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.
- champagne (toasting my brother’s wedding)
- digestive drink (to settle my stomach after a big meal)
- half a beer (at a tailgate)
- dessert drink (at home while watching a movie)
- beer (on a date with my husband)
- wine (while cooking dinner)
- Glühwein (‘Tis the season!)
- beer (out to dinner)
- 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.