monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking


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Have I got energy to spare?

The little bits of research that I’ve read suggest that addiction often runs in families. I’ve also read that a lot of this could be due to genetics as well as upbringing and life experiences. It sort of makes sense – if anxiety or depression has a biological component, then addiction could just be a likely outcome from that. In the same way that a history of abuse or marginalisation affects someone’s chances of developing addiction.

I read some articles about how we could be born with brain receptors which are more or less sensitive to alcohol and other drugs – which can affect our susceptibility to addiction. I can’t remember which way it works, but it’s something like: someone who is really sensitive to alcohol often doesn’t like the strong effects they get, so they never drink a lot.  As opposed to someone who has to drink quite a lot to get the effect – so they drink more which leads to addiction.

Anyway – why am I rambling about this?  It’s about my younger brother. My Mum just visited my brother and his drinking is concerning both of us. My brother and I are VERY different people – but we share genetics, upbringing and I think we share the same vulnerability to alcohol. Having said that, it’s playing out in slightly different ways because of our social circumstances and personalities.

I’m more academic and so are my friends – I was always the good, sensible and high achieving son. Heavy drinking was common in my social group, particularly when we were all younger, but it’s generally not really acceptable to be really messily drunk. I think those social norms helped to drive my drinking underground and contributed to my sneaky drinking as I got older (have a socially acceptable amount in public and then top up my buzz in private).

My brother is not as academic and he’s grown up with literacy and behavioural problems. He’s very blue-collar and works underground in a mine. Heavy drinking is normal in his social group – so there’s nothing secretive about his drinking. He usually doesn’t drink for a few days during the week (he’s breathalysed at work) but when he does, he drinks so much it really amazes me. Then he is sick for 2 days afterwards and continues drinking each night. It’s not exactly a new situation, my Mum and I have spoken about his drinking for years.

So anyway, he just started a new job 3 weeks ago – it’s his ‘ideal job’. He started drinking last Thursday evening and continued all night – and then was too sick to go to work on Friday. This happened while my elderly (and fairly ‘proper’) mother was visiting. To me that indicates that he is having trouble controlling his drinking – he’s jeopardising his brand new job with my mother present just before he’s about to get his first mortgage.

We’re both fond of each other, although I wouldn’t say we’re super close. The age difference meant that I was moving out of home when he was just starting high school – and then I lived 2000km away and was pretty self-absorbed in my early 20s. I’m gay, he’s straight. I drive a hatchback car – he drives trucks. I live in a city and he lives in a rural mining town. But all things considered, we get on really well.

I’m worried about him. I think he’s even more vulnerable to alcohol than I am:

  • He’s in a very heavy drinking culture
  • He doesn’t have a lot of emotional support or a supportive partner
  • He is very blokey and has a very fixed view of masculinity (don’t be vulnerable, don’t ask for help etc)
  • He’s not very academically smart and won’t think things through clearly, research or analyse his situation
  • He’s very impulsive in all areas of his life and often makes very unwise decisions

Recently I told some of my friends about my drinking because I wanted their support. Now, I feel like I should talk to my brother about my drinking – as possible support for him. I want him to know that he can talk to me if there’s something going on.

My question for myself is “do I have enough spare energy at this early stage of my sobriety to help someone else?”. Ethically, I think I have to talk to him although I might wait a few weeks. If he was someone else, I’d probably avoid the situation and prioritise myself – but he’s my little brother which makes the equation a bit different.

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Milestones galore

It’s one of those cool celebratory times where a bunch of milestones all cluster together.

  1. Today is officially 8 months booze free
  2. On Saturday it’ll be exactly 35 weeks
  3. Early next week it’s officially 250 days

Hmmmm. How to treat myself? Maybe I’ll go buy myself some fancy new threads this weekend.


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Sobering problems in the bedroom

Ummm… Sex – often doesn’t get spoken about a lot in online sober blogs.

Most of my life is better since quitting alcohol. I feel much more mellow and less volatile. I can concentrate more. I sleep better. I’m less anxious. I don’t feel ashamed anymore. I feel really great… except for one thing.

My libido has disappeared and I just have very little sexual interest. If it was just about me, that wouldn’t be a problem – but I’m in a long-term relationship (over 20 years).

My partner is supportive, he’s very handsome and we enjoy spending time together. We’re also very physically affectionate… but I just don’t feel the sexy mojo at the moment. Without the desire I have problems performing in the ‘downstairs department’ – which puts a dampener on our sex life. I literally can’t get it up if I’m not in the mood.

At first I thought it was just a short term issue and that it would resolve. BUT – it’s been more than half a year now. We still have sex now and then – but it can be very hit and miss.

My partner normally has a slightly higher libido than me – but now we’re really out of synch. I know it’s driving him a bit nuts and I’m worried about the long-term impact on us.

He has said that he was worried that I’m not attracted to him anymore – and that he’s worried that I was looking around at other people. HAAA! I don’t have the libido to think about having an affair!

I’m really hoping that it’s a temporary phase while my body/brain chemistry is normalising. It’s been an enormously difficult year for me (drinking, relationship, family death, work). It’s almost like my whole psyche wants a rest – somedays I think I could quite happily live on a desert island by myself for a month.

It would be great to hear if anyone on the interwebs has useful links or tips about how to ‘restart the fire’. Anyone had a dip in libido after quitting  – how long did it last for?  I’m at the point of just going to my GP and asking for Viagra – it might not restart the desire but it’ll help keep my partner happier and my relationship more solid.


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Thinking of someone

I’ve been getting excited because one of my very best friends is due to fly home and visit in two weeks.  I only see her every few years so I was going to have ‘the talk’ with her after she arrived.

BUT… I got an unexpected call from her today. She was really upset because her Mum (who I’ve known a long time) was admitted to hospital with a broken nose after a fall. She’s had a few falls recently but this was the most serious.

After the fall her partner realised that she was really drunk – more drunk than he expected her to be after 1-2 glasses. While she was in hospital, he found a collection of empty whisky bottles in her closet. My friend was in a state of disbelief and asked me if she should fly back home immediately.

I told my friend that she should check with her Mum but it’s probably OK to wait two weeks (my friend is also not rolling in $$$). I said that if her Mum was secretly drinking at those levels, that’s she’s probably been doing it for quite a long time. I said that her mother is probably mortified about having her secret suddenly exposed to her partner, her family, her friends, hospital staff and her GP.  Her Mum may actually like some time to talk with her partner and adjust.

And then we had ‘the talk’ and I told her that I’ve just come out of a similar situation – except I didn’t have a crisis incident which brought it to a head.

I’m so glad that I (finally) managed to tell my partner and a friend about my drinking last year. It was excruciatingly uncomfortable and awkward – but probably less excruciating than having everything unravel in a day without any control.

I told a friend. I told my partner. I told my GP. I started seeing a psychologist. Then I’ve told another three friends.

It’s given me the opportunity to do things at MY pace. I could adjust between each step and take a breather. I was able to tell people who were the most important to me AND who I could trust.  I’ve had really good reactions so far – which as given me more confidence and probably more resilience and support if other people react badly in the future.

I’m really feeling for my friend’s Mum. When my friend is here I think we’re all going to go on a day trip together. If it feels OK I’ll mention that I’ve just gone through a similar thing.


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A mundane path to addiction

A lot of narratives about alcohol dependence talk about depression, trauma and emotional escape. I’ve read compelling experiences from people who’ve used alcohol or drugs to escape from traumatic life events. Then I compare my boring story and it just pales into insignificance.

What I’m about to write isn’t to undermine the validity of those traumatic experiences – I’m saying that they are only some of the stories and experiences behind addiction.

For me, alcohol was usually an enhancer. It was always part of fun and enjoyable events – dinners, parties, Sunday afternoons sitting on the back deck or watching a movie on the couch with a glass of wine. Alcohol was something I used to relax, to be more socially outgoing, or to bond with people.

It was a really effective anti-anxiety medication (at least at the beginning). #TGIF – it’s wine o’clock! I used alcohol to switch off my overactive brain – it literally symbolised that it was the end of the day and that I could relax.

I sometimes wish that I could say that I’d had some big event which had caused my alcohol issues – but it was more like a repeated experience wore a deep groove in my psyche. A behaviour became a pattern, then the pattern caused tolerance, I drank more to get the same buzz, the pattern slowly became dependence. I made repeated choices which led me down a path to dependence.

Instead of depression or trauma, the most I can say is that alcohol was a way of escaping anxiety or sometimes boredom. However, that story doesn’t make a compelling book or movie…

The Nailbiter: How one nervous man’s struggle to switch off at the end of a hard work week lead to a life of alcohol dependence…

Starring Brad Pitt as… the Nail biter. (well Brad might be wishful thinking).

I guess I’m also making light of my anxiety and minimising it too much. If I pin point when my drinking started to cross over to problematic drinking – it was in my early 30s after a period of severe work stress. I’m smart and seem competent – and people always seem to want to give me more and more responsibility. I got too much responsibility too fast and didn’t have the boundaries to say no (it’s also quite flattering). The period left me with panic attacks which took months to settle…

That’s when I started to have the occasional extra beer or swig of spirits when my partner was out of the room in the evenings… Just a little sneaky top up to give me a buzz and help unwind my tightly coiled brain.

At the end of the day – it doesn’t matter whether you’re using alcohol to emotionally avoid depression, trauma, anxiety, boredom or you’re just having too much fun. Frequent heavy use runs the risk of dependence – and once you’re there things become less fun.

For me that lead to shame, low self-worth, loneliness, hopelessness and persistent low mood… and high-level anxiety. The bloody thing I was trying to avoid in the first place!