The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, September 24, 2000
Life Ties

Tell me why?
By Taru Bahl

I WAS buying medicines at a chemist shop when a young man staggered in. Wearing a thick stubble, he looked as if he hadn’t seen a shower for a week. There was a stale odour emanating from his body and clothes. The tall bony frame was stooped. He incoherently muttered something across the counter. The otherwise polite attendant replied rudely, "We don’t keep these things in our store. Please leave." The man flashed a Rs 500 note but the attendant stood his ground. Desperate, the young man lunged towards the glass cabinet. His hands were trembling and saliva was running down his mouth. At this point, the distraught chemist used force to push him out of the shop."You won’t get it from me," he said angrily. The next thing we knew was that the man had collapsed into a heap just outside the shop. The chemist made some quick calls and had his brother rush him to the General Hospital.

I asked him about the young man."This had to happen, madam. Parvinder is addicted to cough syrups and cannot survive without them. Just the other day, he was found lying in a ditch. He had mixed drugs with alcohol. It breaks your heart to see his helpless wife and children ostracised by the community because of his addiction. He used to have a decent office job. Unlike us, he is educated and comes from a respectable middle class family. However, Parvinder’s addiction in the last decade has brought him to this final stage of ruin. All his waking hours are spent thinking of how to get his next ‘fix’. His wife is running the house by working as a nurse to an old couple. There was a stage a few years ago when he had resolved to cleanse himself. His father got him a job, sent him to a drug rehabilitation centre and made him undergo counselling at Narcotics Anonymous. Precisely six months later, he had relapsed into addiction again. It is more severe now."


The obvious question which came to my mind was: why do people follow a course which runs counter to their own interests? Why do they choose to take the path of self-destruction when they have everything going for them? Why is intoxification so attractive? Why are sincere promises violated? Why do addicts repeatedly fail in their attempts at ‘reforming’? In spite of being nice people, why do they cause hurt and anguish to those who nurture and mean so much to them?

The chemist provided some answers since he had interacted with Parvinder over the years and was known to the family. According to him, it was in the hostel that he got into bad company. The freedom of adult life combined with his restless and adventurous nature made him experiment with a lot of things. So whether it was racing bikes, chasing girls, smoking or drinking, he tried them all. While for most of his friends these were transitory distractions, he got habituated. Maybe his circumstances were different. His mother had died and his father had remarried. He couldn’t accept this change in his life. His grades started falling and he was suspended from college for a semester. While he was sub-consciously seeking parental approval, his actions were rebellious. He was desperate for his father’s attention and love and since he couldn’t get it by being good, he chose to play truant. Meanwhile, his casual beer drinking on the sly in college had graduated to evening drinking in bars and pubs. A group of ‘like- minded’ students, who were affluent and daring, got together and he started drifting. All plans of getting into a professional course got sidelined.

Parvinder always thought he would be able to snap out of the habit whenever he wanted to. He was, after all, more intelligent and talented than the rest. But things just kept getting worse. When he was short of money, he started stealing car stereos. By now his errant behaviour and addiction were full-blown. His father too got fed up of bailing him out and of seeing his weak resolves of turning over a new leaf failing. He finally told him that he was a social embarrassment and a hopeless case for whom he neither had time nor the patience.

He moved to Chandigarh and changed four jobs in three years. Around this time, he fell in love with the gentle and caring daughter of his landlord. She knew about his addiction but was convinced that her love and devotion would cure him. He too made many promises and continued to woo her passionately till she said ‘yes’. For a while, his addiction did not cause major upheavals in their marital life. She did not realise the magnitude of his problem. He had become an expert at lying so could hoodwink her easily. It is not as if he did not care for her or his children, or that he had no plans for their future. He shared his pipe dreams with her actually believing them himself. But he could not step out of his world of dreams to confront reality and his worsening addiction. He ran up hefty debts and couldn’t keep a job for long. He lost his regular friends. His dopey cronies avoided him since he never had any money on him. He took to stealing things from the house — a watch today, a tape recorder the next ---- to get him his next ‘dose’.

Seeing no signs of recovery, Parvinder’s wife approached her father-in-law for help in getting him treated. The process of reformation began. Doctors warned her than an established pattern of addiction, whether it is substance abused, overeating, sex addiction or gambling, doesn’t miraculously change overnight. External help like therapy, counselling and family support help initially but it is the individual’s self-determination and iron will which would ensure that he doesn’t relapse into addiction. They explained to her that people indulging in substance abuse are as desirous of enjoying good health, professional success and/or loving relationship as other normal people. The only difference is that they are not willing to labour for it. They want quick gratification.

The doctors put the wife in contact with AL-ANON, the counselling cell for the families of addicts. The support and guidance provided here helps the traumatised, and often confused, family members to look at their situation objectively. By establishing a better understanding, they can help themselves before doing something constructive for the addicts. Unfortunately, the family in most cases is unaware of the magnitude and implications of the addiction. Their interpretation and responses to the problem are often clouded by their emotional attachment to the addict which stalls the treatment and healing process. The addict gets labelled as the abuser and the family sees itself as the abused. Over a period of time both get distanced from the actual core of the issue and if they do not seek timely professional intervention it might just be too late.

I am told that Parvinder is still in hospital. His condition is deteriorating by the day. He is remorseful but does it matter now? Besides his own life, he has destroyed the lives of his wife and children; especially the children who will have to bear the cross of having an addict for a father all their lives. Didn’t Parvinder think about his innocent wide-eyed children whom he loved to cuddle during his sober moments? I am sure he did. He surely loved them as much as you love your children. Then why did he do it? Why did he have to act so insanely?

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