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Alcohol dependence: My light at the end of the tunnel

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels
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Day one of Dry July 2021 marks one year sober for Annie. A self-confessed ‘wine-mum’, who lives within a cultural norm of ‘wine o’clocks’, drinking playdates, wine clubs, boozy dinners with friends, and me-time, that ultimately means drinking a bottle of wine alone.

 Here is a middle-class suburban Mum’s struggle to be sober in a world where she is often expected to drink… lest she be labelled ‘weird’ or ‘boring’.

Falling into the trap of dependence

Annie (not her real name) is happily married, 42 years of age, a mother to two children and has a successful career.

Sitting here with her in her beautiful home, it strikes me that Annie is someone who appears to ‘have it all’.

However, as I am learning, this is often a reason why it is so hard for many functional alcoholics to seek help.

At the peak of her addiction, Annie was drinking about seven to ten bottles of wine a week. She says that doesn’t even include beer, and the celebratory nights – of which she made sure there were plenty.

For her it started out as some fun, a treat at the end of a hard day, some ‘me-time’.

She says that initially, a couple of glasses of wine served as a good way of dealing with the stresses of working, raising children and the juggle of life in general.

She found alcohol a great way to connect with people, to prove to others that she was ‘fun’, and ultimately to help her feel like she ‘fitted in’.

However, slowly over time, the social drinking was replaced with drinking alone and she became more and more isolated.

The relaxation she felt quickly turned into irritability and exhaustion.

Before Annie knew what was happening, she was dependent on alcohol, to the point where she could not stop drinking – even when she desperately wanted to.

“It became an absolute obsession,” says Annie. “I was stuck in a loop of self-loathing and drinker’s remorse. In the morning I vowed to NEVER drink again, only to find myself by two or three o’clock scratching and itching to get that first glass of wine.”

People don’t understand how widespread alcohol dependence is in the suburbs,” says Annie.

 

“I have had comments about how I don’t have a real problem because it’s not like I’m homeless or drinking from a paper bag. I mean that’s just ridiculous!

“I don’t fit the profile of what people consider looks and acts like an alcoholic. I never made a fool of myself publicly or woke up at a stranger’s house, so I found I was considered as perhaps not being ‘alcoholic enough’ to be concerned about.”

Annie was told not to worry and that it was normal, that ‘every parent drinks.’

However, Annie was good at hiding her secret. While other people were having one or two glasses, Annie was having at least three or four and then going home to drink alone.

Once she started, she could not stop.

“I just cannot understand how people can have one glass,” says Annie.

At the beginning of Annie’s journey when she tested the waters by saying she needed to quit, her close friends and family asked her to cut down instead of stopping all together.

She assumes it was because they worried that they wouldn’t be able to have fun with her anymore.

“Cut down? Like I wouldn’t if I could,” Annie says. “I know they mean well – but this is the stigma that goes with not drinking.

I mean who in their right mind would tell a P addict to NOT stop and just smoke on the weekends. When you actually sit back and take that in, it’s really sad.”

 

After admitting to herself that she had a problem, it took Annie years to be able to stop.

How Annie got herself clean

For years Annie tried using willpower to reduce her alcohol intake but was unsuccessful.

She saw counsellors and health coaches to try and uncover ‘why’ she drunk but to no avail.

She tried alternative therapies like hypnosis, high dose vitamin supplements and even ordered dodgy online medications that she highly recommends staying clear of.

Finally, Annie went to her GP and broke down, admitting that she needed help.

“I was given Antabuse medication,” Annie says. “The only problem is, it only works if you have the willpower enough to take it every morning. And as I have discovered, willpower is hopeless against addiction.”

Annie says that time and time again she slipped straight back to square one. And that every failed attempt led her to drink more and more.

After a particularly bad run of drinking, Annie searched the internet and came across loads of literature, books, and audiobooks on how to stop drinking by deconstructing your beliefs around alcohol.

She began devouring help from these authors: Craig Beck, William Porter, Annie Grace, Catherine Gray, Clare Pooley, Sacha Scoblic and Allen Carr.

She read and listened to them over and over and over. Eventually, they started to sink in, and Annie felt psychologically and emotionally ready to give up.

The only issue for her was finding a socially acceptable way to quit without telling people in her community that she had a problem with alcohol.

Dry July 2020 was only six days away, she signed up and sorted out sponsors for donations so that her friends knew she wasn’t drinking.

“It was the kick start that I needed,” says Annie.

“It was incredibly hard, but I did it. The funny thing is, I found the social pressure to drink harder to deal with than stopping drinking itself.

“People said straight to my face that ‘they prefer drinkers over non-drinkers’, that ‘they don’t trust people who don’t drink’, and I was told on numerous occasions that I was boring. I’m not going to lie. It hurt.”

Annie says that it probably would be easier to come out and say that she is an alcoholic. But she resents the label and is worried about the implications.

She also says the word ‘alcoholic’ is synonymous with ‘forever’.

“I can’t think, ‘I will never drink again’,” says Annie. “Forever is a terrifying thought and the overwhelm of it all will likely lead me to drink again. I know it’s cliché, but I really am just taking it one day at a time and choosing to feel plugged in and happy again.”

Life after alcohol

After Annie got through the detox, recalibrated her brain chemicals and caught up on the deep and restorative sleep she had been missing out on for years, she started to feel whole again.

“I am now the mother, wife, employee and person I want to be,” she says with a beaming smile.

My skin is glowing, my eyes are bright, I lost weight naturally, I am motivated, and I have energy. Energy!”

 

Annie goes on to say that waking up and doing the school run without a hangover feels amazing.

She is reading again and drifting off to sleep naturally instead of passing out and waking at 3 am with ‘the dry horrors’, and the evil voices on repeat in her head.

Her depression and anxiety slowly melted away as her body began to heal itself.

“I like myself again,” says Annie. “Sure, I miss the initial buzz, and the connections you can make drinking, but it is just NOT worth it.

“There must be loads of people out there struggling in silence, just like I did,” says Annie. “All I can say is, you are not alone. Keep trying and you will get there.”

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For more information:

Help with mental health and addiction click here

Help Go Dry this July click here

Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.

For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).

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