monkey off my back

One guy's experiences as he quits drinking


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Anti-anxiety medication

I’ll start by saying this post is not a crisis. It’s more like something annoying which has dragged on… and on… and on. It’s time to try something new. I still have no desire to drink (sub-note: watching people on TV drinking heavily has been repulsing me lately) and it’s 62 weeks sober tomorrow.

Yesterday I went to my GP and asked about anti-anxiety medication. I didn’t do it lightly and I’ve been practicing anxiety self-care: exercising regularly, tried proper sleep routines, eating well, and doing a meditation course.

Lately I’ve been so angry, frustrated, tense, flat/no mood, chest tightness, sleep issues, zero libido. I don’t care if alcohol cessation has caused it – or if the lack of alcohol has unmasked it (I was often drinking to manage stress). I’m going to try a low dose, front-line SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) and see how it goes.

It’s been a horrible two years in multiple parts of my life. I know that a lot of the stress and anxiety has been extrinsic (caused by something outside of me) but a chunk has been intrinsic. I know this because the external stresses have started to settle down but after 2 years of high drama, I’m constantly in a state of cat-like readiness (slight exaggeration). My internal systems are wound tight and day to day stresses constantly flip me into alert/alarm mode.

I’m interested to see what sort of side-effects I get. The most common side-effects I’ve heard are: gut problems, nausea, headaches, sleep issues sweating at night, erectile dysfunction, delayed orgasm. Most of the side-effects are meant to pass in the first few weeks while your body/brain adjusts. I’m also keeping in mind that there are ‘side-effects’ associated with doing nothing.

I’ve had gut problems for months (anxiety does that to me), I’ve had libido and sex issues for months (can’t feel sexy when I’m worried about work), sleep has been really crappy in periods.
I’m also aware that I’m a naturally highly-strung dude who was raised by two highly-strung parents. I had a good and caring childhood but I remember being very socially anxious at a young age. I’ve never taken any anti-depressants but there have been times in my life when I probably should have considered them… but back then I usually just drank some anti-anxiety medication in the evening.

We’ll see how this goes!

PS: At some stage I think I also just need a new job – but at this stage I can’t financially do that.

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Disclosure: it’s ALL about ME!

I just read a post from Storm in a Wineglass. I really admire Anna – she has a great blog if you want to follow her. It made me think about disclosure, honesty and telling other people (or not).

I still keep my cards pretty close to my chest about quitting alcohol – and I don’t see that changing soon.

Some of my close friends and health workers know why I’ve stopped drinking. There are other friends that I will tell but there just hasn’t been a good time. I need enough time with them to get past small talk and to be in a private space. And these days most of my best friends live in other cities and I don’t want to tell them via text messages or emails.

So my rule of thumb at the moment is that I tell people if it helps me. Telling close friends brings me closer to them, it gives me support and it makes things less awkward in social situations when you’d normally be drinking.

BUT I don’t feel the need to confess my sins to everyone. It’s not about shame. It’s not about hiding. It’s about being aware that I can’t un-tell people or control what happens with the information afterwards. In most social boozey situations I usually:

  • Deflect: I’m OK for now thanks.
  • Tell half-truths or white lies: I’m not drinking during OcSober/FebFast/Dry July (technically true); Oh I drove today (true – but irrelevant); No thanks – I’m training for a marathon (also true – but irrelevant).
  • Use camouflage: When I’m holding a no-alcohol beer, drink or glass people rarely pay attention to what it is.

I’ve learned that in social situations most people don’t pay attention to what I’m drinking – they just want to see a glass in my hand. Most people just don’t care.

I also haven’t told my co-workers because things can affect my work reputation… I’m aware that it can be a stigmatised issue. I don’t think it should be and I don’t think that’s right – but I realise that it can be. So I treat the issue carefully – especially because I work in a conservative hospital health care environment.

Being open and honest can help other people and change community stigma. I know that. As a young gay kid I quickly learned from older Queers that the most important political act you can do is to be open about yourself to your friends, family, workmates and neighbours… If it’s safe.

But right now, I’m still in the relative early stages of recovery and I am my priority. I choose to be choosy. I tell people who can help me – and at times when it suits me.

Down the track I probably will be more open. But by giving myself some more time, I hope that I’ll be more confident and more able to deal with whatever happens.

At the moment I am unapologetically selfish.


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How times change

I was just driving past a large liquor shop and decided to pop in because they stock Seedlip non-alcoholic gin.

As I walked in it struck me how much things have changed in (nearly) 10 months. I walked in confidently without even questioning whether it was OK for me to be there by myself.

As I walked through the aisles I saw many familiar drinks but didn’t have any twinge or temptations. I ended up stocking up on some zero alcohol drinks: beer, white wines, the Seedlip Grove Gin and some specialty tonic waters.

It was a nice experience!  So tonight I might have a tonic water and Seedlip Gin to try them out. ‘Grove’ is the latest gin flavour and it’s a mix of bitter orange, lemon, manarine and ginger.  Cheers!


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Cabinet of booze & no compulsion

I’m home alone tonight. There’s a cabinet of booze but I can think of nothing less appealing and I feel really confident. I feel really good and I’m enjoying the moment.

A couple of months ago I was going away for a night for work. For a few minutes I got really worried about what would happen if I got a compulsion to drink. It took me a few minutes to think:

  1. Do I want to drink? (No)
  2. Do I feel any compulsion to drink? (No)
  3. Have I had any compulsion to drink since I quit? (No)

Then relax…

Compulsion used to be sooo strong and the memories still scare me. I can’t count how many days I woke up thinking that I was going to quit. And everyday as I drove home I would get to an intersection thinking “turn right and go home” but instead I would turn left to a bottle shop. It was scary, embarrassing and self-shaming to have no feeling of control over my own behaviour. It’s good to have a healthy respect for compulsions but I no longer feel controlled by them.

So right now I’m sitting at home without any craving or compulsion – and it’s pretty damn sweet!


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9 months and no baby (yay!)

Last weekend was my 9 month mark and I’ve got no baby to show for it! Although I’m not crying because I’ve still got gooood quality sober sleep!  And even better – it’s the start of 3 weeks of HOLIDAYS!!!

It’s been several weeks since I last spoke with my partner about ‘it’. This weekend he asked some questions on the weekend about nitty gritty stuff like “how much did you drink?” and “when did you drink?” and “when did it all start?”.  He’s generally very supportive but he has a very bad face-filter.

He reacted with an expression of shocked disgust when I said how much I’d been drinking – it caught me off guard because he’s been so great. The worst thing was that I’d ’rounded down’ the amount… a fair bit. I also reacted quite strongly and told him that open communication also requires non-judgemental reactions.

So anyway, I don’t need to have 100% disclosure. I’ve told him all the general themes about my drinking. I don’t need to put myself through a mea culpa confession about every detail. He can learn to check his reactions.


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Where’s my pink cloud?

I know we’re all meant to be terrified of ‘Pink Cloud Syndrome’ but really – a few small, rose-tinted clouds wouldn’t go astray. Would they?

I get it. In the early stages of recovery some people feel fantastic and think everything’s rosy. They might not recognise the challenges that lie ahead or they might have unrealistic expectations. Then it all comes tumbling down when they hit a challenge or realise that everything’s not perfect.

BUT

It’s been months now. I feel much better than when I was drinking. I don’t find it hard to not drink but I thought I’d feel a little bit rosier than I do.

I still have a flat mood (not sad – just blahhh), low energy, low libido, and niggly physical issues. Everything’s a bit mundane. I really would like some more spring in my step – to give me some more reward or motivation.

Maybe it’s because I’ve quit drinking for extended times before – and this just isn’t new or exciting? It just feels like everything’s mundane… Wait a second! I just had a thought while I wrote that – maybe that’s part of why I drank? Maybe the drinking was what I used to spice things up a bit and add some pink clouds (before the addiction really kicked in and they became severe storm clouds).

Maybe I just like more stimulus, novelty, chaos and excitement than my day to day life provides? I could just be in a rut and need to go seek out some adventure.

NOTE: I’m not talking about my relationship which is the centre of my world. I’m just talking about the home-work-home-work routine and playing things safe, sensible and routine all the time.


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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.