An abandoned school playground. By a lake, under a starlit sky. A stranger in a bar. A much older client. A younger cousin brother. In the restroom of a restaurant. In the office. In my mother’s bedroom. On the bed he shared with his wife. A guy at a party. In a car. On a flight. In hotel rooms. Behind my fiancé’s back. Colleagues. Friends. Strangers. Hot kisses, make out sessions and sex. With protection, without. Two abortions, one broken engagement, no marriages, no children. High on alcohol, sometimes weed, and intoxicated on the fantasy of the perfect romance. I am a recovering alcoholic, a “love addict,” and now at 43, have been diagnosed with ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I assure you, these labels were not part of my plan. Growing up, I didn’t feel all that different. Like my mother, my aunts, my cousins, like every other girl in my class, every Bollywood heroine, and every woman in every romance novel I read back then, I thought my life would be about marriage, kids, a dog, and in the case of my generation, the additional responsibility of a career. I was shy and introverted, but a life of moving every two years, courtesy a father with a transferable job, makes you develop traits of resilience, adaptability and enough charm to woo the world. But wait a second…“What is wrong with you? Why can’t you keep a relationship?”“Why does no man love you enough to marry you? Everyone else seems to have found someone, except you.”“You are smart, beautiful, successful, funny. You have everything going for you, except for your choice in men.”“Why are you so attracted to married men?”“Why are you creating more negative karma? You exude black widow energy.” The myriad voices of friends, family, ex-lovers, boyfriends, grew louder as I grew into an adult. But the loudest voice of all was my own. As I moved from one broken relationship to another, I often wondered—what was wrong with me? Why couldn't I just do what everyone else around me seemed to be doing with such ease? And most importantly, why wasn't I learning the lessons that I was supposed to have been learning through all this? Why wasn't any relationship of mine converting into a stable, long term marriage? There was obviously something wrong with me!I had started young. My first crush was at the age of 5 – I don’t remember his name now. We were both class monitors. We chased each other around in class and I remember that first heady “being in love” feeling —warm and cozy, with just a hint of a thrill that made my brain perk up – though I didn’t have a name for it back then. Having a crush soon became my most favourite feeling in the world. It made me feel alive in a way that very few things did. School was, thus, spent moving from one crush to another; unspoken, unexpressed to the outer world, most certainly never to the subject in question, but all the while filling my inner world with unparalleled joy. As I grew older, all I wanted to do was to share this joy, and express all these feelings of love inside of me.My first kiss was in a bar. It was also the first time I got drunk. I was 18; he was 21, handsome, and he looked at me with desire in his eyes. Drinking together, we discovered our fathers died on the same day, the same year. He shared his birthday with my mother, and his sister and I shared the same name. This had to be a gift from God. I had met my soulmate! I don’t remember much of that kiss (I puked in the toilet later; because of the beer, not the kiss), and it eventually turned out that he already had a girlfriend. But I was busy feeling a new feeling--of connection with another human being, of being desired, and the comfort and thrill of being touched sensually. That feeling and I have been doing the disco, the bhangra, and the tango, ever since. That feeling and I have no qualms with each other. It was all well, until I entered the world of relationships. Yikes! My first “proper” relationship lasted a year. It was the first time I had sex, and I absolutely loved the way it made me feel—the quest for connection fulfilled a notch further. When we broke up, I remember him telling me that the relationship wasn't really going deeper. The minute he wanted to get closer to me, or asked me the dreaded question—how was I feeling—I would recoil and say something glib like “I love you.” The truth is that I hadn't even asked myself this question, so to articulate it to anyone else was near impossible at the time. After that first relationship, began a series of quarter, half and 3/4th relationships. I did come close to getting married once, but it was as if something inside me was hell bent on not letting that happen. I would walk away just when it was getting serious, or in that one close case, just before walking down the aisle. And there was always someone around the corner who I could distract myself with. Don’t get me wrong, all these distractions worked at the time. They were all useful allies. They fulfilled a deep need to connect, to belong, even if it was for just a short while. It was also very validating to have a man be attracted me, a high in itself. But it took me a long time to realize that the key word here was ‘distraction’. What exactly was I distracting myself from? What would happen once I stopped distracting myself? I was about to get answers to all these questions, but the distractions had to first stop working. And they did.The first thing that stopped working was the alcohol. The hangovers, and the consequences, were getting worse, and people around me had begun to notice. A friend said to me, “You are too heartbreaking to watch.” I was. Eventually, it got worse; I sought the help I needed, and today, I am nearly 8 years sober from alcohol. But I still felt restless. It got harder sober because I no longer had the alcohol to numb the feelings I was trying to avoid. And so I took to therapists, self-help books, astrology, numerology, inner-child healing, reiki chakras, hypnotherapy, past life regression, current life journaling, new exercise regimes, new diets, new forms of meditation…you get the gist. I was sober from alcohol, but it still felt like I was running away from God knows what.When I stopped drinking, the overwhelming feeling that I remember was shame. A sense of failure at not being able to become what the world expected me to be—married, stable, with children, with a successful career. It took me some time to realize that the feelings of shame were not my own. I mean, I felt the shame, but there was always this nagging thought that there was something beyond this shame that I needed to get to.My last relationship was a few months ago, with someone I met on an online dating app. The first ‘single guy’ I dated in over a decade. Our first chat lasted five hours, the second six. The chemistry was through the roof; we kissed passionately on our first date and tumbled into bed like long lost lovers on our second. High passion…high intensity…high.About a month after we met, and after a long evening of conversation, driving around, and a passionate session of sex, we were “chilling” in bed. Except, I couldn't just “chill”. It’s as if my brain needed even more intensity, and I found myself saying, “so, what about being exclusive?” He looked taken aback. I instantly felt a rush of fear—of being rejected, of being alone, of not being good enough. He said he needed more time, said a sweet goodbye, and we haven’t seen each other since.But here is what came out of that. I spoke to a psychiatrist, took a diagnosis test for ADHD, and am now on medication. Turns out, my brain doesn't function like a “normal” brain. While the jury on the exact neurochemistry of ADHD is still out, suffice to say that there are challenges, and the medication helps to mitigate them. A wandering mind, challenges with memory, and increased impulsivity, are only some of the hallmarks of an ADHD brain. The alcohol, all that romance, the heady high of the first kiss, the passionate sex, the delicious naughtiness of secret relationships, and the never-ending drama of chasing and being chased, were ways to soothe myself and my brain. Now that I am armed with more awareness, I can, hopefully, begin to make my own choices, rather than feeling like a slave to my impulses.And yet, I don’t say this to say ‘problem solved’. I see it as the beginning of a journey of me, trying to be myself – not responding to the voices in my head, mine included, telling me to be the straight-A student of life.All I ever wanted was to fit in, to belong, to connect. Every message that I ever heard around me put such a premium on the importance of fitting in. And if one didn't, they were deemed a pariah. I don't know when exactly I internalized that message, but that fear of being different ran so deep that I did everything in my power to try and be a-part-of, rather than apart from, because to stand alone felt too scary. There always seemed to be mini wars raging inside me—the feminist who wanted to be free, but kept jostling with the idea that a woman is only complete when she is a wife and has mothered kids. The individual who wanted to be authentic to herself, but kept running up against another’s idea of belonging. The woman who wanted to explore relationships without any definition, but the little girl who kept wanting to draw safe boundaries.That war had to stop. And it had to begin with me asking myself—what if nothing is wrong with me? The feelings of shame were because I thought I had to fit into a box that I didn't even want to fit into. I didn't want to make the same choices that I saw people around me making—choosing stability and safety, sometimes over authenticity and freedom. There is nothing wrong with those choices per se; they were just not what I wanted for myself.Maybe I am naturally more inclined to short, clandestine relationships that offer me brief companionship, but don’t impinge on my freedom. Maybe I don't find the idea of being tied to one person for the rest of my life too appealing. Maybe I want to experience relationships without the burden of expectations. Maybe I want to be seen as a full human being without a label—that of a potential wife, girlfriend or lover. If it were a less normative world, it would hold space for those who are atypical in various ways – such as those who have ADHD – rather than making us all struggle to fit into a world of narrowly defined ‘normalcy’. Maybe, in such a world, my relationships would have been just another kind of intimate life people have, leaving me with a sense of beauty, more than self-doubt and shame. Maybe, maybe, maybe…There is no doubt that life is much better without the cloudiness of alcohol. I am more awake, more conscious, and more present to life as it is happening. I can see now that I was merely using it to quieten my inner, more authentic, voices. I know that I want to be present here and now. I want to pay attention to a person, a relationship, an experience without it having to meet some pre-destined goal, be judged against some standard of ‘normal’ or ‘ideal’. I want to allow for things to unfold naturally. It is scary, unfamiliar and more me than I have ever been. Purnima Raghawan. 43, Female. Aspiring writer and storyteller, design enthusiast, amateur iphone photographer, and keeper of memories.
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