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I was an alcoholic for over 16 years. I started drinking heavily at the age of 17. I used alcohol to deal with mental health problems. I lost my Grandpa and other family members to alcohol and I can only imagine they used alcohol for similar reasons I did. It took me a long time to realize and admit I had a drinking problem. I’m approaching my second year of sobriety and I thought now would be a great time to talk about my own experience with alcohol abuse and mental health problems.
I think it's important to disucss how alcohol is viewed and promoted as normal in society.
It’s promoted on television, in newspapers and magazines, on billboards, on Youtube videos, etc. It’s everywhere. As a child, I grew up watching television soaps such as Eastenders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, and Hollyoaks. All of these soaps promote alcohol with many of their scenes being shot in a pub or bar setting.
Every time I drank I justified it by telling myself I wasn’t an alcoholic. Everybody does it. It’s normal. This mindset came from what I had learned growing up.
I’m generally a reserved and shy type of person. I don’t like being around people and prefer to be alone. But, after a pint of lager, I’d feel exhilarated. I was like a new person with newfound confidence. I was able to feel comfortable and happy around others. I came out of my shell. I conversed. I joked. I laughed.
Alcohol worked great at curbing mental health-related issues and it became my drug of choice to deal with my anxiety and depression.
I self-medicated for almost 2 decades. You’d rarely see me outside the house without an alcoholic drink. I had to plan all my trips to ensure there was a pub around. I’d make any excuse to pop into a pub for a pint. If there were no pubs around I would pre-pack my rucksack with 4 cans of lager, or a bottle of vodka. I was always prepared.
I relied on alcohol to do basic things such as:
My addiction started to go downhill after I lost my Dad to Cancer. I drank excessively for 12 months to numb the pain. When my step-dad died 1 year later I went over the edge and was drinking all day, every day.
Dealing with grief and loss is something I struggle to handle. Alcohol helped to forget about the pain I witnessed them go through. It helped me deal temporarily with the loss, but at the same time also increased my thoughts of suicide.
I was most vulnerable to mental health problems while I was drunk. My inner demons would surface and I’d end up in a drunken depressive hole.
My mind would be plagued by suicidal thoughts. There have been a few occasions where I’ve wanted to kill myself. All of the times I’ve made real attempts to take my own life happened when I was drunk - except the time I took an overdose but that’s a different story. Most of my episodes of self-harm and cutting my wrists happened while I was drunk too.
Hangovers are dreadful. A hangover is the body’s reaction to the damage caused by drinking beverages that the body deems toxic. Vital organs work overtime to push out the toxins and the brain’s chemistry is thrown out of whack for a day or two.
For people with anxiety, a hangover can be problematic. The side-effects of drinking alcohol are not pleasant and can seem life-threatening to an anxiety sufferer. This further exasperates anxiety and causes horrid panic attacks. I've been there, done that and got several t-shirts.
Hangover symptoms vary, but common symptoms for those with anxiety are:
… they’re all normal hangover symptoms that generally pass throughout the day. A good hangover cure is melted cheese on toast with a cup of tea/coffee. Add 4 teaspoons of sugar to your hot beverage. If you’re sensitive to caffeine avoid the coffee.
Ps. If you’re ever struggling with anxiety attacks I’ve got a great method to help stop a panic attack quickly.
I quit alcohol on the 1st of May 2018. I'd tried countless times before. I'd always slip backward. This time I was convinced I needed to quit.
The years of alcohol abuse were starting to take its toll on both my mental health and physical health. I was at a stage in life where I realized I had a real alcohol problem.
The wake-up call was when I was starting to develop pitting edema. This is a condition that means water pools in your feet causing your feet to look and feel puffy. If you have pitting edema you can push your finger into the skin it will leave an indent. This is often caused by heart disease, liver damage, kidney damage or high sodium levels.
I also developed other health problems:
These problems worried me. I lost my Grandpa, and two of my uncles to alcohol. I was on that same downward spiral. It was made or break time. If I didn't quit I risked losing my life to the bottle.
24 hours after quitting alcohol I started to notice the withdrawal symptoms. The first night was rough. I'd spent so long in the habit of drinking every night that I was lost and bored. Anything I tried to do would piss me off. Nothing was interesting.
The boredom and irritability were accompanied by intense stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
I found it impossible to sleep and was constantly tired and fatigued. I didn't get any sleep for the first 48 hours. Most nights I'd wake up several times covered in sweat in a state of fear and panic. It took many months before I could sleep properly and comfortably.
I spent days on end in bed staring at the walls. I ate very little. I survived on honey hoops and chocolate for months. It’s all I could stomach.
I had a lot of symptoms while quitting including:
Quitting alcohol is difficult. Depending on how much you drink it could be dangerous, or even fatal. It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor or GP just to be on the safe side. I didn’t get any medical advice. I’d done some research. I had emergency services on speed dial just in case I had any adverse side effects during withdrawal.
If you're quitting alcohol here are some helpful tips I learned to help make quitting a little bit easier:
Most importantly relax, and allow the recovery process to happen. Book a couple off weeks of work. Don’t push or exert yourself. If sleeping helps, sleep. Do whatever it takes to get through the first week. The process gets easier from there.
Since quitting all of the physical health problems I had went away. The pitting edema I had disappeared within 2 weeks of stopping. That was a huge worry off my shoulders. Dr. Google convinced me I had a heart problem or liver/kidney disease.
In reality my body was warning me something was wrong.
Before I quit I was approaching 230lbs. A lot of the weight was related to alcohol and water. Over time my weight dropped and I'm now a healthy 190lbs. That's a dramatic loss in weight.
Other improvements I've experienced are:
Quitting alcohol has had many benefits on my life, but the reality is I still live with mental health problems. I was abusing alcohol for so long that learning to live a life without it is a brand new experience.
One downside is since quitting alcohol I developed sever agoraphobia. I rarely leave the house. I can’t do something as simple as going to the shop. I can’t attend my child’s parent's evening or sports day. I don't go on family outings. I'm working on fixing that. It's a long road to recovery.
Living with mental health problems can be frustrating but it’s so much easier to deal with life sober. Instead of masking my problems with alcohol I have to face them head-on and learn how to deal with them.
Time is a great healer. Alcohol is only a temporary fix.
Wishing you good health and sobriety,