slamming shut, suspicious eyes peering from behind peepholes, while I stood, suddenly unwelcome, in the hallway.

The leader of the group, a girl in her 30s, frowned at me. “You should not be here,” she said, her dulcet tones chilled beyond recognition. “You have no right to infiltrate our privacy. These are vulnerable women who are trying bravely to write a new future for themselves. How dare you make a mockery of their efforts?”

“I-I didn’t mean to intrude,” I babbled. “Didn’t Fr J talk to you? I’m a trainee reporter, assigned to do my first piece on female alcoholism; Fr J said I could interview a few women, those willing to talk, and write their stories using fake first names.”

The meeting was over. Through the veil of tears that threatened to pour down, I saw the hostility and anger on their faces and stumbled out of the room.

Stepping out of the fortress that was the Kripa Foundation-run free rehabilitation centre for female alcoholics, I walked out and sat down on a broken wall near the pavement. My spirit was crushed and crumpled up within me.

A tiny part of it was worried that my writing career had crashed even before taking off. The features editor of the newspaper that had hired me on a trial basis would not be too thrilled about the story-that-wasn’t.

But a greater part of me was thinking about the shame and the humiliation of that meeting. Of being accused of wrongful intentions. Of being seen as a betrayer. Of knowing that my dream of touching my readers’ hearts with the stories of these hapless, alcohol-addicted women was blown to shreds.

I walked to the phone booth across the street and called Fr J. At the sound of his hello, my tears tumbled out. I hadn’t falsely claimed to be an alcoholic. I hadn’t gone there to mock them. Why had they been so quick to misunderstand?

At his request, I knocked on the doors of the centre again, much subdued. Fr J’s phone call to the centre helped.

Not everyone spoke, but many did. The old granny, the teenager, a college student, a doctor, a diplomat’s wife. Together they shared their stories, hopeful that some other woman might learn from their nightmares and seek help.

Listening to them and writing about their ordeal helped me realize that there is often a thin line between our sanity and desperation. But for the grace of that line, I might easily be the one to complete the statement that I had once tripped over.

(This post has been written for the Weekly Challenge at Yeah Write.)


  1. I commend you for your bravery and knocking on that door again. I'm not so sure I would have been able to do it after what you had just went through. I'm happy to hear it turned out well for you!

  2. Thank you so much, Jen. Strangely, while I encountered hostility the first time around, I found them more willing to talk when I went there less than an hour later. Sometimes it is such a relief to confide in a total stranger.

  3. How strange. I am an alcoholic, and unless the meeting is closed, we welcome non-alcoholics. Personally, I'm glad whenever anyone tries to learn more about it. That creates more empathetic hearts.

  4. Yes I can see how you felt the first time you visited them.The fact that you went the second time shows your intention was sincere.
    I hope those who came back to tell their stories understood why you were there and you had no evil intentions.

  5. That sounds like a tough experience, Cynthia! Kudos to you for going back and getting those stories.

    Today I am visiting from the A to Z Challenge 2014 sign up list! :-) I hope you've signed up for the Theme Reveal BlogFest! We're posting our Theme Reveal post on March 21.

    Vidya Sury
    Have you signed up for the A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal BlogFest? – Sign Up Now #atozchallenge #atozreveal

  6. So where do I read the stories you wrote?


  7. Hi, Natalie, thank you for coming by. If it is as you say, then perhaps I wandered into a closed meeting. Maybe that is why they got on the defensive. But a few of them agreed to speak to me eventually.

  8. Thank you, Ranu, I am sure they did. Otherwise they would not have agreed to speak to me. It takes an enormous amount of courage to talk about one's addictions. Listening to their stories enabled me to understand the pain that they were carrying in their hearts, the pain that had pushed them to become alcoholics.

  9. Ah! Vidya, so good to see you again. Of course, I am going to take part in the A to Z challenge this year. Last year was so demanding and yet so much fun. All I need to do is fine tune my theme for this year.

  10. Hola, Dagny, great to see you. Which stories of mine do you want to read?



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