I have a problem …. by Ash Pryce

So today I’m putting one up myself.  This was really difficult to write.  It is not exclusively mental health related, but it does have an impact on my mental health.  And for that reason I wanted to share it.

—————————————————————

When I turned 18 I said I didn’t want to drink.  I hadn’t had more than a glass of wine at Christmas dinner at most.  I wasn’t one of those kids that bought bottles of cider at 14 and sat drinking with friends.  To be fair that might be more to the fact I had few people I would call a friend.

When I turned 18 it was almost considered a thing to do to drink, I actually refused but a friend insisted on giving me a beer.  It was awful.  Hated it.  Then a few months later I decided I wanted to see what being drunk was like.  I was a pathetic lightweight- 1 Barcadi Breezer and two pints of beer and I was right royally fucked.  I ran out of the bar pretending to be Superman and decided to lick the pavement.  Not my best moment.  But from then on I started drinking.  Not much, once every couple of weeks, then that turned in to a 2 litre bottle of cider every Saturday night.

When my nan died and I found myself living by myself this regular cider soon became cheap white cider because it got me pissed easily and was only £2 a bottle.  This continued and soon became a two or three times a week habit.  I would sometimes wait until my pay went in at midnight on a Thursday and then headed out to a late bar.  When I was on job Seekers allowance I would go to the Spar at midnight to buy a bottle of Vodka- usually with a friend, at that stage I wouldn’t drink a spirit by myself.  That’s what alcoholics do.

Sometimes I’d get a box of wine and drink most of it in one night.  I could, and can drink a lot.  I can comfortably drink at least twice what my friends can.  And some of them can drink well.

I did think I had a problem once, I was losing time at work and eventually lost my job because of the amount of times I called in “sick”.  I wasn’t always a nice drunk- never violent I must add.  But verbally I could be insanely vicious.  I never got a punch though.  And I have had some amazing times whilst drunk- one memory involves me and a friend drinking whisky in a small pub in a village before deciding to try and walk the 40 miles form Leicester to Birmingham, across fields and through deserted woods.  We called directory enquiries and asked for directions and stopped motorists to ask- pretending we were in the army and on manoeuvres.  Also if it wasn’t for the Dutch courage the booze gave me in talking to women I would not be as – how to put this delicately? – “Experienced” as I am now.  Drunk in moderation alcohol can be part of a fun night and healthy lifestyle.

I moved to Scotland just over 5 years ago and moved in with my dad.  He is an alcoholic.  Been clean for a couple of years now and doing well.  But sitting drinking with him some nights I was intrigued to find I could get rather close to matching him drink for drink.  In the past few years I’ve tended to drink – get drunk really – twice a week on average.  Previously it was two 2 litre bottles of regular cider twice a week (I haven’t touched the white stuff in years, well not with enough frequency to discuss it here.).  So basically I was having around 15 pints of cider a week.  Every week.

Now as an aside I should say I don’t want to discuss the “21 Units Recommended Weekly Intake” because it’s flawed and only good as a scare tactic.  One person could healthily drink 40 units, another struggle past 10.  As a guideline it’s not bad, but as anything else it’s not worth considering.

I can also quite easily put away a bottle of 40% spirit in one night, and since I have stopped drinking cider – on a low carb diet! – I have pretty much replaced the cider with spirits.  Now that is not only damaging to my wallet but also substantially more alcohol than is in the cider.     Looking at 30 units a bottle I can easily put up to 60 units a week away.  And that’s not good in anybody’s book.

A short while back I wrote a poem about my feelings of drink and my dad.  I suppose here is a good a place as any to share it:

“The kitchen’s in a mess again

A dark and wretched stinking den

12 litres of cider on the side

All now empty

                          Cleaning?  Why try?

 

Promises made.  Promises broken.

We’re out of electric. Cider or tokens

There’s food in the fridge to last us a day.

But payments at least a fortnight away.

 

Begging and borrowing just to get drunk.

Grammatically slurred, and breath of a skunk

Missed opportunities and screw ups in life

Wasted potential, and of course other people’s strife.

 

Regrets and remorse.  Swearing to stop.

Tomorrow though, “promise”.  Tonight just one more drop.

Sausages.  Pizza.  Chips fried in fat.

Too lazy to cook anything but crap.

 

You see I live with my father.  An alcoholic.  A drunk most of his life.

And it’s his kitchen.  His regrets.  His cider on the side.

I look at the man on the sofa.  The man I’ll grow to be.

But with a heavy heart I look in the mirror, and realise that’s already me.”

Now I don’t wake up craving alcohol.  Never have.  I never get withdrawals, and I never get the shakes.  I don’t usually drink during the day and I don’t drink every day- I can’t actually.  Two days in a  row is too much to take.  But any sensible person would say I’m drinking too much.

As I mention earlier, this isn’t even the first time I’ve thought this.  Years ago I was concerned about my drinking and made an attempt to control it.  But failed.  Since I started drinking 10 years ago I think the longest I have gone without a drink is 6 weeks- and that is because I had to.  After a rather abusive phone call to my then partner I was ordered off the booze by her and lasted 6 weeks.  Then I was back on it.  Apart from that time the longest I have gone is a fortnight, that was recently.  And that is where the link to my mental health comes in.

I was off booze for a fortnight, and this coincided with me feeling fan-bloody-tastic.  The best I’ve felt.  My depression had lifted and I felt eager, energized and back to some semblance of my “old self”.  I wasn’t sure at the time just what was having the effect- was it my new meds?  Was it my new exercise regime?  That I’d lost weight?  Was it that I was drinking less?  Was it all of the above?

My meds are certainly helping, but being off the booze had a major effect that now I’m drinking again I have noticed a serious dip.  And my paranoia is back (Not helped by the fact I’ve forgotten my meds these past few days).

And also, I don’t like drunk me.  He’s a prick.  He’s amusing up to a certain stage, but then he becomes a bit of a dick.  Demanding of more booze, banter becomes rude, a bit of a lecherous old git and generally not a very nice person.  Not one I’d want to spend time with.  But the most devastating thing has been the way it has affected my depressive mood.

I’m almost feeling as if I’m back to square one.  My mood is low, my fear of going out has returned.  And I’ve done some really stupid things in the past week that I’m ashamed of.  Some I’m not ashamed of, but would have happened with or without drink eventually anyway.

I don’t say I’m an alcoholic.  But I do say I have a problem.  And this problem is having such a detrimental effect on my health that I need to address it now.  But, I don’t know how.  Social situations almost demand you drink and not drinking leads to all sorts of assumptions from others.  I do have a problem but I don’t want people in the pub to think that!  What I do know is I don’t like feeling like this, I see the affect it is having on my wallet, my social life, my friends and my mental health.  I don’t like being like this, I don’t like drunk me.  And at this stage, simply saying “cut down” won’t work.  I can’t cut down.  I can’t just decide to have one drink in a bar, I want another and another and another.  For the sake of my mental health above all I need to stop.  Do I need to stop forever?  Maybe.  Can I accept that I might have to stop forever?  No.  I can completely understand the alcoholic mantra of “I’m not going to drink TODAY”.  Because admitting you might have a problem is hard.  Seeing how it affects your mental health is distressing.

So for my health, my sanity and my friends… I’m not going to drink today.

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About shatteringthestigma

An open blog taking submissions from skeptics and skeptic friendly individuals on the subject of mental health.

Posted on February 6, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Drinking is self-medicating, Ash. It’s a symptom of depression. Don’t beat yourself up. I don’t think you have to say you will never drink again, but don’t drink to feel better. Drink because you’re celebrating, or you fancy a glass of red with a great steak. There is a huge difference. You are not your dad.

  2. Our experiences with/relationships with alcohol sound really similar. I have severe depression and it definitely affects the role of alcohol in my life. I never called myself an alcoholic, but if I had one beer, it was hard for me not to have 3 or 4 more. I looked for any excuse to “justify” drinking, both at home and when out. I know I was using it as a way to dull some emotions and amplify others.

    So, while I agree with azmama that you shouldn’t beat yourself up, and that you are not your dad (and I need to remind myself that I am not mine), I’m not sure he/she realizes that “drink when you’re celebrating” or “drink when you fancy a glass of red” might not work for us. (I’m sorry if I’m being too presumptuous about our common experiences.) Just from my personal experience, I got advice like that the couple times I got up the courage to talk to a friend about my drinking, and it just made me feel worse. I felt horrible because they made it sound so easy, but really, I could find something to “celebrate” every day, and I fancied wine with every meal.

    Long story short(er): I ended up in the emergency room. I’m not really ready to talk about that in detail, but it was a combination of depression and drinking. I don’t care that much about myself, so I could have shrugged that incident off pretty easily, but when I saw how much it devastated my family, I took that as the impetus to quit drinking altogether. It’s been 9 months. I said I would quit for a year then reevaluate. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I followed the whole “one day at a time” AA philosophy you mention. I’m not sure what will happen when my year is up, but I imagine I’ll try drinking and see if it’s easier for me to be moderate about it. I think alcohol mixes poorly with the anti-depressants I’m on, so that’s something I have to keep in mind.

    I definitely struggle with the social situations (there’s no way around it – it’s awkward when you’re the only one not drinking champagne during a wedding toast or on New Year’s Eve). My profession is big on happy hours, too, so any sort of work celebration or professional development event is at a bar, which sucks. I came up with a couple explanations that have worked well for me; maybe they will work for you. One was to say I was trying to stick to a low-sugar diet (all alcohol has tons of sugar). Another was to say I was on a new medication on which I couldn’t have any alcohol. People don’t usually ask follow-up questions to that, so it’s worked ok. One complication I didn’t foresee is that (because I’m a young-ish, partnered woman) pretty much everyone assumes I’m pregnant when I turn down alcohol.

    Sorry this comment is so long. I’ve just never really talked to someone with an experience like mine. I guess I just want to tell you that I totally get where you’re coming from with knowing you have a problem with alcohol but not being an alcoholic. I think you’re doing the right thing taking at least some time off drinking altogether. It doesn’t have to be forever.

    I’m not putting my real email address because that would pull in my gravatar and I am not really public about all this. But if you ever want to discuss it more, let me know and I can send you my email address.

    And thanks for posting this. This site and this post are really helping me not feel so alone.

    • Hi

      Sorry I haven’t replied sooner. I stopped following responses on this post, mainly ebcause I haven’t stuck to my “Not drinking today” mantra.

      In fact, mere days after writing it I was back to my usual habits, so felt ashamed. But then realised that I have a problem and that I can’t ebat myself up about “slips”. even if it has been a two month slip.

      Your point about “celebrating” is so true. I sometimes make deals with myself – say there is an outcome of something expected (Like recently if I’d get into Uni or not). I decided that if I did get in I would dirnk to celebrate, if I didn’t I would drink to self comiserate. so I owuld be drinking either way, btu had a “valid” reason to, whatever the outcome.

      And that’s a serious sign of a problem – actively finding reasons and excuses tod rink. many people won’t even cionsider having to find a reason. They’ll meet colleagues and have a pint or a glass of wine without thinking about it. I think of reasons to justify it.

      Today for example, I ahd a pint whilst out on a date. I knew that if I got a certain bus home I would stop off at a shop and buy mroe booze, but if I took a different bus I wouldn’t go by any open shops, so I took the second, but hoped all the way back that a shop would still be open slightly later and if it was I’d get something -but that would be the shops fault, not mine!

      Drinking is considered so normal that if you don’t then clearly there is something wrong. There is massive social pressure to drink, whether people admit such pressure exists or not, I certainly feel it.

      Two days after this post was published I was at a party, all the way there I was adamant I wouldn’t drink – ah, but then, there are friends I havent’ seen for a couple of eyars, ah but then there are new people dirnking and partying etc. I ended up getting really chatty and close with a girl i sort of knew, had ehr as a Facebook friend and we go ton well enough that we were going to go out the following night. Needless to say my continued drinking at the aprty really pissed her off – especially as she was sober! After that, there was no date and I am one friend less on Facebook as a result.

      I still knew I had a problem, I swore off drink again. Until again a few days later an excuse to drink came up. Then another excuse, then another and before long I was back to buying bottles of spirits to dirnk at home. And then going out I’d spend more (Including a £30 taxi ride home as I was too smashed!).

      I#’d consider myself a serious binge drinker ratehr than an alcoholic, but maybe the difference is so little that it isn’t worth thinking about. I found this article online earlier that kind of encouraged me to come back here. The comments below it are the important parts – I recognise myself in many of them. http://www.brighteyecounselling.co.uk/alcohol-drugs/binge-drinking-is-alcoholism-too/

      the worst part is the when people say “ah, you’ll be fine. A drink every now and then will do you good”. As you say, it misses the point that some of us just can’t do that.

      All the best.

      Ash

  3. I have little doubt that regular consumption of too much alcohol prolonged my depression. I drink a lot less these days, but for two or three days after the occassional heavy night I often find myself reverting to those negative thought patterns. I think being able to dismiss it as the temporary after effects of booze actually helps a lot in stopping me from sliding back. Of course, knowing to lay off for a bit is also very useful. Because for me booze clouds out the depression in the short term, but makes it worse for the next few days.
    I remember mentioning my drinking to my mental health nurse and he suggested not to worry too much about it, that it was normal for a young man of my age. Well normal maybe but it would have been very helpful to be made aware that drink could be contributing directly and substantially to my depression, as well as vice versa. Perhaps he was just eager not to curtail my social life too much. Anyway, I am tremendously grateful to the friend who prompted me to think about the connection as figuring it out really helped me.

    • The worst someone can tell you when you’re doing somethign so destructive is that you’re fine. I’ve had many people say that my drinkings ok, but I know it isn’t. I know it’s causing problems. And I can completely relate to the several days after of feeling bad.

  4. As someone who tends not to have much alcohol, it’s hard to know what to suggest, so if you don’t think this would work, just ignore the comment! 🙂 (I have this thing about control, and never wanting people to see the real me, so I don’t drink much as a result, and if I do, I expend immense mental energy to stop people realising I’ve had a bit much.)

    Have you considered simply baldly telling people up front that you’re quitting drinking for your health? Not mental health, but rather physical health. Simply say that you’re finding yourself feeling more energetic and fitter without the alcohol, so you want to quit for a while and see what happens. Talk about it the same way you might say you’re taking up jogging every morning.

    This doesn’t mean they’re going to immediately assume things about you:

    I had friends at university who did exactly that – they had no drinking problems whatsoever, they just felt physically fitter without the alcohol. (One of them lost a lot of weight, actually! :))

    You could maybe casually say to your friends when out that you’re considering doing it, so it doesn’t come across as a sudden thing when you stop drinking.

    I’d say they’re far less likely to assume things if you’re up front about the fact you’re going to do it, so if you have a simple reason thought up beforehand that you pass off as no big deal, then they probably won’t think of it as a big deal.

  5. Hey Ash

    Using mind-altering substances, aka booze, to deal with unmanageable feelings is pretty common and can easily become a habit/addiction. I am talking from experience. I only tackled my drinking after a long conversation with my GP about why my anti-depressants weren’t working. I was drinking daily (wine), but I didn’t think it was that excessive compared to what I perceived as problem drinking. It very rarely exceeded a bottle of wine a night. But it did counteract the medication.

    Since I wasn’t able to just stop (actually a really dangerous thing for a heavy drinker to do, I’ve learned), or cut it right back, my GP suggested that I talk to the local alcohol support charity. Walking through that door was incredibly hard and one of the best things I’ve done. They were really friendly and supportive, utterly non-judgemental. They offered aural acupuncture sessions four days a week, a free and really relaxing service, which is how I initially accessed their services. I started going to support groups too and was shocked at how many people there, from every possible walk of life, also had mental health problems. An unexpected plus, regularly attending a support group meant I started to build relationships with other people and found my own issues put into better context which, of itself, helped my depression.

    These days I regularly attend the local SMART group, http://www.smartrecovery.org , which is rewarding, usually a laugh, and very supportive. SMART, unlike AA, believes that we have control over our own actions and provides CBT-based tools and science-based explanations to help us understand what is happening and how we can overcome our addictions. It’s available on line as well as in a group, but I wouldn’t miss the support and grounding I get from the local facilitator and other members. I haven’t quite broken the hold wine has over me, but I rarely drink more than 4 units a day and usually have at a couple of days off a week now.

    Hope that helps! Good luck,

    E x

    ps – PLEASE don’t just quit – there’s a real danger, on the amount you’ve said you consume, that you could end up having a fit. Go talk to your GP, or seek alternative support. 🙂

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