Where’s your head at?

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

14 thoughts on “Where’s your head at?

  1. Good to see you are still doing well my friend. Happy new year to you.
    Regards John
    On Sun, 3 Jan 2021 at 18:28, One Man And His Grog wrote:
    > ianbilik posted: ” 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” >

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  2. Hi Ian, how wonderful to see your email pop through tonight! Hope you’re keeping well over there and can I say another great blog from you. All good over here in Jersey.  Just went through a lockdown Christmas (although they’ve called it a circuit breaker – they don’t like the term lockdown) and I have to be honest I’ve had no problem with everything being closed and not having to watch as the world around me drinks to oblivion.  Im now almost 21 months and love life daily….but then I know you can appreciate exactly what I mean.  I did have a bit of a wobble a few weeks ago but recognised the symptoms of PAWS straight away and just worked my way through it. Didnt take too long either and was easy to work through which I’m so thankful for.Anyway, just wanted to drop you a line to let you know you’re still highly thought of (my sober hero!).Take care Jen (Jen Gray – feel a bit of a dick writing that as you probably don’t even remember me hahahah) Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

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    1. Of course I remember you! And it’s lovely to hear from you as well😁🙏Well done on swerving the wobble a few weeks back. PAWS can be a tricky little thing, but you’re nearly past that 2 year window now and once you reach that PAWS becomes but a distant memory😊You should be very proud of how far you’ve come. And I hope everyone is well in the group. Sending love and best wishes and wishing you a happy new year!🤗🙏❤

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  3. Love your blogs Ian, just been looking back at the last few. I’m in some endless loop from hell, three days off and back on repeat….for ever, years and years! I’ve done all the quit lit/podcasts/etc and whilst they have been great at allowing me to better understand my problem I’ve still not quite got there. I suspect I should have started earlier when I first started to become aware of my issues rather than wait until now 59!
    Managed 35 days off back of last years so am absolutely determined to make it stick now, use this lockdown as an opportunity!
    Anyway sorry, I just wanted to say it was nice to read something from another bloke, as I say some fantastic stuff out there but I think the blokes are a little under represented, maybe there’s a lesson there about self awareness or something?
    Anyway thanks again
    Mark

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    1. Hi Mark. Thanks for the message! And I’m glad you got something from the blog. I agree with you, blokes are a little under represented in sober world. I’ve seen a lot of discussions about it and heard a lot of people speak about why and the jury is still out! It’s often to do with men not being able to open up as much. And the lack of self awareness is definitely a thing. Or if there is self awareness there is a tendency to ‘man up’. Some masculinity comes into play I think. But it’s difficult to know the reasons why completely. And I also think its important to give yourself a break as well. Nearly everyone I’ve met or spoken to was aware of their problems years and years before they got round to stopping. It’s because we all wanna deny it, and carry on having a beer or whatever because society deems it normal. Society deems having a problem with it not normal, when it really is. So it’s difficult to take that step. I’ve known people to stop well into their 60s and even into their 70s. It is NEVER too late. Congratulations on the 35 days so far, that’s incredible! It’s so tough in the early days! Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Get through each day. Dont look forwards too far, and dont look back. Just focus on today, on not having a drink today. Take having a drink out of the equation completely. And just keep going! Even though you probably feel like you’ve read and heard everything, keep looking for stuff because it could only be one line that someone says that makes a really enormous difference. I heard someone say the other day about choosing your hard. In relation to life really, like marriage is hard, divorce is hard. Choose your hard. Losing weight is hard, being overweight and hating yourself for it is hard so choose your hard. It applies to drinking as well, especially on the rollercoaster of addiction. Giving up drinking is hard. But so is living in the midst of alcoholism or problem drinking. Choose your hard. It really struck a chord with me. Anyway, thanks again for messaging and I wish you all the strength in the world to keep going and get through this. Believe in yourself that you will and you’ll do it. All the best mate, Ian.

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  4. Hi Ian
    Just read the write-up about you in the most recent Club Soda email.

    I’m an introvert too, by nature at least, though like most have had to learn to appear more extroverted than I am. I’m also approaching 700 days without booze and like you and so many others I just stopped, having tortured myself for years with fear, guilt, worry and endless futile attempts to cut down, moderate and control. I started off as a 40 day challenge, upped it to 100 and then thought I’d just keep at it.

    All the benefits you address I completely relate to, and if I’m ever tempted via nostalgia to imagine that booze was a friend, I just remember how every cell in my body (as you said) detests alcohol and the positives for energy, mental well-being, spiritual and physical health are enormous.

    To be honest even if there was nothing else, the sleep factor (you mention often) would have been enough on its own to make me keep going. In mid life my sleep was being destroyed by alcohol and now like you, I sleep like a baby nearly every night. My body must be heaving a sigh of relief every night at bedtime.

    Anxiety and the stress of life are still present, but so much easier to handle, and even January, a month I despised utterly for decades seems so much more pleasurable, for the lack of the deadening and life-sapping effects of the additional festive alcohol levels.

    Like everyone the past 11 months have been tough and additionally we had a very tragic bereavement to endure when my younger brother died suddenly and in terrible circumstances at Easter. I absolutely dread to imagine how infinitely worse this would have been if I still used alcohol as a crutch.

    The bravery of people like yourself in telling your stories in a public forum is an inspiration and you can never overestimate how much these anecdotes and details matter for those of us who are on that same journey of freedom.

    Thanks for the candour and generosity in sharing yourself with those who need to hear the message. As introverts our instinct is not to share that which lies deepest, so I appreciate all the more, the selflessness that this requires. With much gratitude!
    Brendan

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    1. Hi Brendan!

      Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a kind and thoughtful message. Getting feedback like this is incredibly rewarding and I can’t thank you enough for doing so.
      Many many congratulations on such a good long stretch of sobriety too, especially with the tragic news you have received in the last year. Like you say though, alcohol would have made the grieving process so much more difficult. I know of people that only grieved the loss of a loved one, properly, after they had stopped drinking, often decades down the line. It is a brave thing to do to face those feelings head on, but it is a much more natural way for us to cope with tragic news. With any news to be honest.
      Thank you again, and I hope you keep going. I know you will actually.
      Best wishes!
      Ian

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  5. Wow, Ian, your account is positively riveting and so relatable. You’ve become a champion of sobriety and recovery that the world needs.

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    1. Oh my thank you so much! What a kind thing to say!🙏I’m glad you enjoyed reading it😁I remember in my early days, or even now, it helps to read something relatable. To know that someone else goes through it, and can come out of the other side intact. So I think if I’m able to recount some of my own story then I figure that can only be a good thing. Thank you again for such positive feedback, it means a great deal🙏❤

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