Sometimes I forget about things that happened when I was drinking. I’m not talking about blackouts; I’m talking about memories I choose to forget. Once in a while, I will hear something or see something that takes me back to that time – that crazy time that I eventually walked away from.
I was recently listening to The Bubble Hour, a radio podcast about real stories and recovery. The topic was the signs and symptoms of alcoholism and as I listened I was catapulted back to that place in my mind; a place I try to avoid but need to remember for my own sobriety.
As with many, my alcoholism progressed quickly. Of course, I denied my alcoholic tendencies until the day I finally admitted I needed help. Even then, I’m not sure if I REALLY believed I was alcoholic. But, looking back, all the signs and symptoms were there. These are just some of them (see the Mayo Clinic for a full description):
- Be unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink – I could never “just have one.”
- Feel a strong need or compulsion to drink – Even on days I said I wouldn’t drink, I would find myself holding a glass of wine by that afternoon because I truly felt like I needed it to relax and unwind.
- Develop tolerance to alcohol so that you need more to feel its effects – Over time I “needed” more and more to achieve that “perfect buzz.” Towards the end of my drinking, the alcohol stopped working and there were many times I couldn’t get buzzed no matter how much I drank.
- Drink alone or hide your drinking – I loved to party with friends, but most of my drinking took place alone. I would start drinking before my husband got home from work and then continue while I cooked dinner. I would fill my glass when he wasn’t looking or hide wine bottles in the back of the fridge, hoping he wouldn’t discover how much I was drinking. And, I always drank at home before going to social events.
- Experience physical withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking — when you don’t drink – Besides the compulsion to drink daily, I would often experience physical symptoms especially after a long night of partying. I specifically remember one time towards the end of my drinking where I got out of bed one morning and began to have almost seizure-like symptoms. I was standing by my dresser, when I started shaking violently and fell to the floor hitting the dresser as I fell. I was scared, but unwilling to accept the truth.
- Not remember conversations or commitments, sometimes referred to as a “black out” – This was very common for me, especially after a night of binge drinking.
- Make a ritual of having drinks at certain times and become annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned – Most days I started drinking between 3:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. If I was unable to drink, I would get irritated. I remember helping with my daughter’s preschool party one afternoon and all I could think about was getting home and having a glass of wine. My husband questioned my drinking more than once, but I would brush him off and get angry.
- Gulp drinks, order doubles or become drunk intentionally to feel good, or drink to feel “normal” - Many alcoholics will say they didn’t have a “stop” button. This was true for me. I drank to feel good. I never understood the point of wine tasting; I didn’t want to taste it, I wanted to drink it or better yet gulp it. My main goal in drinking was reaching that perfect feel good place.
- Lose interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring you pleasure – Eventually, I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything that didn’t involve drinking. I didn’t read or write anymore – how could I when I was smashed every night and unable to focus? If I did try to read a book, I never remembered it the next day. I didn’t enjoy cooking anymore because by the time dinner came around I was already three drinks in and only cared about putting together something easy for my family. I didn’t want to participate in non-alcohol related activities, because, really, what was the point?
Towards the end of my drinking, I started having chronic stomach problems. Of course, I was never honest with my doctor when she asked how much I drank. And, even when she ordered an ultrasound on my stomach, I never admitted that it could possibly be linked to my daily drinking. Around that time, I decided it must be the wine that was causing my stomach problems, so I switched to beer. Of course, I didn’t think once that maybe, just maybe if I stopped drinking altogether my stomach problems would go away. No, because this is the thinking pattern of an alcoholic.
As difficult as it is, it’s important that I remember what my life used to be. I don’t dwell on it, but I keep the memories tucked away; always ready and available when I start doubting whether or not I was REALLY that bad. Because, at some point, the doubting and questioning will enter our minds.
I must always remember the life I walked away from in order to truly appreciate the life I now live.