Dry January – A Warm Reminder of Alcohol Misuse
We’ve all seen the lost souls sitting on benches with a cheap beer or a bottle of discount vodka, unbathed and in dirty clothes. When we talk about alcoholics, that is usually the image our minds go to.
Reality is – as always – a lot more complicated. Alcohol abuse has many faces and we could even divide the concept into alcohol abuse and alcohol misuse. And while the distinction can be important in some cases, I feel it’s pretty much the same foundations they rose from.
Fact is that alcohol abusers and misusers could be anyone. It could be your colleague, your friend, your brother, your father – it could be me.
It IS me!
As I’ve written in some of my No Smoking Field Reports, I have a rather addictive nature. That is the only way so far I know how to deal with powerful emotions. In my case it expresses itself through smoking (slipped, but I am getting back to the “field” in a few days time – all will be revealed in my next Field Report), sugar, self harm (yes, self harm is highly addictive) and – of course – alcohol.
Today I want to address the little signs that lets you know, that there is an unhealthy relationship to alcohol and I am going to talk about the importance of interventions.
Before that, I’m going to tell you about the day, I realised I was becoming someone I did not want to be.
The Kind Intervention
The day had been particularly rough, I remember. I was in the kitchen, doing the dishes, fuzzyheaded from the wine that was supposed to calm my nerves. I was angry. I was sad. I was hurting. I was scared. And I crashed as fast as a piano thrown from the Empire State Building, the shatterings being my tears.
My girlfriend came out, held me, asked what was up and I tried to answer, but I can’t pretend that it made much sense to anyone. I can’t really remember what I said. Her words and her tone of voice however is carved in a stone wall in my brain:
“Don’t take this the wrong way, honey”, she said in the sweetest and most compassionate voice, “but have you considered maybe you should hold back on the wine a bit?”.
I think I half heartedly tried to argue by sobbing “but it hurts so much”!
The effect of her words, though, had already taken place.
It was then that I realized my drinking was being noticed, being thought about, affecting people I love and care about.
I understood that drinking was no longer a nice treat to me, but becoming an extensive coping mechanism for emotions I didn’t know how else to deal with – and consequently hurting the people I love. Having felt that hurt myself growing up, the realization struck hard.
I also understood that I was yet not in too deep to pull myself out of it.
Numbing the Noise
High school – or what is the equivalent to high school in Denmark – became in many ways a turning point. Prior to this I had held my ground to my peers, insisting on not drinking, with the following exclusion because that decision made me the odd one out. This was not a new thing, but at least, I told myself, it was by my own choice this time. High school changed a lot for me. I was determined that I wanted to feel how it was like to fit in. To be part of a group.
So, while knowing I was gay (as I was in love with a girl, that did not feel the same about me), I started to date a guy to avoid questions about boyfriends. I started drinking, to avoid questions on why I was so vigilantly avoiding alcohol. I was not prepared to share neither the fact that I was gay nor the fact that I grew up with an alcoholic parent – I could not afford to stand out.
However, pressure rose in high school and while I was strong in the books, my energies dropped – and they dropped fast. All of that made sense almost twenty years later, when I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder – or autism spectrum condition, as it’s also called. But I didn’t know that at the time. All I knew was that I desperately wanted to fit in, doing whatever it took – realizing eventually that none of it made me any more like my peers. I was still odd, still quiet and pairing that with the confusion of being book strong and yet unable to function in the educational environment, it became a continuum of the major depressions (including suicide attempts) in my teen years.
This was the time of my first anorexic period, dropping from 65 kilos to 41 rapidly, alerting a few teachers that made it their business to pull me through. And quite honestly, without their conversations and recommendations to the principal, I would probably have been expelled for too much absense.
It was also the time, where the first full blown psychotic period came (what I later learned was called mini-psychosis due to high stress), having me seeing little crying girls outside my window, seeing the walls come down to crush me, the door to my rented room shaking and man like shadows lurking about. I heard crying and screaming and whispers from the walls and my thoughts became loud and rapid. I saw flashes of what turned out to be memories coming back, that hurt too much for anyone to take. Prior to this I had only experienced these odd shadows and no noises, so it goes without saying that in my more present moments, I was scared shitless – and didn’t know or didn’t dare to talk to anyone about it.
So I bought wine. It helped a bit, putting my mind at ease and slowing down hallucinations, noises and the flashes and thoughts. When slightly drunk, life became somewhat tolerant.
Problem was, as the habit grew, I became more tolerant. So I drank more. Until I was no longer able to stop, when I had reached the buzz, but kept going. It was not unusual that I’d binge two bottles of cheap cherry wine in one night in my room. I know, it’s gross, but cherry wine was what I could afford.
It’s interesting how repulsive cherry wine is to me today.
This resulted in black outs. I’ve always taken pride in the fact that when I’m drunk I’m still the rational one telling people to remember their keys and blow out candles, when heading for the town. However, it was not always like that – although I have drunk a few guys to smithereens and still been able to tell about it. But sometimes it went dark.
There were occasions I woke up, discovering a bed clad in bloody paper towels, big open wounds on my arms – and not knowing what the fuck happened. I’ve woken up in a bed that was not my own, wandering out, hearing “call me” behind me, still halfway plastered, unable to remember, who the girl was, where I met her, and where in the fucks name I was (no pun intended). To this day, I can’t even tell you what she looked like – all I saw waking up was a massive nest of blondish hair. I have chased an old unsteady walking lady down – and mind you I had heavy piercings and purple-ish hair, probably reeking of booze joint one mile off (poor lady) – to ask her if she could possibly tell me which town I was in.
I can’t remember an exact epiphany, but I do know that those two beforementioned teachers were persistent. Slowly, by talking and listening to me, not by my choice by the way, it was more like an intervention on not eating, I may have felt that slight glimpse of hope in the horizon that seemed to rub off on the drinking, the promiscuous behaviour – and fortunately also the anorexia.
For now the noise had gone quiet. I was pulling myself up, and graduated with a very decent average all things considered – but not at all what it could have been.
The Fuzzy Coping Mechanism
But I guess to some extend, the damage was done. I didn’t get professional help for neither eating disorder, psychosis or alcohol abuse. So my mind was never “re-programmed” to NOT see alcohol as a coping mechanism. It was never taught to view my eating and my body in a healthy way. And I had no explanation as to why my mind had been riddled with dark hallucinations and grim noises.
But I figured everything was all right. For a long time it was, even through a few break ups and getting laid off work due to a budget cut.
Depression came and went, so did stress. My two uninvited companions in life. But I got by. I even got married.
I’m not going to blame the next alcohol relapse on my ex-wife – sure, there’s a reason I filed for divorce, but blaming doesn’t really get you anywhere. And fact of the matter is, on top of marital problems, I was working full time building a career in a high achievement environment – and if you know anything about autism and Aspergers, you’ll probably also know that this took a huge toll. Problem was, as it always is with stress reactions, you don’t identify it as stress to begin with. You just had a rough day, a rough week, a rough month and you start numbing the feel with alcohol. It had become my go to coping mechanism, just like self harm had.
Thing is – I didn’t seek help. Because I was not aware that help was required. After all, I was just giving myself a treat, catching a little break. Right?
So alcohol has been sort of an on/off thing in my adult life – and the break down in 2017 was no different. Only difference was – I had someone around that noticed and cared enough to tell me, I was about to go off the rails.
The Unfairness of Interventions
Having grown up in an alcoholic environment I am no stranger to how hard it is to see someone binging the alcohol, loosing concepts of priorities and the constant wanting to stop it, but not knowing how – or not daring to, because “what will the reaction be?”.
And I can’t sit here and tell you, that if you have a loved one with an alcohol misuse, that the reaction will be as accepting as the one I had, when I was intervened. There might very well be anger, lash-outs and stubbornness. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ll bet there’s a good chance that behind anger and lash-outs, there is an immense fear lying about, not being dealt with.
And quite honestly – for your own sake – you should intervene. Have help if you feel it will make it easier. But please do.
Because, frankly, if not intervened, we will go on telling ourselves that we are just using alcohol recreational. The amount of lies we tell ourselves to stay in that illusion is breathtaking. We need someone to call it for what it is, someone that cares – because, sadly, sometimes we might even feel that no one cares anyway.
That being said, I am also fully aware of the complete unfairness of putting that kind of responsibility on loved ones. It is unfair that you have to tell someone you love, that they have a serious and very stigmated problem. It is unfair that YOU have to take the lash-outs, the anger and maybe even counter-blaming. It is unfair that you have to push, encourage and maybe even beg a loved one, an adult, to seek help. Or just to acknowledge that the problem is there.
But you having to stick around to see a loved one slowly falling to pieces in alcohol fumes, is not fair either. And chances are, that without intervention, they won’t open their eyes themselves.
And I’m going to say something a little controversial here, so hold your breath and your little grey horses for a moment:
It is completely fair, if you choose to save yourself!
Now, wait a minute – told you to hold your horses – I do believe that we should go to vast lengths to help the ones we love. Loving someone when things are good is rather easy. It’s when shit hits the fan that the ones that truly love you steps up, willing, in the name of love, to take some heat.
But addiction is a tough one – and in some cases, love isn’t going to cut it. The problems lurking underneath the surface are too big and complicated and no one should be forced to spend a life in the shadows of addiction. So if your intervention doesn’t help, if your love is not enough – you should start thinking about YOU. I know it sounds brutal, and it is brutal – but I have seen alcohol abuse from both sides and the long term damages are too big.
This is why, when talking about interventions, I urge for the soft approach first, the kind of intervention I got myself. Hopefully that is enough. If not, grow firmer, ultimately leading to the big intervention, where you give the alcoholic a choice and a consequence; seek help or I will have to cut the connection.
No, it’s not fair. And it’s a process where I would advice to have some professional help for yourself.
You should not and cannot be responsible for someone else’s abuse. So if you have done everything in your power to help with no results, it is time to think about yourself.
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Do I have a Problem?
Turning my gaze to the one having the addiction now, one question seems to hover above all other questions: “how do I know if I have a problem?”
I just told you about how we can dwell in the illusions that we are just using alcohol recreational, so how can we possibly open our eyes to the fact that it has become more than that? That the use of alcohol has become problematic?
In my case, I think in the back of my mind, I kind of knew already, when I was intervened. But it popped up and I pushed it back there, because – I didn’t feel strong enough to deal with it, I guess. After all, no one was hurting apart from myself and being used to pain, well – deal with it on a sunnier day! The sunnier day never came though.
But blogposts like this one, articles and interviews on the subjet might gently push our minds in the right directions.
I am going to share with you some of the things I have noticed in my own behaviour, that – in the rearview mirror – are signs, that something is off.
When do you drink?
Take a moment to remember the last three or four times, you’ve been drinking. Why did you drink? Was it good meals with a loved one or was something happening in your life, that urged you to open that bottle of wine or crack that can of beer? Did you drink because that is what you usually do at that time and if you didn’t do as usual, you’d get irritated and upset?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a glass of wine at dinner or every once in a while getting the buzz on at a party. The problem is when you can’t be without that glass at dinner or you are seeking out parties, not for the company, but because you can get the buzz on. If you can’t be without that glass at dinner, you will probably also find that eventually that one glass becomes two, then three, until you empty the entire bottle and you need to buy two bottles of wine for a romantic dinner, rather than one.
When in trouble, what do you think about?
Alcohol misuse and abuse very often stems from underlying issues. A good indicator of an unhealthy relationship with the bottle is if you instantly think about getting a drink if you experience a rough time. That is a pretty clear sign that you are coping through alcohol, numbing pain, rather than actually dealing with it.
Now you might ask me, how else to deal with problems… well, I’m not quite there yet myself so my two cents are a little worthless. I may rationally know what the right ways to go about things are, but I am yet uncapable to implement it myself – it may not always be alcohol that is my “relief”, it can be self harming or sugar binge eating as well.
I can offer the clichées of “talking to someone”, “seeking help” and having a support system – but I am very aware that those well meant advice is so much easier said than done.
Your grocery shopping habits are giving you away.
Have you ever gone grocery shopping, craving a drink and telling yourself not to buy a bottle of wine? Have you paced the isles of the store avoiding the alcohol section, because you didn’t want to cave in? And have you still, doing all that, found yourself packing the groceries at the check out, realizing that “someone” had put wine in your cart afterall? That “someone” being you, of course.
Then you have a problem.
Actually this can be quite a shameful experience. In the moment, you shrug your shoulders and try to laugh about it, but in the back of your mind you can beat yourself up because you lost control of your own actions – and as an adult, supposed to have your shit together, that is a pretty shameful experience.
And you want to forget about it ASAP so instead of waiting to pop the bottle at dinner, you open it the minute you come home – “because having a glass while preparing dinner is so cosy and nice too”. And yeah, it actually is… I personally don’t like cooking, so to me it IS actually kind of nice to enjoy a glass while doing so. But – I have talked about the difference between excuses and reasons in a previous post – you need to be honest to yourself and realize when you are doing it recreational and when you are doing it to numb yourself and forget. And if thinking about that, urges you to reach for the glass for another sip, chances are that it’s NOT recreational.
Do you drink by yourself to hide that you’ve been drinking?
This is one of the reasons why alcohol abuse and misuse can be hard for others to spot. Because most of us misusers have tried having the house to ourselves and buying alcohol, just to hide the evidence after the fact. Like buying wine and getting rid of the bottle or the box before anyone comes home. Making sure you’ve showered and brushed your teeth extensively and covering yourself in deodorant. Washing up the glass and putting it back in the cupboard before anyone sees it.
We can tell ourselves that we needed it, and we just wanted the house clean and what ever else we might come up with. But doing the above mentioned is a testiment to one fact and one fact alone:
the way you drink, causes you to feel shameful. If you feel shameful about your drinking, there is a pretty good chance, that you have lost control and drinking is no longer recreational but rather coping with underlying issues.
So – after having read these few tips on how to determine the extend of your use of alcohol – let me ask you: do you have a problem with alcohol?
Well, a little bit, but it is not like I’m constantly drunk and I can do my job and get the kids to school and all…!
That is besides the point (and you know it)!
That is you making excuses, because you’re not willing to ask yourself WHY you do the things you do.
I’m not blaming you – fuck, I’m not in a position to cast blame. But don’t forget that I KNOW the BS we tell ourselves. I KNOW the excuses, we make to keep the illusion going. And if any of the above mentioned situations sounds familiar, then I’m sorry (truly, I am!) – but, you are having a problem with alcohol.
So please, rather than making excuses – I urge you to ask yourself if you are able to dig yourself out of it – or if you need help. And be honest with yourself. I’m not saying you should call a hotline right now, but give yourself the gift of acknowledging that it’s THERE. That’s the first step. Recognize the patterns and call yourself out on them, when they happen. Not to beat yourself up about them, because that’s not going to do you any good, but to increase your self-awareness. The more self-aware you become, the more courage you will get to actually really deal with it one day. How you choose to do that, is highly individual.
I myself chose to write this piece, because then it’s outthere in the open. I am increasing the possibility that in case of relapses, someone might be kind of enough to remind me of the words I have written here.
I think and believe that I can pull myself out of it, and although I had a relapse the past week, due to great sadness I couldn’t manage, I’m still determined to do so.
But I also know that my unhealthy relationship with alcohol and why it’s there is connected tightly to why I binge eat and self harm: I don’t know how to handle big emotions, they mess up my head and turn everything upside down – and being autistic, that scares the shit out of me and adds to the chaos. I can’t change the fact that I’m autistic nor can I change the way I am autistic – but I do believe that healthier strategies can be built.
And that might require professional help, when I’m good and ready. I’d like to do it on my own, but I might not be able to. And that is OK.
The Benefits of Dry January
I read this awesome article on health benefits of steering clear of alcohol for a month, that I will encourage you to read, regardless of you having a problem or not. It takes you through a lot of things that are both obvious and yet, somehow, in a clearer perspective.
The one thing that really struck a cord with me was about sleeping problems, how alcohol may help you doze off, but still – as it evaporates from your system, makes you wake up at 3am.
I struggle quite a bit with sleep, and all the nights of tossing and turning in bed can’t be explained purely by drinking – because very often I haven’t been drinking. But I have bought alcohol and had beer or wine for the purpose of putting myself to sleep – and getting frustrated waking up in the middle of the night, wide awake and restless. And the odd thing is, I knew alcohol does this – and yet I succumbed to “self-medicating”.
That is one point, one thing, that I can work with, taking it a little baby step at a time.
I’ve left you the link here, if you’re interested…
So has my January been dry?
Nope! Not by far, I’m afraid to say. I already hinted this further up but apart from serious stress about economy and household budget and one of the cats being ill to the point where we are thinking about whether or not he suffers too much, the family also suffered a great loss this month. So, to put it very honestly outthere: the past seven days I’ve been hung over in the morning four times, got rid of bottles before they got noticed and cleaned the glasses and all. I’ve also had a relapse as far as not smoking goes.
January has been a bitch!
However, I am not beating myself up about it. I can’t change what happened, I can only look ahead to the future. So, I’ll get my game of not smoking back on within the next 48 hours, and I have noted my alcohol relapse and accepted, that while I have come far since my intervention, there are still circumstances, I am not yet strong enough to deal with.
It’s all right.
Now I know, and I can take it from here.
This is why I find that Dry January is a warm reminder for me. It reminds me at least once a year to look at my own progress and evaluate it. My intervention was in the end of 2017 and while 2018 has not been without issues and relapses, they have certainly become less and shorter.
And the thing is: when you have an addiction, you need those reminders every once in a while to make sure you are on the right path going forward, not on the wrong one going backwards.
I hope that this post has opened up a few eyes outthere. I hope that if you yourself are struggling with an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, that you have come a little bit closer to self-awareness and maybe even had the courage to talk to someone or seek help – preferably for your own good, but if that doesn’t cut it, then for the sake of your loved ones. And I hope that if you find yourself being intervened one day, that you will take a deep breath (or maybe two) and set aside your offense and defences and LISTEN.
You are not being intervened because people want to hurt you – you are being intervened because they LOVE you. Because they care. Try to be grateful for that, because that is sadly not bestowed on everyone.
If you know someone who you believe has a problem with alcohol, I hope – inspite of me talking about lashing out and anger – that this may somehow have given you the courage to open up the subject to that person. If you feel like this post might be a help, then by all means, print it and show it to them and ask them kindly afterwards if they know why they are being shown this.
It might be a bit easier that way.
I will say this though: you should not intervene someone without having some sort of support system yourself. Someone to talk to, someone, who’s shoulders you can cry on – or maybe even someone who will help you intervene. Interventions are easier, when it’s a co-effort.
It’s also a signal to the person in question, that this is not just YOU noticing the problem and that could counteract possible counter-blaming like “you’re just too sensitive” and the likes of that.
Feel free to share thoughts, experiences, tips or even great hotlines if you know any in the comments. I’m going to leave you with a few links myself, two from Denmark, England and America each – as these are the places the majority of my readers come from. If you are from any other country and know a good national hotline from there, again – please share in the comment section.
Take good care of yourselves and each other outthere…
Luv ya :-*