How I used alcohol to escape

In my previous posts, Why do people drink and How to beat the alcohol illusion, we looked at escapism. To be honest, most people are not living the life they thought they would live. Expectations set in adolescents are very rarely what the reality of adulthood looks like. Therefore a massively important part of maintaining your sobriety is to build a life you DO NOT WANT TO ESCAPE FROM!          

This, my friends, is easier said than done!

Youthful dreams

So, part of my personal story. After I had tackled depression in my early twenties, I was full of positive oomph at having found life again. For a while, in Edinburgh, things were good. I was getting married, I was doing a TEFL course so that we could travel abroad for a while, before settling somewhere and having children. Literally in the last week of my TEFL course I had a positive pregnancy test. I wanted children, so I am pretty sure that I self-sabotaged my plans to travel, due to fear of the unknown, and that I wasn’t as careful as I should have been. Depression set back in and mixed with 9 months of vomiting, it wasn’t a great experience!

Babies

But The Bot was so insanely cute, lovely and taciturn that I was OK for a while. Then, we decided that we could still travel and have the life we wanted. So while my ex-husband retrained as a teacher I signed up for a Masters in International Relations – sensible grown up ways of making travel abroad with a child more likely – then BAM, pregnancy No. 2. This time I really had done everything I should have done to not have baby number 2 so HUGE shock. Again I rallied and postponed my Masters for a year, another 9 months of vomiting. The Bear was born on a very snowy January night and I find it very hard to remember the first year with two toddlers. I must have swum rather sunk, as I’m still here and they are lovely boys, but I don’t remember. Somehow in all of this I completed my Masters.

My father made a littler picture for me, which was supposed to be funny but was actually painfully true.

Because actually, with a working husband and two toddlers, what exactly did I think I was going to do? Head off abroad to, become a charity worker, have adventures, with no real skills to offer and children in tow? Or just leave the children at home? I still had a fear of the unknown, my lack of confidence and lack of self-worth – so did I stay put to be a ‘good mother’ or did I stay at home as an excuse not to face my fears? Bit of both I think.

I hated being a stay at home mother. Some people love it but that was not me. I was going completely bonkers. I was stressed (with two toddlers and a by now miserable husband), anxious (with what I believe was badly managed post natal depression), frustrated  that life wasn’t working out as planned, afraid of the future and feeling trapped in my life – too name a few.

Egyptian escape

We moved to Egypt to escape the life that wasn’t working for us here. My ex got a job as a teacher in a private school and we packed up and headed off with the 3 year old Bot and the 18 month old Bear. What I quickly and depressingly realised was that I hadn’t escaped AT ALL!! What I now had was a 3 year old who cried every day going to preschool and was bullied horribly, a husband who was still miserable, a baby that I still had to stay at home with so still couldn’t so all the stuff I had imagined I would do. I had no car, was stuck in a purpose build town in the middle of the desert, no money (despite all the schools promises). I had to take taxis to get anywhere and no taxi driver would take me where I wanted to go because they thought, after the Arab Spring Egyptian Revolution, that it was too dangerous. Other than a trip top Luxor after Christmas, I did not see the Cairo I knew and loved at all.

They were probably right though. In the ‘safe’ purpose built town, despite wearing completely appropriate covering clothes, I was grabbed, groped, chased and masturbated on, all while my children were present. Lovely. No one at the school seemed to have these problems, but they very much kept to their expat bit, going to expat bars in Cairo or to the golf course, and drinking lots – nothing very toddler friendly.

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Self-sabotage

My anxiety set in, because I could no longer control or escape my life. Then my IBS set in, my stomach swelled up like I was pregnant and I missed periods due to stress, Additional fear of being pregnant stress added then too! 

But I also constantly self-sabotaged. Like TEFL, I believed in myself enough to plan and pursue dreams, but when push came to shove, I found a way to back out. I had been talking to a supervisor at Edinburgh University who had said he would be able to take me on as a PhD student. Amazingly, he was going to a conference in Cairo and would I be able to meet him to chat about it. Or course I agreed – amazing! Fate! Exciting! The day arrived, panic, fear, anxiety – that I wasn’t good enough, that I’d be rejected after the meeting, etc etc. So I sabotaged. The taxi journey was too long, too expensive, too hot for The Bear. Would The Bear behave? Would it be too long for him? Then I sent a message with every excuse saying I couldn’t attend the meeting. I was disappointed, frustrated and angry with myself all over again. Needless to add, I did not get another invitation.

Panic

I was so hysterical by this point, 6 months in, that I booked flights home with the boys, and said I wasn’t coming back. We arrived back on the Wednesday and by the Saturday we were in hospital and The Bear had been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. I honestly believe my Bear must have a guardian angel. Going back to Egypt was not an option. My ex did not return until the end of the year.

I had tried to retrain (for my current job) multiple times but things kept falling apart. I was so close at one point. After Egypt, I worked full time shifts in A&E (The Bot and Bear were 2 and 4 years old). I relied on my mother for childcare, as my ex was working, miserable and unhelpful. I would come home from a 12 hour shift and he would say, ‘what’s for supper?’ and then complain that I was going to bed to early (10pm – I was up at 5am) and who was going to keep him company while he planned  lessons. More often than not I slept on the sofa. I tried to run the household, work shifts, study and look after children. This was definitely not what I planned!  On top of this, working in A&E you see the end result of alcohol for many people. The pancreatitis, the cancer, the pain, the jaundice, the desperation in these poor people who have fallen victim to the horrors of alcohol. Most people brush it off and say, ‘that won’t be me’ but I knew that it could be anyone. I knew I drank too much, I was constantly controlling my intake, but my treat after 3 night shifts was a bottle of prosecco in a short space of time! I knew that this could be me if I didn’t get a grip on things, but this just caused further panic and more drinking to deal with the panic.  

Breakdown

This is when I had a breakdown. I had never really believed in breakdowns before. I almost believe that people chose to stop. 

One night, I got a phone call from my mother saying a family friend had died of carbon monoxide poisoning while visiting a friend. I had been paranoid about carbon monoxide since The Bot was born. I believe it was undiagnosed post natal depression that fixated on carbon monoxide as the thing that was going to kill us all. This news was the culmination of everything. I woke up in the night with an absolute certainty that I was imminently going to die. I have never been so sure of anything. I woke my ex to tell him and he said ‘go back to sleep you are fine’. I crept into the sitting room, unable to breath, heart pounding, sweating and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. For the next two weeks I couldn’t leave the house. I wanted to, I told myself I could, I told myself I had to leave for the children, but every time I approached the door I started sweating, my heart was pounding and I became lightheaded. My ex did not help me during this time and my mother eventually got me to the doctors for antidepressants and beta-blockers.

After two weeks, I went back to work. But realised it was unsustainable and made the very difficult decision to stop chasing my retraining dream and accept that motherhood in the suburbs was my lot. I read You Can Heal your Life at the is time and started working on healing my life. I soon realised that my ex was not going to be part of healing my life going forward and we divorced soon afterwards.  

New dreams

I have said it before but genuinely believe that all the work I did at that time to heal and help myself, helped me open up to the universe and the universe gave me My Love (my now husband). He is a kindest, gentlest, sweetest most respectful and loving man in the world. He has helped me to fully heal and become the person that I am today, I am so infinitely grateful to him and the universe.

Not that it was quite that easy. My healing was still in the beginning stages so adding divorce, new relationship and failed retraining dreams all together was maybe a bit much. I was still drinking, obviously, and drinking far more than usual to manage the emotions. He hardly drank and although he never criticised, I knew he couldn’t understand why I did.

I had given up on the work I had been doing to heal myself was still a bit lost. Although I loved My Love so much, I was doing the whole lack of self-worth thing, and didn’t believe he really loved me. I wanted to test him, to try it, to push him. He stayed completely solid throughout, I have no idea how! I had said when I first met him that I absolutely did not want more children, but then I worried that, as he didn’t have any children, that he would resent me later on if we didn’t. He said he didn’t mind, but I didn’t believe that. I was completely overwhelmed by anxiety and worry again so pushed him to decide about children. I booked and appointment to be sterilised and said this was the last chance if he wanted to change his mind. This was not the manipulation that it sounds, I really didn’t want more children and thought being sterilised would give me peace of mind. I have subsequently been sterilised and it really has! He did change his mind. We stopped trying not to have children for 9 months and nothing happened. He had always wondered if he would be able to have children so we thought that this was the answer. I guiltily felt relieved that the universe had saved me from myself and I could say we had tried.

New baby

Then we did the Whole 30. I hated it, (no alcohol or sugar!) and only lasted 9 miserable days, but My Love lasted the whole 30. So I recommend, anyone struggling to get pregnant, to give it a try, because pregnant I became straight afterwards!

It was the worst time of my life. It ruined my wedding, nearly ruined our relationship and who knows what it did to my poor boys. I had started retraining on the old path again before I got pregnant and so I was working shifts, studying, vomiting constantly and being a mummy and new wife.

I thought history was repeating itself and I sank badly into depression. I also realise that I did nothing to help myself. I wallowed big time. Furious at the world even though I knew I had done this to myself. This was the biggest self-sabotage of all time. I was awful to My Love the whole time, I was angry, kicking and screaming and unable to drink to hide from the pain

I know people reading this will be horrified that I could possibly be so ungrateful for the gift of another baby, but I was. Deeply, hideously ungrateful. I thought that this was the end of my life. I would never achieve anything now, never travel, never enjoy things with the older boys. The feelings and depression went on all through pregnancy and for 10 months afterwards. I refused medication this time and a mindfulness course started to get me back on track. But after the 10 months, it took another year before I stopped drinking and started to heal properly.

Denying my dreams

In the time after the mindfulness course, when I was healing, I took a wrong turning. In trying to learn to be grateful for the present and enjoy the moment, I started trying to be something I wasn’t. I denied my wanderlust, tried to force myself to accept it could never be, bought a caravan for UK holidays, stopped dreaming and tried to accept that my lot, which I had to be happy with, was as a suburban working mother. The antithesis of every dream I had ever had. I believe this wrong turn, is why it took me another year before I stop drinking.

Next post I am going to go into detail, (more detail you say?!), about how we can build the life we want, but to end this post about my journey, I want to say a few things that I learnt.

I learnt that, fight it or not, I did most of it to myself. Whether through a lack of self-worth, a need for validation and lack og confidence and belief, I created and then sabotaged my own situations again and again.

You need to learn to know and love who you actually are, not try to be someone else.

I spent years and years thinking about past missed opportunities or planning and dreaming about future opportunities, but at no point was I living or appreciating the life I had in the present. My mother told me I always made my life difficult. She was right. I could never just be, never just enjoy life, as soon as I was comfortable I was trying to sabotage it in some way in the fear of getting stuck.  

Nothing I did was small, realistic or sustainable. Everything was grand, unrealistic and doomed to failure. I read too many novels and believed I could transform my life in an instant.

I believed in myself enough to set dreams and plans but I didn’t believe in myself enough to carry any of it through, to take a chance or to trust.  

Am I an alcoholic?

Effects of alcohol

The 2010 study from the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (1) showed that alcohol ranked as the number 1 most harmful drug in the UK when combining harm to users and harm to others. There can be lots of arguments around this and obviously alcohol use is far more widespread than most other drugs, so this will affect the statistics, but let’s just compare it to smoking. We all know smoking is bad for us and most smokers would like to quit. But smoking only ranked 6th most harmful and had less ‘health damage’ than alcohol. When we’ve seen what smoking can do to us physically, that’s quite a scary thought.

So just some quick facts about the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol Change UK (2) says that in the UK 20 people a day die as a result of their drinking and it is the biggest risk factor for death in 15 – 49 year olds. Alcohol is also implicated in many crimes, sexual assaults and road accidents. In terms of health, the NHS (3) lists the risks involved in drinking from accidents, violence and homelessness to heart disease, stroke, and a whole array of cancers.

Am I an alcoholic?

For the next section I apologise to anyone who has found the term alcoholic helpful for their recovery. As with everything, do what feels right for you. These are just my thoughts and feelings on the subject.

This is a question I asked myself and asked Google many, many times. The problem is that it is such a huge spectrum, that most drinkers are on somewhere, that it is difficult draw a line and say – that side is the alcoholic and that side isn’t. ‘Alcoholic’ has so many negative connotations, and I have felt myself cringe since writing this blog as my parents, aunts, and others have all whispered ‘is she an alcoholic?’  But I think this negative attitude is exactly the reason why many people fail to say anything when they are struggling and don’t ask for the support they need.

When I worked in A&E a while ago, one of the questions we were supposed to ask every person who checked in was do you drink 6 or more units (8 for men) more than twice a week?” Right people, that’s two large glasses of wine twice a week or 2-3 pints twice week. If they answered yes, we were to put in a referral to the drug and alcohol team. Hahahahahahahahahaha!!! So, as you can tell we never asked that question. Firstly, people massively lie when they are asked how much they drink – society shaming us again. Secondly, nearly every single bloody person who worked there or walked through the doors would have needed a referral. What a joke! 

The scoring systems you can get from the NHS, Alcohol Change UK, Drink Aware and similar places are also not especially helpful. I scored High risk drinker on all of them, which is true I was. But they skip so nimbly from ‘Do you feel guilty about drinking’ to ‘Do you drink in the morning’. I’m sorry, but there is a huge part of the spectrum that comes between feeling guilty and drinking in the morning. So the stigma attached to being a ‘morning drinker’ puts high risk drinkers, like myself, off trying to do anything about it because you don’t want to be labelled an alcoholic.

Also, if you tell yourself you are an alcoholic, that often takes the power away from you do to do anything about it. ‘It’s an illness’, ‘It’s something genetic’, ‘Once and alcoholic always an alcoholic’. I find these phrases so massively disempowering and unhelpful. Like when I was told that once depressed, always depressed, I refuse to believe that. Yes, there may be an underlying propensity to slip back that way if I don’t pay attention to my thoughts, feelings and circumstances, but that in no way means that there is a daily battle not to be those things. You can help yourself to get out of the vicious alcohol loop, so don’t disempower yourself before you’ve even started. 

When looking at the symptoms of withdrawal they name physical symptoms of shakes, sweating, nausea, hallucinations and seizures, and psychological symptoms as depression, anxiety, irritability, restlessness and insomnia.  Now, as you may have guessed, I also have a problem with this (4). So I have seen withdrawal, and it’s not pretty. I have no argument with the physical symptoms because they are what they are, but my issue comes with the psychological symptoms. Many people who drink suffer with depression and anxiety so it’s not really a withdrawal symptom – I’ll talk more about that in a bit. Personally, I was massively irritable when I was quitting, but that’s because I was hugely pissed off that my cravings weren’t being met not because I had the irritability and restlessness that accompanies withdrawal – they look, and I imagine feel, very different.

The point I’m trying to make is there is always hope! You can help yourself! Do not disempower yourself and admit defeat before you have even started.  Be proud of yourself and what you are doing, it is strong and brave. Acknowledging you have a problem is hugely important, but don’t label yourself and alcoholic with all its negative connotations, unless you find it helpful. You are a survivor and a warrior. 

So for the purposes of this post I am talking to all those people on the spectrum before physical dependence. If you are trying to quit and suffering from shakes, sweating, or fever, nausea, stomach troubles, hallucinations or a restless irritability that cannot be distracted, then please seek professional help.

Bit more than a habit

I said in my previous post Why do people drink?, that to describe my relationship with alcohol, habit is too weak, but addiction is to strong.  So I was intrigued by this and wanted to find out why it is harder to quit drinking than it is to change other habits. I wondered if I was completely wrong and maybe you were immediately addicted to alcohol and that was that. So, this is what I discovered. A habit has 4 stages that follow the same route every time. I have taken this from James Clear, who wrote Atomic Habits  – a book about building good habits and breaking bad ones (5).

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These stages are

  1. Cue
  2. Craving
  3. Response
  4. Reward

If you do something repeatedly, your brain associates the reward with the cue, so the next time you see the cue, it will trigger the craving, your response and then the reward. It is continual loop. Your brain is scanning all the time for rewards and the cue shows your brain that a reward is coming. For example, when I was drinking I always drank in the kitchen while cooking. So every day, opening the fridge and starting to cook was my cue. I then craved the drink, my response was to reach for it or go and buy it, and then my reward was drinking it. It was a very well used loop. If I didn’t get my reward I was a bad tempered cow until I was away from the cue and the craving subsided.

The theory goes that you have to break the loop somewhere and you can break the habit. No one is forcing you to respond (pick up the drink) other than yourself. That all sounds lovely in theory but anyone who has tried to break any habit, let alone alcohol, knows it’s a bit harder than that!  You also have to break the habit consistently. Studies claim this can be anywhere from 18 to 245 day of consistent loop breaking (6)! This is where despondency comes in, as people believe they just need willpower.

But something wonderful that is becoming more accepted is that there is no Day 1! On social media particularly I see people so devastated because they had a drink and feel like all their effort has been wasted and they are back at the beginning. I was completely the same, and every time I drank I felt like a monumental failure. But studies are showing that when forming a new habit, if you slip up one day, you do not go back to the beginning.  As long as you start again with forming your new habit, all the hard work you have done to this point is still there (6).

We have all tried to break a habit, so why does breaking the alcohol habit seem so much harder?

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Alcohol and the brain

The neurochemical changes are what make alcohol a harder habit to kick.  

We have seen from the habit making that what we are craving is the reward. So with alcohol, this has a few factors.

  1. Endorphins – we’ve heard of these right? The happy hormones.  Drinking triggers the release of these happy hormones making us relaxed and euphoric (7) 
  2. Dopamine – alcohol releases dopamine into the ‘reward centres’ of our brain making us again, feel great (8)
  3. Serotonin – this is the chemical we use to have those nice feelings of wellbeing. When we drink alcohol, we temporarily boost those nice wellbeing feelings (9).
  4. GABA – this is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Alcohol mimics the GABA signalling in the brain meaning that it inhibits brain activity, giving those feelings of inhibition, relaxation and sedation (10)

Our brain is continually creating neural pathways. The more often these pathways are used the easier it is for the brain to send signals down the same pathway. The brain is constantly looking for rewards so it is going to use the neural pathway that will reach this goal the quickest. With alcohol, it is not just the reward from satisfying the habit that we are chasing, it has added a whole host of other nice things above to make it even more rewarding.  The more we satisfy the habit and the more alcohol we drink, the easier it is to follow this neural pathway.

No wonder it is harder to kick the alcohol habit!

The problem when we drink far too much for far too long is that the body starts adapting. This is the land of physical addiction so I won’t go into too much detail but briefly, your body gets used to the increased GABA sedation effect so produces glutamate to excite brain activity. This will make it harder for the person to get the same sedative effect, so they will have to drink more. Too much glutamate causes those withdrawal effects when there is no alcohol to mimic the GABA effect (7).  

With long term drinking the effect of dopamine is practically non-existent and serotonin levels are reduced. This leaves the drinker chasing rewards that they are not going to get (8,9).

Why does alcohol make anxiety worse

Anyone who has drunk too much for too long will be able to attest to the awful feeling of anxiety that accompanies drinking. I read an interesting article that explained why this could be (9). It suggested that low blood sugars, caused by the body producing insulin in response to alcohol, lead to dizziness, confusion and shaking which can mimic and trigger anxiety attacks. It says that symptoms of dehydration can trigger anxiety as they mimic the symptoms of illness.

Long term drinking leaves the body with higher levels of stress hormones. It also depletes vitamin B6 and folic acid which help the body manage stress and reduces certain neural receptors that would normally help the calm the mind.

Not a good combination! This is likely to be why my anxiety, which was getting worse as I got older, is virtually non-existent at 14 month sober.  I would say that alone, is well worth quitting for!

Reroute neural pathways

The hugely positive thing is that we can change all this! Our brains are so clever that we can retrain them to stop our destructive behaviour. Neuroplasticity is the brains ability to find new neural pathways to follow (12, 13). The more we use the new pathway, the more secure it becomes and the easier it is for the brain to use it.

In the next post I will look at how to change our habits, start to create new neural pathways and overcome the effects of alcohol. But the amazing thing is, the more we understand what is going on inside us – physically and psychologically, the more likely we are to be able to put a stop to it once and  for all!

References:

  1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11660210
  2. https://alcoholchange.org.uk/alcohol-facts/fact-sheets/alcohol-statistics
  3. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/alcohol-misuse/
  4. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/health-effects-of-alcohol/mental-health/alcohol-withdrawal-symptoms/
  5. https://jamesclear.com/three-steps-habit-change
  6. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2009/oct/10/change-your-life-habit-28-day-rule
  7. https://drugabuse.com/alcohol/alcohol-addiction/
  8. https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2012/10/16/what-alcohol-really-does-to-your-brain/#2994b58c664e
  9. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/negative-effects-alcohol-anxiety/
  10. https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/alcohol-abuse/alcohol-and-gaba/#gref
  11. – telegraph – alcohol resleases addcitiev endorphins article
  12.  https://www.mentalhelp.net/addiction/changes-the-brain/
  13. https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/ending-addiction-good/201302/neuroplasticity-and-addiction-recovery?quicktabs_5=0

Why do people drink?

Drinking is the worst thing that I have ever done to myself, so why on earth did I start and then continue drinking?

I look at teenagers and young adults now, who do not drink and have absolutely no problem with it and I ask – why was I not like that? What made me feel I had to start?

I am not claiming to be an expert in the physical or psychological motivations and consequences of drinking alcohol, but I am writing based on knowledge I have gained through personal experience and personal research in my own quest to understand why I drank and eventually stopped drinking. 

Why do start people drink?

Normalisation

I started drinking at 14 because it was completely normal. I had grown up in a family of drinkers, every single social occasion involved drinking, and I sent to boarding school where alcohol on a Saturday night before the disco was basically de rigeur. Alcohol was present at meals, in the evenings and after church on a Sunday. Alcohol took centre stage at birthdays, Christmas, funerals, Easter, parties and holidays. It was used to celebrate new jobs, new homes and new babies, and to commiserate break ups, unsuccessful jobs interviews or any other unfortunate event. Advertisements scream about the latest alcohol and show the beautiful, glamourous people having a wonderful time with the alcohol with a tiny bit in the corner saying ‘Please drink responsibly.’ Oh OK, why didn’t I just think to do that?!

Accessibility

Alcohol was all over university, it was everywhere I used to work (pubs, bars, restaurants, clubs) and it was in nearly every home I ever visited. The accessibility of alcohol made it so much easier to start drinking. I think the ‘think 25’ challenge in shops and bars has made it a little harder to access alcohol at a younger age, but when I was a teenager I could buy it at 15. Funnily enough now, without my children in tow, I’m asked for ID for alcohol free beers!! But once you hit 18, it’s a free for all. Buy and drink whatever you like! The first polite offer as you enter a house, ‘would you like a drink?’ Our society, particularly in the UK and Europe, is alcohol soaked. From what I have seen, if you come from a family who do not drink or smoke, you are less likely to drink or smoke. So normalisation and accessibility play a massive part in why we start drinking.

Social Pressure

Similar to the points above, if you live surrounded by alcohol, there is a massive social pressure to start and continue drinking. It is hard as a teenager and young adult, to navigate the big scary world and try to find your place in it.  If all your friends are drinking, it’s very unlikely that you are going to be the one who wants to stand out by abstaining. If your boss in a new job is taking you out for after work drinks, are you going to be the one who says, actually no thanks. It’s far more likely at that age that you want to impress your friends or your boss. You want to be seen as fun, social and popular. The expression ‘you can’t put an old head on young shoulders’ is famous for a reason.

Social Anxiety

Like social pressure, social anxiety is a huge problem for young people and often carries on well into adulthood. Many, many people are shy or introverted. People like this will often hide these parts of their character behind alcohol. Our society celebrates people who are loud, funny extroverts. So where does this leave the shy introverts. Think of Robin Williams. One of the most brilliant actors of my time and by all accounts an incredibly kind and good man. The public saw him as hysterical, loud and energetic but apparently in real life he was quiet and reserved. Tragically he struggled with depression, alcohol and drug abuse. I am speculating here, but could part of his alcohol abuse have been because he was fighting against his true nature?  When we drink it does lower our inhibitions, so it makes us feel like we are OK in situations that we are actually not comfortable in.

Pleasure

The first drink of alcohol is often a pleasant experience. Initially when we start drinking, before it takes over, those first drinks and first social occasions are fun. We feel part of something, we feel accepted, at ease socially, funny, exciting, spontaneous and relaxed. The initial tipsy can be so nice why wouldn’t you want more? It’s not very long before we are chasing that feeling. I loved the feeling of the initial glass, but realistically the nice feeling only lasted about 15 minutes. After that, the rest of the time was spent drinking more and more to try to recapture that nice feeling that could never be recaptured until the next day. Was that 15 minute nice feeling really worth the years of struggling, arguments, hating myself, and feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety?

 Instant gratification

One of the reasons we keep chasing that 15 minutes is that it’s so quick and easy to reach. Alcohol starts working pretty quickly and all the pleasant feelings are there. Everything melts away and we are temporarily at peace. Everything else that could give us the same feelings takes work and effort and we all have such busy, often difficult and stressful lives, that reaching for a glass of instant relief is more realistic. However, like I said, that peace doesn’t last.

Escapism

I believe that escapism is a HUGE reason why people continue to drink, and end up drinking to excess. For the 15 minutes you feel better and for the rest of the drinking time, until you go to sleep or pass out, you are not fully there. You don’t have to face anything, do anything, you can dream and pretend and nothing is really real. It will be real the next day, it won’t go away, but for the drinking time, it’s not there. So what are we escaping from?

Often it’s stress. We don’t live in a very relaxed society. We expect ourselves to work, raise families, maintain friendships and relationships, be glamourous and thin, look after our health, cook well and be sociable, fun and spontaneous. Not exactly a small order!

As parents, we are expected to do all of the above and be good parents, give our children special attention, cook, clean and wash, do homework, do fun family things, take them to school and extracurricular activities and, obviously, bring them up to be happy, healthy, kind, loving, well rounded people. All of this while they are fighting us, fighting each other and learning to navigate their own place in the world. Is it any wonder we need a break? Even though there are amazing books like ‘The Unmumsy Mum’, that have made it easier for people to talk about how hard motherhood is, it still feels like we can’t really say ‘Help! I can’t cope!’ We still have to pretend everything is wonderful and post pictures on social media to show how well we are doing.  So we hide our not coping behind our wine or gin or cocktail. There are other books about motherhood that are really funny, like Hurrah for Gin, and I have laughed so many times at parts of this book, but it comes with the downside of normalising alcohol for mothers as a coping mechanism. It’s not just books. Facebook memes, birthday cards, presents and Gifs – all screaming, we need alcohol to cope! 

On top of this people often have really crappy things going on in their lives. If you don’t have people to talk to and share the problem, or people who can help, you are going to try to help yourself. It is awful but there are so many people who have had rubbish childhoods. From full on abuse and bullying to benign neglect, there is a whole spectrum of stuff that goes on in childhood which is often not dealt with and is buried. As people get older and they start drinking, it becomes another way to escape from and bury negative feelings and memories.

I had a whole combination of reasons to start and continue drinking. Later, I added disappointment and frustration to the list. I had this idea of what my life was going to be like. I would have a job I loved – preferably with a charity abroad, travel the world, learn languages, have amazing friends, be sociable and glamourous, attend black tie events and dance and sing all the time. I would read books, paint pictures and practice yoga. I would walk up mountains and host charity events. Then…..children. What happens when you have children? You love them fiercely but you give up your whole life. I found that I disappeared into motherhood and there was very little of me left. All those dreams became much harder to fulfil, and when The Bear got diabetes they became harder still. I was living a life I had never wanted to live and everything around me was telling me I was supposed to be happy about it. So I drank to dream, and pretend I could still do all of those things.

Feelings

We are hiding from feelings because we have not learnt how to deal with them. From loneliness, sadness, stress and disappointment to depression and anxiety, alcohol can temporarily numb and block out these feelings, appearing to make life easier to manage.

Underlying reasons we drink

Ultimately, I think the reason we drink comes down to two categories, a lack of community and a lack of self-worth.

Communities are not what they used to be. Although I wouldn’t say that community was always a good thing, there were definite benefits. We are all now expected to navigate the world in small nuclear families or by ourselves. We feel we have to do everything ourselves and prove to the world how well we are doing it. If we’re ‘failing’ we blame ourselves not the situation. We don’t have the large support network that communities used to provide to support us and reassure us that we are doing OK. We haven’t got the experience of watching people living their lives in the open to know what is normal and what isn’t.

Imagine as a parent, you’re suddenly expected to have a child, know how to bring it up, care for it entirely yourself, give up everything you’ve done before (except possibly work) and get no break. Is it any wonder this causes feelings of inadequacy, isolation, loneliness, anxiety and depression?

This would be hard enough to manage if many of us weren’t struggling with a lack of self-worth. There are few people who really appreciate their own value and love themselves. The people I have met who are closest to this are usually the ones how have really struggled and dragged themselves out of difficulties. We often judge our value on what our families and then society tell us it is rather than looking to ourselves and those who love us. Families and parents, either consciously or subconsciously, will give us our initial sense of self-worth as children. Often parents are dealing with their own feelings of inadequacy, so can pass this onto their children accidentally. As a teenager it is society, peers and family. If we are shy, we do not have value; if we don’t conform we don’t have value; if we don’t look the part, we don’t have value. As we get older it becomes more about ‘success’, possessions and parenting. We end up believing these things and berating ourselves for not being enough. The more we listen to this negative voice, the more we believe its negativity. If we do not believe we are to enough, we are never going to believe we deserve the life we want, so we will not strive for it and we will lose ourselves in trying to be acceptable to society. We will then drown the accompanying negativity, frustration, disappointment, unhappiness and loneliness in alcohol.  

Why is it so hard to stop

Social pressure

I listened to an amazing TED talk by Claire Pooley, author of The Sober Diaries. She said we still see drinking too much as a taboo. Like a shameful character failing. She says when people say that they’ve quit smoking, everyone says ‘wow that’s amazing, well done!’ When you say you’ve stopped drinking, they look shocked, ask if you were ‘an alcoholic’, justify why their drinking is OK and try to push you to have just one.  Alcohol is so deeply ingrained in our society and not drinking is seen as the odd thing, not visa versa. So stopping, in this society, is very hard for anyone.

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Form of self-harm

I know that for me alcohol had become a form of self-harm. Self-harmers are often trying to escape from or cope with feelings they can’t manage and trying to punish themselves for their inadequacies. I couldn’t cope with my inner voice and daily struggles so I drank to cover them. I then felt so shit for drinking that I drank more to punish myself. I then spent months trying to stop again because I was so filled with disgust at myself. I never forgave myself, just berated and hated. Very hard to make any positive changes with this mindset.

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Addiction

To be honest, this is where my knowledge gets bit fuzzy and I’m not entirely sure what I believe yet. In post How to beat the alcohol illusion, I to try to counter all my points above and discuss how we can overcome alcohol once and for all. However when it comes to addiction, my posts Am I an alcoholic and How to stop alcohol cravings put forward arguments and counter arguments from reputable sources do try to gain some understanding for myself and for my readers. I have seen people in withdrawal, from alcohol and drugs. I have seen people at the end of their lives; their body’s destroyed by alcohol. So I know that addiction is a real and awful thing. But I have also seen people go from drinking bottles of whiskey a day to stopping completely without the withdrawal effects. I don’t really understand where we cross the line, or even if there is a line to cross. From my personal experience, I know I drank too much because it made me feel dreadful, but I think, for me, it was all psychological. Habit is too weak a description, but addiction is to strong.