It’s 3 am and I burst out of a dreamless sleep like I’ve just been tasered. My heart is absolutely racing and I am drowning in anxiety. My mind is filled with everything. Absolutely everything. Everything that has ever gone wrong in my life, everything I have fucked up (or didn’t fuck up but am now taking full responsibility for it fucking up), everything that is currently going wrong, and everything that may go wrong in the future.
“Why am I so broke? Did I pay the rent? Have I got enough food? What day is it? How am I going to get through work? How am I going to afford the gas bill? Why did I say THAT yesterday? Why did I get pissed AGAIN ?!?“
My poor brain is in overdrive. I check my pulse, it’s 135. Breathe breathe breathe fucking BREATHE! I know I won’t be able to sleep again tonight but in spite of that I keep trying. My bed feels like a pallet. My pillow feels like a tool bag and my duvet like a cardboard box. The room slowly gets lighter over the next 3 or 4 hours, and I see it all. Eventually I give up, I get up and I start getting ready for work. The anxiety is almost unbearable and all I can think is,
“What the fuck is WRONG with you?! Why did you drink again?”
I can barely eat breakfast. I can’t be arsed to make lunch so I just take a banana in to work because I can’t afford to buy anything on the way in. I scrub my teeth, and my tongue, which makes me retch and cough violently. I am a mess. I know why I feel like this, and I feel determined to make sure this day is different and that I remember this feeling when I get home tonight. Just tea tonight. No booze. Just tea.
At work I put on my “I’m OK everyone!” mask. Although I know that it looks old now, this mask. All beaten up and fraying around the edges, cracked and weathered. As the morning rolls by I start thinking…
“Maybe I’ll stop at the corner shop on the way home. Maybe just get one or two drinks, to take the edge off, to help me sleep. Just one or two…”
I still feel like shit but the thought of a couple of beers makes me feel a bit better. It’ll be fine! So I perk up a bit, some energy comes back and I move into the afternoon with a bit of a spring in my step. I text my sister, seeing if she is gonna have a drink too, just to validate my decision. When it comes to leaving work and heading home I have decided to buy a pack of 8 beers, because its cheaper. It’ll mean I won’t need to stop in the shop tomorrow, and besides, it’s not like I’m going to drink them all! I’ve got some whiskey left at home too, if I have a couple of chasers maybe I won’t drink so many beers! Yes! I can start thinking about cutting back on the booze next week. Fuck it. I’ve got a busy week ahead so I’ll be crazy to stop this week. How would I ever cope?!
I get home. I’ve picked up some weed as well on the way back. When I smoke I don’t seem to drink so much. I’ll do dinner in a bit. Let’s just roll one first, grab a beer, a chaser, put your feet up man, relax! You deserve it!…
…3am. I wake up and I burst out of a dreamless sleep like I’ve just been tasered…
I went through this process every single day. This is what an addiction looks like. Logic goes out the window and the substance you are addicted to overrides any sense in your brain. You’ve rewired it after all, or at least the thing you are addicted to has. And this is why treating addiction is so difficult, understanding addiction is so difficult and fighting addiction is so fucking difficult. You become possessed by it.
But addiction doesn’t happen overnight, and it can be curtailed before it overwhelms you. Repeated action leads to habit, and bad habits can lead to addiction. But good habits can take you out of addiction until there is freedom. It doesn’t have to hang like a noose around your neck, and you can exorcise the demon that has possessed you, as long as you want it. More than anything you have ever wanted in your life before. And that you commit to it so it becomes, by far the most important thing in your life at that moment. It takes bravery, but without bravery and vulnerability (I’ve just watched Brene Brown talk about vulnerability and she has studied it her whole life don’t ya know!) there will be no joy or fulfillment. It takes a brave step to admit there is something wrong. It takes another brave step to do something about it. And it takes many more little brave steps to work towards a life free from addiction. But the steps become strides, the strides become leaps, and soon you are flying.
Those feelings of intense anxiety and shame I had when I was addicted to alcohol were a symptom of my addiction. Neuroscience tells us (this is a VERY basic summary here, don’t come at me neuroscientists!) that when we put a drug into our system, our brains try to gain homeostasis and correct the imbalance. Alcohol is a drug, a sedative, and it also dumps a load of dopamine (a feel good neurotransmitter and hormone) into the brain. So the brain, trying to gain homeostasis, dumps an equal amount of the opposite into play. The sedative nature of the booze gives way to a racing heart and a fight or flight response (the anxiety we feel). And the feel good neurotransmitters and hormones give way to their opposite (hello depressive thoughts!). Dopamine also plays a role in the feeling we get when we think about imbibing. It’s why my energy levels and mood would pick up when I would say to myself I would drink later. Just the thought of taking the substance we are addicted to will create a dopamine spike. When I stopped drinking and my brain eventually found its natural balance I was no longer plagued by these awful nights or those thoughts on a loop. I now sleep like a baby. We can still get anxiety and depressive thoughts, obviously, but because we know they are naturally occurring and not a product of our addiction, we are much better placed to tackle them.
Now, we are living in incredibly difficult times at the moment, and our heads need to be right. One sure fire way of making our heads not right is getting addicted to booze. It’s tempting to hide away, to have a beer each night to take the edge off and to get us through. But just be aware that you aren’t hitching a ride with the devil. If you are, jump off, while you are still in control. If the devil has you, ask for help. Read books, read blogs, get advice. Speak to someone you love, speak to your doctor. Join an online group. Reach out! Be vulnerable and be courageous and know that you can come out of it. I did, and so have many millions of others.
Ask yourself if what you are doing is truly serving you. How does your head feel? Where’s your head at?
Thank you for reading and if you like my blog then please share and subscribe. I’m no longer on social media (addiction doesn’t have to mean substance abuse right?!) so feel free to share across all platforms.
Much love, and stay healthy and safe. xox