My current relationship with alcohol

Last January I stopped drinking. I’d been having trouble with my moods and well-being. My psychiatrist was in the midst of adjusting my meds, and I was well on my way to accepting that I have a bipolar disorder that needs treated. Alcohol didn’t seem like a good companion while we were trying to find the right dosage and I was trying to sort out suppressed emotions.

By summer I was feeling wonderful. The new dosage, therapy, and all the glorious sunlight made my life easier. My psychiatrist said it was fine if I wanted to experiment with alcohol. Test the waters she said, “Maybe your threshold is one glass of wine.” I’d think about it, but I didn’t feel the need to drink anymore.

I started drinking at a relatively young age — in high school at underage parties. However, limited access to the alcohol that my friends and I were stealthily trying to drink prevented my consumption from ever being a problem.

In college I drank like many students do. Mostly at parties and often to get happy drunk. I don’t think that’s uncommon. First I had a fake ID (because that was fun). Then 21st birthdays, mine included, were happening with regularity. There was always an occasion to celebrate — a new semester, football games, birthday’s, end of a semester, Tuesday night $1 beers, you name it. But again, my consumption was never a problem, though I probably did find myself a little too drunk at times.

Post-college and up until I had my first child in 2011 I drank with regularity, though I still never saw it as a problem. Maybe it wasn’t, though I do know between 2004-2007 I used it as a coping mechanism to help me through tough times. If I am really honest with myself, I wasn’t always making the best choices when it came to my consumption. I never drank in the morning and I did not drink everyday, so the dependency wasn’t terrible. Yet I don’t think it was good for my brain chemistry, especially because I’d gone on medication for the first time in my life during the fall of 2006.

After that I started making healthier choices and picked up running as a hobby. That was a wonderful outlet and once I started training for a half marathon my drinking decreased, but didn’t vanish. I loved drinking post-race beer.

I found some happy places in my life that included giving birth to my son. Three months later was not a happy place. I was hospitalized due to a psychotic episode that ultimately led to a bipolar disorder diagnosis. At this point I’d like to say that I quit drinking and listened to my doctors and took my meds responsibly. But I didn’t. Looking back I know I self-medicated with alcohol and it makes me cringe. Again, I never drank in the morning and I certainly didn’t drink every night, or even to get drunk all the time. However, did I enjoy a buzz five or so nights a week? Yes. I also still partied with my friends on occasion and alcohol played a consistent role in my life.

When I had a second psychotic episode I was more diligent about my treatment and, if I recall correctly, I did knock off the drinking for a bit, but it was short-lived. I like to drink and it does take the edge off and there are so many good drinks out there, why would I ever give that up?

By November 2015 when I started struggling and swinging from hypomania to depression I saw my doctor immediately. With her help we prevented another manic episode and hospitalization. The experience was a wake-up call, so by the following January (2016) I decided to stop drinking alcohol and get well.

Cutting alcohol out of my diet was one of the nicest things I have ever done for myself. I didn’t miss it, I felt empowered, focused, smarter, stronger, confidant, and I know it helped me understand better how my medication works.

In October my brother got married in a small ceremony at his house. After the nuptials there was a champagne toast. I even bought one of the bottles. I decided to test the waters and I had some. After seven months of not letting alcohol cross my lips I decided that it was ok, given the people and environment that I was in, to toast my brother and new sister-in-law. And guess what? It was fine.

Since then I can count the number of times I have drunk, why, and what I drank.

  1. champagne (toasting my brother’s wedding)
  2. digestive drink (to settle my stomach after a big meal)
  3. half a beer (at a tailgate)
  4. dessert drink (at home while watching a movie)
  5. beer (on a date with my husband)
  6. wine (while cooking dinner)
  7. Glühwein (‘Tis the season!)
  8. beer (out to dinner)
  9. wine (last night to celebrate my ability to control my drinking as well as my decision to stop drinking again)

A few items to note —

  • Every single one of these occasions were with people I trust in a small circle. Drinking in big crowds is no good for me. I get manic and drink too much because of social anxiety. Funny thing is that I’ve found myself LESS anxious when I am not drinking.
  • Five out of nine of these occasions took place outside my home. For a long time I fell into the trap of a 5 o’clock glass of wine that turned into three or four glasses.
  • I knew my limits in every situation and consumed a small amount, aside from last night — I let myself go nuts last night. Ha. Not really but I had a few healthy glasses of red wine and certainly felt the effects. I was celebrating because I am about to stop drinking again and I needed to finish (ha) the remaining wine in the bottle I opened while cooking (see 6.).

I don’t know if my counting and keeping track of the drinks I’ve had is a sign of an alcoholism. I don’t think so though. Rather, I think it’s more a sign of OCD. Ha. Scratch that. I think counting and keeping track is actually a product of mindfulness, something I have worked hard on lately.

This week I start another med change, and I decided, once again, to say ‘so long’ to alcohol for a while. It was nice to test the waters, and I do think that one day I can have a healthy relationship with alcohol. Knowing my limits, only drinking in small groups and in controlled environments, and drinking for enjoyment/taste — not as a way to cope with my imbalances — will be key.

For the rest of 2016 and into 2017 I am simply going to keep alcohol out of my system. It’s just easier that way. Too many holiday temptations and opportunities to drink. Many people over-drink this time of year to keep stress levels low and to simply indulge, which hey if it works for you great — I know it’s just not for me at this time in my life.

And did I mention I have a headache today from last night’s consumption, that caused me to stay up WAY too late? So not only did I cause myself unnecessary pain, I also lost out on restorative sleep. Not cool.

Cheers to wellness. I’ll raise my glass of sparkling water to that.

2 thoughts on “My current relationship with alcohol

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