Alcoholism & depression – partners in crime

BH Depression & Alcohol June 17 2015I’m cooking a Sunday roast and listening to the sound of my girls shrieking with laughter as they’re playing with the dog. There’s play-growling and thumping and belly laughs. I love it and I am grateful that today, it doesn’t tear my nerves to shreds and make me scream at them to shut up because I just can’t stand it.

Irritability is a big part of the depression which has dominated my recovery from alcoholism. Just recently I feel like I am also in recovery from depression, as well. Are they the same thing?

Depression and alcoholism. What came first? The chicken or the egg? How long is a piece of string? For me they are so intertwined, such intimate bed pals and partners in crime, that I’ve often thought it’s not worth analysing where one starts and the other begins. They are both me and I am them. But they still have to be dealt with or they lead me around like a dog on a short leash, controlling every aspect of my life.

I remember anxiety and depression knocking on my door at an early age, probably about three. My brother passed away from cot death aged 10 weeks, and it rocked the family. Of course, my parents were distraught and as a little girl, I had a feeling it might have been my fault. Guilt – another aspect of anxiety and depression – stuck around from that point and never left. Instead of feeling grateful or even just taking for granted the basic right of being cared for, I would feel intensely unworthy. I didn’t understand it at the time, it’s only retrospectively I can identify the discomfort as guilt.

Undisguised depression made its bold entrance when I was about nine, heading into puberty. It manifested in tears that wouldn’t stop over pretty normal stuff, like conflicts with family and friends and problems at school. I was swamped by my feelings – instead of feeling sadness for a little while, I felt devastated for a long time. I soon learnt that I had to start hiding the pain because others got sick of it. I earned the label of the problem child, which I wore as I grew into adulthood.

Fast forward into the middle of the drink. A hungover day would begin full of remorse for whatever happened the night before with the accompanying self-loathing. (Despite all my best intentions, I did it again. I still thought I had some control over drinking at the time, that I had merely made a choice and it was entirely my fault.) The day rolled on and I made the requisite efforts to be responsible, do the school run, exercise and begin my work day. But I knew I was kidding myself as the cloak of fatigue, aches, pains and nausea wrapped itself around me. I nearly always gave in to duvet therapy, which gave me the escape I craved from the hell of my broken mind and body. I would come to hours later, feeling marginally better and full of resolve to not drink again. Every alcoholic knows how that works out.

Another incarnation of my depression was the variety where I couldn’t get out of bed for a few days. Doing life was impossible. I slept a lot, which was a blessing because when I was awake I was in emotional hell. There was no comfort to be found in anything apart from momentarily in binge-eating junk food, and the oblivion of slumber.

Depression also showed its face in my anger, defensiveness and a general inability to handle mine and other people’s emotions. I was so sensitive and moody I reacted all over the place. My head was crazy, full of dangerous, dark alleys leading to trouble. As I’ve heard often in AA meetings, I have a head that wants to kill me.

For people who are familiar with alcoholism, they might recognise these descriptions of depression as the hallmarks of their disease. It’s fairly hard to tell what is what, especially when alcohol itself is a depressant. I am crazy because I’m an alcoholic or do I just drink because I’m depressed? (The latter question often led me to entertaining the possibility that I might not actually be an alcoholic –  if I treat the depression, I can still drink? Ha. That little experiment failed many times.)

When I put down the sauce for the last time I wondered if the depression would emerge to bask in the glory of having centre stage, without its fellow cast member alcohol. It didn’t let me down. Ever reliable and more virulent than ever, it put on a great performance. I am told this is par for the course and commonly a symptom of PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome), which can last from a couple of months to a couple of years. I was going to have to wait it out until the dust settled, though it seemed like raw deal when I felt worse than when I was drinking.

Off to the shrink I went, who delivered me some home truths after I implored him for answers to the riddle of whether I was left with a big fat case of organic depression after stopping drinking, and preferably, some more pills to make me feel better.

First, he said, whatever label you want to slap on it, you have “emotional disregulation”, which is probably why you started drinking. Alcohol makes it worse, or maybe the mood disorder caused it in the first place. But whatever – it exists. Second, the treatment for emotional disregulation, depression and alcoholism is pretty much the same, with medication playing only a small role, and increasingly for many people, none at all. Getting well comes from cognitive behavioural therapy – “12-step programmes pretty much have that nailed” – good sleep, excellent nutrition, plenty of vigorous exercise and a simple life that is low in stress.

Right, so bloody hard work then. And waiting it out. Just over four months down the track, taking every bit of the shrink’s advice and resisting the urge to put a chemical blanket over the madness, the daily slog has begun to pay off.

My energy levels have returned, my nerves don’t feel like they’re stretched to the moon and back, my head has slowed down from a frenzy to a fast-paced chatter and I am finding I am starting to do life, for the first time in a long time. I still have days where I want to go to bed and where tears are never far away. I still find I am confused about how to handle relationships and emotions. I still feel like a baby learning how to walk. But, even though I know it’s early days, and I know that life will still be life and throw me curve balls and not go my way at times, I actually feel like I can do this thing.

Is it because I put down the sauce? Is it because I am treating my depression? I don’t care because today, whatever I do or don’t have, I know a possess a semblance of peace of mind. I think I might try the same thing tomorrow.

 

From wine goggles to recovery speed wobbles

Speed wobbles

Speed wobbles

I knew this sober thing was going to be a ride but no one told me it was going to go so fast. I can hardly keep up with the warp-like speed every day has taken on. Maybe it’s because I’m conscious for most of it? As in, I’m not drunk or hung over.

The other day I was wrestling with the millions of thoughts running through my head, which were mostly about how much I had to do and when I was going to be able to fit it all in. My mental diary was juggling and doing a crazy dance in my anxious brain, and I was getting pretty stressed. As I pondered a commitment for the next day I concluded I would probably be able to manage it as I wouldn’t be drinking that night and so wouldn’t be a hungover wreck. Then I caught myself and remembered that I don’t drink at nights – any night – and I don’t have hangovers. Every day.

It still gives me a kick. Then I got to thinking about how much more time I have and how much more productive I can be. Instead of about two or three days a week where I could drag myself to make a half-hearted effort to perform, I am ON every day. The floodgates have opened and life is rolling in like a tidal wave. It’s relentless.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am seriously liking this living a sober life thing. But I often feel like a child who’s been over-stimulated and needs to be put to bed before I hit meltdown. Everything is vivid, loud, garish and overwhelming. How do I fit it all in? Recovery, kids, work, relationships – trying to juggle it and make sense of it all is like trying to herd cats. I want to do this, I really want to, but the truth is I am so faking it until I make it. As I write this, a visual of new-born foal wearing high heels flashes by.

So yes, I’m ecstatic to be present, thrilled to be functioning and fascinated that I am apparently productive and useful. But it’s fast and furious and going to take some time to learn how to keep up. It’s a big wide world out there and there’s suddenly a lot to do and learn. It’s bloody exciting but terrifyingly fast.

Of course, the speed wobbles is a term often spoken of in recovery circles. I am on high alert because I know high velocity can cause fatal crashes. And signs are there: my anxiety is running high, my perfectionism is having a field day screaming at me to achieve, achieve, achieve, go, go, go, get it down now, now, now! It’s hard not to indulge that ego-based drive when essentially, I’ve been lying around in a fog for years going backwards. I mean, why wouldn’t I want to feel good about myself and fly a little? Can’t I have a moment or two of glory?

The trouble is with wanting it all now is the falling on your arse bit. That happens about every four or five days at the moment. The pattern goes like this: feel good, plan heaps, expect loads, press go. I know I have to pace myself, I know there’s too much on the to-do list but it feels good to be busy and productive. Surely I can keep going? Why would I need to rest? I’ve spent years wasting time! Then comes exhaustion, exasperation and collapse. Tears, naps and shitty moods follow. Those closest to me wear it. I feel like crap. Sigh. It’s the old two steps forward, one step back thing recovery dance. It’s certainly keeping me humble.

Slowly, I’m getting it. Ideally, I will keep a realistic schedule, be balanced in my approach and flexible with my expectations. Realistically? I don’t know. I hope my anxiety and wildly vacillating energy levels will even out as I get used to the pace of ‘real life’. Maybe my ego will calm the hell down once the novelty of ticking boxes on a to-do list wears off and instead becomes the daily grind? My hope? Is that I stay sober and stick around to find out.

Breathing life into another recovery: putting down the sauce again

The lights are on and the sun is out. I’m back in recovery. What a relief. It’s been about a year since I picked up a wine again and since then, I’ve managed to get 3.5 months sober under my belt. It’s been achingly hard. As an out-of-control drinking alcoholic it was sheer hell – the helliest it’s ever been.

I’ve wanted to blog again since I put down the drink again but realistically, it wasn’t possible. I’ve had no energy or concentration and I’ve been fighting madness in my head at every turn. The writing I did manage was stream-of-consciousness insanity that didn’t make sense to me or anyone else. In fact, if someone had read it they would probably commit me to psychiatric care! Ironically, a visit to the shrink was required, which was only part of the action I had to take to get off the booze. I needed to take drastic measures this time, as I was so desperate. As a serial relapser, I knew I couldn’t manage getting sober on my own, letting along staying that way. Time after time over the past 25 years I had proved to myself that I am powerless over this gig. I started out a party girl but decades later, I have evolved into a 24-carat alcoholic with no defence against a glass of wine. Like, NONE! In recent years I’ve had no problem accepting that I’m a drunk – my problem was wanting to stop drinking and then when I did want to, being unable to.

This time I was praying to get sober – imploring my God to remove the desire to drink. It wasn’t working. I raged and despaired and had almost resigned myself to the fact I would probably die from this disease, and likely by my own hand. Thoughts of death were never far away. I was deep in a black hole of alcohol-induced depression and I couldn’t see a way out. Drinking was only providing fleeting relief before sending me spiralling down even further. I felt like the end was near – I craved peace and respite from the craziness in my head. I just couldn’t take any more.

It was love that saved me again: the thought of leaving my beautiful daughters and lovely man stopped me from committing suicide. I had little faith in myself but I had to try again, for them. I really didn’t know if I could do it.

I reached out to a person with long-term recovery who wasn’t sick of witnessing my many failed attempts at getting back on the wagon. She told me praying wasn’t enough to get me sober and suggested seeing an alcohol and drug counsellor, pronto. She also asked me to consider taking Antabuse (disulfiram), since I couldn’t ‘stay stopped’ drinking for more than a few days. She also said I should go to AA meetings to start my recovery in earnest. Do whatever it takes, she said. Go to any lengths, she added.

I had to wait two weeks to see the A&D counsellor, so of course I kept drinking. But the effects of a monster night on the booze saw me manage to stop six days before my appointment. I was in hell – much worse than when I was drinking – and rolled up to the counsellor a wreck. I told her that I was hopeless and my children didn’t deserve a mother like me. I said me trying to get sober was a waste of time. I was totally broken.

Starting again – again – was awful. It was humiliating and seemed pointless. A blind faith had to kick in. So, I put myself in the hands of the experts and did all the things I was told to. I took the Antabuse. I went to the meetings. I couldn’t do much else, as I was really sick. ‘Intensive care unit,’ said one kind soul in AA. ‘That’s what I see in you – and in everyone in early recovery. You need rest and love. If your head hits the pillow every night and you’re sober, you have won. Nothing else matters.’

Tears, rage, fatigue, insomnia and aches and pains followed. Everything felt vicious. I felt like my skin was on inside out and that I was stumbling around in the dark. I was absolutely bonkers and it got worse before it got better. Many times I lamented that not drinking was worse than being on the sauce. What was the point? But I kept going, knowing it had to get better, because people told me it would.

About four weeks in, I began to get some relief. I started to have a few good days, which gave me encouragement during the awful ones. I was holding on tight to every good thing that happened. I even smiled, occasionally.

Today, I am feeling okay, although definitely on that emotional roller coaster I was warned about. It’s full of high ups and low downs, and feels like two steps forward and one step back. But, I have come to see my recovery as a beautiful thing that I cherish and want to nurture and grow. Sometimes I even visualise it as a soft blue sphere I can hold in my hands. It glows at me. I think it feels like love.

More blogs to come but in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy this day, sober.

A recipe for sobriety

Little gaps are opening up in my brain… the part that has beenBH Pic1 anaesthetised from wine. The part that used to be sober. The part that used to work really well. I remember some of the stuff I used to share in AA meetings.

Gotta admit, it’s still a bit cringe-y recalling it as I have been such a drunk lately, but it’s resonating with me today. The guts was, sobriety is like a recipe you have to make every day. Get the correct ingredients, measure them out properly and cook them for the right amount of time. Pretty much, you’ll get a good result every day if you do the same things. Today, my ingredients have been a good sleep (!), good food, exercise at the beach with a friend, touching base with a person in recovery for some ‘real’ talk, reading recovery materials and this – blogging. And taking time to rest (because shit, I am KNACKERED after this past week or so). And remembering that my absolute priority is to not drink.

I did have a moment when I got home and felt overwhelmed. It was 4.30pm, I had a tired and cranky four-year-old bugging me for ice cream before dinner, a carload of groceries that need un-packing, three meals to cook (don’t ask), a pile of washing to fold and put away before bath and bedtime. Not an unusual night but a bit more than usual to do: I would usually navigate this sort of evening with copious amounts of wine.

I could feel myself building up … tension rising, my voice raising. I caught myself, and told myself I could choose how I dealt with the situation. I asked my oldest daughter to help me pack the groceries away and to give me a hand with preparing dinner. I poured myself a soft drink with loads of ice and promptly got on with it. Yeah, I was tired and over everything, but I got through it. I thanked my older daughter and explained this was my ‘witching hour’ and that I appreciate her help. We enjoyed a family meal together and no drama was performed. And I didn’t drink.

Day 3 – it was good to know ya.

Day 4 – bit worried as back to a hectic work schedule (I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple of weeks of down time to have my alcoholic depression in!). I know I’ve got to stay in the day but I have prepared a few things to make life easier tomorrow (meals, housework, etc). Work is always a bit of a trigger for me to drink, especially boarding the ferry back to the island.. where there’s a bar… I think I might do my soft drink with loads of ice trick again and sit in a different part of the boat. 🙂

Major bonus: talking to a lady who lives here too whose story and mine are uncannily similar. Chronic binge drinkers who only smoked when drinking, daughters the same age, both single parents. Both of us started trying to get our shit together last year by losing a lot of weight. Both of us knew we had to get sober or EVERYTHING else was a waste of time. Both of us knew we were slowly (or maybe even quite a bit faster than that) killing ourselves. She gets it. I get her. Yay.

I see the light

I don’t know why, but I am so bloody happy. I am Day 2 (again) of sobriety and I feel the best I have in ages. I’m not questioning why or even trying to understand – I’m going to enjoy it. Best Day 2 – and there have been many – I’ve ever had.

Just came back from an AA meeting. My relationship with AA over the years has been uncannily similar to my relationship with alcohol: love / hate. (Bit of background: I have been in and out of recovery – more out – for more than 20 years.) Up until a few years ago, I lived in a big city and didn’t realise how lucky I was to have many meetings on my doorstep. Now I live on an island, there is usually one meeting a week. It’s a small community and the whole thing freaked me out – the lack of anonymity, the fact that I had drunk with some of the people there… I also felt the recovery wasn’t very strong. That was a bit rich coming from me, as I was certainly drinking, if not slipping and sliding, at the time. However, I didn’t feel good about the meetings over repeated visits and gradually gave up on AA as being a viable option for me in getting sober.

But tonight – a year or so down the track – was different. There were a lot of people there (over 10 – good for the island) and women there that I knew who opened themselves up to me. There was real, raw, honest rap. It was awesome and I felt inspired, encouraged, humbled and kind of like I wanted to go back. I also found out (shock) that there’s another meeting on Fridays.

I guess I can see a  recovery support system coming together for me. Some A&D counselling, this blogging (it’s so satisfying) and a whole pile of interesting reading is keeping me focused. I also have a few close friends who, though not addicts or alkies, are very supportive of my journey. I am a lucky lady, really.

I want this – I want sobriety. I want strength and freedom. I got this! For today, anyway.

Relapse

I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t handle one more second of it. The entire seven days was torture.

So I drank. I actually felt better almost immediately. My anxiety slipped away. I was so happy and relaxed. I was smiling.

Yeah yeah, I know. It didn’t last and here I am today, back at square one and Day 1. But I’m back.  I can’t afford to loathe myself. I am going to do this, no matter many times I have failed.

I think from this particular relapse  I have learnt a couple of things: don’t mess around with antidepressant meds (I was reducing because I felt so good – what a dumb arse thing to do), and to always consider a medical detox. Man, that was one rough week – never felt so sick. I was up to drinking a couple of bottles of wine nearly every night. You can’t just take that away without some pretty dire consequences.

Fortunately, I can feel my meds have kicked back in and I’m on a relatively even keel. So, hopefully that translates to a better chance of staying off the booze.

I probably have no right to, but I actually feel incredibly positive and okay. I had a great day (besides the crustiness of a mild hangover) hanging out with my lovely friends and family. The sun was shining and I wasn’t hating on myself. Just resigned to the fact that I am doing progress and not perfection. And I’m not giving up giving up.

So, tomorrow I’m off to an AA meeting and going to tee up some A&D counselling. I need support – can’t do this alone. But, I can so see myself as a strong woman in recovery who has her shit together. Bring it on. It’s gonna happen.

Day 7: Insanity

God I feel like SHITE. Yep, not very articulate, but kinda covers it. I bounced out of bed this morning feeling full of the joys of smug sobriety (day 7) yet now it is nearly 2pm, I have unravelled into a grouchy, discontent monster mummy.

My insides feel like they’re all itchy and agitated and aggravated by every little sound and sight.The SOUND of the little voice is driving me bonkers. The SHADOW of a little person tailing me makes me snarl. The THOUGHT of feeling like this forever is driving me nuts.

Alcohol thought: It was your medicine. Give it back. You might not have felt a million bucks all the time but it’s better than this. At least you got to get pissed. And smoke cigs. You’re mental without me.

Sober thought: Fuck off wolfie. (Re-read blogs to remind myself of misery of drinking and hungover-ness).

Alcohol thought: You can barely make it through the day without falling apart – look at you, you can’t even cope with normal life. For God’s sake, just have a drink tonight. You’ll feel so much better.

Sober thought: Go FECK yourself sideways, Wolfie. I am gonna get past this and look after myself and become stronger. I’m sick of listening to your promises and bull. You’ll have me on my back in no time.

Alcohol thought: You put on 1.5 kg this week from eating crap food that you wouldn’t have touched if you had drunk me. Funny eh?

Sober thought: At least I wasn’t pissed or hung over. Or smoking and therefore dying of lung cancer and leaving my children as orphans.

So, should I clean the house like a demon or should I go to bed and read for the afternoon?

Feel so fragile that I can’t even make that decision. Is this normal? Someone, please tell me this will pass, cos I am a wreck!

So many things running through my mind I am paralysed. Think I will just sit still and let it pass.