An entry from my blog on my recovery from alcohol addiction.
As the title suggests, this week I want to talk about the word “alcoholic”. This came about because a good friend mentioned in an online chat how hard it must be for alcoholics at Christmas. I immediately jumped in with the fact that I don’t use that term, but then realised that the perception of people generally is that it’s the standard way to describe someone who has had a problem with alcohol.
And I want to set that record straight, for myself at least.
What is alcohol addiction?
Alcohol addiction is a disease. It’s a physical and mental illness that deserves to be treated like other illnesses and conditions. There are two sides to this. The physical side, where your body actively craves alcohol, is short lived. After 72 hours or so, the alcohol is out of your system, but that’s a small part of the battle. Alcohol, in fact any kind of addiction, makes changes in your brain. It can create pathways in your brain that lead to associating alcohol with pleasure, and also create connections that see alcohol as answer to stress, anxiety and other negative thoughts and emotions.
This makes perfect sense, when you have someone like me who is reasonably intelligent, drinking themselves to death and not stopping. For some who is not addicted, this seems absolutely insane. If you have a peanut allergy, you will go to extreme lengths to avoid coming into contact with them, and rightly so. An active alcohol abuser does the complete opposite. The positive and negative reinforcements that alcohol provides are really hard to resist after years of sustained alcohol abuse.
Which brings me to where I am now. My physical addiction is long gone. But what I am dealing with now is my brain. It still has those pathways in place that associate alcohol with pleasure and an escape from life’s problems. But as time goes on, my brain is re-wiring itself to remove those and replace them with new ones. When I build some lego, cook a nice meal, see friends in person or online, play games, read etc. I am building new connections in my brain. Another huge thing is that one of my sons is going through a hard time mental health wise. For the last 6 weeks I have been there for him every day, for as little or as much as he needs. That’s a huge step forward for me and him.
So, what’s this got to do with the word Alcoholic?
Some groups think that you need to always be on your guard from alcohol, that it will forever be lurking just over your shoulder, ready to pounce. They use the phrase “I am an alcoholic” to remind themselves that it will always be there. If it helps, I’m not going to knock it for them. But I think it’s a complete fallacy, and it acts as a crutch for people. I’ve been in groups where someone who has been sober for 20 years was talking about an aspect of their life that the they were struggling with. Someone replied “That’s your disease talking”. 20 years without a drink, a person is having some mental issues and they are trying to relate it back to alcohol? Not having that. Life doesn’t become all rainbows and unicorns when we stop drinking, life throws stuff at you all the time, you need to find ways to cope with it.
I used to suffer from depression. Am I now a Depressive forever? I’ve broken my back, I take a tablet every day to control a hiatus hernia, I’ve had chickenpox. Do I get a label for all of these things? Of course not. But apparently as an ex alcohol abuser, I do.
And it’s still a stigma. If I am talking to someone new and they offer me a drink or ask what I drink, I’ll tell them I don’t. If they ask why, I’ll say I used to have an alcohol problem, and most people get it. But then some follow up with “my friend John doesn’t drink, he’s never had a problem, but chooses not to”. Or they may even say they don’t drink but have never had a problem. It’s that last bit that hurts. I don’t care if they had a problem or not, but they want to make it very clear that they or their friend did not. Because I’m now labelled and the perception of what people think about alcohol abuse kicks in.
Yo balance this, a fair few times, people have come up to me later when we can get a quiet moment, and asked me some questions about my alcohol issues. They always ask if it’s OK first, but genuinely seem to want to understand it more. Fills me full of hope that attitudes will change over time. And I’m very open to talking about it, I am more than happy to.
I suffered from alcohol addiction. I’m in recovery now as my brain sorts itself out. But this is not something that defines me. I am not an alcoholic. I do not need to seek out “like minded people and share my story” as some groups suggest. I will avoid certain situations, but that may change over time. I actually don’t think I need sessions with my alcohol key worker, but will continue to go as they may still be helpful. I don’t think this is something that will be with me forever.
I think do what works for you at the time. This blog is a great way for me to get thoughts out of my head and think a little more clearly, but I’ll run out of stuff to say at some point.
So don’t give me a label.
So how am I doing?
Still feeling good, still not drinking. Had my 2 sons here this week at different times, one with a girlfriend in tow which was interesting. Been playing some games (Final Fantasy 7 Remake), sorting out finances and making some deals with myself on buying more stuff I don’t really need. Catching up on TV and films (His Dark Materials is great). Building Lego (Batman Tumbler at the moment). Am enjoying things more as well, and am not getting too stressed about life, feeling pretty peaceful. Starting to look for work again now too.
I recently completed a course call Think Differently, Cope Differently. It was a 4 week course, 2 hours a week in a small group, designed to help mental health. I got a lot from it, it was nice to be in a group not related to alcohol but be able to be open and honest. I would hunt it down if you feel you could use some help.
I have put on a lot of weight in the last 2 months and am really feeling it physically. I was told not to worry about this, but now is the time to start sorting that out, so that all begins on Monday. I am letting thoughts of drinking creep up on me, but its been just little nagging at the moment, I am able to rationalise things a lot better now to not pick up.
Next week I want to talk about how getting through this is a journey. I was talking about rehab this week and someone said “Fat lot of good that did you”, but they are dead wrong. And I’ll talk about why.
As I write this it’s been 43 says since I had a drink.
This is an incredible streak for me, and my youngest son said I should give myself a lot of credit for what I have done. Best encouragement I have ever had.