Disclaimer: This article contains information about my own thoughts and feelings during my journey. This is my own personal view which I have formed from my own experience.
– Written by Harpreet Butoy –
I was born in the late 80’s into a Punjabi family which was caught in between two worlds; faith and culture. When I was younger, alcohol was everywhere. My family would casually drink at home, some men would be regular pub goers and virtually all weddings/parties had alcohol at the centre of them. All I knew about alcohol was that it was the root cause of all the problems in my immediate family, and the reason I grew up without a father. Although my grandparents tried to give their children the jewel of Sikhi, none of them had the good fortune of being able to see how priceless it was, and as a result got distracted by worldly pleasures instead.
As a teenager who grew up without a father, I had no real guidance of what I was supposed to be. All my older cousins and uncles were your stereotypical Punjabi men who would work hard and drink harder. I guess as an impressionable young boy who was surrounded by these types of male figures, it was inevitable that I would start drinking too.
I remember my first alcoholic drink was when I was around 15 years old. I was at a house party and by this age I was already taller than most of my relatives, so I was able to start hanging out with my older cousins who would drink and smoke in the driveway. One of my cousins gave me a little sip of the drink he was having, and I started to feel quite loose and happy. I didn’t drink any more but on the car journey home I enjoyed the feeling and wanted to have it again, so at future family functions I would persuade my cousins to give me a little bit of what they were drinking.
At the age of 16 I managed to secure a job in catering at Asian weddings and this was when my drinking really hit off because free alcohol was there for the taking. Most of my friends who I worked with were older than me and drank on a regular basis, so I fell into that crowd where alcohol became normalised every time we got together. We would often drink after work in the middle of the night in the local parks and I would creep into the house without my Mum knowing what I was up to.
Eventually all this free alcohol led to substance abuse because the more I drank the more I unearthed the trauma from my childhood. I fell into a vicious cycle of using alcohol to escape my problems and that in return created more problems, which had me sinking deeper and deeper into the darkness within me. At this point in my life I hit rock bottom and felt like I couldn’t escape. I was so confused as to why I was doing this to myself, and why nobody else in my immediate circles could figure out how damaging this work.
As luck would have it I started playing football with one of my neighbours who was into Sikhi and during the drives to and from the games we would talk about faith. I listened mostly because I didn’t know much but when the deeper questions were asked such as “why are we here?” and “what we are here to do?” that’s when I started to really pay attention and do my own independent research. The more I learned about Sikhi the more I realised that alcohol is just a temporary solution which never fixes anything.
With the grace of Guru Nanak themselves in 2008 I finally found the courage to stop drinking after many years of abuse. I was sick of trying to find happiness through alcohol and started exploring Gurbani and Simran more instead. When I read more about the concept of Anand, I made a conscious decision that this is what I want to find, an experience so divine that all other pleasures would fail in comparison. Later that year I took Amrit and never looked back.
So here we are 13 years later, 13 years sober, and I guess the best advice I could give to anyone who is currently struggling with alcohol is to really open up the conversation to two things; what pain in your life are you trying to cover up with alcohol and what does Sikhi teach us about ourselves? I feel we avoid the things which are glaringly obvious and those things which require deeper thought. The main contributing factor for my sobriety was the change in Sangat, from people who drank a lot to people who never drank at all. As a result, the conversations were more wholesome and healing in the grand scheme of things.
Maharaaj teaches that within us all is the warrior spirit and one of the biggest battles we face as a community today is the fight against alcohol. We need to really look at the reasons of why we are doing this to ourselves and how we can work together to lift one another, especially when we hit rock bottom like I did.
The best advice I could give to anyone struggling is never lose hope, because no matter how many times we let go of Maharaaj’s hand, they never let go of ours.
Some of the things that helped me during my journey were:
- Ensuring Alcohol was not part of my daily life
- Changing my Sangat
- To deal with past trauma through professional help rather then resorting to alcohol
- By asking myself the more bigger questions like “why are here” rather than focusing primarily on pleasure
If you need help with alcoholic issues you can start by contacting a counselling service on Sikhplace. Or if you would like to find out more about Harpreet’s journey you can contact him directly on @hsbutoy