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Climbing a Mountain, Literally: How Bhutan Helped Me Achieve Sobriety - Personal Piece

May 21, 2021 09:00AM ● By Anand Subramanian

It always starts with one drink. As we drink more, people become more tolerable, life feels less challenging, and sleep finally appears attainable. But as days transpire, it's not about "one" drink anymore. The only thing we find ourselves holding on to is an empty bottle of Scotch.

"Hi, My name is Anand Subramanian, I am an alcoholic, and this is my journey towards sobriety."

Alcohol is widely used in America and has impacted different demographics in different proportions. Drinking consequences and alcohol dependency symptoms are the two widely observed indicators of alcoholism. Drinking consequences are the external factors that push an individual towards liquor, while alcohol dependency symptoms refer to a set of behaviors and experiences correlated with alcoholism, such as blackouts and withdrawal. Some studies have found that African Americans report an increase in drinking consequences and alcohol dependency symptoms compared to the White population. 

According to the National Survey on Drugs Use and Health, 41.9 % of African Americans between the ages of 18 to 25 consume alcohol. This level of consumption has been a contributing agent to many fatalities within the community. According to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50 to 60 percent of Black men and 30 to 40 percent of Black women are regular drinkers. Racial discrimination, social stigma, and projected prejudice are becoming a continuous source of stress, anxiety, and depression in the community. The constant bombardment of such factors has pushed many young African Americans to choose alcohol as a source of escape from reality. 

In India, Alcohol consumption had touched the mark of 6.5 billion liters by 2020. States like Andra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala account for 49 percent of liquor sales in India. Some key factors, such as increased consumption in rural areas, social acceptance, and the higher proportion of the young population entering the drinking age have increased the statistics in India. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 11 percent of Indians are regular drinkers, against the global average of 17 percent. Such high consumption in the country has led the drinking population towards negative outcomes such as mental health disorders, road traffic accidents, suicide, domestic violence, high-risk sexual behavior, crime, and violent acts.

In instances of alcoholism, many either choose to get help or continue with alcohol abuse until a sudden realization hits them like a ton of bricks. I was in the latter category. My dependency on alcohol for a good night's sleep and enduring social gatherings increased at an alarming rate. Nevertheless, I still loved how diluted certainty felt. Still, after all the consumption, my creative spirits were intact, and my photography was improving. After one year of continuous consumption, my mental state felt invincible, and due to continuous workflow, I never paid attention to my physical condition. But all of that changed.

Figure 1 - Beginning of a life-changing travel experience. Photographed by Anand Subramanian

As a part of my photography portfolio development, I had the privilege to travel to the happiest country in all of Asia, Bhutan. My curiosity towards Bhutan's GNH (Gross National Happiness), and love for Buddhist culture became the subject of my visit. My travel amid a carbon-negative environment and the sounds of the pristine blue stream subdued my yearnings for alcohol, but it still lingered in the back of my head. The main attraction of Bhutan is its beautifully constructed monasteries, situated on top of the mountains, with a challenging entry pathway. Chagrin Dorjeden monastery, established in Thimpu, was the first monastery in my itinerary. Its 2800ft journey didn't feel like a challenge in the beginning. But, as the journey began, I could feel my body crumbling from the inside. A 22-year-old me was gasping for air and taking intervals every 5 minutes while my tour guide, who was in his early 30s, was hiking the mountain effortlessly. The hike that was supposed to take an hour, took nearly 3 hours to finish. But, in the end, there stood the monastery at its utmost glory, beaming under bright sunlight, and I stood there witnessing its beauty while getting hold of my physical turbulence.

Figure 2 - Climb towards the Chagrin Monastery. Photographed by Anand Subramanian

While I was resting there, gathering myself, a realization dawned on me. All of those intoxicated nights suddenly felt shameful and a gross betrayal towards my fleshly being. I had put my body through alcohol abuse because I was too afraid to face and handle the whirlwind of my reality. It had taken 2800ft of the uneven and challenging hike to bring me back to my senses. Even after this hard-hitting life lesson, the mind still craved for a diluted escape. But, this time I recognized my craving and decided to put an end to it. To help achieve this goal, I decided to climb the Tiger Nest monastery, a religious and artistic marvel established about 10000 ft above sea level.  

Figure 3 - The journey towards Tiger nest monastery. Photographed by the tour guide.

At 7.a.m, I stood at the starting point, looking towards a mist-covered monastery. As anxiety started to creep in, I took a deep breath and started my hike. The journey was filled with a similar uneven landscape and narrow pathways, but also a continuous bombardment of raindrops. There were certain weak moments where my body almost gave up, but my determination to finish my climb fueled my journey. By the end, the mist started to dissipate, and I witnessed the majesty of Tiger Nest monastery.

Figure 4 - The Achievement. Photographed by the tour guide.

Completing the 10000ft journey represented the end of my alcoholic journey and a victorious beginning of my sobriety. Sitting in the monastery, staring towards the mountain's abyss, I recollected the numerous times I had almost given up. There were moments in the climb where choosing alcohol felt more comfortable than the painful journey. But, the peace attained in the monastery felt spiritual. So, every time I crave an alternative reality, I recall my literal climb towards my sobriety, the challenging hike, and the divine result.


 Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and  Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.

Read more from Anand Subramanian:

Entering the Inner Sanctum: Exploring the Art of Portraits

Shaping the Contemporary Art: Arthur Jafa - Artist Review

A Legacy of Strength & Love - Mother’s Day