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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