SO: recently I threw out a question on social which was: ''if you could ask me anything about going through, surviving, and recovering from alcoholism - what would it be?''
As promised - here are your questions answered.
Please note: these are purely my own views from lived experience and study and talking to multitudes of others. Some will disagree, and that's fine. This is purely opinion based on having been there, and how it went for me. Healthy debate is totally encouraged. x
Let's rip into it:
QUESTION FROM JILL:
''I would like to know if you ever turned to prescription medication or other substances?''
Thank GOD the only substance/drug I ever abused in my life was booze. I reckon I’d be dead as a door nail if I’d ever gone down the drugs route……. for sure!
But in terms of prescription medication – in the early days I went onto a low dose of an anti-depressant: fluoxetine. The GP I worked with at that stage suggested doing what I could to stack the odds in my favour. I thought that was pretty good logic. I did find it helpful in the beginning. And I’ve revisited this a couple of times in recent years when shite hit the fan and I wasn’t coping the best.
But over time I’ve realised that my preferred choice is to try incorporate my holistic health ‘stuff’ as a way to manage my ever-present anxiety and rough patches. I’ve found that if I work on the absolute basics and do them WELL that it helps. Things like nutrition, rest, sleep, sunshine, water, fresh air, and faith. Sounds stupidly simplistic, but it's always the best method for me when I genuinely do the small things properly.
QUESTION FROM DAVID
''Want a beer?''
HAHA. I actually love this question that a cheeky friend asked. Because it shows that he (and hopefully heaps of others now) know that a recovered alcoholic can still have an epic sense of humour. Seriously. You can ask me stuff. It’s all good. And you can crack jokes. I often do it myself. Recently – after the Rural Women’s Awards at Parliament House, a mate (as we are leaving the building) says to me ‘’so what next for your evening Shan?’’ and I said, dead-pan, straight off the bat ‘’Me? I am off to get on the wines with everyone!’’ *dropthemic*
It was really ridiculous and it shocked everyone for a nanosecond and then there was a loud exclamation of laughter and relief. Guys – it’s okay – I promise. You can make fun at me. It’s not a disability. It’s a disease I survived.
QUESTION FROM KATH:
''I want to know when the moment was that you went from 'I'm just a chick who likes a drink' to 'maybe I have a problem' .. ?''
Gosh, I think it was in my late 20’s. I’d just had my heart badly broken (again) and I found myself really starting to look forward to the ‘beer o’clock’ times a bit too much. Occasionally, I’d find myself drinking alone at home (I realise now that I was so often isolated and alone - which is where addiction thrives best) to take away the fear, loneliness and despair that I felt.
I guess I was trying to avoid feeling things, and to fill the hole in my heart.
I knew by my early thirties there was a definite problem. But it wasn’t until my mid-thirties when I ended up in an emergency ward after an accident that I took it seriously. Rock bottom came years later again – when I was suicidal and I thought my life was over.
I am extremely typical of a garden-variety alcoholic in that I denied it all for as long as I possibly could, and was angry when anyone suggested there was a problem – because I worked, paid my taxes, contributed to society, etc. I didn’t think I could be an alcoholic.
QUESTION FROM NIA:
How do we get (functioning) people with a drinking problem to see that they have a problem?
The short answer, sadly, is that you really can’t ‘’make’’ anyone see what they don’t want to see.
Our problem-drinking loved ones have to come to the realisation wholeheartedly by themselves that there is a problem before change and growth can occur.
BUT – concerned friends and family can play a really vital role by doing things like
(a) not enabling the problem drinker (by stopping drinking with them, for example)
(b) finding a way to voice their concerns to the problem drinker; and
(c) offering to talk with them and to listen without judgement
Be warned, though, you’re most likely to meet with resistance if not outright anger. Most of us who are headed for trouble will give a million excuses and reasons that we are okay and it’s not a ‘problem’ … It’s a long, shitty, slow process for many. But mates can absolutely 100% definitely help lots or hinder lots. Sadly, in rural Australia – I hear (mostly) that people don’t support their friends’ choice to cut back or cut booze out if they ‘’look and sound okay’’. I think we have a TONNE of educating to do here.
QUESTION FROM DANICA:
''Do recovering alcoholics have to go full “no alcohol” or can they recover and drink moderately?''
Generally speaking, someone who can cut-back or get off alcohol for a period of time and safely resume ‘’healthy normal drinking’’ (whatever that even means in Australia …) is regarded as not having ever been a true alcoholic.
Whereas those who have tried and tried and tried again and proven again and again and again that they cannot moderate, show control, or stop altogether are all red-flags for final stage addiction. These are folks who absolutely can't go back to drinking moderately.
Well - they could - but they'd be likely to end up in jail or an institution or a morgue sooner than anticipated.
I try explain it like this: alcoholism is a fatal, progressive, serious disease - and while we can't ''cure it'' - we can treat it by NOT drinking.
Those who have become alcoholic, and treat the disease by stopping, can recover.
(But yep some folks snap out of a bad drinking pattern and resume life as a healthy moderate drinker. It does happen. But it's generally a foregone conclusion that habitual heavy addicted drinkers are headed to the latter category).
QUESTION FROM ELLEN:
''What was the most (and least if you like) helpful things friends, family or others did throughout your recovery journey?''
Great question. Hard question. It requires brutal honesty…. *eek*
The best AND worst thing my husband ever did (gotta love hindsight) was to ‘’cover for me’’ … so to speak. Because, you see, he didn’t understand the disease and we had absolutely no understanding and no support, and he believed me when I said I was ‘okay’. So, he kind of kept picking up the pieces after me – and excused my behaviour to others. Which I now understand was an unintentional form of enabling. We were so bloody mortified and lost and confused that we thought it was our only option at the time. But unfortunately it was a bad idea.
Don’t get me wrong, he tried SO hard for SO long to help me see that I wasn’t okay. But when the wheels fell off, he protected me. And in hindsight, I probably needed him to stand back and leave me to deal with my own mess so that the brutal truth of how far things had fallen was no longer avoidable.
In the same way the best (and most brutal) thing was when a family member looked me in the face and told me that they wouldn’t be visiting our home any longer. Because they couldn’t guarantee what my day would bring or what drinking may or may not have occurred that evening.
I was shattered, heart-broken, and deeply offended and angry. But in the end – it was one of the things that forced me to stop kidding myself it was okay any longer. That person is now one of my most cherished family members – because I understand what was said was said out of love, not judgment. I was told what I needed to hear – not what I WANTED to hear.
The worst times also happened when non-genuine people used me or my home or my need for acceptance as a ‘’watering hole’' point. I now understand that what tends to happen with a problem drinker is they attract other problem drinkers – and a whole cycle of enabling happens.
These are the mobs of people you’ll find drinking together at knock-off time with religious fervor but who, if you scratch the surface, have zero connection or relationship of any depth or weight beyond an excuse to get on the booze together.
(This is why when many people choose to get sober, their entire circle of friends undergoes an overhaul. The insincere friends fall away, and the true friends return.)
QUESTION FROM APRIL:
What did you need to do to get past it in the early days when you had a craving?
Well it kinda went like this...
In stage 1: me trying and failing and trying and failing to get sober because I was still in massive, epic, ego-driven denial and still hadn’t recognised I’d become an alcoholic - and therefore basically couldn’t deal with the cravings because I couldn't deal with life.
At five o’clock my willpower crumbled and all my good intentions, promises, and heartfelt prayers went out the window. I was absolutely powerless.
In stage 2: when I finally spoke the truth to myself and everyone else and asked for help and recognised I was in the grip of a socially accepted disease that would kill me, well, I was absolutely gobsmacked that all of that madness, and all of those cravings vanished.
I have blogged about this previously – about how I had what I can only call a miracle. One day I went to bed as a chronic alcoholic who couldn’t stop – and the next day I woke up and something so dramatic had shifted, that I have never thought about alcohol since. Not once. I no longer want it, envy those who drink it, and I no longer need it.
This isn't common, sadly. But it's why I do what I do. Because I can. Because I am one of the luckiest of all to have escaped the madness and found my way back.
QUESTION FROM ANGE:
How & what do you do to get someone to see they have a problem?
See Nia’s answer above my love xx
QUESTION FROM JEREMY:
How did you manage the feeling of defeat that comes with believing complete abstinence is your only option? Was there a point when complete abstinence was not your only option, but techniques for modifying and improving your social relationship with alcohol were not available or promoted?
Great question. Sort of answered this one in April’s question. But basically – that defeated feeling was just rampant and non-stop when I was living and breathing denial. It was a living hell. That’s what took me to the edge. I could not for the life of me imagine a life without alcohol in it.
During the early days before my addiction took me to rock-bottom, I used to fool myself into thinking I had ‘’control’’ and that I could use modified behaviour, etc., to manage my drinking and my problems. And yes – that stuff along with false hope in God-knows how many formats was promoted plenty. Self-help gurus and spiritually enlightened folk love to make $$ from our sickest community members in this area and it drives me CRAZY.
It also was a struggle in mainstream health. In fact I think the most dangerous thing that happened to me time and time again was going to GP's and other professionals who told me ‘’you’re okay, you don’t have a problem, just cut back a little and rest some more. And here – have some anti-depressants…’’etc. etc.
Not once did a GP ask if I had considered the possibility that I was an alcoholic. I can only presume this was the case because they didn’t know the complexities of the disease and what it could look like. Given I didn’t fit the visual bill of a bum with no teeth – I was told it was okay.
In the last two decades I have basically found little to no support in a rural or regional setting that was of any use whatsoever.
But back to question one: for me, I finally dropped the whole feeling and attitude of defeat when I understood that I had a disease. The disease of alcoholism. And when I realised that it’s a disease I couldn’t cure (ie, I couldn’t drink again, normally) but that I absolutely could TREAT it by educating myself, asking for help, and in practising absolute abstinence. Which, incidentally, I no longer regard as a curse or a bad thing. I regard it as the very best thing that ever happened in my life. A substance no longer has power over me – and that is 100% a wonderful thing.
In the same way we wouldn't blame somebody for having cancer, I stopped blaming myself for a disease and took action to treat it seriously, and to then make it my life's work to help others.
QUESTION FROM JENNY:
How do you know yourself if you have a problem?
This is a hugely long reply so I am gunna be cheeky and link a checklist which AA use that I think covers it all. Most people I’ve worked with in trouble have found this a really handy checklist to show them that they possibly don’t want to see, but need to see : https://aa.org.au/new-to-aa/what-is-aa/is-aa-for-you/
QUESTION FROM CAYLEY:
Are you afraid of falling off the wagon? Is there such a thing as a “recovered alcoholic “? Or are you one step away from slipping backwards?
I am super-conscious of always being aware of how close to death I came. And while I don’t want, crave, need, or think about booze any longer (and haven't done for almost 4 years now) – I don’t ever act foolishly or take it for granted.
I put my own health (mental and physical) first in all situations, and I take good care to do that.
Yes there is 100% such a thing as a recovered-alcoholic. I am one! And I know a truckload of others. They're all around us.
However, some fanatics will argue to the death over this. But I leave that one alone – because I am proof that recovery is absolutely possible, and I got tired of arguing the point. For me - I choose to speak recovery and healing over myself and my life.
Many people sadly cannot and will not recover ... not because it isn't possible – but because they won’t get honest, won't get real, or won't get help.
Plenty of people will sit in recovery rooms and support groups and say things – even at 40 years sober – that they’re an alcoholic (rather than saying they’re ‘’recovered’’). I personally don’t subscribe to this as a healthy way to operate – but, that’s just my opinion.
OKEY dokes my friends. That's your Q&A done and dusted.
PLEASE consider passing this on for a friend in need. Because I promise you - there's a friend in need who needs to see this.
Say G'day to your dogs for me,
(aka Mrs Whan / wife of Tim / Mum to Fleabag the heeler)
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