Well… wow. I mean… erm… this is unexpected.

Well… wow. I mean… erm… this is unexpected.

85 Days.

Without a drink.

Completely sober.

Longest time without an alcoholic drink since I was around 18.

Oh and look, my depression and anxiety issues are alleviating. What a surprise….

How did I get here? Read on….

Looking back, the first few days of January were physically wretched. Sweats, bad poops, headaches and stomach problems. Worse was the mental battle. Constant fights within my cranium that got quite nasty at times. I just did whatever it took not to drink. Ate rubbish food, played video games and tried not to worry about anything else (easier said than done).

The next month or so was dominated by apathy and deep seated depression. Physically I felt a bit better but mentally I was just tired. I didn’t have the mental capacity to fight with myself (which meant I was somehow able to bypass the ‘should I drink’ argument somehow) and I drifted through most days and nights clinging on to what most things I had read told me: It will get better.

It was around mid February I started doing some reading. I think I was looking for a way out of the state of mind I was in and motivation was starting to creep back in but without a purpose or direction. I wanted to do something about this but didn’t know what or how. A few books helped me come to a few conclusions, the best being ‘This Naked Mind: Control Alcohol’ by Annie Grace.

I started to realise that the ‘argument’ in my head quite often was between two well known areas of the brain. I call them the ‘Low’ brain and ‘High’ brain but they are referred to as other combinations (Conscious/Unconscious)

The high brain is ‘me’. The bit that thinks through problems, is capable of learning new skills, memorising names, asking questions. It gets pleasure from mental pursuits such as solving puzzles, hobbies and even watching TV. It can make well informed and reasonable decisions based on evidence and is aware of my consciousness.

The low brain is in control of my base needs (hunger, thirst, state of my health etc) and is also the source of my emotions. The scary thing I learned is that it can make decisions based on emotion before my high brain is even engaged. The fact it is powered by my emotion means it is extremely difficult to reverse a decision or intervene before action is taken (like ‘go and get a drink’ for example).

To put it simply these two areas were constantly at war, with my ‘High’ brain constantly trying to shout and beat down the ‘Low’ and feeling shame and depression when I couldn’t.

The second (yet most important to me) realisation is that alcohol is a ‘ba*&^rd’ drug. An utter, utter s**t. It gets in and effectively reprograms the ‘Low’ brain to constantly crave it. It has been shown to physically change the neurons in the brain.

This understanding changed my outlook completely. It was not ‘me’ that was weak. It was not a character flaw that kept me going back to alcohol. This stuff had literally changed my brain in a slow process that meant I couldn’t control it. The brain is almost incapable of it.

This knowledge boosted my self-esteem and motivation more than I thought possible from just reading a book. Further reading suggested a new strategy for dealing with the ‘Low’ brains addiction.

Instead of fighting it… be nice to it.

This is where it gets harder to explain. Whenever an unwelcome thought or decision that comes from the ‘Low’ brain rears up I just mentally respond with a gentle ‘no, why don’t we do this instead’. I used to scream and shout at it to shut up which just either made the voice louder or triggered anxiety and depression.

Any emotions it brings to the fight I can now just let wash over me to a certain extent and recognise them for what most of them are; my ‘Low’ brain fighting for attention. 99% of the time the ‘Low’brain settles back down and the emotions (anxiety, depression, anger) subside with it.

Where am I now?

I honestly don’t think I will drink again. I can’t say for sure (can anyone?) but understanding how my brain works has completely changed my outlook on life.

I have used this understanding in other areas of my life. I have lost over a stone in weight (15lbs american fans) in 3 weeks from changing my diet and quieting my ‘Low’ brain when it craves sugar and fatty foods. As a result I am feeling healthier and happier.

I have taken up old hobbies (Painting miniatures (see pic… Blood Bowl ftw), reading) that are helping me become more mindful.

I am still tired, still suffer from bouts of depression and anxiety. I am still not completely happy at home but things are improving and I am working on making them better.

There is a part of me, an angry and dark place, that I try and avoid. In one way it is a blessing but in another a black abyss I can’t go down…

Why didn’t you stop earlier?

What have you done to yourself and others around you in the past 7-8 years?

Have you already ruined your future and the future of your family?

Do you have it in you to keep it up and right all of the past wrongs?

Still, onwards and upwards. I can say I am more at peace now than at any time in the last 10 years, for that I am grateful.

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3 Weeks and Counting…

3 Weeks and Counting…

I’m still here. 3 weeks without a drink.

I am finding it fairly easy at the moment to stay away from alcohol, as I’m not really feeling any particular cravings for it.  I am not missing the drink as much as missing the effect of taking me outside of everything for a short while.

I have noticed that without the drink my natural level of health can currently be described as one level above ‘zombie’. I am bone tired, my blood pressure must be through the roof, I’m horribly fat and plagued with on/off headaches. I know I’ve done it to myself and my diet this month has been pretty rubbish as I focus on keeping off the drink. Next month is phase 2: Diet. So hopefully that will help.

Mentally, the bouts of wanting to cry have decreased to be replaced with something that could be described as weary apathy. It’s either that or perhaps my mind is re-balancing a little. I’m still in a deep funk much of the time but at the weekend there seemed to be little shoots of happiness here and there. I’m holding on to those.

Now, I know this may sound strange but (for the most part) actual anxiety has been replaced with a feeling that I should be anxious about something. Like a dull, background thrum of a dishwasher. I wake up feeling like I should have that cotton wool feeling in my head and the knot in my stomach… so I kind of force it there and it results in this background noise. Weird.

If I say that Sunday I woke up at 7.30am and didn’t have a minute to myself until I went to bed at 11.00pm (how am I cleaning the bathroom at 10pm on a Sunday night? The wife doesn’t seem to find this as strange as I do)  you can see that things at home are not reducing my stress levels that much…

Anyway, although I feel like crap (and I’m not having a great day today) things are slowly “getting better all the time”. Thanks for the earworm Shed Seven.

Tldr: Tired and depressed with the occasional, very brief moment of clarity and happiness.

 

 

Two weeks….

Two weeks….

Well. I hit the booze again pretty hard again in November and December. Just fell right back in. I simply couldn’t handle how busy and stressful my life was. Coupled with some bone-deep depression I used alcohol to self medicate again.

Like many others I suppose, I hit a low point just before new year. I was planning to to stop (that’s a whole other blog topic right there… planning to stop) just before new year but obviously that didn’t pan out when I still had some vodka left over. I ended up falling asleep in bed a glass in one hand and my phone in the other (Truthfully, I wasn’t even that drunk I think it was tiredness). The wife found me in this state, discovered my poorly hidden bottle of vodka and, in the morning, the poop hit the fan.

I addressed it honestly with her, saying that although I hadn’t mentioned it my depression had got a grip the past few months and I had fallen off the wagon again. I convinced her the drinking was only over the past few evenings… I am becoming much more honest with her about most things but I just couldn’t about this.

She was so angry, I won’t even reveal the things she said about me in text messages but I have saved them. She says a lot of things in the heat of the moment and I know they are just words she is using to emotionally vent at me but…. one of my problems is I take them to heart and NEVER forget them. There are kernels of truth hidden in them admittedly but saying them directly to a person dealing with depression is just not helpful. She claims she wants the best for the boys but how is ignoring/exacerbating the mental illness of their father helpful?

I am very good at hiding my depression when sober and drinking. At work, at home and with family. Yet, like many people, it seems to build up to a crisis point affecting those around me.

The good news? Assuming all goes well this is my 14th day without alcohol. The last fortnight has been a living hell of major depression, dense brain fog, headaches, lethargy, snappiness, apathy and loneliness. That last one, loneliness, is a surprising one. I’m constantly with other people due to the nature of my job and family but, more than any other depressive episode, I just haven’t wanted to engage with them. Shamefully, even my kids at times.

As recently as two days ago I almost had a full on panic attack in front of my class. Triggered by texts from my wife I was desperate to run to the nearest toilet to just hide and cry. Sounds utterly pathetic typing it out but it’s an indication of the depths I’ve hit.

Today. I’ve woken up feeling a little less frazzled. My brain is clearing a little, there seems to be a future out there somewhere. My body, although bone tired, is not complaining as much.

My promise to myself has been this:

January: Don’t drink. Doesn’t matter what you eat, how little exercise you do, how much work you avoid. Just don’t drink.

February: Sort out eating habits. Eat less, eat healthier. This is NOT a diet, it is changing how I eat. Don’t drink.

March: Exercise: Couch to 5k. Don’t drink.

April: That’s enough to be getting on with I think!

Is it just me….

… or is it any wonder I think my blood pressure is about to explode.

Wednesday

Work all day including a meeting. Hyper-anxious about the next two days at work as important testing that I have organised for the whole team is being delivered. Students don’t seem to be bothered, a couple of the staff are either over needy or flat out disruptive.

I get home late, sort the kids out ready for bed and make dinner. I also spend one and a half hours on the computer trying (and failing) to get pictures off your phone and uploaded because you ‘desperately’ needed to make the calendars for next year.  Go to bed late.

Thursday

Up at 5.30am and out the door at 6.15. Massive anxiety about the day coming up mixed with more due to the fact I’m worried about the bloody photos on your phone and if I will be able to upload them that night. The day goes brilliantly but massively tiring and stressful. Then onto parents evening. Three and a half hours of talking to parents with barely a break including enduring a ten minute rant at me while trying to support another teacher. I get back home at 8.30pm to find I’m going back out to pick up my eldest and that you have made yourself some dinner but not me. I make my own and finally manage to upload the photos before going to bed late again.

Friday

Another early start to do the second stressful day of assessment. Very tiring, lots to do but manage it on time. Have to stay for a while but know I need to rush back due to boys going out to disco. The house is a tip so I tidy it up while looking after our own children and two others. I feed two of them, drop them off a the disco and the rest of the evening is spent cooking (the eldest is eating with us apparently so had to make something he liked and not something quick and easy), getting kids to bed, putting washing out, changing bed covers replacing bulbs and such until I go to bed at 11. Find out that you didn’t even do the calendars today.

Saturday

I get up early with the kids at around 7.15. Sort the kitchen and give it a quick clean. All morning is spent ferrying kids to and from clubs. I fix the dresser lights, put the shopping away, get the decorations down, clean the kitchen, buy a Christmas tree, make lunch and a big family dinner, sort and put up decorations, tidy the loft and more. At 10.30pm I feel I have to ask permission to go up to bed.

Sunday

Up at 7am as kids are desperate to go downstairs. Spend most of morning putting up lights, stockings, outdoor lights, hoovering, dusting, cleaning. All the while looking after kids and making breakfast etc. I take the little one to gym and go to see my Mum (who has changed her chemotherapy to a harsher type as the first didn’t work – I haven’t told you as I find it difficult to talk to you at the moment as you are so stressed by everything). I come back and do homework with all three kids. I make dinner, iron shirts, clean bedrooms and bathrooms, sort shoes, put the little one to bed (it took 1 hour), finish sorting lounge. Eventually wind up falling asleep at midnight.

All of this is not why my blood pressure rises and my mood lowers to the floor.

The way you speak to me is. Your face when I said I wouldn’t be able to fix a curtain pole today is. The condescending explanation of why it needs to be fixed is. The criticism of many of the things I do is. The lack of thanks is. The lack of help (like the fact you literally throw rubbish on the floor next to the bin) is. The insinuation that I don’t do enough is. The sly undermining of me in front of the kids is. The mocking of my attempts to explain why I’m unhappy is.

I don’t go out. I don’t go away with work for the weekend. I don’t have a hobby that takes me away for an afternoon. I now barely have any interest in games and films and music and sport as I’m too tired and, for some reason, I feel I don’t deserve it.

All I do, as evidenced by the last few days, is try and make yours and our kids lives easier. Make it run smoothly, try and keep everyone happy.

I know who I am. I know what I am. I know the big mistakes I have foolishly made in the past. I thought I had showed you I had moved past them over the past two years. I do everything I can to make it up to you and the kids but I’m not sure I ever can in your eyes.

I’m not sure what to do. I can drink to numb the pain as I have done in the past. That will keep me going a bit longer. But what then? I can leave but what would that do to you and the children. You said in the past you would manage but how on Earth? I can’t talk to you because you are not interested in what happens next. You are interested in winning the argument, apportioning the blame and I am just too tired to do fight you.

So I keep going. Battling through anxiety and depression everyday. Stuck here by my love of you and our children.

I’m just not sure for how much longer.

The Black Wave…

The Black Wave…

Around 3pm yesterday the ‘black wave’ hit.

I felt pretty good for most the morning. I’d written my blog, cleaned the kitchen, put the shopping away. Spent some happy time playing with the boys. Physically I felt okay and had even made a ‘soft’ promise* to try and eat healthily throughout the day.

I’d just returned from a little trip to the shops with my youngest when I started to feel tired. Bone tired all of a sudden. I know it was the ‘depression style’ tired as my motivation vanished. The internal verbal brain battles that had quieted in the morning returned with a vengeance.  I just wanted to crawl into bed, sleep and leave everything else behind for a while.

I can’t hide though. I can’t go to bed and can’t shut everything out, even for a day. I have too many responsibilities to my wife, children and job. Especially now when all have been pretty patient with me in the past.

I’m not sure if it is a help or a hindrance to recovery. On the one hand everyone tells you to ‘keep busy’ but I was properly active from 8am to 10pm and thoroughly miserable for much of the day. Would  a few days rest help? Or would my anxiety just increase for letting my responsibilities slip?

I just know this morning I am still tired and did not wake with the same motivation and mood as yesterday.  I know life isn’t all sunshine and lollipops even when sober and well. But I remember it being a lot better than this.

Still, I must remember I didn’t drink yesterday and I KNOW this will pass eventually. Yet understanding this doesn’t make it less of a horror show in the moment…

Tldr: Get through the day without drinking any way you can.

* Soft Promise: I realised through my last sobriety period that I can’t make any ‘hard’ promises to myself in the first few weeks other than ‘do not drink’. Trying to exercise/diet and change all my habits at once just does not work as if I fail in one I tend to fail in them all…

 

Sitting in the kids pool contemplating…

Sitting in the kids pool contemplating…

So, the holiday went well. The kids had a great time and it was good for me to take a little down time from work and the house.

As far as drinking is concerned I was frustrated with myself. Yes, I did drink. A couple of pints on Saturday and Sunday night. Although at first I didn’t crave or want them necessarily I still said yes when offered. At one point my foolish brain was considering leaving the family for a bit and sneakily getting more. My drinking with my friends and family was more out of a need to feel normal than to get drunk. Normal people can have a couple of drinks and enjoy themselves without the need to keep going to maintain the buzz. Then again, I suppose I’m not normal…

From experience I know the first week or two of sobriety for me is about waiting for my brain chemistry to settle down. I get anxious, snappy and quite depressed at times. I have to keep mentally telling myself it will pass and it will get better soon. Again, it is that tiring mental fight with myself. Losing means relapse and back to square one.

On holiday I was sat in the shallow section of the kids pool (see pic above!) watching my youngest play. Fat belly poking out of the water while almost in tears from the violent verbal UFC fight my mind was having with itself. Wracked with general anxiety and depression at my current situation. What a ludicrous low point on a long list of ridiculous troughs on this alcohol wave.

The fight doesn’t end quickly either. Even this morning my brain was trying to make arrangements to drink when I thought of the boring jobs and tasks ahead of me today.

The good news is when you stop drinking the future shows up to say hello. You start to make plans in your head. Short term and long term goals, that were invisible before, seem to shift in the haze as you try to focus and pin them down. Although they seem like ectoplasmic* apparitions,  at least they are there now.

Tldr: Brain chemistry can take a week or two to settle: Hang on in there!

* Can you tell I listened to the ‘Ghostbusters’ DVD the boys were watching on the 3.5 hour drive to Devon? Auto correct tells me ‘ectoplasmic’ is not a word. Tell that to Egon.

The Sweats…

The Sweats…

Well I didn’t drink last night, even though the thought passed through my mind driving home again:

“Hey, you’re not actually doing much tonight, you could easily have a drink then stop tomorrow!”

“Shut up”

“Seriously, it’ll be fine. I know you’ve had a hard day,  you’re anxious about school tomorrow AND driving all night taking everyone on holiday. Getting there on time, packing the car. Have a drink, relax!”

“Maybe… maybe you’re right…”

“You know I’m right.”

“No, wait….. WHAT? You’re an idiot. If I drink I’ll be even more hungover and tired. How will I drive for 4 hours in the dark tomorrow like that? Also, you know I’m stopping. We’ve talked about it for days now. What is wrong with you?”

“True but….”

“SHUT UP!”

When people who don’t understand this affliction (my wife included) say ‘Just stop drinking’ I don’t think they grasp just how tiring this internal verbal battle is and how easy it is to just give up and drown it out with alcohol.  I find this the hardest thing about the first few days of sobriety, waiting for my brain to face up to the fact it is not having a drink.

That and the sweats. Feeling like my skin is on fire. Bed drenched with sweat and turning the pillow over when I wake up to try and hide it from my wife and kids. I think I’ll get a few more days of this before it subsides.

Tldr: Getting through the first few days is a massive mental and physical battle. Don’t underestimate how hard it will be. Do almost anything but drink to get through it. It gets better…