Alcohol and Other Addictions
I have been in touch with mental health problems, alcoholism and addiction with its consequences for most of my life.
My father struggled with anxiety and depression throughout his life. My Uncle died of alcoholism and I have a suspicion that their Mother was alcoholic- she always seemed to have a glass of whisky in her hand when I saw her. One of my brothers is an alcoholic and an addict and lastly I am an alcoholic and an addict (drugs, gambling, eating and more) who found recovery 5 ½ years ago.
There are many theories as to what causes people to become addicts or alcoholics. Some say that we have a genetic predisposition, some say that it is a learnt behaviour that is handed down through generations and others say that it is a choice that people make. All I know for certain is what I have experienced and what I have seen through my life.
I believe that the addicts and alcoholics who have been in my life have all been high achievers who – on the outside – were seemingly brimming with confidence and blessed with ability and intelligence. On the inside though it was a different story altogether. My brother, my dad, his brother and I were all suffering from a lack of self-belief and a constant fear that we were ‘not good enough’. This manifested itself in us all as anxiety, sometimes anger and depression once the anger turned inward on ourselves. The addict seeks a feeling of comfort that they can never quite get. Perhaps it is that feeling that they imagine they had when they first took a drug, gambled or drank.
My Father was the son of a school master and younger brother of a top sportsman whose career was cut short by the 2nd world war. He was never as clever or talented as his older brother and this affected his self-esteem. He became addicted to work. Although he helped set up Sussex University in the 60’s and became a respected historian around the world, throughout this time, he struggled with anxiety and depression and spent time in St Francis Asylum. As a Lecturer He was known for his temper and his mood swings too. He became addicted to Ativan (lorazepam) in the 1970’s and was unable to stop taking it. He was addicted to both ‘benzos’ and work.
His brother was an intelligent, highly talented cricketer and rugby player who was due to play for the Barbarians when the war broke out. His career was – as he put it – cut short by Hitler. He became a pilot who flew reconnaissance missions behind enemy line at low level in a solo aircraft. It seemed that Uncle Bob liked a thrill. He died prematurely as an alcoholic, having never got over the loss of his fast moving career. He could never find the affirmations from outside that he craved so much and inside he was unable to value himself. The oldest son had been overtaken academically by his little brother and that was also difficult to take.
My brother, 2nd of 5 children always struggled to be recognised because his older brother was bright and hard working. His Dad was in and out of Depression and was extremely critical. He discovered drink and drugs early on and having gone to University set about building a high flying career. He drank more and more until he had a nervous breakdown in the late 1990’s. Once his career was over, he had to piece his life together somehow. Alcohol took hold more and more and as his wife left, his self-belief dropped lower and lower. His denial was so deep that it took another 20 years until he admitted he could not stop drinking and taking drugs. I am proud to say that he was one of the people that I have helped to find recovery about 4 years ago.
For me, it felt like there was a constant sense of impending doom and that somehow, one day I was going to be ‘found out’. For what I do not know, but I always had a feeling that I was living a lie and alcohol and drugs relieved me of the anxiety that it created. I am the youngest of the 5 children. I was “a mistake” I was told. So I never really felt like I belonged. It was as if I was always playing catch up with my siblings. I felt ‘less than’ all of them, I felt lost. This continued on through boarding school. Alcohol and cannabis became part of my life from my early teens. I loved to disappear from my emotional state. I was scared of responsibility and the drink and drugs gave me a feeling of comfort. With a good education I dropped out before College and went from job to job for 35 years, always moving on when things became too difficult or I was given too much responsibility. It got worse and worse until I tried to kill myself in 1994. That stopped me for a year, but alcohol was in charge of me and I would not accept that I needed help. It took another 20 years before I was able to stop. By that time Alcohol and drugs had taken everything and I was broken.
Recovery is an inside job. But the process needs to be started by recognising the need to ask for help. How? With Honesty, Openness and Willingness. Becoming honest with people who are close to you and therefore have been affected by your addiction and honest to yourself about your addiction and the harm it has done to you and those around you. Being open to new ideas and suggestions on how to live in a different way – being open minded – and being willing to put in the work and action to enable you to change. Recovery is about learning to forgive yourself and to try to see a way forward. My recovery started with 12 step work and I know that for me that works. SMART recovery, Refuge recovery and counselling including Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) some other alternatives.
ACT is also an acronym for:
Accept your reactions and be present
Choose a valued direction
Most recovery journeys incorporate these concepts. I believe that if I try to do the next right thing in any given moment, then I am able to value the path that I am on and thus value myself. Sometimes I need to ask others for help if I do not know what the right direction is, but I now know that not knowing is not a weakness. That the ability to ask for and accept help is a strength that helps me to build up my own self-esteem and enables me to value myself from the inside. I do not feel the constant need to get affirmations from others like I used to. I do not pretend to be someone I am not and I am free from the shackles of addiction that held me for so long and have the freedom to enjoy being the person that I was always meant to be. Anxiety is brought on by worrying about the future and depression can be caused by dwelling too much on the past. For addicts these can cause relapse because of the desire to escape from the uncomfortable feelings. If I stay in the present moment as much as I can then I am less at risk of trying to find something outside of me that will make me feel better and inevitably then worse again.