what did alcoholism 'look like' for me?

So this one's an FAQ of mine. I should talk about it more often.

Literally the first thing I get asked when people realise I am an open book about my past, is ''did you drink every day / during the day / first thing of a morning?'

The answer is no.

.... well, unless you count the training ground that was uni-life for me.... where you were crowned a ''legend'' if you consumed booze enough booze to kill yourself and ten black dogs through the night AND drank into the morning. (However I was regarded as one of the soft ones, as I usually passed out long before that.)

But I digress. The point is, I didn't have vodka stashed in the cistern, or under piles of clothes, no. Hell, I didn't even drink spirits. I didn't 'daytime' drink and I didn't even daily drink until the last little while.

Nowadays I understand that doesn't mean I wasn't wholeheartedly a total alcoholic. I was.

How did I know?

Because, as the old saying goes, one was too many and a thousand wasn't enough.

Once I touched alcohol, or even THOUGHT about it, I changed entirely. My 'crazy Shanna' emerged and it was always going to be a guaranteed performance for the crowd. Whether I was hilariously funny, ridiculously outrageous, or (as it was in the end) frighteningly morbid and suicidal ... the fact remained that alcohol + me = total insanity. The equation was always there to a varying degree.

People talk about it being hereditary, a result of untreated mental health, and countless other things. And yep - all of those applied to me. I have a big family history on both sides of all of the above. And lots of yucky traumas and stories of bad people doing bad things that would curl your toes in a bad way.

But here's the thing: while ever I focused on everything else, including how unfair life had been and how I was a 'tortured artist' among other litanies of excuses or reasons, I wasn't doing the work on getting sober and healthy.

But I didn't have access to that information or knowledge, and so I remained trapped in the cycle. And as it does, my disease progressed and progressed and progressed.

What began as wild university 19-year-old-me me dancing in the moonlight on occasion eventually became miserable train-smash-crying-to-Kasey-Chambers-over-a-bottle-of-red me, at thirty something. Neither of these girls were cute, but one of them was perky-breasted and pretty, so people didn't blink an eye.

It was all brutal and it was all ugly. But guess what - it was STILL mostly only after five p.m.

I STILL worked extremely hard. And I STILL managed to convince most people who didn't know me properly that I was okay. I STILL refused to accept that I could be an alcoholic.

Because Hollywood taught me that those poor unfortunates are bums-in-the-gutter. Not private school educated humans like me. (My God, can you imagine how tenaciously I held onto that?)

I now understand that the ''A'' word applies to these sort of situations:

  • if you're losing friends because you're a CRAY mofo when you drink

  • (see above re family, work mates, etc)

  • if booze is impacting your health

  • if booze is impacting your productivity and work and reliability

  • if you cannot stop once you start

  • if you keep asking yourself (secretly) ''do I have a problem here?''

  • if you keep trying to quit, or cut back, again and again - but never can

  • if you lie about how much you're drinking

  • if you find yourself topping up your glass or drinking 2-to-1 compared with a regular person

  • if you cannot guarantee your own behaviour when you are on the booze

  • if you cannot relax or wind down without one or more drinks

  • if you get anxious if you can't have those one or two drinks

  • if you cannot cope with stress without a drink

  • if you're drinking increasingly in isolation and withdrawing

  • if the taxi drivers all know your name, address, and bottle shop of preference (cringe)

And last but not least: the end stage? Full blown addiction.

At this stage, you no longer want to drink just for pleasure.
Alcohol addiction is characterized by a physical and psychological need to drink.

Or, in Australian language, I would have said ''step aside, and don't talk to me until I've had my first wine, people! It's been a long day...'' (*justify, justify, justify)

Anyhow - that's the gist of it.

If booze controls you, and you don't control it then Houston, we have a problem. Whatever point in the escalator of alcohol use and abuse you're at, those red flags that lurk in the back of your mind? Listen to them. Don't be like Shanna and take 25 years and nearly die. It's not fun.

OK, time to go prepare a talk.

Say g'day to your dogs for me,

Shan xx

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