• Val

Be Teetotal - An Introduction

Updated: Jan 6

“The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and…do it!”

Susan Jeffers

I have wanted to write this blog for a number of years, but fear and procrastination prevented me from putting it out there.

It’s time to stop procrastinating. It’s time to stop fearing the worst. It’s time to get my story out there. To help myself in my own journey, to help anyone else who may be struggling with addiction and to also raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol the drug.

I have been plagued by an alcohol addiction that was very well hidden and well managed on and off since 2003. Any romantic partner I have been with since this time can probably vouch for me having had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol… although none would realise quite the extent of the issue I possessed, and not one relationship broke down due to my misuse of alcohol.

I misused alcohol as a self-medication tool for sleep and eventually ended up with an addiction that has been incredibly hard to beat. I was high-functioning and drinking was confined to my own room at night before bed in most instances and hence was not visible to others. There are very few people who have even a remote idea of what I have been through with my drinking because it was so well hidden in order that I could live a ‘normal’ life.

This post is actually based on a draft blog I wrote some time in 2017 when I first began to get a hold on my problem. I have tweaked it slightly and added to it but have left some of it as it was originally written as this was my thought at that point in time. I have since moved on from some thoughts, but I thought it was key to leave this as it was written as much as possible, so here it is…

My Addiction to Alcohol

“It’s not your fault you want to drink, alcohol is a powerful and addictive drug that’s not only legal but enmeshed in our everyday life.”

Professor David Nutt

In my mid-teens and early-twenties nightmares and panic attacks started to become more frequent following a traumatic set of events earlier in life. I had always had trouble with sleep. I realised I needed to start getting some support. I accessed counselling on my own without anyone knowing from the age of about 17. Since then I have accessed counselling on and off, with varying degrees of usefulness. My biggest gripe with counselling is that it depends on who you get and also that it’s with someone who does not care about you, is not part of your life and who you have to open up to at 5pm on a Tuesday afternoon when you might not actually be in the right headspace to do so on that particular Tuesday at 5pm!

I get that counselling is helpful for some, but I am gaining more evidence through experience that actually the most useful form of therapy, for me, is having a network of friends and/or family who care about me. (This was a sentiment I held previously and was in my original writing for this blog. I still think counselling can come with issues but I must add that today, in 2020, I have been seeing a counsellor over the last 24 months who I have found to be the most supportive and useful counsellor I have ever seen… and trust me, I have seen a few in my time! I still agree with my original thought to a certain degree, but also I think that it is possible to find a good therapist and with a good therapist you can enhance the positive change you want to bring about by having someone outside of your close circle to discuss challenging personal issues with.)

"The most paradoxical annoyance with my situation was that I have never been a big drinker and am actually not a fan of alcohol!"

Whilst living in New Zealand in 2002-2004 I undertook counselling for around 2years… i.e. most of the time I lived there! It wasn’t a great experience but I needed help so I stuck it out! It was in NZ I first discovered alcohol to help numb me to sleep. At that point I didn’t need much and didn’t (mis)use all that often.

The most paradoxical annoyance with my situation was that I have never been a big drinker and am actually not a fan of alcohol! I never really drank much from my teens into my mid-twenties.

In 2005, after travelling, someone I knew who was into Reiki kind of reiki-ed me inadvertently via a yoga session. This was the first time as an adult that I experienced what I later named ‘the yucky feeling’. This is a feeling that I can only reference as a type of anxiety, but it is not a ‘normal’ anxiety that most people will have experienced. It is so overpowering that when it was triggered in the early days it would last for up to a week. It is a feeling I find challenging to describe in words. But it is a feeling so overwhelming that I did not know how to relax or deal with it for a very long time. I have only ever met one person who has had something similar and no counsellor, therapist or doctor I have ever spoken to has ever known of it previously. I will discuss ‘the yucky feeling’ in a later blog.

In 2008 a situation at work and an unhelpful counselling experience following it, left me with the yucky feeling more regularly. The feeling plagued my life on a weekly basis for about 5 years. It was during this time that I got into a pattern of misusing alcohol as a sleep aid because nothing else would get the feeling to subside. You name a therapy and I have most likely tried it! Nothing but alcohol worked.

To start with I didn’t need much alcohol to fall asleep, a couple of shots of a spirit or a large glass of wine before bed would suffice. However, over time my drinking steadily increased. In the end I could down a bottle of wine within 15 minutes or a 35cl bottle of vodka or gin straight (in both senses of the word! Straight from the bottle and neat!) within 30-40 minutes in the hope it would aid sleep. I didn’t really understand the power of addiction and I had no idea how addictive alcohol is. It came to a point, circa 2012-2013, where I realised my problem was now with alcohol and not just the yucky feeling and/or sleep anxiety alone.

I don’t think many people get it... addiction and in particular alcohol addiction. Alcohol has been ingrained in our culture as necessary for social interaction and the negative health effects of drinking alcohol and its addictive properties are downplayed in order for alcohol to remain a self-medication & enjoyment tool for the masses!

It took me from those first realisations that I had a problem with alcohol in 2012/2013 until 2017 to be able to crack the dependency and finally go teetotal. This was not without wanting and trying to give up. It took a lot of time, energy and upset to get there, not to mention one relapse.

I kept trying on my own to give up, but it was hard. I would go for nights at a time without alcohol, but something would always end up happening and then I would be sucked back in. Once I was back into a period of drinking at night every night it was so hard to stop again. The torment caused by my original sleep anxiety and the yucky feeling coupled with my now alcohol addiction meant that trying to break the cycle was incredibly challenging and external, professional support was not forthcoming due to me being high-functioning. In terms of external support, I will write a separate blog on this only as I would be unable to do it justice here, but I sought counselling through various channels, I contacted Alcoholics Anonymous and also the local drug and alcohol service.

"Even though I didn’t want to drink I would always make the wrong decision."

In 2017 I opened up to a group of friends at that time. Feeling accountable to them helped me beat alcohol and I was teetotal for just over 18 months. This felt amazing and I thought I was free! However, after staying too long in a relationship I no longer wanted to be in because I was not confident to stand up for myself and what I wanted, I once again began to drink. A feeling of being trapped seemed to spark an unhealthy reaction for me, even though it was my own fault I felt trapped. My drinking was not as problematic as before though. I went nights and nights without drink. To most people it might have looked like a regular person having a drink on a weekend as this is mostly what it was. Saturday nights were my key drinking night. Always at home and always before bed. And hence I knew it was drinking with an unhealthy motive. I wanted to get back to being teetotal so much, but I seemed to fail over and over like I had done before when I previously tried to give up alcohol.

Even though I didn’t want to drink I would always make the wrong decision. I was not in control. (I will discuss this more in coming blogs). It is not as simple as just giving up. If you think this is so, you have never experienced addiction. Every morning after drinking I would feel utter disappointment and beat myself up. I would make plans to stop drinking from there on in. But every night when I felt anxious about sleep the devil would be on my shoulder and would coerce me to drink. I know this sounds weak. Why couldn’t I just have the will power to beat it?! It’s far harder than you can imagine. The desire to drink in that moment overpowered all conscious thought. I was not in control when the devil was on my shoulder.

If you want to read more on why this is so I would highly recommend the following books for an insight that I can’t offer in this blog alone:

This Naked Mind by Annie Grace

The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters

Drink? By Professor David Nutt

Something I have come to realise several times since opening up to the girls in 2017 is that with an addiction you really do need supportive people around you to be able to stop being addicted. It is not simply something you can just give up. And ‘professional’ support can be lacking, especially for someone high-functioning (another future blog will explain all!).

I am very lucky to have always had the unconditional love of my mother. She is one in a million! I am also very lucky to have met the people I have over the last 12 months of my life and to have a counsellor who I trust and who has helped me significantly in the time I have been working with her.

All of these experiences have brought me to the place where I finally feel ready to share my story publicly.

I cannot express in one short paragraph enough how challenging, how frustrating, how scary, how embarrassing, how upsetting it was trying to break an addiction to alcohol, even more so because it was entwined with emotional scars from trauma past. Hopefully, through sharing my story the pain, anguish and struggle will become apparent and provide a warning to others of the dangers of getting stuck with an alcohol addiction.

I aim to tell my story of addiction in the hope that others who may also be experiencing a similar difficulty do not feel alone. I also hope it will provide an insight to those who have never experienced addiction for themselves and an insight into the dangers of the drug that is alcohol.

I ask all readers to be respectful. This is an honest and heart-felt account of the struggle I incurred.

I thank you in advance for your respect and kindness and I encourage you to sign up to my mailing list so I can notify you about new blog updates.

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