A while ago I wrote about dual diagnosis… http://thementalmassive.com/dual-diagnosis-whats-that/; the diagnosis of a mental illness alongside drug and/or alcohol misuse.
I am being treated for treatment resistant major depression disorder. However after months (probably years) of looking inwards, through self-reflection and treatment for the depressive disorder, I became acutely aware of my alcohol dependence and misuse.
Recognition (and denial)
At first, it was a surprise to me, as I’d always thought that I just ‘used’ it, rather than ‘needed’ it. I had been living in a great deal of denial. I’d ignore the pleas from Mr. Invincible to ‘please don’t drink tonight’, or ‘why do you need to have another one’. During a drinking period, he’d describe me as; belligerent, aggressive, angry, difficult, embarrassing.
All I said to him was that those descriptions were thoroughly unfounded and unfair, I’d play my pity card – how could he think such things of me? There were also instances where my drinking habit had interfered in my familial relationships, both in my younger years and in the years leading up to me becoming aware of the issue. If I’m really honest, there was a huge impact on my ability to function effectively at work and it was becoming obvious.
So, when I finally admitted to my psychiatrist (who, by the way has earned his nickname of Mr. Darcy, though not for the reasons you may think – he’s a gentleman and refers to me as Bridget [Jones]) he was two things; one – extremely surprised (though he did say “so that explains why some lack of recovering has not made sense to me”) and two – very keen to get started on managing it. So what did we do? He’s a very simple version of the conversation we had:
Mr. Darcy: “How much do you drink ‘Bridget’?”
Me: “Honestly, I’ve never really thought about it (lie), but a lot… it varies, I used to drink mostly wine….but then in trying to cut down the alcohol content switched to cider. However this was really high in calories and I wasn’t losing weight, so then I moved onto Vodka.”
Mr. Darcy: “Do you know how alcohol affects you, your body and maximises the effects of the depressive illness?”
Me: “Yes I think so, though I probably still need telling / educating”
Mr. Darcy goes on to tell me the specifics….
Mr. Darcy: “So will you stop drinking?”
Me: shock and horror face “No!”
Great… So I had proved to myself, that whilst I was unhappy (as were other close people in my life) and fed up of my drinking and its effects, I was very unwilling to stop.
So my homework was to go away and journal my habit. I was quite enthralled, flabbergasted and disgusted with the results.
In terms of volume I was drinking between 60-100 Units of alcohol per week. In the seven weeks I had been monitoring my drinking, I drank over 500 units. As a woman the recommended volume is 14 units per week, I was averaging 70+. In the weeks where the volume was lower, it tended to be because I got such awful hangovers I wasn’t able to drink for two days, but then on the third I’d be desperate for a drink and so binged again.
Dems da rools!
My pattern of drinking was thus; after work during the week on arrival at home, pick up glass of wine and don’t stop until I’d finished two bottles, or at least one and a half, I rarely remembered going to bed, but always did before 12 midnight. At weekends, drink from tea time (about 6pm) onwards, until I was blotto. Sunday – drink as per a week day. I was functioning like this (albeit, not very well) amazingly.
I had rules around drinking too;
- Never drink in the morning.
- Never drink in the afternoon.
- Always have some available at home.
- Never run out.
- Don’t drink alone (if possible), though this was compromised by the fact that I didn’t consider drinking at home (Mr. Invincible doesn’t drink alcohol) drinking alone even when he wasn’t there!
- Always go to bed before 12 midnight when working the next day.
- Only get blotto at weekends.
- Don’t drink spirits when out with work colleagues.
- ‘Try’ not to drink on an empty stomach, though this was greatly compromised by the next rule…
- Eating is cheating!
The Mask (and denial)
These rules kept me satisfied (allowing me to drink alcohol) and also kept me very able to put a ‘my drinking habits are not a problem’ mask on, which in turn meant that I could hide it very well from those around me.
Because I didn’t have to drink during the day; morning or afternoon, I kept saying to myself, I’m not an alcoholic, because I can choose to drink when I like. What I wasn’t acknowledging was that half way through the afternoon I’d start craving, hard. By the time I got through the door at home I’d be reaching for a glass before I’d even get my coat off.
If I ignored these facts, I was OK, just fine thank you very much!
Pros and Cons
As to why I drank, well I could go into the ‘once upon a time… when I was young’ story, but I won’t. That is not to say that it isn’t where the issues started, but a long time has passed since then, a lot of therapy has healed old wounds and what originally began as an escape, is no longer true.
Why? Well here are some of the benefits I got from drinking:
- I felt tipsy – which is a nice relaxing (and legal) buzz.
- As I was drunk by the time bed time came around, I fell asleep (or passed out) instantly.
- I didn’t need to eat much (as you know I’ve got a gastric band, and I’m working on losing weight).
- It helped me ‘manage’ extreme feelings (anger, sadness, happiness, boredom etc.).
- The loss of memory after a nights drinking meant that I didn’t have to remember if I’d been a dick or not.
That’s it…. Not much hey?! Well, not much if you compare it to the cons list:
- Hangovers, horrendous hangovers (worsened as I got older).
- Drunk behaviours – That I would ordinarily be very ashamed off.
- Taking in extra calories that I didn’t need.
- Sleep wasn’t beneficial (because drunk sleep isn’t productive sleep), which led to..
- Poor sleep hygiene (sleep very late, get up late, got to bed late).
- I shit myself on a regular basis (sorry).
- My bowels were never solid (again, sorry).
- I was depressed and down after a heavy drinking session (probably constantly).
- Terrible temperature control (hot flushing and sweating).
- Acid reflux.
- Shame and guilt.
- My mind was continually preoccupied with finding the next drink, planning it and getting it.
- I felt judged by others.
- I Effed up some relationships.
- I lacked self-care.
It was through doing the work to discover these things (through journaling and therapy) that I really found a desire to want to stop drinking.
So I did, for two days!
Then I tried again, for three days!
Apparently I didn’t choose to drink at all, my body craved it terribly and I ‘needed’ it.
So with some medication (to manage the cravings) from Mr. Darcy I eventually stopped drinking alcohol and stayed stopped.
How did I do it?
I went to AA; Alcoholics Anonymous. I took my medication. I continued journaling. I continued seeing my therapist and Mr. Darcy. I told my family. I told my friends.
I’m now 40 days sober. It’s very hard and challenging, but AA is a fantastic support network (though this may not be true for everyone who tries it) and Mr. Invincible is simply a rock for me, as always. Only those super close to me know about this (until this was published anyway) and that’s because there is stigma attached to an addiction to alcohol….both in the general public’s heads and also in mine, I’m ashamed and embarrassed about it. I have to get over that to be able to treat myself better!
I’m in very early days yet, but I am reluctantly pleased with my progress. I’m frightened though, as Christmas is coming (and the goose is getting fat…) and it has always meant a lot of alcohol consumption for me. So I need to put plans in place to manage it.
It’s very strange to think that I will never be able to drink alcohol again. But hey – if I were allergic to nuts I wouldn’t even entertain eating them and whilst I don’t have an allergic reaction to alcohol, it does have a very negative effect on me and my life.
Reactions and secrecy
What I have found very interesting is how secretive and manipulative I must have been. My friends and family accept that I have a problem that I want to deal with, but have struggled to identify with the fact that it is something that I NEED to deal with.
For example; my father wondered why I couldn’t just cut down. He was surprised when I explained how much of a problem it was for me and that moderation was not an option. My friends can relate to some extent, especially because it’s such a socially acceptable vice. They use alcohol to relax too, most of my friends have young kids and kids can be very challenging, it’s not uncommon to hear ‘I could do with a drink’ being said. Whether they actually need it, rather than want the dulling effect that you get from alcohol, who knows. Still even they knew very little of my dependence and were surprised to hear the full extent.
I’m not sure what my work colleagues will think of it, I don’t want them to know (although I am being treated for it through the company’s medical team which I’m very grateful for). I’m very frightened that the knowledge will be coloured by my colleagues with the stereotypical stigma attached to alcohol dependence (and mental illness) and that I will be treated with disdain and pushed aside as the woman who just couldn’t control herself.
Why do so many people still think of addiction as a moral failing? Why, despite widespread agreement that addiction is best understood as a complicated behavioural-biological scenario that requires treatment?
The system seems hard-wired to prolong stigma, and in turn stigma contributes to addiction’s lethality, and it is lethal.
A whole question for another article I think…