As Corona lockdown continues, time is still the enemy.
Last week it felt like I was a contestant on Supermarket Sweep. Dashing through life’s store, grabbing at anything I could to fill the time. I found myself;
- Flipping between the 18 tabs open on my laptop, looking into everything from cat adoption to online courses.
- Mapping my day, so as soon as I pushed send on an email, I was on the phone to family and friends.
- Panic-ordering inhalers in case I got the virus, because I’m a smoker.
- Scrolling through Amazon contemplating buying shit I just don’t need.
- Panic-ordering inhalers in case I got the virus, because I’m a smoker.
And while a Brita filter may have brought me a little joy for a minute, I had to keep stopping and just saying to myself “what are you doing, slow down?”, before another set of tabs were opened.
But I couldn’t help it. My mind was running at 1000 miles an hour, and it wasn’t slowing down.
This week I was reacquainted with deep anxiety, once again. I felt heavy, a sense of worry, sense of the unknown, sense of fear. Not in relation to the virus or catching it, a general uneasiness just coursed through my veins.
I’ve had trouble sleeping. It’s like when my mind isn’t actively being used, then it flashes back to shit memories.
Last night’s episode featured a trip to Portugal a couple of months before I went into rehab. My parents were taking me away because they thought ‘a reset trip’ was what I needed, away from London, some down time. Unfortunately, the extent of my problem wasn’t public knowledge at the time…
The secret drinking started at the airport, when I bought 6 miniature bottles of vodka. Less than a minute after purchase I’d drank 3 in the toilet, then lined the inside of my belt with the other three – I was not getting on a plane remotely sober.
I opted to sit next to Granny on the plane, we laughed, joked and talked about how much we were going to enjoy the trip. “Yeah, all good, but where the fuck is this mini bar?” I thought.
It finally came, I had a couple of gin and tonics and polished off the remaining vodka in the toilet. I was in holiday mode, nothing wrong with enjoying yourself, right?
Except, needless to say, the smile faded rather quickly. We landed and I felt awful. We stopped for a Maccy’s and in true form, I ordered a mountain of food, passed out in the car and don’t remember anything after that. Great memories for Granny.
I spent the entire trip going for bike rides, walks, chatting to my friends, jogs. From the outside, it must have seemed like I was turning a corner, but it couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
Everytime I left (if it was after 12pm) I was diving into the Golf Club bar, 2 double GnT’s, then a pit stop at the local shop, two bottles of Rose down the shorts, and back to the house… then repeated in the afternoon. Cracking holiday!
I think it was at this point that everyone perhaps wondered why I’d be slurring at 4pm, or letting the chicken I was preparing for dinner skitter to the floor when I’d only had “two beers”.
Truth be told, writing this hits me hard. My family took me away to try and help, but I betrayed their trust, lied the whole holiday, drank secretly, all while looking them in the eye.
This will shock people, but despite the shame, if I’m honest, it’s memories like this that my addict brain wants to relive. There’s a very much alive euphoric recall to certain times and memories.
If you look at it from your perspective, it was a fucked situation. If you look at it through my addict eyes, it was a messy but fun time. That’s the demon in me.
I’ve been trying to relate the lockdown to a time when I remember having similar feelings. When I felt trapped, unproductive, tired, anxious. Mainly in a bid to normalise the current situation, to prove to myself I’ve felt this before.
And a recurring memory keeps coming to mind – Week 1 of Rehab.
We pulled up in the car at the gates and I burst into tears. The overwhelming fear of change and the unknown flooded my brain.
I sat in the car silently, looking down at the 4 cans of beer and two bottles of wine I had brought for the journey.
My parents got out of the car, but I didn’t move, finishing the last dregs of beer in my seat.
Anxiety and panic set in, I was seconds away from turning back, but in the back of my mind, I knew that wasn’t an option. I had to save my life.
I eventually got through the door and was admitted. I joked and laughed as I filled in the admission form, pushing back the reality of the situation. I was shown to my room, my parents stood in the doorway, I knew a goodbye was coming. This was it, home for two months.
My parents left, I was introduced to the house and I sat in the living room. Residents were talking to me, but my mind was everywhere except in the present. My addict brain kicked in.
I went to find the nearest support worker and begged for medication. In my admission I told staff I was terrified of seizing again. I now question how much this was true, or if I was convinced my body needed something other than what was natural to keep it going.
I was told they couldn’t medicate me. My blood alcohol was through the roof, after drinking for two days solid in the lead up to admission.
My mind ran, I couldn’t handle this. It was at this moment I thought about running. They couldn’t stop me. I was pacing. Just as I was going into my room convinced I was going to get my bag, someone grabbed my arm and handed me a banana and honey smoothie.
I stopped, took the glass from one of the friendliest faces I had seen in a while and felt a moment of calm. She told me to drink it, as it was important to reduce my blood alcohol reading to a safe level so they could medicate.
At this point due to my intoxication I still hadn’t fully comprehended what was happening, but it didn’t matter, the point was I stayed and I was going to do this.
I unpacked, smoked more cigarettes than I ever had in a 24 hour period, chatted to residents, and watched TV. “This is alright” I thought. “These meds are a safe detox, I’ll just transition into normal, into what I used to be like”.
I was so wrong.
Day two. No alcohol in my system, welcome to hell.
I woke in a pool of sweat, which smelt like a pub after New Years Eve. I tried to get up, I couldn’t. I wobbled to the bathroom and hovered over the toilet ready to heave up whatever was in there. Nope.
I started shaking. Not my usual middle of the night shakes, I mean uncontrollable, scary, violently abnormal shaking.
The only thing I remembered that morning was medication time. 8.30am. I got back into bed, shivering, shaking. The thought of leaving was beyond gone, I wouldn’t make it to the fucking door at this point. I felt like I couldn’t control my own body.
I made it to the meds room, I reached out for the glass and threw it everywhere. I couldn’t hold a glass, I couldn’t put the pills in my mouth, I had been stripped of everything.
I tried again, but resorted to the nurse tipping my head back and pouring water in my mouth to get them down. I wandered back to my room, caught my reflection in the mirror and died a little inside. I was a shell of a man.
I don’t remember much, but I know I lay disabled in my bed; sweating, shaking, wrenching, wincing from the pain. I recall images of the same news report appearing on the BBC news hour after hour, because I couldn’t change the channel. The strength needed to push the button just wasn’t there – I know that’s hard to believe, but it’s true.
For the next two days, this was the routine.
After I had overcome the withdrawals, the angst set in.
We had a routine, a timetable which was set out daily on the noticeboard, and at this point in our lives, this is what we lived for. This timetable was our life, our mantra, our everything.
When my mind finally started to work again, I felt a wealth of emotions. Reality dawned on me in this first week. The awful reality of: nothing being the same, how much I’d fucked up, who I’d lost, what I’d lost and, more importantly, what I was going to do after this was over.
I spent every night of the first week in tears, coming to terms with the reality of the situation.
I spent group therapy listening to everyone in the room and relating in one way or another to everyone’s situations which all ended with the same thought “Fuck, I really am an alcoholic”.
I spent hours outside smoking thinking about the future and how I didn’t have a bloody clue what it held.
I spent every minute of AA meetings listening to how sobriety had changed people’s lives, while thinking “You lying shitbag”, out of jealousy.
My mind was a mess, all over the shop. I struggled to grasp what was right and wrong. But I knew I was in the right place and I knew I had to be there.
But it wasn’t going to be easy.
I’m currently 14 months out of rehab and while I don’t have the same thoughts coursing through my head now, they are thoughts of a similar nature.
As Lockdown goes on, it’s less about solving the immediate things in front of me like boredom. It’s now dawning on me that the bigger threat is what’s to come, the continuation of swirling thoughts, getting louder and louder, day by day.
I am trying to manage where my head goes, but when my mind has space to wander, it casts back to thoughts of drinking, rehab, addiction and pain. And with this naturally comes euphoric memories of drinking, the good times, the laughs, the joy.
My addiction’s voice is trying to wiggle it’s way in and say “You know how you can solve all this, stop these thoughts and be happy?”, and it’s not wrong. A drink would stop them all, stop my anxiety, stop my fear and I wouldn’t have to be in constant battle mode.
But I have to stay strong, because I know my addict brain is desperately trying to flood my sober brain with the ‘good times’ making them more vivid and more desirable.
Recognising this is the first step.
“It’s not me, it’s my addict.
“It’s not me, it’s my addict.”
It would rid me of everything I have worked for. It would deprive me, yet again, of a life I have built. It would likely kill me. I would not be able to stop. I would end up in a world of pain. I would lose it all.
I just can’t do that to myself, again.
I have coping strategies in place, but they weren’t designed for these times, so they’re taking some adaptation. I have taken it right back to the beginning, back to step one – “Admitted I am powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable.”
Remembering that, along with the outlets I have to share my thoughts – this blog, my therapist, family, friends – keeps me on the right track.
It’s not going to be an easy time, and it’s hard not to project, but much like staying sober, you’ve just got to take it one day at a time.
Remember, stay strong, reach out, you’re never alone.
Love, Ben xx