Alcohol and Anxiety – My Personal Story about How I Tried to Self-Medicate with Alcohol
**Full disclosure – I share my very personal story and battle with alcohol addiction that may have triggers for some. My goal is to shed some light on how alcohol and anxiety (as well as other mental illnesses) are connected. I also hope that someone out there reading this who might be going through the same thing, knows they are not alone.
I remember very vividly the day I decided to stop at a 24-hour CVS on the way to work to buy a bottle of vodka at seven in the morning. I’m not sure what my intentions were. I’m not even sure I actually planned on drinking any of it, but I did. I drank almost a quarter of the bottle before stepping into work.
Something in me wanted desperately for my brain to just stop; stop with the anxious and negative thoughts and the intense loneliness I felt all the time. I just felt a little different than everyone else and for some reason, I felt alcohol was the quickest way to escape my emotions and my reality.
I’ve battled anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. I was officially diagnosed when I was seventeen.
Fast forward about thirteen years after my diagnosis, and I had my first baby girl. She came at a very intense time in my life. My drinking had gotten so bad that my boyfriend (who I loved and respected more than anything) threatened to leave if I didn’t stop. I quit cold turkey for just over a week and then found out I was pregnant.
Only by the grace of God was I able to stay sober during my pregnancy. I still don’t know how I did it, but I just couldn’t put my baby’s life in jeopardy. I guess my maternal instinct was stronger than my desire to drink.
After she was born, my anxiety became worse than ever before. I had taken the standard three month maternity leave before returning to work.
Day after day, I became more and more depressed. I became more and more anxious and resentful. Why am I at work? Why does someone else get to spend all day with my baby? What if she starts to think someone else is her Mom? What if something happens to her when I’m not there? The separation anxiety was on another level and I just couldn’t manage anything.
At the time, I didn’t think staying at home was an option. We live in Los Angeles and let’s just say, it is NOT a cheap city to live in so I didn’t think we could live on one income. This is when I began my decent into what I believe to be my “rock bottom.”
After that initial day when I stopped to buy a bottle of vodka before work, I never stopped and this is not an exaggeration. Every single morning, I stopped for a bottle and finished most of it before I left work. I did everything you hear about – making excuses about buying the bottle for someone else, blaming it on a “roommate” who drank too much and even went to other stores sometimes to avoid the people that knew me.
I lied over and over to my now husband. Anytime my mom, husband or sister would confront me, I would only get defensive and extremely angry. I was a nasty drunk and still cannot believe the words that have come out of my mouth when I’ve been drinking.
I was also a blackout drunk. There are many days and nights that are a blur or that I don’t remember at all. I look back now and am just thankful I am alive and that I still have my family by my side.
As a side note, if you struggle with mental health issues, I highly recommend you check out Neely’s blog at A Lotus Blossoms. She has amazing, free resources you can view as well as an awesome blog full of stories about anxiety, depression and other mental health issues and amazing advice for how to manage them.
A year after my daughter had been born (and a year into this hell of mine), my husband finally called me out. He did it in an extremely non-judgmental way and simply told me I either go to rehab or else he would have no choice but to leave and take our daughter with him. (Even as I write this, I tear up. I can’t believe I got so close to losing my family.) Alcohol is a BITCH.
Looking back now, I am incredibly grateful for what he did. We, as alcoholics are extremely difficult to approach or talk to about our situation. However, as in my case, we want the help sometimes but we just don’t know how to ask for it. This was the point I had gotten to. I wanted help but didn’t know how to break it to my husband about how bad it had really gotten. So, I was more than ready to go to rehab when I was given the option.
I wanted it for myself and I did not want to live that life anymore, especially now that I had a daughter. I never ever want her to have to see me like that.
So, how do alcohol and anxiety relate?
I truly believe that many of us who suffer from mental illness self-medicate with different things. Some use drugs, some alcohol, some shopping, gambling, eating, etc. We are all just looking for a way to escape our own brains, our racing thoughts, our worries and unfortunately, in today’s society, we have much easier access to something like alcohol than we do to professional help and medical care.
I heard someone say once that they thought many of the homeless population used so many drugs that it made them insane or “crazy.” This hurt to hear that people actually think this way. I’m sure it’s true for some, but the vast majority are the opposite – they are using drugs and alcohol to cope with their mental illnesses that were there way before they started using and they just have nowhere else to go.
I’m not sure what the answer is at this point. I do think a good first step is by starting a conversation about mental health and bringing awareness to how many people it affects. I want nothing more than the stigma associated with mental health to disappear.
Unfortunately, we have so far to go. I recently started suffering from panic attacks. I started calling different psychiatrists and it took a long time before I could find anyone that could see me within a week or two. Most offices were telling me they couldn’t schedule me for 30-60 days, and this was even after me explaining the severity of the situation because during these attacks, I felt like I wanted to die. It took everything in me just to get through my day and be strong for my girls. I can’t imagine if someone was trying to find help and was feeling even worse than me or possibly suicidal.
Our access to health care needs to change. I hope by starting the conversation and sharing our stories, it will lead to some changes down the road.
If you are curious about how I am managing my addiction and my anxiety, here’s what’s working for me:
- Currently seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication for my anxiety and panic attacks.
- Went to rehab and then participated in the Alcoholics Anonymous program for a year. (It got hard for me to continue to go to meetings after having our second baby, but I still try to follow the principles.)
- Have an awesome support system (husband, mom and sister) that know how to support me when I am having a panic attack or when my anxiety is severe.
Do any of you suffer from a mental illness? I would love to hear your story! You could always email me privately if you don’t want to share it publicly. I think it would be great if we could all share our stories and explain what is helping us now.