Shaena’s story: “Don’t your parents mind that you drink? Mine would kill me if they saw me drinking.”

Shaena | November 2021 | 8 minutes

I started drinking regularly around the time I was 18. But even then, it was just once or twice a month and only when I went out with friends.

What was different for me compared to other Indian girls my age, was that my parents were okay with it. They didn’t mind as long as I was responsible and didn’t overdo it. I had more freedom than most of the other Indian girls I knew and I felt incredibly lucky.

Feels so wrong to think that now. I felt ‘lucky’. Lucky that my parents didn’t mind I drank alcohol. Lucky that I was allowed to start my journey down the slippery slope of potential addiction. Lucky that I could drink freely and openly… little did I know that fifteen years later I would still be drinking, only no longer freely and openly.

The years that followed felt pretty normal to me. I moved away from home to go to university and dived right into student drinking culture. After that I lived and worked in different cities. There were after-work drinks, wine-fuelled lunches and when I lived in Australia, there were even Friday drinks in the office.

I drank myself into a dark and dangerous place.

And you might still be wondering why any of this is different from most young professionals – it isn’t… unless you’re Indian. As I went through my 20’s and 30’s I just kept focusing on the fact that I had so much more freedom than other Indian girls. There was no pressure to get married or settle down. By 30, most had found themselves ‘a nice Indian boy’, got married, bought a home and had at least one child. Five days after my 30th birthday I boarded a flight to Perth, Australia with no intention of returning.

I was going against the grain, stepping outside the unspoken boundaries put in place by the Indian community. I was defying cultural expectations and doing things differently. To me this felt freeing, exhilarating and even a bit rebellious.

The problem is that in my desperation to find my happy, I drank myself into a dark and dangerous place. I drank for confidence, I drank for fun, I drank when I was lonely, and I definitely always drank when I was depressed. I drank at every given opportunity and it wasn’t until I endured emotional trauma at 32 that I realised how bad my situation had gotten. But by the time I did realise, I also couldn’t care less.

The next few years were turbulent to say the least. There were periods of sobriety, calmness and even a glimmer of hope that I was out of the woods. But a few bumps in the road and I fell back into my old ways. Daily drinking, secret drinking, escapism drinking. At this point I was back in the UK, under my parents’ roof and they had to endure their daughter practically killing herself because she hated herself so much.

Once I felt ready to, I stepped out into the sober world and spoke out.

Because here I was, the girl who thought she was lucky to have freedom in her younger years, now becoming the talk of the community for all the wrong reasons. Not only was I approaching 40, still unmarried and without children – which raises a lot of eyebrows in the Indian community – but I also had a serious problem with alcohol, my mental health was in bits, and everyone was probably talking about my poor parents who were not to blame for any of it.

But lucky me, got lucky again. Only this time I really was lucky, because my family (and some incredible friends) stuck by me, supported me, and didn’t give up on me even when I wanted to give up on myself. And it’s because of them I’m here today. I wish I could tell you that I sought support for my drinking, but at the time there was nothing out there I could relate to or feel comfortable with. My only option was to remove myself from my then reality so there were no triggers, no temptations and only time. Time to think, time to heal, time to sort my sh*t out.

So that’s what I did. And once I felt ready to, I stepped out into the sober world and spoke out. Not because I needed help or support, but because I wanted to help and support others. And that’s when I noticed that amongst all the beautiful people trying so hard to work their recovery, improve their health and well-being and just be better humans, I didn’t see any brown faces. No other Indian women.

I knew then I had to keep talking. Because there was no way I was the only one. Addiction, mental health, even serious illness are still so taboo in the Indian culture. No one wants to talk about it. It’s swept under the carpet, whispered about behind closed doors, and most definitely not plastered all over social media. But if I help even one person by speaking out and sharing my story, then my job is done.

Lots of us struggle with alcohol at some point in our lives and need support to turn things around. Find out more about getting support.

Get help now