I grew up in London, in a British Punjabi Indian family. My dad’s drinking would often escalate into a violent situation which led to my mother acting insanely to protect us from the poverty it was causing our family.
My mind flashes to one particular incident that I haven't been able to block out throughout the years. I can still hear the rattling of the glass front door as my mum and dad were throwing each other against the walls. Hair was being pulled, slaps and thumps where being thrown. The violence amongst the mental and spiritual abuse scarred me and my two older siblings.
I remember how my brother was given alcohol as an infant by my dad as a comical mascot to his friends. When he went to university, my brother’s drinking began to cause some concern too. One night, the police came to our house to tell us that my brother was in hospital after a brawl which had caused a head injury. My sister and I decided to get a taxi to see him in an attempt to protect him and my parents from facing the consequences of his drinking. My sister and I were teenagers, so we brought our cousin with us. I remember being worried with fear at the thought of my brother drinking like my dad. I kept shouting “what are you playing at?”. This angered him; he shut me up and asked my sister and cousin why they had bothered to bring me along.
As the drinking continued to affect my brother, he became selfish; he couldn’t connect with any of us. He lacked an understanding of reality - something or someone was always blamed for his actions. Later I learnt in Al-Anon that the ‘blaming’ was part of the illness.
During that time, my dad found God via his own manipulated version of the Sikh religion and stopped drinking. The environment in the house didn’t change much though, my parents were strict, and my siblings and I were still somehow living in dread. Having had my own child, I see now that we didn’t get to have a normal childhood. We lacked certain social skills which I understand comes from growing up in a home where we had to be perfectionists.
Although my parents left their village in India decades ago, they would use and manipulate elements of our culture to justify certain situations and control us. My brother’s behaviour was ignored and excused whilst the women in the family were controlled with an iron rod.
When I was 15 years old, my parents decided my older sister would marry into a well-established family with whom they were acquainted. During one visit, the family enquired about my age to see if they could set me up with someone in India. When my sister and I protested, blackmail and threats of suicide were used to control us into conforming to an arranged marriage.
My sister and I went to extreme lengths in order to ensure our freedom from this insanity. We ran away from home together and changed our names. We first went to Leeds, but shortly after, our brother contacted us to warn us that we weren’t safe. Our parents had hired a private detective to find us. Sadly my brother used this traumatic experience to justify his alcohol dependency. We then moved to Edinburgh as we had a cousin there who we had hoped would help us. Life became more difficult. We couldn’t get a job in fear that if we used our National Insurance Number our parents’ detective would find us.
We stayed at a guest house in Edinburgh where we were welcomed by the daughter of the owners. She was so lovely and welcoming, and made us feel safe. We lied and explained that our stuff was in black bin bags because I was a student preparing to start University in Scotland.
After some unsettled but comical moments renting a shared flat in Edinburgh and desperately trying to work out what to do, we eventually plucked up the courage to go back and ask the guest house owner for help. She offered us their home in Holland where we lived for a few years until I eventually returned to Scotland to study.
I first attended Al-Anon in complete despair after a call from my mum worrying about my brother’s drinking. I thought that by attending a meeting I would be told how to deal with my brother’s alcohol dependency. However, I came out full of resentment as this was not what I was told.
After our ‘travels’ we were able to reconnect with our family. Al-Anon has taught me that my sister and I had a co-dependent and unhealthy relationship. Our boundaries were all over the place. She was often in denial surrounding the alcoholism in our family. I can admit that I have been responsible for ramming Al-Anon down her throat because it was the only contribution I thought I could make to help her deal with the effects of growing up with an alcoholic father and brother.
Today I know better. I try to detach with love and not to offer advice without being asked. I can pass on love and indirectly pass on the message without forcing it upon someone.
After nine years in Al-Anon, I now understand that my biggest job is to heal from the effects of alcoholism. My mum’s dad died from drinking too much, her brother also has an alcohol dependency which I find challenging at times. My brother’s alcoholism got worse over the years to the point where he became aggressive when drunk. He would ask me and other family members for money whenever he could. His Jekyll and Hyde personality made my parents’ house no longer safe, leaving them isolated in their old age. I've had to stop any contact from him as emails, texts and voicemails would holler disgusting hurtful abuse which he would feel bad about once sober, leading him to drink again. A horrible cycle, it’s as if he’s at war with himself.
I’ve learnt over the years that I don’t have to accept unacceptable behaviour. I’ve got enough self‑esteem now to know that I should be treated better. I’m still in touch with some of my family members, which can easily trigger some old feelings and emotions. However, I’m able to deal with most of the difficult situations in a better manner causing me less stress and anxiety. This is thanks to Al-Anon.
My dad was back in my life for a while too until I fell in love with and married my white Scottish husband who is a loving man with a decade of good AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) recovery. If I call my parents’ home to speak to my mum and dad answers the phone, he struggles to speak to me. My recovery enables to me to be amicable and maintain a relationship with my mum.
Today the challenges in my life are the controlling nature and judgements from my mum and sister as I raise my daughter. They feel that I should teach her our Indian roots but for now, my priority is to do my best to care for my daughter’s many needs.