I grew up with tee-total parents, and didn’t really discover alcohol until I left my sleepy home town in Norfolk to chase the bright lights of the Bournemouth seafront at 21.
In the relationship I was in at the time, we would think nothing of going on an all-day session most weekends. In fact, looking back, I probably started drinking on a Friday on the way home from work and kept going until late Sunday afternoon. One All Inclusive holiday we were asked to leave our hotel as we had drunk more than our allocation of booze!
It’s fine, I thought;
I can handle it, I thought.
For ten consecutive years, the Universe sent me big piles of shit to stop me in my tracks, and to make me pay attention to my life. Only it didn’t, it sent me to the Off Licence.
Bereavement, divorce, stalking, assault, redundancy, relocation…year after year life’s big traumatic events would knock me sideways and I would self-medicate with booze.
It’s fine, I thought;
I can handle it, I thought.
Until the night I ‘celebrated’ the first anniversary of losing a close friend by going to bed at 6pm and drinking countless bottles of wine…in my bed…by myself. I knew I was losing the fight against my Mental Health, and whilst I was an expert at The Fake Smile, I knew I couldn’t lie to myself any longer.
I lost a whole Summer once.
A. Whole. Summer.
It was wasted on hibernating under my duvet with a sore head from the night before; wasted because the safety of my metaphorical cave was so much more appealing than the real world outside. I would spend the day at work, putting on my brave face and my big girl pants, and would literally race home to hide. I was falling deeper and deeper in to a black hole of depression.
And then my God-daughter was born; a girl who changed my world forever. Suddenly the bright lights of Bournemouth lost their sparkle, and all I wanted was to be back home in Norfolk with my life-long friends and loving family. As I type this I chuckle, as my Dad had his last hangover in 1976, and I’ve not once in my life seen my best friend drunk. I knew I had to change my tribe, in order to change my mental health.
It’s fine, I thought;
I can handle it, I thought.
I was an International HR Superhero by day, and a happy loved friend by night, but there weren’t many International HR jobs in rural Norfolk (!!) so I suddenly found myself in Soho, London, commuting back home when I could. But then there were the late nights (who am I kidding – early mornings socialising) with the colleagues or the bored, and lonely nights with a hotel mini-bar. When I finally kicked myself out of the Groucho Club at 6am and still managed a day’s work, I knew I had to change my career, in order to change my mental health.
I signed myself off sick and asked my GP for anti-depressants. It was time to tackle the Black Dog, and not just tame it, but give it the lethal injection for good. Whilst chatting to the GP, he just casually pointed out that I hadn’t had a smear test for the last 6 years, and perhaps now that I was off sick, it would be a good time to catch up on ‘health admin’. A week later I was given the words everyone dreads.
You. Have. Cancer.
The black dog of depression was no longer curled up asleep by the fire; it became vicious, bitter, obsessive and dangerous. Not forgetting the physical ailments, I became so mentally ill that one night, despite my bedroom window over-looking a field of cows, I was convinced there was a man at my window, trying to attack me. It was a metaphor for my life, and finally gave me the kick up the backside to go for therapy.
I’d tried counselling, but that just replayed bad events, and I’ve since learnt that because the brain can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, it thinks it’s happening all over again, and releases adrenaline and cortisol to protect you. This just then adds fuel to the “let’s drink and cry loads” fire, which is no good for anyone.
I tried anger management classes, but got asked to leave for being too angry!
I tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which helped put rules in place, such as to only allow myself to ruminate for 2 minutes, which comforted my obsessive nature when I literally set a stopwatch and ranted!
It’s fine, I thought;
I can handle it, I thought.
Only then, for the first time in my 40 years, was I actually right. I had finally found a way to be fine, and to handle it, and actually mean it. What I’m about to tell you literally saved my life.
I met a Clinical Hypnotherapist, and was just blown away when he explained to me how my brain works, why it’s stuck in this drink-cry-fall down-hangover-drink again vicious circle, but most importantly what I could do about it. I was told all I had to do was three things in between our sessions:
1. Positive Action. I had to do something that got me out of hibernation and got oxygen in my lungs. For me that meant gentle exercise, which released dopamine in to my system, which is a reward hormone.
2. Positive Interaction. We operate better as a part of a tribe, rather than as individuals, so I had to spend time with people I love. This released oxytocin, which is the love hormone.
3. Positive Thinking: Even at the height of my cancer diagnosis when I didn’t get out of bed for 8 days (not because of physical health, but mental health) I had to notice something good in every day. I was asked to keep a diary of “What’s Been Good” which released serotonin, which is the happy hormone.
When your brain releases these hormones, it blocks the hormones that make you want to drink, and make you feel anxious or depressed. Serotonin is literally the world’s best drug!
I loved the therapy so much that I resigned from my successful career, that I’d done for the last 20 years, and decided to re-train. I am now a fully qualified Psychotherapist, and offer Solution Focused Clinical Hypnotherapy via Skype to clients all over the world.
I have been sober since 2 January 2018, been given the all clear from the cancer, have met the man of my dreams, and whilst life still throws me its curveballs, I’m now stronger than ever to be able to manage them.
Cheers to that!
Written by Rebecca, edited by Sober Fish
Have you noticed that the words ‘alcohol’ and ‘anxiety’ both have seven letters in them? This means when you write them out, one under the other, they are pretty much the same length on the page. To me, this is a symbolic way of how aligned and in-tune alcohol and anxiety are with each other.
My story began as many do. I drank to have fun with friends, in social settings mostly. However, as time went on, I started to drink more at home, away from those friends. I started to use alcohol to deal with stressful days at work and to cope with a recently diagnosed health issue. If I couldn’t solve my problems right away, alcohol always helped to take those worries away instantly. So you see, anxiety fueled that fiery desire to drink.
As the night went on and the fire slowly started to extinguish, the anxiety came back but it would be worse than before. I would wake up unable to take a full breath trying to control the shakiness in my body and brain. I would have loved nothing more than to feel at peace but nothing seemed to help except my anxiety medication and of course, starting another drinking escapade.
Some mornings I woke up so anxious that drinking that bottle of champagne at 10am made complete and total sense. It took me back to a ‘normal’ level. How could I start my Saturday feeling like I couldn’t function due to crippling anxiety?
I was actually ok with this at first. I didn’t seem to see a problem with how I was treating my body and my mind. In a world where brunch has become its own culture, I didn’t think much about it.
It took me about a year to realize I could not sustain this type of lifestyle. Once I decided that I needed to make a change, I was constantly at battle with myself. I continued to drink in the same fashion, but I started to feel something boiling inside me, telling me that it was wrong. This not only shot up my anxiety levels, it also took a toll on my self-esteem. I felt like I had lost all control because sheer willpower just wasn’t cutting it. Was I different somehow? Was there something inside of me, a part of who I was, that just couldn’t simply quit?
Ultimately, low self-esteem led to depression. I felt so ugly in pictures and staring at myself in the mirror after a night of drinking. My face was constantly bloated, my eyes had lost their luster and my body constantly felt tired. I felt sad that I wasn’t able to take control of my life. I was disappointing my family and my amazing husband who had to witness it all. And speaking of my sweet husband, he became the brunt of all my pent up frustration and anger. Not only did alcohol make me anxious and depressed, it made me angry! Every tiny thing that I couldn’t seem to control would build up and ultimately make me explode. I slammed cabinet doors, yelled at my husband for no reason and beat myself up mentally over and over. If you ever want to know what mental hell feels like, take up drinking.
Finally, in April 2018, I took my last sip of alcohol. It was very scary at first because I had tried many times before but failed. This time, I armored myself with an arsenal of sobriety books and Instagram pages. I looked up to those people who had given up alcohol and kept it out of their lives. I finally wanted to fight for my life.
When I first gave up alcohol, I was still anxious but this time, it was for different reasons. I was anxious to fail. I was scared that I would give in quickly and would fall back into the same routine. I was also a bit mad. Why could everyone else seem to drink and I couldn’t? I felt a bit left out.
It wasn’t until I started changing my mindset on alcohol that everything changed. Once I started to see it as the poison it was, I didn’t want it anymore. I started to see alcohol as an invasive drug that makes you feel and look gross (and many other horrible things).
Alcohol was no longer serving me; it no longer did me any favors. I started to see a sober life as the only way of living. I finally felt freedom and that sort of freedom knocks anxiety and depression on its ass.
Since I have given up alcohol, I have experienced so many emotions I didn’t even know existed. My brain has been on a magic carpet ride (minus Aladdin). I feel so incredibly happy to live with freedom, I feel sad to see others who think they need it to be happy, and I feel so much love from the people around me but most importantly from myself.
Sure, I still get anxious and depressed from time to time, but who doesn’t? We are only human! However, the level and severity of those feelings has subsided so much. For anyone curious about a sober life, I suggest you give it a shot. I think it’s the best thing you could possibly do for yourself, and your brain.
Written by Courtney, edited by Sober Fish
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I have struggled with my mental health on and off over the past 15 years. This varied from post-natal depression, to stress and anxiety, to, at it’s very worst, self-harming. I have never shied away from attempting to deal with my mental health issues, attending the doctor when I needed help, taking medication for most of this period and seeing a counsellor.
During this time, I drank. I drank because I was young and it’s what you did, I drank because I was a student and it’s what you did, I drank because I was a mother and it’s what you did, I drank because I lost my mother and it’s what you did, I drank because I was depressed and it’s what you did.
I now choose not to drink because it’s what I had to do.
If I break my life down, it goes like this:
Childhood – happy – I didn’t drink
Early teenage years – typical – I didn’t drink,
Late teenage years – the decline started – the drinking started
Adult years – bouts of depression on and off – the drinking continued.
I’m not saying alcohol caused everything however my deepest darkest time of depression was around age 19, when I was at university. I drank to excess most days, cried most days and self-harmed regularly which I mostly concealed from others. I felt depressed so I drank to, in my mind, ease the pain and suffering. I would wake up with a hangover which made me feel worse and then drank more to again ease my mental suffering. The cycle continued.
On one memorable occasion I drank a bottle of vodka on my own, cut myself so much that I was taken to hospital, and was interviewed by the police – all of which resulted in me being asked to leave the halls of residence and placed somewhere where I wasn’t in such close proximity with other students. How did it not click with me then that alcohol was a major issue in my life and most likely causing my depression and self-destruction?
Writing this down and seeing the words, I cannot comprehend why it didn’t occur to me – was it because drinking was the norm and everybody else was doing it so it couldn’t possibly be the alcohol it was just the wiring in my brain? Was it my thinking that the alcohol was helping me forget about my problems – but how could I possibly have thought this when every time I drank I felt worse?!
At this point I visited the doctor to talk about how I was feeling. I was asked to complete a questionnaire and one of the questions was how much alcohol I drank each week. Of course lied about this. This was the only point during my illness that alcohol was mentioned.
I continued to drink into my twenties. I didn’t drink as much as when I was at university to begin with but soon it started to build up. Every so often, alarm bells would start ringing that alcohol was a problem for me and it was time to give up. I ignored them for as long as I could until I could hear nothing else.
I was drinking nearly every day – if I had one day off in the week I would think I had done well. I was tired all the time, started to put on weight and felt depressed and anxious. I drank some more to forget my problems. The cycle had begun again.
One huge alarm bell was having a drink in the morning, this happened only on a couple of occasions but was enough for me to take a step back and ask myself if this is what I wanted for myself. I think it went on as long as it did because I was running a household with 3 children, holding down a full-time job, completed a marathon – how could I have a problem with alcohol if I could do all of this? But that is another story altogether.
I gave up initially as I knew I was heading towards a life I did not want for myself or my family. Drinking excessively, always thinking of drinking, planning everything around drinking and not enjoying what I had all around me.
One very surprising outcome from stopping drinking was a dramatic improvement in my mental health. I guess if I really think about it, it shouldn’t be surprising at all. It is very clear that mental health and alcohol are closely linked.
At the start of my sobriety I spent a lot of time watching box sets, walking, reading and sleeping – anything to distract myself from wanting a drink. I was so focussed on this that I occasionally forgot to take my medication for my depression, this increased to forgetting for over a week and I realised I did not feel stressed, anxious, depressed I felt happy, I felt free, I felt energetic, I felt healthy. It soon dawned on me that I had not taken a tablet since around month 5 of going completely sober, could alcohol have been the problem all along? The alcohol I took to ‘help’ me with my depression was actually causing it.
As mentioned before, when I first visited the doctor alcohol was not discussed, my subsequent visits were the same; alcohol only came up every so often and of course I lied saying I drank maybe a wee bit more than the guidelines recommended. At this point I was not ready for admitting that alcohol was a problem – I couldn’t let go of what I thought was helping me and keeping me sane. Is this what it is like for thousands of people? Should doctors be making an emphasis on alcohol intake and mental health? For me YES they should! I know it is easy for me to say on the outside looking in to say we need to tackle this, if you are not ready to admit the issue then what can you do about it?
I sometimes stop and listen to my body and my mind to what they are telling me. I am worried I am missing something as I cannot believe it can be this easy to not need medication. It can’t can it?
I have now been sober for 7 months and I do not want a drink or feel the urge for a drink. I have never been happier and healthier. I have so much more energy and more time – I cannot stress enough how much more time I have – time to spend with my family and friends, to sort the odd jobs in my house that have been put off, to read, to watch my favourite boxsets – to do things that make me happy.
Happy – what a glorious word that I can now use on a regular basis to describe my state of mind. Happy.
Written by Kellie, edited by Sober Fish
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Six years ago, I reached a stage in my life where, due to a combination of weed, alcohol and mental health issues, I was unable to leave my house. I couldn’t walk to my local shop and supermarkets were completely out of my reach; I had to start doing online food shopping and eventually ended up in awful jobs where I could work from home, even though they made me horrifically unhappy.
It didn’t start there though; that was merely my lowest point. I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was a child, coupled with attachment disorder and crippling insecurity. And low self-esteem, zero confidence and a complete inability to see any worth in myself. Good eh?!
Overcoming my sudden onset agoraphobia was as easy as a relationship ending, being sacked from a shitty home working job and weed been removed from my daily life. I had to move out of my home, find a new job and learn who I was and what I wanted. So, to combat the pain, both emotional and physical, I drank. A lot. It was something I had started doing when I was 12 and I learned, very quickly, that I was reallllly good at drinking my pain away.
One of my favourite quotes is from Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones (yeah, I’m a nerd, and what?!). Her entire life has been one shitty situation after another and at one point she says, “If I look back, I am lost.”
And that is what I have been doing since I stopped drinking five months ago. It’s what I have been doing for my entire life. I have not looked back, for fear of being unable to find my way home. Writing this today makes me realise just how far I have come since I was unable to leave my house six years ago.
When I quit alcohol five months ago, it was a decision that surprised everybody, not least myself, since I had modelled my entire persona around being the ultimate happy, hilarious party girl. It hid the pain until a drink too far saw me regress alllll the way back in to it with snotty crying or raging anger (included for free as part of the party package). In May this year, my anxiety had peaked again and I was finding even the most minimal of interactions difficult. I finally had a job that I loved, people that I loved (and who, more importantly, loved me) and I knew I had to change my life.
So I quit the booze, to have a little break, and see what happened. And once the pain of the first couple of weeks was done with, I carried on. As Sober Mummy would say, why go back to the horror of the beginning of the addiction obstacle course (http://bit.ly/2EXq1h1)? Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim.
Almost immediately, my issues around depression began to subside. I could find joy in everything. Within a month or two of quitting alcohol, my anxiety was at a manageable level. Not just from quitting alcohol, I also immediately went back to therapy to support me through the process. I started blogging about what I was doing for accountability. I opened up about my mental health issues. Instead of drowning my fear, I would sit and listen to it. And don’t get me wrong, it’s the most difficult thing in the shitting world to do but (like masturbating) with a bit of practise, it does get better. Or at least more efficient.
Quitting alcohol gave me the time to start doing other things. I started my Masters Degree. I started a PGDE teaching qualification. I started writing again. I started going to spiritual groups that nourish my soul. I found a local Herbalist group and regularly attend sessions with friends. I went to therapy and then got sacked from therapy because I had pulled my shit together and didn’t need it anymore. I got a dog and started having long walks in the countryside. I spent more quality time with my friends, my family, new people who make my heart sing so loud.
And it didn’t just change my life, it changed my husband’s too. I won’t tell his story here because it’s not my story to tell but all I will say is that it enabled him to cut down on alcohol without really thinking about it and in turn, this has positively impacted on his mental health.
It’s not a fix all. I still have mental health issues and about once a month (FUNNY THAT) I’ll have a complete crisis of confidence and I will fall apart. What it does mean is that I know how to identify it, manage it, look after myself now. I still struggle socially but I don’t beat myself up about it. So what if I’m actually a 90 year old lady (trapped in a 33 year old’s body) who likes knitting, reading books and watching Countryfile?! (Or as my husband very kindly put it, a 33 year old trapped in a 90 year old’s body.)
I don’t give a shit and more importantly, I don’t give a shit what other people think of me anymore either because I’ve achieved something that I never thought I would be able to achieve. I am happy, without any kind of emotional crutch to support it. I’m just genuinely happy. And calm. And healthy. (She says, neck deep in a bag of Caramel M&M’s. Yep.)
I’m not perfect and I still have a long way to go but I am better. At long fucking last, I’m better.
Written by Kia, and Sober Fish added a ‘but’ and a comma
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Like a lot of people, I started drinking as a teenager and loved it, mainly because it made me more confident in social situations and I considered myself to be shy without it.
I continued with this attitude throughout my life (now I am 36), believing alcohol made me likeable and funny on work and girly nights out, but over the years, the reality became quite different. Blackouts became more frequent. I would wake up in extreme states of shame and anxiety at what I could remember, having made decisions I would never have made when sober. Alcohol was beginning to ruin my life. Gradually it was taking control of social situations and I hadn’t really noticed it creeping into my normal routine.
The Christmas before I got sober, I spent most nights alone, drinking up to two bottles of wine, watching chick flicks on my sofa in a boozy haze. I would desperately text and email ex-boyfriends looking for attention and was constantly on social media feeling jealous of everyone. On the nights I did go out, I would often end up in black out, not even knowing how I had made it home.
I regularly put myself in dangerous situations with no regard for my safety or well-being. The horrible and dark times were vastly overtaking the lessening amount of ‘good times’ and I felt a strong and growing feeling of dread getting greater by the day. I was sick most mornings and became worried that drinking was damaging my health as my drinking had increased every day.
My doctor then diagnosed me as suffering from severe depression and anxiety and prescribed Citalopram. In a way, this is what I wanted to hear as I could then blame my condition on mental illness and not alcohol, which would allow me to continue drinking.
The drugs, combined with alcohol, actually caused my anxiety to worsen and I ended up hiding in my house. I couldn’t give up drinking, lost my job, built up terrible debt and believed my mental health to be beyond repair. I lost interest in everything, except drinking alcohol, and believed myself to be worthless. I tried to take my own life by taking an overdose and drinking to excess. Still I continued to convince myself that alcohol wasn’t the problem, believing that I needed alcohol to help me relax and to escape my problems and mental illness.
I believed alcohol was the only thing that worked except it had stopped working long ago. I was discharged straight from the hospital to rehab, where I stayed for 6 weeks.
I got sober in rehab on 14 May 2017. These past 17 months have been the best of my life. I actually consider each day to be a miracle and a gift.
In rehab, I was warned that my depression and anxiety would still affect me without the alcohol and that I was probably suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I was told to continue taking antidepressants and to increase them up to the maximum dose for at least a year. I was surprised at this, as was starting to feel happier and more stable after just a few weeks of sobriety.
I started to exercise, to eat well and to read up on alcohol abuse and read sober blogs and literature. I went to AA and socialised sober, having told old friends I was no longer drinking. I gradually found a supportive network. I started work again and was able to be reliable. Old relationships took on a new meaning, as I was able to share with people and not hide my drinking. I sorted out my debt problems.
I had been so bitter when I was drinking, often looking down on people and looking for the worst in them. Sober, I found I was able to accept and give love and that was a simple and wonderful thing. Friendships took on more value, laughter became more real, but the main change was that I started to like myself. I discovered that I was not shy after all and that I quite like my own company. What a revelation!
I decided not to increase my antidepressants to the maximum dose, even in the early days. As I was feeling so much better, I did not see the point. With every sober day my confidence grew and my anxiety lessened. Was it possible that sobriety was causing all of this? What about my severe mental illness? As I got healthier, with a clear head, life seemed quite fun. I was happy with how I looked, as my skin had cleared up and my eyes and hair were shiny. People told me how well I looked. I was taking up new hobbies, reading more and talking to people, having interesting debates where I was confident of my opinion. When I was drinking, I was either drunk and shouting, or hungover and terrified. I found that I was enjoying life. In fact, I had never felt better. I asked myself again, astounded at the change – was it possible that sobriety was causing all of this?
I recently met someone who had just given up drinking. She also ended up in hospital and ended up at my local AA group. She was physically shaking and crying, her confidence damaged and her health too. She said she was depressed and anxious. She had contemplated taking her own life. Her doctor had put her on antidepressants and told her she was mentally ill. Just two weeks later, sober, she was beginning to experience the same positive life transformation that I did.
I see it all the time, in life, in blogs, in literature. I can’t ignore it now. I believe that alcohol caused my depression and anxiety, or, at the very least, exacerbated them to a dangerous and life-threatening extent. Now, I don’t drown my sorrows in bottles of wine or end up in situations I regret (and, oh, there were many of those). I enjoy my life with a clear, sober head and when problems do arise, because life will never be perfect, I have the logic and clarity to deal with them to the best of my ability.
I believe mental health is a huge and genuine problem in today’s society and worry that we underestimate the effect that alcohol has on these conditions. Everyone has their own journey and I believe that if I drank again, this would put every positive change that has happened over the past 17 months in jeopardy.
And really, it just isn’t worth it.
Written by Claire, edited by Sober Fish
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