Adventures in Psychiatry : the teetotal alcoholic

It's an oxymoron, isn't it? How can one be teetotal and an alcoholic? Well, one informs the other.

I'm expecting a lot of flack from this post but please try and stick with me on this one until the end.

The disease of addiction is very, very misunderstood and it pisses me off so much. Yes, it is a disease. It changes your brain chemistry forever and will impact on every single part of your body and life as a whole.

Get a cup of tea and a biscuit, strap yourself in and prepare to have some knowledge dropped on you with this amazing video by the folks at SciShow:



This video by the guys as AsapSCIENCE is also pretty darn fantastic:


What scared me about this, was that when I first went for help I was always being bounced from the substance misuse service - Addaction - and the local mental health service when they were concerned for my safety and mental state. It felt like no-one knew what to do because of this bureaucratic bullshit and were just waiting for me to tip the balance or die.

The NHS says that if you're under substance misuse services then you cannot be seen by the mental health service until your addiction is under control. While this makes sense on paper, in practice it is a fucking nightmare for everyone involved. I am willing to bet that the vast majority of people that have an addiction started using because of depression, anxiety or trauma.

The work Addaction do is absolutely incredible and without charities like them, we'd be in a really bad position, but when it comes to 'dual diagnosis' people that come to them, there is a brick wall which really needs sorting out.

I was told by my keyworker at Addaction that her and the attending psychiatrist had agreed that I would benefit most from a stay in rehab. It took me TWO MONTHS to agree to the idea. I felt hopeful that I was finally going to get some really specialised support, actually learn how to manage the way my brain works and get back to the functional me I remembered with such envy.

All referrals for rehab have to go via social services as they assist with the funding. That was the end of the line. I never heard why but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that dual diagnosis placements are hard to come by and expensive. Social services weren't willing to make an investment, essentially. I was so desperate for this opportunity that I was willing to present my own case to the committee, but it never happened.

It was the single most crushing blow I'd had since the original trigger that set off this chain of events; losing my angel Millie. I had lost all trust in Addaction and the mental health system.

The demon that addiction is, it saw this window of opportunity and sunk it's teeth right back into me and didn't let go for another 18 months. During which time it damn near killed me and almost destroyed my relationship. It definitely crushed any chance of forming friendships with his friends and didn't let me get the grades I was capable of with my Open University courses.

I was drinking 20+ units of Jack Daniels and super-strong cider a day. On top of that, I was swallowing an obscene amount of clonazepam - a very potent sedative, from the same 'family' as diazepam/valium. This mix made me psychotic and violent. My daily 'needs' got to the level where my system couldn't support it anymore, and I ended up in a coma and on the high dependency unit being stuffed full of oxygen and christ knows what else. There were so many tubes and wires. If I wasn't already in hospital at the time - I believe I was there for a self-harm injury - I would have died.

I remember waking up briefly in there and trying to figure out how to get the mass of needles out of my hand. It wasn't just a single cannula like you'd get for IV fluids. It was probably way more simple than it seemed at the time, but it may as well have been the matrix. All I knew is I hadn't seen this thing before and I didn't want it in my hand.

My next memory is desperately needing to pee, and learning very quickly that in the HDU you don't leave your bed. I couldn't go in the bedpan thing, so they had to insert a catheter. Oh my god that sensation is something I don't ever want to experience again. I think I was still way too drugged up to be embarrassed by the poor nurse poking around in my junk trying to shove this tube into my bladder, but I was also too drugged up to have an inside voice and found it so unbearably painful she had to promptly take it out again just to shut me up.

After that I was in some sort of manic state and discharged myself against medical advice. The coma hit again just as I got home and I don't remember anything else for a long time.

That is what your life will become and is probably the most distressing part of living in sobriety. You 'wake up' and realise that huge chunks of your life are missing. Where did I go? What did I do? What did I say? What are people saying about me? How am I still here? Why am I still here? When will I have to start all over again? Will I survive a relapse? Why is my boyfriend still sticking by me?

My fear of relapse was so strong that I managed to convince the attending psychiatrist to prescribe Antabuse/disulfiram. It really is a last resort drug to keep alcoholics sober, and is so dangerous that I wasn't allowed to keep it at home. I had to go to an assigned pharmacy every day and take my dose infront of the pharmacist. How's that for humiliation?! But I complied. I gained their trust. I stayed sober through living in fear of "The Disulfiram Reaction".

The problem was getting to the pharmacy everyday. It was destroying me. The pain was unbearable and in the end I just couldn't do it anymore. I asked my keyworker to arrange for either a small supply to be given to me twice a week or to have it delivered. That never got sorted out and her lack of organisation led to my having to go away to a wedding un-medicated, suggesting I just use my boyfriend for support. Idiot.

Once the drug was out of my system, I just decided to stay off it. Life on antabuse is tricky. Your body becomes incredibly sensitive to alcohol of any sort. No perfume. No nail varnish. No hair spray. No hair dye. Even foods that have the alcohol 'cooked out' of them aren't safe. I reacted to jalapeno peppers and vinegar. I also reacted to the alcohol on my boyfriends skin and breath after he had a couple of drinks, which he failed to tell me about until it was too late.

Yes, I did scream at him.

There is also a drug called acamprosate/Campral on the market which is supposed to help with the cravings for alcohol. I tried this medication but because I already had IBS and developed gastritis from drinking so heavily, it proved to just be a nightmare situation. It's very hard on your stomach and just wasn't worth it.

With my keyworker on leave and my being so slammed with fatigue and unable to engage in groups, I was discharged from Addaction back into the care of my GP and left to figure out my own path to keeping sober.

Most people would say it's an exercise in futility for an addict to stay sober without support or medication, but here I am just a matter of weeks away from my first full year of sobriety. You might wonder why I am not talking about AA; in a nutshell I found it to be painfully misinformed and cult-like. I am able to stay sober because I have learned as much as I can about what addiction is from a cellular level upwards, and avoided situations that would have triggered more intense cravings for alcohol.

The hardest parts are dealing with cravings when my mood is very low, or smelling alcohol on my boyfriend. I don't stop him drinking, but I do ask that he keeps it to no more than two pints. The only time he hasn't done this was when my keyworker failed to sort my prescription in time. I ended up on a night out with his friends in bar after bar. I so badly wanted to drink, but didn't. He was rather drunk by the time we got back to our hotel room and passed out shortly after laying down. I cried the whole night. But I stayed sober and won another battle against the demon in my brain.

There isn't a pain-free way of living in sobriety, not in the early years at least. You will cry. You will scream. You will stay awake night after night. You will pace. You will become a difficult person to be around for a while. But it's ok. I'm not going to sit here and tell you it doesn't suck for the first 6 months, because it really does. But it is worth the fight. You will  learn you are stronger than you ever thought possible and that life in sobriety is a beautiful thing.

Find what you hate the most about your addiction and use it to your advantage. Personally, I have stayed sober because I didn't want to end up like my father and there is a level of hatred so deep within me for everything I ever did to the people I care about while I was completely out of control that I had to prove I am not that monster. I am also very protective of my sobriety now. It is something I can call my own personal achievement and will do anything possible to keep it going another day. Turn alcohol into your worst enemy. Once you're through withdrawal and detox, drinking is no longer a physical need. It is a choice. You can make the right choice, stay sober and probably cry a lot; Or you can make the 'asshole choice' as I've come to call it, because drinking turns you into an asshole.

It is also very important to find new interests, or take up old hobbies that got pushed aside. You will need something to fill the hole that alcohol did, or you just won't make it. Before I got unwell, I was a real gym bunny and absolutely loved running. It was perfect for managing my anxiety and I got such a mood boost from getting fitter, stronger and faster. One day I will get back to that. Before I found blogging, I was quite lost and struggling to keep going without my gym sessions to take up some of the day. Working on recipes, reviews and writing about mental health is just so therapeutic, not forgetting being a part of such a wonderful community!

Do I miss alcohol? Sometimes. But only when it's sunny outside and everyone is enjoying something I can't have. But it passes. I just think of it like a chocolate bar that has nuts in it. Chocolate, great. Nuts, very bad. I absolutely do not miss drinking an extreme amount a night, and I hope that never happens again. But it might.... If I am offered a drink by people that don't know about my situation, I just clench my toes and politely decline. There's rarely a follow up question, but if pressed I just explain I take a high dose of anti-depressants and that is always the end of it.

I can't have 'just one' because I just don't have an off button. I can just about handle the smell, but if I were to actually consume alcohol, there would be a constant demand for more until I gave in. The only way I will survive is to live in abstinence. I understand why and accept it. 

So. For now and the foreseeable future, I am Sami; the teetotal alcoholic. 11 months sober.

Until next time <3 

Samantha Nicholls. Powered by Blogger.

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