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2

Suicide is a taboo subject for conversation. Particularly what makes a person want to commit suicide or what to say in the face of their pain.

“A man devoid of hope and conscious of being so has ceased to belong to the future.”
― Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

Suicide is a subject almost everyone has thought of at some point or the other. Almost everyone has wondered what it would be like to end our own life or how it could be done without confronting the great fear - pain, suffocation or other discomforts. Yet suicide remains a taboo subject. The feelings behind suicide. What makes someone commit suicide. We can talk statistics or prevention or helplines, but in the face of actual pain that drives a person to suicide, we have no skills. There is a difference between contemplating suicide and planning to commit suicide. An important one. The first is a fairly common and natural response to unbearable negative emotions. The other is an irreversible action.

I admit I have often considered suicide. I have written about suicide before too. From a perspective of statistics, from a perspective of understanding widespread distress needing political answers, from a perspective of empathy when I read about suicide, from a perspective of failing to support and grieving when someone I know commits suicide and I have also considered suicide as an option to end my own life when I was very sad. Yet, whenever I have tweeted about the subject, I have immediately got responses that amount to stopstopstopstopstopstopstopstopSTOP! It is so immediate that it would be hilarious if the subject were not grave. I have got helpline numbers as replies, I have got advice to not let dark thoughts enter my mind.

Hello! I write and tweet and comment and contemplate issues of human rights abuse. How in the world can one do that without having any dark thoughts? If I were planning to commit suicide, why would I be tweeting instead of finding myself a rope? I understand that it can sometimes be a cry for help by a distraught person, but if the rest of the words are perfectly normal, where is the harm in reading to find out what is being said?

Because here is the thing. Even if a person were tweeting about suicide publicly as a last ditch call for attention and help, the last thing they'd need is to be told to shut up or a sea of platitudes. What they would be needing is an empathetic listener who cares.

What exactly is this fear of talking about suicides?

“The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

I admit I have spent a great deal of time contemplating committing suicide over the years. As in killing myself. I have been in unhappy relationships involving heartbreak, I've been in an abusive marriage with an alcoholic, I've been a broke single mother of a disabled child. Despair and depression are no strangers. And yet I am here, typing this post.

I have actually found thinking about suicide in great detail helpful. Instead of fearing the pain of death (and thus possibly taking a rash step "while I have the courage" maybe after a glass or two of vodka), I've gone and researched methods of suicide. What would cause the least pain? What are the consequences of failure? What is the best method so that it causes least pain and least risk of failing and living with permanent damage? And anyone who knows me knows that when I say research, I mean obsessive information finding till I am convinced I know the subject in and out without actual experience. Enough to make a very well considered decision. On and off, when I'm in utter despair, I've gone and rechecked all the information. And yet here I am, typing all this.

Is this a guarantee I will never commit suicide? No. But it pretty much guarantees that I have given it thorough thought and not found it a better tradeoff for now. It guarantees that if I do it, it will not be a thoughtless impulse, but a decision I take about my life after considering all options I have.

So how has contemplating suicide helped me?

By giving me an option. By giving me an exit from the pain. By giving me the concrete information that if all this gets unbearable, I still have the option to exit. In the process, a miracle happens. I am no longer cornered by my despair. I always have the cheat route out. And because I know that, I am never out of options. I lose the fear of making attempts to change my circumstances that could fail.  Just allowing myself to spend time thinking about ending myself is a catharsis. If no one else, at least I am acknowledging how bad things are. I am listening to myself. It helps me feel heard. It gives me a vocabulary for describing my situation when asking for help. No, I don't mean "I am suicidal, help me or else." I mean "This, this and this is the reason for my despair. I am not able to see functional ways out. I need help." - because hello, I've gone through all the reasons in my contemplation and have them now sorted out in my head.

And sometimes, in a very cynical way, the contemplations have saved me. If I don't care whether I live or die, why not try this one last thing or the other? If I hit a dead end, I can always die.

“Killing myself was a matter of such indifference to me that I felt like waiting for a moment when it would make some difference.”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

Here is an example how. When I was younger, my emotions were more volatile. Taking what I felt seriously and giving it serious thought helped me see things more clearly and invariably, I ended up thinking that if there was any hope, I could use it and if there wasn't, well, I could always die. But the well thought out option being there and not at any threat of being taken off the table gave me the confidence to know I could opt for it any time and there was no need to do it right now. I could afford to wait and see. I am truly grateful no one immediately tried to stop me at such times, or I'd have been tempted to use the opportunity before someone blocked it from me.

Now I am older. I have a young disabled child. Whoever knows me knows that I'd chew my arm off before I allowed anything to harm him. Well, losing a mom would definitely harm him. So suicide is totally not an option any more. At least while he is alive. He needs me. Period. Again, if I hadn't thought this through, I could have been at risk of giving up without considering the impact.

In some of my more selfish and melodramatic ways, I've even thought "What will be, will be" If I am not there, someone or the other will care for my son, though I can't imagine who, right now. But then, in such a melodramatic moment, the desire is also to leave a lasting mark on the world when I die. And oops, it is not "orphaned kid in moment of despair". I'd like to be remembered for something better, thank you very much.

Whatever it is. Others may have their own reasoning. Still others may come to a well considered decision that suicide is actually a good choice for them, When my father was dying of Parkinson's, he had the option of looking forward to an indeterminate bed ridden existence with little control over his body, being bored out of his wits and too exhausted to do anything about it but to wait to die. He begged me to kill him almost every week. It is illegal and I have two more dependents, or I would definitely have arranged for him to be freed as per his will if it were legal. Others do it out of poverty. Starvation. When the alternative is to live in debt and watch your family suffer with no hope of ever providing for them in sight, it can be a brutal life to look forward to, and death may simply be a matter of running out of the ability to fight.

“Let them think what they liked, but I didn't mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank -- but that's not the same thing.”
― Joseph Conrad, The Secret Sharer and other stories

Whatever it is, however it plays out, a suicide is not about dying or exiting the world, it is about escaping unbearable torment. A person who feels unheard and uncared for, is unlikely to respond to a panicked flood of platitudes that s/he has heard a hundred times that drowns their voice all over again, even in the contemplation of death.

How agonized we are by how people die. How untroubled we are by how they live. ~ P. Sainath

My suggestion is that we all examine what this fear is that stops us from listening on hearing that word. Because the lives of many around us could depend on how we respond to their pain. If someone has made a well considered decision to die, there isn't much we can do about it, but if someone is screaming into a void of despair, perhaps us offering a listening ear will give them the space to be heard, and in the process get a clearer view of their situation.

What do you think?

4

This morning, my mother woke me up telling me that my father was no longer breathing. It wasn't entirely unexpected. He was suffering from Parkinsons and had deteriorated rapidly in recent times. And he had suffered. Coming awake in a hurry, I checked him. No breath, no pulse, he was still warm. My mother had seen his last breaths and stayed with him to comfort him before waking me up.

I called the doctor, who confirmed the death and issued a certificate. My father had wanted to donate his body. However the delays with arriving relatives and his extensive bedsores along with having to cross district lines to submit his body to the Anatomy department at JJ led us to decide to cremate him locally.

It was the strangest day I have lived through on many levels.

My father was many people. To his siblings, he was a devoted brother. To his many nephews and nieces, he was a doting uncle. To my mother, he was someone who undermined her constantly and was frequently cruel to. To me, he was Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Someone who encouraged me to pursue achievements and also someone who disowned me in what he perceived as failure. A large part of my adult life had troubles directly born from trying to exit his home. He was the one to go on a tour with my mother while I returned to his home separated from my husband. He gave another key to the home to the husband I was trying to leave. He manipulated me into coming to live with him when trying to exit an abusive marriage, only to force me back with a disabled infant in tow. He has wished my mother and me dead over the years, predicted that we would have long and paralyzed lives and worse.

He was an extremely self-sufficient man and could cook, clean and do whatever was needed to keep the home running. He did not like household help and when my mom wanted to hire a maid, he took over sweeping, mopping and washing utensils rather than hire one. While he constantly berated my mother for not acting more housewifely (any and every reason would do - housework was just one), he most certainly never expected her to be the only person working in the home (they both had jobs and incomes). His abuse was more an issue of control than misogyny. He'd support me to become a brain surgeon, but not to make choices he wouldn't allow, for example. He happily supported my mother going on her own for the Kailash Parikrama, but in routine life, her salary went to his hands on payday and she never had over twenty rupees in her purse till I hit my teens, then, with inflation it became fifty, then a hundred - for emergency expenses strictly. No whimsical snacks or rickshaw rides. Nor did he ever buy her a single ornament if he could avoid it.

To be honest, I've never seen my mother complain other than occasionally when she really wanted something. She lived as frugally as him, initially to repay the loan for their home, and then to save for their old age. Neither of them smoked, drank alcohol or had other habits commonly understood as vices. My dad's addiction was junk and they both loved to travel and lived unbelievably frugally to fund travel without touching savings.

My father was a tinkerer. A compulsive DIYer who haunted flea markets and junk shops to bring home broken treasures to be brought back to life and gifted or used. While I thankfully don't scour the world to bring junk home, I do think I got my tendency to do stuff myself at his knee, holding a solder wire as he fixed something with the iron, helping him create furniture for his home, reading tiny tiny numbers on electronic parts with my sharp eye for him, or using things for purposes other than they were designed for.

He was an avid traveler all his adult life, and organized travel would give way to two treks a year in later decades. There was no such thing as a summer vacation without a tour to some far away place. And then Himalayan treks. Strangely, by the time I grew up, our rift was so deep, that in spite of him having a daughter who did specialized cultural tours and extreme treks in the Himalaya for a living, we have never been on a trek together. Ever.

Perhaps one thing many would appreciate was his successful saving. He purchased his own home in Vile Parle before he married my mother (though both of them worked to pay off the loan well into the marriage). He saved like a religion. And for someone who had only one job in life - as a factory worker (and machine setter at the end) - he saved enough to be still offering people in need money and affording two treks a year and trying to buy a second home well into his retirement (long story). He wasn't rich by the standards of today's upper middle class, but given the frugality of their life, he had enough to cover his needs indefinitely. I did not get this from him. my financial planning is dismal. I may have supported with care in his last days, but to his last breath, he could most certainly afford all he needed.

To his friends from work, he was a mentor. An elder brother who guided them true in their work and life. One of his friends had come today. Tears streaming down his face to see the pitiful state my father had been reduced to, from a fit and physical ex-bodybuilder, ex-factory worker, ex-trekker. I was able to give him some peace when I shared that their visits in the preceding months had brought my father great joy.

He is also the man who hosted ice cream parties for my cousins and me in the summer vacations when color television and VCRs were a novelty so we could watch films and have fun. He was the one to unfailingly rush to the side of his siblings when they fell ill, serve them tirelessly and offer as much money as he could to them.

Today, I would meet many of these cousins. People whose eyes welled with tears to see his body on the floor when all I could feel was relief at no longer having to change dirty diapers for someone who didn't recognize me for most of the last months, and was unlikely to be happy about it if he did. The benevolent figure they lost today, I'd lost somewhere in my teenage. For someone who had lived with him around the clock for the last ten months, I did not recognize the person they were mourning. The person who was lying dead had little left in him that would support life. He had spent the last few months in pain. He had lost control over his body to the point that the last few days before he died, he had even been unable to open his eyes or swallow more than a few spoonfuls. What was to mourn? This was freedom. Freedom for him from pain, freedom for my mother caring for him round the clock in her old age, freedom for me from the exhausting effort of caring for someone you would have preferred to not run into at all again.

Today, my mother looks exhausted, but far lighter than she did last night.

Did I wish him ill? Not at all. The man who had done untold harm to my life was not the slowly dying man who came into my home ten months ago. This was simply an old and scared man knowing he had a difficult future awaiting and knowing there was no way he could escape it. He had all my compassion, but I felt little attachment. Would I prefer for him to have been alive? Not at all. It was time for him to go. For his own sake too. I felt no guilt for not caring, because my conscience was clear that I had done all I could for him while it could make a difference.

I didn't particularly like my father. He was of a judgmental nature and had let me down in some of my worst times in life. While he had been a paragon to his blood relatives and colleagues, at home, he had been cruel to my mother and me as well once I entered my teens. I hadn't lived with him for the most part of my life and frankly had no ambition to be around him at all till his fall last May brought the parents crashing back into my life. His condition had deteriorated too much for them to live safely on their own. My mother was not capable of caring for him alone. I rented a larger place in a hurry while we extended his stay in hospital so we could move him here.

In these months, I saw another side of my father. The monster who kept trying to drive me out of his home was another creature while living in my home. He was a helpless old man who pined to see the home he had purchased with his sweat and blood one last time before he died. A wish we were not able to fulfill, because of his condition, and the fact that we were two women and a disabled child other than him in the home, with no real manpower for the kind of effort it would have to be.

He was also an intensely proud man humbled by circumstances and humiliated by having to live in the home of a daughter he had driven away. He saw many of the curses he had heaped on my mother and me come true about him with his extended helplessness in a bitter twist that life can be. He was often a very frustrated, sad man, and my mother, as usual was the one to bear the brunt of his anger.

But all was not bad. Before he lost his mental faculties, he did attempt to build a tentative and more respectful relationship with me. In turn, I lost a lot of my bitterness and contempt for him, because he simply wasn't the man who had caused them anymore. We would never be close, but we did develop a carefully polite relationship that did not create new hurts and allowed for the occasional casual or even profound conversation, like when he told me that he did not want to be admitted to a hospital no matter what, since what he had couldn't be cured. He would rather not prolong the discomfort and leave my mother money instead of finishing it on a lost cause. Another time, we had a conversation on assisted suicide and even euthanasia which was pretty raw and helpless given that I agreed with him, but both were not options by law. While he never apologized to my mother to his dying breath nor stopped venting his anger on her, he did learn to appreciate the uncomplaining tenacity with which she served him, in spite of being a patient of schizophrenia herself.

These ten months, he got time to spend with his grandchild. Said grandchild adored him, since he was the only one in the home who was slow enough and idle enough to offer endless entertainment. Nisarga used to go into peals of laughter the minute my father started walking - something he never did for anyone else. Perhaps he thought it was exciting when my father did it, because it was clearly so much effort and achievement for him? Regardless, his hysterical squeals would get my father laughing helplessly to the point where we worried if he'd fall from laughing. This was the only thing that could make him laugh, when his face was not even able to smile anymore. And I was glad that they both had this time together.

It was a day where I wanted to burst into a grin while many were fighting tears. And many, many reflections. While not a sad day for me, it was profound. It was also a sort of transition. I'd been promoted by circumstances to the position of the "man of the house" where the other two members were an aged woman and a disabled child.

So today he lay there and we were discussing who lights his pyre. An aunt was adamant that women can and should do it when appropriate, and as his only child, me doing it was appropriate. My mother-in-law disapproved of women at crematoriums at all. My mother thought that the person who took responsibility for him in the tough time prior to his death should do it, which was me (as opposed to me just being his daughter). Me, I'm an atheist. I don't really care who cremates someone. The easiest way to resolve the issue would be for me to murmur that I don't want to do it. It would be a graceful exit. No one would pressure a woman to light a cremation pyre. However, just because women don't do it as per social tradition, I thought I should. I most certainly had the right as his only child in a world attempting modernity (no other women from the family came to the crematorium regardless), and I did it. There were no last rites to be done. Both my parents had done them while still alive. It was a matter of lighting the thing. I did it. I even did it in the traditional manner, holding the torches behind me, for respect of the beliefs of others there.

As we watched the pyre burn, the question came up of returning the next day to collect his remains for immersing in flowing water. I wasn't interested. I didn't see the point leaving my bereaved mother alone (not to mention what impact today would have on her schizophrenia) at home to do yet another rite, and if he'd got his wish of body donation, there wouldn't be remains anyway. I knew for certain that my mother didn't care about this, but said that I'd discuss it with her when we got home, and return for them, if she wanted it done. My lack of interest probably alarmed cousins who consider it as a closure, and one of them found a way of getting it done with a short wait, using the bones of the lower part of body, that burns faster.

Strangely, while I didn't think of it as a ritual closure, I was glad that we did that. It resulted in a nice drive to the beautiful Agashi beach and the release of the bones into the sea. The bones, to me did not matter so much, but after the ugliness of the last few months, the beauty and peace of the beach was a much better scene to close the story with.

Asthi Visarjan
Asthi Visarjan

And thus it is done. My father died today, got cremated and his remains released back to nature. A fitting end, I think for someone who has been a passionate trekker for decades before his Parkinson's flaring up in his last trek to the Everest Base Camp a few years ago.

He is free. We are free.

3

The fight against depression. Vidyut describes her journey toward freeing herself from depression against what seemed insurmountable odds.

I have started associating weight gain with depression. All my life I'd been skinny. In fact, I thought I looked better with a little weight - particularly my face didn't look as bony and I WANTED to weight more. Till depression hit.

To long term readers of my blog, the troubles I had in my marriage and the utter despair I went through will not come as a surprise. I would like to call my now separated husband evil, but he had his own demons to fight and cannot really call him malicious, so much as fighting a losing battle against them, then. Regardless, the impact on me was a prison without choices and I was severely depressed.

I lost interest in everything. Abuse used to waft over my head without reaching. I had stopped doing almost anything except caring for the child, and my blog and Twitter - which helped keep me sane (more on that later). The home was a mess, I was a mess and frankly, all I cared about was getting through the day. I had considered suicide several times. Having a child dependent on me ruled that out. I had committed to him and I was going to follow through on that. It was about surviving. Getting through the day. There was little enthusiasm for anything.

Sheer disinterest in absolutely everything, combined with a naturally asocial preference left me pretty much stagnant in terms of activity. And I put on weight. Relentlessly. Particularly in the last three years of our marriage To someone who had never weighed over 45 kilos in her life, 68 kilos was unthinkable. And I was barely eating. My body FELT alien to me - another reason not to do anything with it. I had no idea how to steer that extra weight.

All those plump, cheerful women I had admired..... was not how I looked. I looked bloated, stagnant. Lifeless. That was the only visible difference in me, while I became an unrecognizable person on the inside. Fearful of braving the world with a disabled child in tow, belief in self non-existent, the woman who moved to the Himalaya to live on her own terms as a nomad didn't dare move out of a home she had come to despise.

On some level, my experience working with people and behavioral science saved my life. I was aware that I was depressed, though I had no motivation to do anything about it. I was aware that I was going deeper. The blog and Twitter was my lifeline - a window outside my prison - a space where I could be me without being forced into being what was expected of me. It was also a space where I spoke openly of what I was going through and the feedback helped me see beyond the fog of despair I lived in.

I slowly started asking for help. And got it. I knew that I had to escape my marital home if I had to remain sane. Whether my husband was evil or not, was irrelevant. I did no have the capacity to deal with the abuse and remain sane enough to care for myself and the child. The day I gave up, Nisarga was doomed along with me, and I was close. This child saved my life - by simply needing me with no alternatives.

I failed many times. People reached out to help. I lost my guts. People sent me money to help. I lost my guts and eventually the money got spent on the existing hole of despair I lived in. People offered for me to move into their homes. They offered to come over to help me move.... I have been blessed with friends who continued to offer to help me - and still do - in the face of failure after failure to "save myself".

It is the nature of depression. Inaction. An emergency happened and the fog lifted briefly enough to recognize the need to move out. That window of clarity never sustained. Reasons to remain in the limbo of the status quo kept emerging. My son couldn't even sit independently. How would I move with him in tow? I had no income. With a disabled child dependent on me 24 x 7, I couldn't just "get a job". How would I survive....? And it was back to a limbo of getting through the day with as little engagement with it as possible.

A doctor on social media recommended that I should get help for depression. I did not think I had the energy or the time to go and meet a counsellor regularly with a handicapped child in tow. Cheap/free services would mean traveling to where they existed - not any and every local facility - even if there was one nearby. Didn't happen. I could have asked a doctor for medications, but I have seen my mother, who has schizophrenia turn from a spirited, if sometimes delusional woman to a zombie. I had a child depending on me. I did not trust anything that could space me out worse!

It took a night when the drunk husband pulled out a knife and threatened to kill our son rather than leave him with a "woman like me" for me to realize that this was the dead end. I called the child helpline. They are not active outside the city. They offered to tell the local police - if I wanted and it was an emergency, but police also couldn't do much about it. They spoke with my husband who was dead drunk and lectured them about wives who don't care for their husbands and use them (read paying all the expenses+responsibilities in return for the favor of a roof on my head). They told me to go to Thane (3 hours away) to file a case in a domestic court. In other words, I was on my own. It was the usual time for drunken problems in our home - between 1 am and 3 am.

Oh, he would not have killed our son. He loves him. I was not as sure about him or me while he was waving it around while drunk. The point was that he did not love the person I had become, and I did not love the person he had become, and the blame for it and pressure on me to restore his happiness was just going to keep rising and perhaps escalate to physical harm if I called his bluffs instead of complying. On other occasions, he had threatened to commit suicide and leave a note blaming me - yet he did not want me to leave.

I broke, that night. I had broken many times before. This time, I did irrevocable things before I changed my mind and gave in to the all pervading apathy. And perhaps it was the best thing that happened to me. Before I could get back to my fog of indifference, I put out an appeal for help. I didn't have money. But this time, I asked people to commit to an amount every month - even if smaller, instead of one big amount right now that would run out and leave me stranded with a child depending on me. I begged friends to nag me to stay on the plan if it looked like I was going back to being okay with the status quo. And they did. Several of them asked me on a daily basis what the progress was with the house hunting. Many offered sites to find homes on rent. Others offered to come with me to see homes and negotiate leases - I'd never rented a place before.

My mother, who can do very little on her own, came over to babysit Nisarga so I could go to book a gas connection and sign the lease and more. Friends sent everything from used clothes and curtains to utensils. Another friend picked stuff up from Powai to bring to me - and I couldn't even offer him cold water - no glass, no fridge.

The depression was born from a belief that I had no way out of the unhappiness. The relentless engagement to seek exactly that helped fight it. I often fobbed off estate agents to meeting later, but I went and saw every home available till they all looked the same. One small step at a time, but keeping at it, led to a morning when I woke up next to my son in our own new home with the sunlight hitting us right across the room from the French window. I smiled before I opened my eyes. I was free.

I haven't stopped smiling since.

I like to think of it as the moment when I beat depression, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The fight had been as long as the depression. If anything, taking irrevocable actions and putting in safeguards that would prevent me going back on them saved me. Reaching out for help, advice, going out to find a home, doing the hundred things it took, gave me robust contact with the world instead of the limbo of indifference. Seeing things actually happen - in however small steps PROVED that changing the situation was possible.

That morning was just one of the most dramatic moments of the journey back. I have continued to fight with many long ingrained habits. I have fallen apart when a friend didn't humiliate me in public when my son smeared himself with food on his first visit to a restaurant - out of relief - because six months of freedom and I hadn't realized how much cringing had become a part of me.

It is a journey. I still have days when instead of seeing what I was able to achieve, I look at the financial assistance I still need and think I'm worth nothing. But it is a work in progress.

That puffy, bloated, unhappy look is gone. I've been losing weight almost averaging 2 kilos a month initially, and a kilo a month later without any change in diet or exercise. The simple fact that I was engaging more with life made me more active. I am hardly back to my earlier weight, but I LOOK HAPPY!

I am no expert, but if I have to share advice based on my journey, it would be:

  1. Speak up. Vulnerability is human. Speak of your troubles and your thinking becomes clear. Interaction brings the larger picture and help. It breaks you out of the dysfunctional cycle you are trapped in.
  2. Take irrevocable actions in moments of lucidity. Depression causes inaction. Everything is too much trouble. In the few moments that you see the need for action clearly, commit to it in a way that forces you to continue when you are at risk of sliding into indifference. I had tried and failed for ages till I did this.
  3. Persevere. Progress WILL be slow. It is also inevitable if you keep at it.

Lastly, sharing the contact for iCALL helpline 022-2556-3291. Monday to Saturday, from 10 am to 10 pm. You can talk to them when you are depressed. They may be able to help.

72

Many see women who remain in abusive circumstances as somehow not fighting back. They are assumed to be reconciled to their fate in life. Many think they develop a kind of dependency. I can say for certain from my own experience and from conversations with abused women I met, that if a viable option emerged, we'd grab with both hands.

However, it isn't as clear cut as that. Definitions of viable are subjective.

My mother suffered verbal abuse for years. My father was constantly at her for doing a job and neglecting the home, he called her everything from insane and fat to a whore. I remember that she used to give her salary to him, and he used to give her daily expenses to travel to work. It was a time when MTNL was less formal. When operators still knit sweaters when they weren't attending calls at work.

If there was a problem with taking care of me, my mother often took me to work with her. Not often, but I'd been there enough to know how the call answering worked and dockets were filed, and I often helped with my neat handwriting. I felt all grown up. The women and men barely interacted, but my mother NEVER spoke with the men unless it was work or otherwise unavoidable. No casual conversations, nothing. I didn't find it strange, because I didn't know her to act in any other way.

We walked to the station from home, and then again from the station to her office. Rickshaws were a luxury to be avoided. I don't know if she had money to do all four walks by rickshaw instead, even though she earned a salary.

The series "A life in Clothes" describes a lot of this time and what it did to me.

As I grew older, I started stopping him when he went on his verbal sprees. I used to counter with logic and rubbish his words as false. That made me a target soon enough - like mother, like daughter - I didn't see anything worth his words in her actions.

I don't know what a normal husband wife relationship is like. All I knew, when I chose men to share my life with, is that they shouldn't talk foul like this man. I didn't have any deal breakers if a man will respect me and speak with me well. When I married my husband, I see now that there were warning signs from the word go of his controlling streak. I didn't notice them. Actually, I noticed them, but I didn't think they were that bad. I had no standards of behaviour of my own. If I easily survived some words, then they were not bad. It never occured to me to question if I should be spoken with like this at all. Besides, anything that can get me away from my father was a big plus, right?

Several friends from abusive homes have shared this exact logic. They grew up in abusive environments, and got into abusive relationships.

And it is not one way traffic. I also often acted in a way that was abusive. Because it was my "normal". I did not think it was a big deal if I taunted someone with an insult and demeaned something about him, because that was how anger is expressed in my parent's home. It took me a long time of living away from that influence to learn to see the impact of my behaviour and learn to find more respectful ways of expressing myself - particularly in anger. It still sometimes gets tempting to use exact phrases that I have heard all my life. Though now I know that isn't a good idea and I now don't want to inflict the hurt they are capable of, even in anger, but ugly words are available to my mind in an instant, to use if I want - YEARS after understanding their impact and complete discontinuation of such talk.

Countless relationships have been damaged because I used to be extremely touchy about any perceived insult (sometimes not even intended). I didn't recognise inappropriate behaviour with me, leading to realizing a relationship is abusive very, very late, and then, feeling cornered, by retaliations were ugly and destructive. It was a long, long battle fighting my own mouth to save my own heart. It was a long battle learning to become sensitive to nuances of behaviour and defusing demeaning behaviour as soon as it manifested, before it established. It was still too late for my current marriage, I suppose.

People don't realize, but this is an important help needed - understanding and longterm counselling or other learning.

It didn't help that my husband is a chauvinist. He didn't appear like that, because he "approves" of confident women. Unfortunately, it took me after being married to realize that he approved of confident women only when he agreed with them.

So, he is capable of civil talk. His way of "managing" me is through using me and disallowing things I want if they are not interest to him. It doesn't stop me, but it killed the relationship.

Many think that violence is what you see in films. The husband hitting his wife, pulling her by her long hair to the door and kicking her out of the house, etc. We even don't see the occasional angry slap as violence. In reality, violence is experienced, not defined by specific actions.

Emotional violence of constant taunts. Demeaning words.... over the years, they erode the will. They make a person lose confidence. They make ordinary things seem overwhelming. The constant sword of approval changes every action into one that is constantly wary of reactions. And the emotional abuse hurts. Victims go to great lengths to avoid it ranging from confrontations to an eventual tuning out and mental defeat.

My mother is like that. My father says hideous things. There is no way they won't hurt. Just not possible. She looks serene. Sometimes she actually hasn't heard his words at all. The woman who had a job, did Himalayan treks including a Kailash Manasarovar parikrama today doesn't leave the house at all. Depressed doesn't begin to cover it. A kind word reduces her to tears and an immediate tuning out of it, as though she can't trust it. She is now paranoid schizophrenic. She used to suffer from delusions. She had an entire world she lived in and ignored the real abuse, though the hallucinations were rarely kind either.

I am a firebrand on the internet. Vibrant, extremely attractive and engaging on my own. In any situation with my husband, I am totally quiet. Talking no more than needed, disinterested. Frankly, I don't want to be there at all. I am not comfortable being wary for what he will say or do next.

In avoiding a man who verbally insults all day, I got one who doesn't abuse unless drunk, but does the same harm without verbal abuse all day anyway. He patronizes and controlls with aggression anything he doesn't find useful.

Three of my friends have been physically hit at home. One with a hot laddle by her mother in law over some argument. One slapped. One pushed so hard that she fell and kicked once in her back - alcoholic husband. The one who was slapped is still with her husband. The other two have moved on.

Financial violence happens. Today, in our home, I pay all the bills. All. Till before my son was born, I even paid the husband's mobile bills and credit card bills, because we owned a business together, though it rarely made profit. My income from my individual work paid most of this money. The downside is that there is no money to escape either. I used to earn a lot when I worked. If I wasn't spending it all on home, I could afford a place to stay right now. Even in Mumbai.

The logic: Because I use the computer and internet a lot and I purchased the AC, I should pay the electricity and phone bill - I use most of the amount. Because I use the kitchen, I should pay for the gas, and because the maid makes my work lighter, I should pay her too. I should pay health insurance premiums, because it was my bank, and his was only the add on insurance. When we order food from outside, I should pay the bills, because it is my job to cook that I am avoiding by ordering it delivered. I shop, so I pay the bills and it is "petty" to ask for part of it from him. I use the internet. Aggression gets me to the point of "pay this bill now, I'll return later". Later he has no money and will get angry if I push it. Of course, the money for drinking miraculously never runs out. A professional video camera, a phone - loaned to his friends, never seen again. Money loaned to him, his friends, never seen again. The list is endless. I stopped keeping track after some 80k he will return one day happened 3 years ago. His shoes cost 4k though.

Why am I gullible? It is the anger and aggression and alcoholism. Seems easier to pay when I have money than face the anger if I don't.

There is sexual violence. Sexual violence seems to be a staple of all abusive relationships. I am sure there are exceptions. I haven't seen enough victims to meet them. It looks different from the films. There is no screaming running around and tearing clothes as such. The most common manifestation I have seen is utter disregard for the wife's comfort, enjoyment or willingness. Sex becomes a facility it is her duty to provide. Only one woman I know has actually been raped violently. Most of us have been raped with lower physical violence. Refusals to accept "no". "persuasion" which basically involves refusal to let the wife sleep with constant "requests" till she complies. Inappropriate, demeaning touches. Two women had husbands who wanted sexual experimentation. Details are not required, but the point is they didn't want sex of any kind.

I have been groped more times at home by my husband than on a bus. It feels worse. Take my word for it. More so when he doesn't speak with me at all except to tell me what to do, or wanting sex after drunk. Yeah, like capping a drinking binge with a "whore". I don't allow it, but the fact that I live with someone who wants it gives me the creeps. But what option do I have? Anyone going to be interested in preventing a man from groping his wife? Particularly a wife who refuses him? Nah. If she didn't refuse him, he wouldn't be frustrated enough to do such things. No one finds it odd that a woman is supposed to have sex with a man who makes her feel threatened with clothes on already.

Society actually colludes with sexual violence to an astonishing degree. Advice like catering to the demands to "keep husband happy" has been received several times by all the women I know. The fact that they are married turns it into a duty. Any talk about sex being enjoyable, or in one case painful is ignored and sex is recommended as a fix all for every problem. Other ways include helpfully blocking any avoidance of separate sleeping arrangements, ignoring any sounds of inappropriate force during sex out of "politeness". This talk is ugly, but the fact is that I know more women who are forced into sex after marriage than I know women who enjoy it. Including women with healthy sexual drives.

Every woman in a bad situation would like to find a fairy tale ending. Even the more "traditional ones" if they could be assured that they wouldn't be victimized for leaving their husband. This is a promise no one can make, because their own families would lead the charge. They wouldn't mind working for rehabilitating. But their experience of abuse often leaves them unable to evaluate or trust if the aid being offered would be enough for them to survive on. Yes. Every woman leaving an abusive situation has survival alone on her mind. Depression, lowered initiative, lack of confidence contribute to making this look near impossible.

What may appear to the world as a woman refusing to take responsibility of her own life can also be a woman chosing the devil she knows whom she would leave like a shot if she found a choice that she felt she could do.

This is why shelters, counselling and rehabilitation programmes being publicized is important. Their power to rehabilitate needs to be seen, heard often, so that more people may make that leap of faith.

It is not about chosing to live with abuse so much as feeling that they have little choice.

I left my husband 2 months ago. Last week, I came back because both our families pressured me into a last try. I had a choice to ignore them, but then, my son would grow up with takes about how his mother ruined his life. One chance they wanted, to make them happy, to get their buy in once they realized how bad things were, I knowingly walked back in. Last night was a disaster. 3 nights ago, I had the ugliest violation of my life - sexual, though not sex. This time, I told the mother in law bluntly when she asked me to shut down the computer and sleep on time - no way was I getting into bed with her son home and before he slept. She told me it is the women's lot in life. What do I answer this? She understands it all. She is "on my side" in her words. She is pissed with her son for years now, but she flat out refuses to see beyond "it is a woman's lot in life".

I am no wimp. I don't put up with it, but short of abandoning N to an alcoholic father, I MUST depend on support - which is there, but still not enough for me to sustain myself independently. Not yet. Work in Progress.

That is me and I'm a fighter to the last breath. This kind of lonely walk is overwhelming for many.

I wrote this article specially in support of Violence Against Women Awareness Month, because speaking out is important.

13

Passive alcoholism is what I have started calling the experience of being under the influence of a person under the influence of alcoholism.

Those following me on Facebook were aghast a couple of months ago and then again last week, when I spoke of suffering the effects of my husband's alcoholism. It seems that as usual, I broke quite a few of society's norms by having "no shame".

Those who think that "dirty laundry" shouldn't be washed in public need to think about what they call dirty laundry. I am speaking up on the subject of passive alcoholism in our home. The face is, at least a tenth of the adult population of our country drink often. Among these, at least a third of them drink regularly. Far from being a private matter, this is a big concern for today's world, but remains unspoken behind a curtain of shame.

The government is content to make laws that change nothing. Expensive alcohol only means more money needs to be raised. That it will be raised is never in doubt. Guess who pays? Overburdened and deprived house wifes, parents, children.

I am taking a risk speaking up, but it is not to defame anyone, or to ask for pity. My husband did end up fielding a lot of awkward questions from friends. I did end up getting a storm of messages from 'conservative' friends for speaking up. I also got a lot of friends openly offering me help, advice and support. Not a single person criticized my husband. Nor was that the intent of the conversation.

I hope it can't be said that I attacked him unfairly. He didn't say that either. It seems that the criticism was of me and in private messages for bringing up something that "decent people" hide. People are even ashamed of criticizing someone speaking up on alcoholism. Not a public thing.

Yet, there seems to be absolutely nothing wrong in sitting publicly in a bar and drinking. Only in saying that that drinking happens. In saying that a drunk hurts many people with inconsiderate, irresponsible behaviour. In admitting being hurt.

There isn't a locality in Mumbai without a bar. But apparently, no one drinks in all these places. Or at least, if they drink, they are all graceful, witty people bonding with true friends after that. Nothing ugly exists.

There are far more people dead from drinking than from cigarettes - from illness and accidents. If we look at the impact on relationships.... it is untold damage. So where is the alcoholism related information in the public space? The limit seems to be in saying "don't drink and drive". For every one person who drinks and drives, there are ten who drink and abuse. Who steal to drink. Who lose all confidence in self and drink. Who scare their kids awake with domestic arguments in the middle of the night. Who drink and fight. Who drink and get aggressive at whim. Who insult their loved ones to feel better about themselves or to bow them to their will, in the fear that their drinking might get questioned - even when no one is questioning it. Where are the campaigns?

chain around bottles of alcohol and a hand
By: Imagens Evangélicas

I can understand it if an alcoholic avoids the subject out of shame, but it is the family members who suppress such talks.

Some say alcoholism is an illness. Others say it is an addiction born of irresponsibility. All agree that once established, it is compulsive.

When you live with an alcoholic, you meet more alcoholics and you meet more people suffering from alcoholics. They are as much a victim of alcoholism as the drinker. I have lost count of the times I have offered wry smiles at my husband behaving in an embarrassing way. I have lost count of the times when I have given or received an empathetic look of support to other wives at a table. When a party can go silent at some unexpectedly degrading insult by a supposedly loved one.

And before someone jumps on me saying that I'm assuming alcoholics are men, I'm not assuming that at all. Only that the ones in my husband's circle are all men.

I know I have been stunned into disbelieving silence out of fear or out of a false sense of dignity, and I know many people who are trapped in prisons of passive alcoholism. Where they make excuses why someone can't attend. Where they lose touch with society because they feel ashamed. Where they are always short of money. Where they keep borrowing to make ends meet. Where they keep lying about so many things. Where having a rational conversation with your alcoholic is an extraordinarily unrealistic expectation. The world keeps shrinking, options keep decreasing. It is difficult to endure.

I know it, because I have been there. I know what it feels like to see your mother-in-law helpless to reason with her son as he loudly demands that you be removed from the house. The tears in her eyes as she clutches your son to her chest hoping to soothe him to sleep through the racket.

It makes those around the drinker as insane as the drinker. I know I've had my share of anger, fights, frustration trying to get him to not drink. I have done many things to get him to be normal, to live up to committments. I have blamed him, been angry with him, hated him.... all the time covering up his 'failures' and resenting him for failing on simple things like answering calls from people. I have seen myself a bitter, sarcastic woman scoring cheap insults at his expense.... my world was as twisted as his was without drinking a drop.

It is all the more infuriating because he is what is called a functional alcoholic - he is able to work efficiently, which creates an illusion that I am the one being over obsessive over his actions. Not true.

I can only share that the more you hide, the more you start owning the guilt for actions you did not do and hating your alcoholic for making you suffer that. Some part of me still cares for the man. I have not given up hope. Nor do I wish to leave him and start a fresh life with a baby in my arms. But it is claiming my life and following my own desires that keeps me sane. This blog, my child, my other interests.... I have a full life. Then, the sorrow becomes a smaller share of it. Then, if I am sane, I am able to still care for my son, my family and yes, my husband too.

I refuse to return to a shell where I pretend everything is fine and suffer the embarrassment of appearing less than fine all the time. Of feeling a fraud when telling people that all is well. Things are not fine on some fronts. This is what I live with. This isn't asking for pity. This isn't defaming. It is being honest. It is refusing to be complicit in the sheltering of this disease. It is my own fight against becoming victim to passive alcoholism.

I go through tough times and good ones like us all. When the going is bad, I speak about the alcoholism as openly as I would about insomnia or diabetes. I ask for help and advice as easily as I would for an argument with a family member. And, I see nothing wrong in expressing my mood, frustration or need on Facebook, because I consider those who come there my friends enough not to pretend smiles and grins all the time. I see no need to hide things that I am not responsible for doing. Getting rid of the shame is more than half the healing.

The coming out of the closet is not only for the addicts, but addicts of the influence of addiction - if that makes sense.

If you find yourself nodding in recognition, my invitation to you is to stop drowning in shame and shrinking your world. If you suffer from someone's alcoholism, you need help as much as the sufferer, because this is a "group disease". It will help to reach out, speak with people, stop hiding things. You are no help to anyone by becoming crazy yourself. Nor are you any different if your frustration makes you equally irresponsible and abusive. Your suffering achieves no purpose, though it may seem tragic and melodramatic at times. It is only playing with the cards you have that will get you to a different place.

An organization called Al-Anon offers support to those who live with the effects of alcoholism on someone they care about. I urge you to find a local chapter and join. Or meet a counsellor, or a friend with plenty of time, or ..... reach out right here, on this blog 😉 Don't keep it to yourself. It isn't yours to keep.

Update: My husband continues to drink. However, since moving to a less urban setting, the drinking is at home, which somewhat lessens the risks as well as decreases influences of woman abusing company. Life at home has achieved a functional, if uneasy and sporadically abusive truce.