Today is day #660 on this particular journey. In this post I’ve decided to tackle something that has transcended my alcoholism. It was here before I had a problem with drinking and it is here to this day; anxiety.
It was Easter weekend in 2010 when I discovered I had a panic disorder. I had no clue what that even was. What I did know, however is that I was going through something that created a great deal of upheaval in my life and I didn’t have the slightest clue what I was feeling. It all became clear when I was sitting at my Grandparents’ dining room table after a turkey dinner to celebrate Easter. My aunt had brought a desert of some kind that looked delicious. I can still smell it to this day. It was some kind of creamy, chocolate and whipped cream custard-looking dish. It had all the things in a desert I like: lots of sugar, chocolate, caramel and some whipped cream. I’ve got the (beer) belly to prove it!
It also had skor pieces. If you’ve never had a skor bar it’s like a hard caramel stick that’s flat and has almond pieces in it. It’s then covered in chocolate. I couldn’t take a bite of this desert. I wanted to, but I couldn’t get my mind past the thought that this piece of heaven was going to cause anaphylactic shock brought on by an allergy to nuts. [I should take this time to note that I am not allergic to nuts. However my father is. Because my mom was afraid (and a first time mom) I was I was basically told I was allergic and forbidden from eating them. She never had me tested and I grew up assuming if I ate nuts I might die. The exception to this was peanuts because my father can eat peanuts with no reaction.]
My heart was racing, I felt as though I couldn’t breathe and I was having what I later understood to be a panic attack. That was it. So for two years I suffered with multiple, daily panic attacks, too afraid to take medication out of fear that, you guessed it, I’d suffer anaphylaxis. I finally got around to taking medication to help after I decided to move to South Korea and decided I couldn’t go live in a foreign land with this this disorder because I would only become thinner. (I’d dropped down to about 130lbs because I was not eating enough and was always at max stress.)
Of course non of this inherently meant I was destined to be an alcoholic. I don’t think it even caused my desire to drink. I think it’s probably just co morbid; meaning they symptoms appeared together and (were potentially) linked somehow. I did know this: I spend virtually every waking moment scared to death of, well, death. But there was something that diverted my attention and made me feel invincible! Unfortunately that thing was beer and I quickly found that my heaven-sent stress management was less heaven and more hell. From there, sparing the details so as not to breach anyone else’s privacy, my life went into a tailspin.
But this isn’t about my spiral, I’m sure I’ll get to that some other day. Today is why I think my anxiety played a big role in leading me down the path I went down…
As I began to learn about panic and panic disorders I began to understand that I’ve always been a fairly anxious person. Not outwardly, though. Outwardly I’m confident, loud, unafraid to share my views and thoughts. But often times, especially as a child, I was absolutely terrified. As I thought back over my life I could easily recall times when I had paranoia and very specific (sometimes all consuming) fears. Here’s a list off the top of my head
- Aliens. I mean can’t sleep because I can see a dot in the sky that was in a different place from last night.
- Being kidnapped. (My mom used to tell me, they’d bring me back!)
- Tsunamis. (Still have nightmares)
- Illness. Even as a kid I was convinced something was ‘wrong’, health-wise.
As I got older my fears became more ‘adult’. Less about things like kidnappers and more like cancer. I was always sure I was minutes from death (and if not, at least approaching). But I began to medicate myself. I didn’t choose to use drugs as I was, let’s say, morally opposed. But I drank. I noticed that I remained my same (if not perhaps exaggerated) self on the outside, but things changed on the inside when a few beers hit my system.
Gone were the fears, both rational and irrational. Replacing them was that feeling that most teenagers and young adults are noted to feel: invincibility. Fearlessness. Being bulletproof. Now instead of a fear that my heart would simply stop beating out of nowhere, I felt like if it did, I’d just keep going! The “what if” were replaced with “eff its”. Imagine the relief! It would be like getting a “benign” diagnosis, but in a can! I could have that “you’re going to be fine” moment every day. At a moments notice! Hell, people wanted to drink, so I even had company! I was, after all, at university in the prime of my life, I was expected to (over) indulge!
But, there is a fine line when it comes to drinking. There is a definite point when it goes from “this is fun” to “this is normal”. Probably the most annoying and frustrating thing about that line is that it doesn’t seem to be easy to see. But in hindsight? God yes, it’s like a blaring red, blinking sign that reads ‘right here, idiot!’ Part of the problem, I suspect is the blurring of the word fun into normal. When ‘fun’ is 5 days a week it’s just ‘normal’. But the (probably subconscious) logic that comes into it goes something like, “It’s medicine, I need it. I should be taking it each day so I don’t have to feel.”
The irony of all of that is that aside from the damage it does to your life in the bigger picture, it is physically destructive. After hurting myself (pretty badly) at work, about six months after getting sober, a doctor in Australia asked me if I had hepatitis. I said that I didn’t think so. He told me that my ‘liver numbers’ (I’m clearly not a physician) were not good. He recommended that I see my doctor when I’d returned to Canada. Scary stuff, right? I mean given the opportunity to choose, I’m taking anxiety over liver failure. 10/10. Every single time. Luckily, and most likely undeservedly, my liver has healed with time. My point is that my anxiety over my health led to something that was ultimately far more harmful than my fear.
My alcoholism and my anxiety have been doing a dance for a long time. If it were a sport, It would be 2-on-1 and I’d lose. Luckily getting into the rooms and learning, trying and (for today at least) succeeding at being sober has stopped the progression of both.
This post was never meant to excuse my drinking. I don’t ever try. Why would I? It’s not something I can undo. It isn’t something that will be erased from my past, and that’s fine. This post is simply meant to lay down the entrance to the path I walked. How I got to the entrance. Is it a cautionary tale? Maybe, but I don’t think it has to be. From where I see things it’s more of a tale that shows where a couple of minor, small changes would have drastically altered my life. But I wouldn’t trade the lessons I learned, but I might have handed over a bit of the self-inflicted-stupidity, if given the chance!
We get a reprieve for today. Not tomorrow. Not next year or a single other day. My name is David and I can not drink today. That’s about as far as I’m willing to go.
Thanks for reading. I wish you another 24.
A friend of Bill