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Addicted To Alcohol...I'm sorry, what?!



One of the most profound experiences I have worked through, was my addiction to alcohol. In fact, it is what further ignited my journey to become a counsellor. I know all too well how the impacts of addiction can relentlessly ripple through every aspect of your life, re-imaging who you are and who the addiction wants you to become. It can decimate your sense of self-worth, your beliefs, emotions and morals. Above all, I had such an ignorance toward the powers of addiction, often thinking “Don’t be ridiculous, I will never allow that to happen”. I was strong, driven, motivated, generous, socially engaged and empathic. There was no way addiction could even come close to affecting me.


Well. It did.


I truly felt I had met my rock bottom (or the worst version of it that I could barely cope with). I also know I am most definitely not alone. This experience saw me steadily and insidiously obliterate my motivation, appreciation, and capacity for my family and friends. All of the things I used to do that brought me joy, fulfilment and happiness, were out of the game now…there was no time left now, and they were on the bench and silenced.


I had lost my zest for life, replacing it with a self-imposed prison sentence. I had backed myself into an unforgiving corner, fuelled with denial, misdirection, hopelessness and constant internal conflict. I was balancing on the edge of losing my family, friends, and most importantly, my children. The acknowledgement of this only fuelled my fire of anxieties and worry, because I kind of knew how, but definitely not why.


I had lost every notion of me and who I was. Gone…


I thought of it as being similar to the captain of a sinking ship. I couldn’t abandon ship, but I also couldn’t let anyone else know about what was happening. Nor could I ask for help. No-one could ever know. Of course, hindsight tells me that I could have, but I certainly didn’t see that at the time. It was my own private nightmare.


You’d think that my son saying to me “Daddy, I love you, but you are silly when you drink and I don’t like it” would have enough pull and gravity to snap me out of what I was entrenched in. It goes without saying that the innocent and vulnerable words from a child are true, heartfelt and have dramatic impact. Well, believe it or not, but it wasn’t what he said that eventually saw me make changes. As a parent who adores my children more than anything – you can imagine the self-loathing that plagued me when I comprehended this.


Sorry, you must have the wrong person…

Despite this and despite the relentless heart ache of knowing how much my family meant to me - it took a while to truly comprehend and understand how this all unfolded. I mean, really understand. It finally did, but more on that a little later…


Until that time, it was like I was watching my own TV show, that I directed. Yet I was willingly writing the most horrendous script for myself…and allowing it to play out! I was aware of what was happening, yet seemingly powerless and apparently unwilling to instigate a change in the script. Here we go yet again. There is almost an out of body awareness of this, and sadness that I had the option to change, but never took the opportunities for a long time.


I used to look at friends and family member’s faces, thinking “Look at them. They aren’t obsessing over their next drink. They probably aren’t even thinking about it at all. They aren’t living with this consuming addiction. They are not having to mask, deflect, excuse, hide or dismiss an addiction. They don’t have to measure each day in terms of opportunity, timing, privacy and the accommodation of an incessant addiction. It becomes the central focus, determining how each and every day pans out. It becomes the engine room to selfishly orientate its desired direction of your life.


From the outside looking in, nothing is wrong. There are no signs of ongoing turmoil or struggle. Yet for me, there were more steps to get to ground zero (or ‘normal’) for the daily routine. For a while there, I was a shining example of a functional addict. Until it outsmarted me and overwhelmed me completely. It was the perfect recipe and foundation for misery, and I had no tools left in the kit.


Oh, hello anxiety…

What on earth are these feelings? Was last night okay? Did we fight or argue? Did I fly under the radar? I’m second guessing everything.


Wait…we watched a movie???


Wow, okay…(subtly yet frantically searching the Netflix history to try and remember anything about it).


How much did I actually drink? I’m sure I was careful and I still have a fair bit left from last night….Nope, no I do not. This is not okay.


Bloody hell……WHAT HAPPENED???


From the cloudiness and distinct lack of memory of the prior evening, I wake up from broken, shallow and ineffective sleep. Like opening the doors to an end of financial year sale at the stores, my mind starts working in overdrive, immediately and forcefully bombarding me with fears, scrambling worries and uncertainty that are peaking at the top end of the catastrophising scale. My heart starts to pound and I start sweating profusely like I never have before. Harsh realities expose themselves from the misguided, two-faced embrace of alcohol. Yet again, I have postponed the opportunity to change for the better, by saturating myself in the very thing that is impeding any chance of improvement.


After a while, I was combatting these crippling morning anxieties, by continuing to drink. It was ‘hair of the dog’ in its most raw form. People often throw around that saying in an almost proud and jovial manner, like the night before was an achievement, and almost rewarding the inevitable consequences and the necessity to continue drinking the next morning. But for someone who is addicted, there is nothing jovial about it and it becomes a matter of survival and a private, shameful necessity. Of course, the worries and anxieties start to subside when drinking again, but I was merely resetting the clock. Instead of making the gruelling decision to instigate change, I found myself leaning toward the temporary fix that repeatedly fools you with its proposed efficacy.


No one will ever know. Actually, they most probably will…

I genuinely thought I was managing my drinking. Turns out, I was more managing my denial or warped perception of my drinking. I’d say that mentally, I continually justified and permitted my actions and behaviour, often downplaying and dismissing the actual truth and the impacts stemming from it. This is because the flow on effects and consequences of admission and actually starting to battle my demons, was infinitely harder to conceptualize and act on, than it was to continue drinking. This blinkered justification therefore led me to believe that my ‘stealth’ management of my addiction flowed through to how people saw me. Unfortunately, this was not the case at all.


There is only so much denial and covering up that can ‘work’ for you, before you are out of your depth and can no longer compete with the signs, indications and affects from addiction. Especially when you are so affected that you begin to drop your guard (or are unable to remember or realise to do so). The cloud and fog of addiction within which many find they reside, is powerful and convincing, with an ability to continually convince you that there is justification and solace in the chaos it creates. They are key words right there: “the chaos it creates”.


A disenfranchised grief and loneliness…

Who would truly understand? Who would believe me? How could I talk about it without enduring shame and judgement? Just ‘getting over it’ or ‘switching yourself off and on again’ simply doesn’t cut it I’m afraid.


Collectively, we accept the need for addicts to get help. Many people view addiction as horrible and shameful, reserved for the hopeless, helpless, messed up and weak of mind (incidentally, it takes a tremendous amount of strength to sustain an addiction. I don’t believe it is about weakness at all). Denial has a massive role to play in all of this. Is it that they view it as a ‘shameful disease’ that can only happen to those in the most perilous of situations in their relationship with alcohol? People may have their consumption under control. But how do we define ‘under control?’ The slippery slope of addiction can lure and take control over ANYONE.


We loudly proclaim our views that excessive consumption is disgusting and shun those who are obviously affected by over-consumption. Yet it is almost an unwritten understanding that we embrace it with open arms, allowing it to weave into the fabric of our lives. We embrace the ceremony of drinking at the same time. We drink to celebrate, commiserate, to socialise or to internalise. We drink to loosen up, to unwind, or to get some good shut-eye.


Alcohol creates its own system of perception. It can create insomnia; it can fuel and manifest anxieties; it can raise stress levels; it can cause social disruption and disconnect. Isn’t it ironic therefore, that for many of these aspects of life, we turn to alcohol through a medicinal lens….the very same thing that manifested or exaggerated the negative aspects in the first place. A cycle is created and it is in full orbit. I know this isn’t the case for everyone, but these are just my perspectives.

We are ALL constantly balancing our relationship with alcohol, sometimes consciously, and at other times, subconsciously. But addiction is subjective, and people’s perception of themselves and their persuasive self-talk can drastically skew perceived relationships with alcohol (or any substance, for that matter). People may have their consumption under control. But how do we define ‘under control?’ The slippery slope of addiction can lure and take control over anyone. No-one is immune to being susceptible.


The day it all finally clicked…

It was late January and I had been closet drinking again, naively believing that the effects would go unnoticed. Yeah, that was not the case, because I was so far gone that my perception of how I appeared to others, was so far from any reality.


I was kicked out of the house and thrust into the position of working out where I would sleep for the night.


ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.


For me, I had seen a psychologist and had been through Relapse Prevention groups. They made sense, but the one thing that ended up working for me, was reading. I don’t mean clinical, sterile books written by someone who knows only the science or technicalities around addiction. I mean, finding a book where the author was drinking up to 2 bottles of red wine a night. THEY are who I wanted to read about and learn from.


So I did. I read this book and then automatically read another 15 books after that. They were all heartfelt, true and raw accounts of people who were in a similar position to me. I knew I had struck gold with these books, from the amount of times I resonated deeply with what was written. I had finally come to the realisation that not one part of this addiction was working for me, or my family. I had to step up and finally take back the control that I had lost. I had to rewire my relationship with alcohol and diminish any strength it has in my life.


Then I had to start reconfiguring my relationship with my family and friends. It would take a fair bit of undoing and redoing. But the key for me in all of this (and for many others, no doubt) is time, consistency and absolute determination. These attributes seemed near on impossible at the beginning. But as the clarity starts to sharpen and you have more time and energy to invest into yourself, these attributes have more room to strengthen and thrive, exponentially improving and solidifying as you progress.


Complete abstinence is bloody scary. Because it is definite and final. This may be too much for some people to comprehend. In fact, just the thought of ‘forever’ could be a perfect catalyst to further strengthen the influence of one’s addiction. But for some people, it may be the only way to rewire their approach and relationship with alcohol for positive growth. Moderation can elicit more effort and thought into one’s drinking, presenting the risk of becoming counterproductive. Moderation may also not be effective for those who struggle with limitations and cannot shake their devotion and love for drinking.


For me, I had arrived at a place where I didn’t long for alcohol. I didn’t want it and I didn’t want the costly effects from alcohol to plague me ever again. It took a while, but I was then in the position where I didn’t have to rely on my resolve and willpower. You don’t need willpower to resist, when you don’t want it in the first place. As long as you still find value in drinking, you will long for it and you will need to muster up all the willpower in the world to fight on.

It's raw. It’s ugly. It’s harrowing. Whatever road you go down, it is so important to have unbiased, non-judgmental support available from someone who absolutely and genuinely knows. Someone who will listen, and will work with you to start forming goals, direction and providing a sense of hope. Most importantly, the ability to re-introduce yourself to your strengths and inner-resources, motivations and passions, will go a long way for you on your journey.


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