Without a drink.
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.