Addiction (written by Anna)
BLOG TAKE OVER
I am so glad that I have opened up my blog for you to contribute. Writing has helped me massively with my mental health and this gives others the opportunity to write and share their journey from a different perspective. I am truly inspired and encouraged by what I have read. I have no doubt you will too.
**Please remember local and national support services are available if help is required**
Thank you Anna for your openness in ‘take over 12’
My drinking was problematic from the day it began. I had an alcohol withdrawal seizure when I was 17 years old after drinking to excess one summer. I remember a close friend telling me that she thought I was an alcoholic when I was in my early twenties. Addiction is sometimes described as the “disease of more” and I can certainly relate to that. When I started drinking I had no off switch.
I believe that I would be an alcoholic regardless of the direction my life took, but it became a very useful tool for coping with an increasingly dark void inside of me which I couldn’t identify or cure.
When I was 18 I innocently mentioned in passing to my parents that I had started a relationship with a woman. I was naive and didn’t think for one moment that this news would have the devastating effect that followed. Out of respect for my parents’ privacy I won’t go into detail but the result of a very traumatic few months was that I ended the relationship. And then I pursued relationships with men for the next 15 years. Being gay was no longer an option.
My drinking went through ups and downs. Occasionally I could get it under control for a while, usually until the latest self-inflicted disaster had passed. At one stage I managed to stay sober for 18 months. When I wasn’t drinking I was binge eating, stuffing my face with food until I felt sick, dirty and full of shame.
But my reliance on alcohol always came back and it progressively got worse in my early thirties. I was suffering with depression and going through periods of being unable to attend work, regularly signed off by my GP. When I wasn’t in work I’d start drinking as early as possible in the morning and think about how much I didn’t want to be alive. I was in a relationship at this point and often went missing, leaving my partner to worry about me and undertake sad searches of local pubs and park benches, looking for me. I’d wander around drunk, wondering if I could perhaps freeze to death if I stayed outside long enough in the cold rain. I couldn’t walk over a bridge without thinking about flinging myself off into the dark water below.
When that relationship inevitably ended, I started living on my own. This was a disaster to begin with but it ended up being my salvation. I drank for a further year, in which my my attendance at work was so bad I almost lost my job. Any day I wasn’t in work I’d drink, smoke and binge eat all day from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep. I’d go from my bed to the sofa and back again, occasionally scurrying to the shop for supplies and hoping no-one would look me in the eye.
But being single and living alone meant I didn’t have to pretend anymore. I was only answerable to myself and in the end that helped me to get sober. I had to ask myself whether I really wanted to die, because if I carried on drinking death was becoming an inevitability, either through suicide, an accident whilst drunk or a drinking-related illness.
It’s often said that you should tackle your addictions in the order in which they’re most likely to kill you. I stopped drinking on 24 November 2014. I wish I could share some magical wisdom about how I did it with yoga and meditation, but it really came down to avoiding social situations, eating a lot of food, drinking coffee and smoking. Whatever works. I stopped smoking six months later and kicked caffeine another six months after that. My eating disorder got worse for a while and binge eating is the final hurdle but is slowly getting better.
I try to walk every day, eat a plant-based diet, and have meaningful interactions with people who are important to me and whose company lifts me up. I read, listen to music, watch films, take photographs and try to spend time outdoors. I talk regularly with other sober women.
I’ve also been in therapy for over two years and, through that process, have realised that the void inside of me was not resentment at my parents or my circumstances. It was shame and guilt for turning my back on my true identify. I lived a shadow life for almost twenty years, doing what I thought I should be doing, based on things I’d seen on TV and in films. I couldn’t feel my way through life instinctively because I’d lost touch with who I really was and what I truly wanted.
I still feel very much an outsider. I’m sober, which in itself sometimes seems a pretty radical stance in a society which venerates alcohol so highly. I’m gay but don’t feel like I have a place in the LGBTQ+ community as I’ve been in heterosexual relationships most of my life and didn’t stand up for my identity when I had the opportunity. I feel like a fraud even using the label.
But I’m a lot better. After a particularly bad depressive episode which started last November, I began taking antidepressants in February. My mood has lifted and I’m feeling more optimistic about the future. Most importantly, I know that in sobriety I am a nicer person. I care more and am happier to help. I’m a better friend. I’m more honest. I’m confident that I could act appropriately in an emergency instead of being the one causing it.
I know that to keep hold of anything worthwhile, I have to stay sober. It has to be the first thing. The most important thing. Sometimes, the only thing.
If anyone is struggling with addiction, please know that it can get better. There is support available and more people than you may think are fighting the same fight. Please reach out.