Hi, I’m Shiela, I am an alcoholic.
A few months ago, my mother started complained about my drinking. I knew I drank a lot but not often so to me that was not a “problem” or an addiction. I accepted that alcohol for me was an end to a means, a way to voice out things I wouldn’t be able to say while sober and it was just a good time with my peers. My mother didn’t see that though, we never talked about it, see to her I had “demons” yep, I was possessed by the devil. Okay. This went on for weeks, every time I would come back from drinking with friends, she wouldn’t speak to me and I would reciprocate and remain silent because I felt judged. I was constantly told that girls do not drink alcohol or stay out late. Then a few weeks ago, she finally took action. She took me to a fellowship gathering, yes, she took me to a prophet.
This place she took me to, had a whole system set in place preparing for your “deliverance”. First, you sit in line to speak to a counselor, he would write down your problem(s), to my dismay this would be posted on a placard you were meant to hold up during the service. So you can imagine my embarrassment when my mother peered over my shoulder to tell this particular counselor I am an “Alcohol Addict.” Yep, that was day to remember alright. Did it make me stop drinking? You bet it did. Not to say I was delivered or anything, but I am not dreaming of undergoing such kind of humiliation ever again. Doesn’t help that on top of all these things my mother thinks I seclude myself from my family, she also told the counselor that I am an adamant and lazy human being. Ouch. Stab the rest of my back why don’t you.
Not to get defensive, which I gladly got to the counselor on the terms of my “laziness”, just because I do not linger in the kitchen the way my mother would like does not make me any less hardworking. I choose to not be the typical homely girl, because I am far from typical. For the hundred thousandth and something time, a woman’s place is NOT the kitchen. Chores are a great way for a young person to learn responsibilities for sure, they shape us young women on our way to independence. But somehow this purely good intentioned activity has been used as a requisite for marriage and a tool to shame those who cannot do it as efficiently as required. The icing on this aggravating cake is that somehow, I am limiting my chances of marriage by drinking and socializing with members of the opposite sex. Every twenty something year old female has heard these lines; “What kind of wife will you be?” “How will your husband respect you?” As if Marriage is and end goal or solution to all of my problems. We all want that absolute happiness, but it cannot be the end all, what about my own personal development? What about my goals and dreams?
My point is that parents need to learn to communicate and teach their children how to communicate. Shouting or yelling at a child does not always mean they will learn the intended lesson, sure it drives fear into our hearts and sometimes it is remorseful that we have caused that much anger in them. But that’s it, it’s just a thought and thoughts can be put away. If you ask me whether I remember the things my mother yells at me about, I do not even recall. I just remember the anger and the disappointment. There are times when I have felt the urge to open up and talk about what I go through in hopes that this will be understood, but these hopes are quickly shut down by the same judgment and condemnation.
My mother and many parents today are from a generation whereby women or children must be seen and not heard, and girls should not stay out at night or do what the boys do. There is a hang or a clinging on gender norms that are outdated and archaic that we seem to not be able to let go of. I and many others like me are from a generation that is trying so hard to break down these oppressive walls that do not allow us to open up about our feelings and to communicate about the things that do not sit right with us, walls that have been put up by the same generation that has deemed us the lost children. Most of our parents are only assuming that life in this millennial era is easier than when they were in their youth. The truth is every generation grows up with its own problems, we have our pressures and burdens like every other generation. Some might even say we have it worse with these technological advances that constantly demand our attention. Our generation wants to be heard and open about our lives, our tweets and posts are about expressing ourselves and our thoughts, things our parents were never allowed to talk about.
The alcohol problem has risen partly from the fact that we have felt alone in situations where our families or our friends could’ve saved the day, numbing that sort of loneliness with alcohol is a temporary escape but an escape nonetheless. If parents treated mental health the same way they did with our skinned knees and broken arms, maybe we wouldn’t be such a reckless generation. Not everyone who is wandering is lost, some of our journeys have to trail outside the most travelled paths to reach our destination.
From a feminist point of view, women have been perceived as weak individuals in society despite their roles as mothers, daughters and domestic caretakers. This weakness has continuously grown to the point where a female who decides to fall out of the over exerting norms is judged as promiscuous or as morally corrupt. Condemned even by the church, the very refuge for mankind’s strife, the place that is essentially meant to be the safest. Mentally these types of judgments are an affliction that ends up affecting one’s health and welfare. There is a need, no a demand, to recognize and empower women to not be plagued by these barbaric gender norms.
Finding yourself in a world that has already made assumptions and conclusions about who you are is one of life’s biggest challenges. Being an African woman means this challenge is just twice as hard, fighting for yourself against the oppressive forces of the patriarchy and negative gender norms. Once you discover the magic in loving yourself, these powers become more and more insignificant to the goddesses that we are meant to be.
Sheila is Malawian and is currently working in a gender and sexual reproductive health organisation. She graduated with a Bachelors of Arts in Humanities from the university of Malawi Chancellor College. Her focus in writing is to bring light to less talked about issues that are affecting young people in her country, such as mental health, drug and alcoholic abuse and sexuality. A personal achievement for her is her work as a program administrative assistant at the Health Policy Project- an initiative that helps create policies and implements the distribution of youth friendly health services that are very much needed in Malawi.