Asians Anonymous – Shaena Jasmat

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Asians Anonymous – Shaena Jasmat

Unlike a lot of South Asian females my age, when I was 18 I was allowed to drink alcohol openly. I submersed myself in the UK drinking culture throughout my time at university and in life in general. In my mid 20s I started to struggle with my mental health and my drinking habits changed. For me alcohol became my way of coping and as life took its toll, my drinking became a very big problem.

For most of my adult life I lived away from home, so my parents didn’t really see the extent of my drinking habits. When I was at home it was quite normal for us to go out to the pub as a family and all have a few drinks, so I think for a time my parents didn’t see that there was an issue. In fact, neither did I.

Drinking for me went from a social thing to an escapism thing. Enjoying a nice glass of wine with dinner, turned into curling up on the sofa after work and drinking a bottle and skipping dinner. And that was when it was still fairly under control. In fact, I wouldn’t say I lost control, because I knew if I wanted to stop, I could. But that’s just it, I didn’t want to stop.

By the time I turned 30 I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do in life. I wasn’t married or in a relationship and was feeling extremely lost. In our culture this is already seen as a bit strange. A girl in her 30’s unmarried and still bouncing around from one place to the next. My parents just wanted to see me happy and there was no pressure from them or family. I guess as woman heading towards 40 I was putting a lot of pressure on myself and this was having a massive impact on my mental health in more ways than even I realised. It wasn’t until a few years later when I suffered an emotional trauma that my mental health took a huge nose dive and alcohol became my life line.

What followed were 7 years of knowing I had to stop or cut down drinking, but not wanting to. I would have periods of sobriety, but they were never permanent, nor did I ever plan for them to be. I would just stop long enough to know that I could and then a few months later I was back to a bottle a night at a minimum. Any life event that caused me any kind of pain or sorrow would inevitably lead to a downward spiral with dark depressive periods, fuelled with alcohol and sometimes even suicidal tendencies.

My parents by now were fully aware that there was a problem. And to say I am blessed that they did what they could to help and support me through this terribly turbulent time is an understatement. Without them I would not be here today.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

On February 2020 I had my last drink and it was and has been the best decision I have ever made. But after a few months into my sober journey and becoming part of the sober community here on Instagram and in other places, I noticed something odd. I suddenly realised that there were no other South Asian female faces. None. So, I began to wonder ‘how is this possible, surely I can’t be the only one?’.

I started sharing my story more openly in the hopes that perhaps other females would come forward, but nothing happened. After a bit of digging, it became apparent that the good old Indian tradition of saving face and keeping up with the Patel’s had to be the main reason why. Because thinking about it, my relationship with alcohol was uncommon. Good Indian girls didn’t drink and if they did it was done either sensibly or on the sly. There are exceptions to this of course…I was one of them. Although I’m not sure I would ever consider myself a good Indian girl, nor would I want to. But that’s by the by; females and drinking in our culture is just not really an okay thing.

So, it got me thinking, what if there are others like me out there? Struggling with alcohol in some way shape or form is hard on it’s own, but if it’s shrouded in secrecy, then how do these people get help? Who do they turn to? How can they open up about a problem when they haven’t been open about the cause from the beginning?

In addition to wanting it, my recovery came from unconditional family love and support. It came from being able to talk openly and honestly about my experiences, feelings and emotions. And it came from knowing that I didn’t have to feel ashamed.

But I don’t think that’s the general consensus in our community. And if it is frowned upon for females to drink; imagine the shame when your daughter, wife or mother not only drinks but has now become addicted and needs help? Then what?

So, I will continue telling my story in the hope that we can start being more open about our health problems. We are all human and susceptible to suffering and pain. What we don’t need is to have to hide our struggles for the sake of saving face and keeping up appearances.

My story is one of thousands I’m sure, but unlike mine some will never be heard.

By Shaena Jasmat

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