Alcohol: the bad medicine - Natasha's story
From seeing drinking as harmless fun as a teen, to experiencing crippling anxiety and negative thoughts. For Addiction Awareness Week, Natasha tells us about her experience of alcohol addiction and explains the huge impact it had on her mental health.
Before joining Rethink Mental Illness in June of this year, I worked as a support worker with young people in care. Before that I worked in London as a Graphic illustrator/Designer. I did that for more than 20 years. The social side of work felt like a big family working on a street surrounded by bars and pubs. There was always something to celebrate. A campaign successfully delivered, a colleague’s birthday, the cat’s birthday or even celebrating because the sun was out! I didn’t see it develop into what it became…
People now often ask, “When did your dependency begin?” This is hard to pinpoint exactly, but from as early as I can remember I associated alcohol as medicine. My father would often take a shot of whisky after dinner. I’d watch him and before I could ask ‘Why?’, dad would always say, “It’s medicinal.” I think from that young age it was ingrained in me that alcohol was good for you!
Growing up in the 80’s was a fun and happy time. I had a good upbringing in general but of course like all families we had our issues. My mum was a teetotal worrier, whereas my dad was a beer and whisky man and he never seemed to have a worry in the world.
It was always harmless fun which gave me fun and happy memories and maybe a sore head the next day. At some point the fun started to dwindle and I found myself riddled with anxiety the next day, often wondering what I did and who I was with last night.
Growing up into my teens and early 20’s I discovered how much fun you could have socialising with friends and having a few drinks. The 90’s started alcopops and cheaper alcohol. It was always harmless fun which gave me fun and happy memories and maybe a sore head the next day. At some point the fun started to dwindle and I found myself riddled with anxiety the next day, often wondering what I did and who I was with last night. I could be out the whole night and the next day not remember much at all. I knew this was not a great path to be on, but I made constant excuses for my behavior.
My relationships began to struggle and my mental health dropped to an all-time low. My work had now become affected and colleagues noticed I was often tired and not focused on important deadlines. I had a lot of negative thoughts going through my head. ‘Not good enough, the world would be better without me.’ These thoughts often plagued my mind and to drown it out I’d self-medicate in the pub after work. The thoughts of exiting the world and avoiding my demons became a real everyday cloud hanging over me. I researched how best to exit, how to prepare others for my exit without them knowing why and reasons why it would be best for everyone. At times as my rational self I would question ‘How has it come to this?’
I took a big bold step and visited my GP, and like many I was prescribed anti-depressants. This helped managed my moods, but it didn’t deal with the underlying issues, nor did I address my developed coping strategy - ALCOHOL. I’m not sure when but between my early 30’s and early 40’s I had become dependent on it. My whole life revolved around the next party but these parties became parties for ONE. I lived by funny slogans like, “Nothing lasts forever so live it up, drink it down, laugh it off.”
Our British culture seems to accept alcohol abuse by encouraging with advertising slogans like ‘Save Water – Drink Beer’ - “If life gives you lemons, add vodka.” - “Not to get technical, but according to chemistry, alcohol is a solution.” We send joke cards to friends about getting drunk and we’ve normalised a drug that is so easily available and easily abused without batting an eyelid! Adults don’t want to adult anymore and life is hard, so we often self-medicate and it goes unnoticed until it takes full control.
We talked about my drinking and its link to my trauma. It felt surreal speaking aloud about my addiction. I hadn’t wanted to ever admit it had taken control of me, but I knew the moment I voiced it that it was out there and there was no going back.
At my lowest I sought help from a therapist who after 8 sessions suggested we stop meeting as she felt she had taken me as far as I was willing to go. I remember feeling angry at the time but a few months later I knew my therapist was right when she said she couldn’t continue on my journey, if I was not willing to open up the most vulnerable part of me. I rang her back up and agreed to open up. We talked about my drinking and its link to my trauma. It felt surreal speaking aloud about my addiction. I hadn’t wanted to ever admit it had taken control of me, but I knew the moment I voiced it that it was out there and there was no going back.
My therapist put me in-touch with CGL (Change Grow Live). I contacted them and was assigned a keyworker who invited me to come and chat. I remember thinking it was degrading, but meeting like-minded people, who like me, had careers and functioning lives, highlighted the stigma we give to any addiction.
On 25 November 2018, I drank my last ever drink. I managed to get through my first few days without alcohol – there were plenty of cravings and my emotions were up and down, but I dug deep because I knew that they would pass. Each time I stood in the emotional storm and let it pass without drinking, it felt like I claimed back a little bit more of the personal power that I had handed over to alcohol.
My anxiety has gone, my relationships have transformed, I am motivated, fully present, happy and at peace in my life for the first time in a very long time.
Quitting drinking along with dealing with underlying issues that lead me to drink in the first place, has changed my life. My anxiety has gone, my relationships have transformed, I am motivated, fully present, happy and at peace in my life for the first time in a very long time. Sobriety has given me so many wonderful gifts. I know how hard it can feel to stop drinking, but if you can understand what you will gain, instead of focusing on what you believe you are losing, it can reframe things in a far more positive light and allow you to change your mindset, rather than trying to stop drinking by relying on willpower alone.
A year on from my sobriety my GP reported that my liver and kidney functions were much improved and I am fortunate to have stopped drinking before irreparable damage was done. I sleep better, I have more time for the things and people I love. AND, the money I have saved has rewarded me the gift to restudy and change my career!
If I could share 3 tips for those in early recovery it would be, never waste your struggle, your testimony is your gift to share with others. Giving back to others gives purpose to your life - never stop giving. And finally, forgive yourself for the mistakes and poor choices you made. You are taking back your power. You are not weak, you are AMAZING! Others may not like your strength and want to knock you back down. Don’t take offence, smile and move forward.
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