How I fell onto the wagon.

I’m not sure when I started drinking to make myself feel better. I guess I started doing it without really admitting that’s why I was doing it. A social drink with a meal or a beer with a few friends is great, but tossing back a glass of red to make the churning in my stomach go away was something that grew once I realised it actually worked. My burnout had so frightened me, and the anxiety had been so severe for so long, that even when I was in recovery I had a phobia about anxiety. If I felt those butterflies, and the heightened heart rate I would react to it and eventually my go-to was the bottle. After a drink, I felt so much better. I felt calmer, I worried less – heck I practically floated.

There were a couple of downsides I could see though. One was that it slowed me down and some things became harder to do. For example, getting dinner prepared and on the table was slightly harder after a glass of wine or a beer, so I had to go slower. I must admit it was much more enjoyable though.

The other downside was that I worried I was becoming an alcoholic. If I ran out of beer or wine, I was happily drinking port, and if everything ran out, I’d be grabbing the cooking sherry and neat brandy (yucko!). I was starting to keep an eye on stocks at home to make sure I didn’t run out. I started ordering wine by the case and stocking it in the shed. 16 months ago we went away for Christmas and I took the overnight ferry to the mainland with my two boys while my wife and daughter flew across. I smuggled port in an empty juice bottle in my bag, just in case I needed it.

My wife was really concerned with my drinking and she used to ask how many I had consumed for the day. This made me angry. It was my business, not hers. I felt like she was watching me all the time so I was careful to throw the empty’s in the bin so she couldn’t keep track. I think on a couple of occasions I’d cracked a bottle of wine in the shed out the back and from time to time headed out there to toss some back. She used to complain about the smell on my breath.

I didn’t feel good going to the bottleshop on grocery day with the kids in the back seat and emerging with four dozen cans of beer (because they were on special). The kids didn’t seem to like it much either and would ask why I was drinking so much these days. When I first started my “stay-at-home” dad routine, I had the whole day to myself in peace and quiet but my anxiety would grow the closer it came to 3.45pm. At this point, the kids would burst through the door after school like the hungry Mongolian hordes descending the steppes to invade peaceful China. I took to having a drink before they got home, so I would be blissfully calm and welcoming. It was great how the drink enabled me to not get angry about the uneaten lunches, the torn school pants, the drink spilled in the school bag, the forgotten homework, the chaos, the lost school hat, and the usual bickering. At times though, the pre-school-return-invasion drink happened at 11 am. I’m pretty sure the earliest I had a drink to quell the anxiety was about 9am.

I felt a bit ashamed. It was a dirty secret that I drank that early. The only person I told was my psychiatrist. I confessed to her that I was worried about my drinking. I drank every day. She didn’t seem to be worried however, which seemed odd to me. She said that as long as I was drinking less than three drinks a day, and had two days off each week, I wasn’t an alcoholic. Although I wasn’t drinking more than three a day, I was drinking every day. I justified to myself that I was just averaging it out. Did this make me an alcoholic? I reasoned that I could have a day off any day I chose (I’m pretty sure this is what alcoholics think too). Deep down, I knew I was dependent on the drink, but on a surface level I didn’t want to think about it and found it helpful.

Interestingly, my wonderful psych didn’t make an issue of it. She gave me ideas on how to reduce the drinking but was confident that continuing treatment for depression and anxiety would see my alcohol use decrease, and it did. Kind of all by itself. Don’t get me wrong, I still drink – most days. Maybe one, maybe two beers, rarely three unless it’s a dinner party of barbeque. And yes, I still drink if my wife and I have a fight – I find it dulls the pain (resilience is a bit of an issue for me – I crumble easily). But I can go a week without drinking if I’m away, or on a fishing trip for example. I’m paranoid that I’m going to need a drink and be caught short, and I’m certainly not drinking before the kids get home from school so I can handle it better. I think I have a better relationship with the bottle now, where I can enjoy it, without it being my lifesaver.

I feel lucky.

2 Responses

  1. You know what? I’m as straight as the day is long (no pun intended. TRUST ME.), and yet I can’t help noting that I really admire you. I think the reason is that you’re a truth-teller, through and through. Truth-tellers pretty much know of no other way to be. They see the value in truth, over hiding stuff, or playing “pretend”. So I guess it’s not (or shouldn’t be) surprising that truth-tellers also commonly float to the top of the barrel of former pastors and neck-deep evangelical types. We’ve been through the wringer of “playing pretend”, to the point where it sort of sickens us, in a way.

    Playing pretend worked so well for us – so much so, that we had no idea we were doing it. We just knew that putting on that face before the rest of the congregation served us so very well. And we believed our own hype: hook, line and sinker. It never occurred to us – ever – that we were being anything but honest. And not only honest, but fervently, passionately so.

    Then the day comes and our gift for truth (and it really is a gift, I believe), won’t let us get away with it anymore. Some of us suffer a burnout, while others turn to other means to get us past the crisis. Telling the truth means admitting it to the flock who saw us as wise men (or as I like to think: “wise guys”), who in turn could be negatively affected. We had such intricate influence with them. It was hard to separate where they began and we ended. They depended on us, and we were so acutely aware of the potential affects of our revealing the *entire* truth to them: that we didn’t have it all figured out; that we struggled; or that our own words tripped us up, and didn’t resonate. What possible value could they ever have, from learning that the ones they depend upon to bring them the truth are themselves in need of some self-truths?

    Truth-telling is an art. It’s an illumination that brings, instigates, serves as a catalyst for, life! Jesus said that he came to allow us to live life abundantly. Now. Not then. Not after the worms triumph. Now. Now. Now.

    We end up doing the best we can with the tools and knowledge we have at the time. Always. The thing is: the fact that we’re striving instead of sitting back and allowing a passive acceptance of death (in its manner forms) is a major deal.

    Oprah often said (and trust me – I am NOT a fan of the woman or her show), that people trip themselves up because they don’t believe they deserve better than the hell they’re living in. They don’t believe they deserve life, or joy. Yet, the dichotomy is that our Father intended so much more for us. He thought we deserved better simply because we’re his children. Much the way we look out for our own children and not only expect the best from them, but truly believe they deserve triumph and happiness and so much joy.

    I too have worried about alcoholism. As well as a host of other things. I have even sworn off many things, just for a month, just to make sure I wasn’t addicted. I know I have an addictive personality – and this is reinforced by the fact that my dad was an alcoholic. So…I have given up booze for a month, just to make sure. Just as I have pot. And a bunch of other things, including chocolate. (I hasten to add: I have not touched pot in years). It wasn’t until much later, after putting in this personal addiction security check protocol, that I learned that people with ADHD have a propensity towards addictions. That didn’t change anything of course – I still had to be so very careful. But it explained a lot too.

    The bottom line though is this: having gone through all of the above, I now feel very protective of others who are struggling to reconcile their natural and normal beings with the misguided restrictions and obtuse “logic” of church-founded dogmas that really make no sense – and I feel I’m able to speak to them, with truth. As a truth-teller. I’d LOVE to meet the pastor who said “look: God gave you a penis or vagina, and He knows very well that it’s not always possible to share your sexuality with a loved one, and so He is NOT surprised when you decide to take ‘matters into your own hands'” so don’t stress so much about it. God is not shocked. Do you think He spews His coffee when He sees monkeys doing it?”

    Sorry I strayed so far from the theme of your blog. I blame it on the Chardonnay I’m imbibing tonight. : )

  2. Wow. I feel the need to “sort of” apologize for the length of my comments. I truly don’t mean to make them as long as your blog. Such is the power of your thoughts though: they provoke so many more.

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