Why did you finally stop drinking
“I had a drinking problem” - a conversation
I haven't had a single sip of alcohol in over five months. I've never been the big drinker, hardly tolerated alcohol, and then decided to quit this spring for health reasons and a healthy lifestyle. Contrary to expectations, it works extremely well for me, only the environment tends to get confused. "How, nothing at all?" Yes, nothing at all. We often forget how well alcohol is established in our society - and how many people may no longer have been drinking for pleasure, but for other reasons.
Since I've stopped drinking, I've had a topic of conversation all the more often - and that's how I got into conversation with Dominique. We know each other from seminars on journalism and blogging, and suddenly we ended up talking about alcohol. Dominique is a blogger, author and mental health advocate - and has been drinking herself for years. Too much and for the wrong reasons. The 32-year-old has not been drinking for over 200 days - and says frankly: “I definitely had an alcohol problem.” Without further ado, I asked her if she would like to talk to us about it on amazed. She had - because the subject is close to her heart.
When did you start drinking alcohol?
Like probably many others, I was 15.16 years old when drinking alcohol started slowly. At first only sweet, light, secret and now and then. Back then I played in a band, there was a concert every weekend, and of course there was beer and red wine and cola everywhere. But it didn't take long before I realized that the “harder stuff” is actually more good for me.
To understand it, I have to say: I simply forgot a lot from that time and was washed away by the alcohol. That’s why it’s difficult to trace the development so precisely.
What I can say: In the end it was seven years that I drank every day - every day. All in all, my “over-motivated” consumption lasted for 15 years. The past few years have been marked by ups and downs, by “I can do it on my own”, phases of weeks of abstinence alternating with blatant relapses. The will not to give up alcohol entirely. To strive for “controlled consumption”. Whatever went well again and again and over a long period of time. Until it was no longer good. Until something came up that threw me off course. And straight into old, unhealthy, sick behavior patterns.
For a long time the thought of never drinking alcohol again scared me.
And make myself perceive as weak. According to the motto “Everyone else can do it too, and I'm the idiot who can't do it ?!”. I didn't want to accept that. And with this attitude in the background, abstinence always had a very bitter aftertaste.
But that is exactly what has changed in the meantime. Luckily. From “I'm the loser” to “I'm actually pretty strong if I can do it”. If I can win this fight The fact that that switch in my head flipped changed everything. And made sure that I haven't drunk for over 200 days. And it is (mostly) easy for me. I now sometimes even feel that I can look at the alcohol consumption of our society from a perspective of strength, rather than from a position of weakness. That I recognized what I did to myself, what we regularly do to our bodies and minds.
Why and when did you drink alcohol?
Well, at the beginning because that's how you do it, because it belongs to it, it's normal. But soon I noticed that a lot of things were easier with alcohol, a lot of things no longer so strenuous, I was able to dampen unpleasant thoughts and feelings and push them aside. Today I know that there was more to it. That some of my genes, combined with a few unpleasant life events, ensured that there was a lot inside of me that I had to struggle with. Then, after ten years of fighting and full-time self-destruction, I found out in 2013 that I had borderline personality disorder.
Alcohol helped me get through my days.
Without going into more detail now - this has ensured that I was simply constantly overwhelmed. With me, with life, with everything. To somehow get it done, I used alcohol as an instrument. Because he helped me get through the days. Getting through school, graduating from high school, doing my job, completing a degree - just living.
What did you mainly drink?
Well, as I said, in the beginning it was mainly sweet things like strawberry champagne, red wine and cola, Baileys. And of course beer. But soon vodka too. Who became my best friend (and greatest enemy) over the next several years. In my high phase I drank a bottle of vodka plus various side drinks, wine, beer and so on every day. The practical thing about vodka is simply that it is odorless. So you can always drink at school in the morning without people noticing. Especially when you combine it with strongly smelling things like Red Bull or iced tea. There were long phases when I was practically never met without iced tea. One reason why I still avoid these two drinks to this day. Simply because they trigger me. They are closely related to alcohol in my head.
When did you realize you had a problem?
Well, that it is not normal to drink vodka in the morning, to get nervous when you don't have any alcohol at home, to drink alone and rather to stay at home than to meet up with friends in order to be able to consume undisturbed and sufficiently man of course.
But that doesn't happen overnight. You slip in there. It increases slowly - but constantly.
There was no real key result in this regard. For my own assessment of the situation - and also the external view - it was probably very important that I always got everything right. A-levels, studies, work - everything went well. I've always paid attention to that. Otherwise someone could have noticed that something was wrong with me. That then led to the fact that people from my immediate environment did not take it seriously when I mentioned that I might have a problem after all. Because the holes, the “bad evenings” - I've always figured them out with myself. I've always controlled myself in company. But as soon as I was alone, there was no stopping me. Nobody has ever seen me like this when I was on the ground. Couldn't get up or eat because I overdid it again.
Of course, that helped me keep the problem down for a long time. Not quite admitting to myself that in our relationship alcohol had long since taken control, and not me anymore.
Instead of a key experience, it was probably more of a constant process, at the end of which I saw at some point that it couldn't go on like this. My new friend probably contributed to the fact that I really wanted to and was able to see it. I had an eight-year relationship during the addiction, but I always managed to downplay the addiction so that we both didn't take them seriously. With the new partner, things went very well at first. Here, too, I got through for a long time with compromise solutions, excuses, promises. Until I got a clear message from him for the first time in my life from a person. Maybe that was exactly what I needed? What flipped the switch in the end? That someone just told me clearly that I was fooling myself and that I haven't had anything to say for a long time, but that the alcohol decides.
How did you approach your addiction then?
I have been in therapeutic treatment since 2013, but there, too, I kept alcohol down for a long time. Talked down the problem. The fact that I was able to stop drinking without any problems after years of constant consumption only confirmed that I actually have no problem. That I am not dependent Definitely not physically, if only mentally.
The alcohol has helped me cope for so long, so well and so often. He was reliably by my side, I knew exactly how he works and how I can achieve what I need. Giving up that was unimaginable for me for a long time, it just scared me tremendously.
So it is perhaps only logical that I had to achieve a relatively stable state through therapy, time and a lot of work before abstinence was really an option for me. I first had to learn to deal with all these things in a different way, to work through them, to develop new strategies. Learning that simply fading out, running away, ignoring may not always be the solution. That things will neither get better nor go away from it.
(Why) Have there been relapses?
Well, after the initial diagnosis, it was all a power game between me and the alcohol. For weeks I had the upper hand, then again for a while. They were all relapses, even if I didn't perceive them as such. As long as the switch in me hadn't flipped, the next relapse was just a matter of time. Because I wasn't ready to turn my back on my long-term, reliable, helpful partner.
But that is exactly what makes me confident that I am strong enough today not to return to his arms. Even if I know that he is never far away, that he would always take me in immediately, give me what I need - but at a high price.
You have been without alcohol for 200 days - how did you manage that?
Something has changed inside of me, a switch has been thrown that has permanently changed my view of a life without alcohol.
Have you had a withdrawal How was he?
In a way, that was the mean thing: that I never had withdrawal symptoms. That my body went along with everything and always. When, after seven years of daily consumption, I didn't drink anything overnight (for a few days), it went without any problems. No tremors, no sweating - nothing.
But that is exactly what helped me and the addiction to let me continue to believe that I actually have no problem at all. It was clear to me that I am not dependent because my body does not need the alcohol. But only my head is addicted. And that made a huge difference to me. And also implies that with enough will I would manage to find my way back to "normal" consumption.
What is the hardest part about abstaining from alcohol?
If so, I would say that it can be difficult at parties and the like in the presence of strangers. I'm rather shy, just getting into conversation with new people is not easy for me. Of course, alcohol has always done a wonderful job (as it does with so many others).
But beyond that, it's really not that difficult at all. There is now not only alcohol-free wine and sparkling wine, but above all alcohol-free beer. I know that other people affected avoid that too. Because the smell, the sound of opening the bottle is too triggering for her. Fortunately, that's not a problem for me and so I can “join in” whether in the beer garden, at the hut, at the concert or in more and more places. Sometimes I miss the taste of some particularly tasty alcoholic beverages. But if I want to treat myself to something, then it will be a special candy or something like that. It's okay that my body would like that, but it doesn't mean that I can't make it happy in any other way.
How does your social environment react to this?
I am very open about the subject, be it addiction, depression or borderline. That doesn't mean that I'm going to tell everyone that I'm sick. I almost have to say that fortunately I'm a woman, it is more socially acceptable not to drink anything than it is for men. In addition, I do a lot of sport, run marathons and for many it is more or less logical that I don't drink.
In general, the way we deal with alcohol in our society is quite questionable.
Sometimes I now make a kind of fun out of asking other people about their consumption. Do not get it wrong: I am not a fanatic, not a moral apostle and I do not want to lead everyone to abstinence. But to draw the attention of one or the other time to the fact that he is already instrumentalizing alcohol quite a bit here and there, I see my experience as a kind of duty.
In general, the way we deal with alcohol in our society is quite questionable. And the fact that a lot of people do not have a healthy relationship with Mr. A. is certainly not new to you either. Alcohol is just everywhere, always available, mostly well chilled and in beautifully colored packaging, rather cheap and socially accepted.
What is your advice to people who may notice that they also have a problem?
Well, it depends on the size of the problem. Just admitting to yourself that there might be a problem is the most important step towards improvement.
In the end, the only thing that helps is to be honest with yourself. Maybe get opinions from people around you as to how other people would judge their own consumption. Of course, periods when you don't drink are also a good indicator of whether alcohol might not have a little too much power over you. If the mere thought of not drinking for the next weekend / for the next month scares you - then maybe you should take a closer look.
But I know from my own experience how good we are at pretending something to ourselves. For a long time it was also a problem for me that I just wasn't worth it to myself to stop destroying myself. It actually suited me better. For me, the detour via the body helped a little. To treat this marvel of nature, this great machine that is given to us, as I have done for years, is just shitty, ungrateful and stupid. If I wasn't worth it to myself, then at least to my body. Perhaps the thought can also help one or the other. For me it was good and helpful to read books by others who also had their experiences with addiction and the like.
Even more important, but perhaps also more difficult, is the question of what I would advise someone who feels that someone close to them might have a problem. Not an easy thing. It takes the right moment and you still have to expect to encounter denial, anger, anger and worse. But there is almost certainly just fear behind it. In case of doubt, do not be discouraged by this, but accept it and give the person time. And show that you are still there, that you are not dropping the person and that you are ready to help them.
What do you do when you feel like the addiction is coming back?
Just recently I realized that I just always have to be on my guard. That addiction tends to creep up from behind again when everything is actually going well. With sentences like “You haven't had anything to drink for half a year, so you can see that it works. Then let's have a drink again ”. But it doesn't work. When I have such thoughts or moments today, first of all I perceive them and don't try to ignore them or wish them away. I see them, look at them and say "Ok, dear addiction, I understand that you would like more attention, but that just doesn't work with us, you are ruining me". I occupy myself with her and after a short time she makes off on its own. And second, I'll talk about it. With my boyfriend or friends. I'm honest with me and you, don't play down, try to be open.
And I'm slowly getting better at honoring my own performance. Not to belittle it or to take it for granted that I no longer drink. But that I can pat myself on the shoulder every now and then. This is probably also a nasty addiction trick. When I read from other people that they have been sober for two months, a year or 13 years, then I have great respect and I just think it's great! For me, on the other hand, it tends more in the direction of “Wow. You haven't had a drink in six months. And what's supposed to be great about it? ”. That is slowly changing.
You don't even use the word "alcoholic" in your mouth ...
I don't use the word "alcoholic" or the word dry. I'm just not good at either of them. Yes, I was addicted to alcohol, but we don't call smokers nicotinics, stoners don't cannabis. In my opinion, the expression is technically incorrect and most people associate it with a lot that I have nothing to do with. I don't correspond to the image that many people have of "alcoholics".But that is exactly one reason why I am not only open about my other mental illnesses, but now also deal with them openly. Somebody just has to start. Every third German is affected by a mental illness at least once in their life. Include the relatives and you can work out how big your chances are of getting around the subject of "mental health problems".
Addiction is not a weakness, not a failure, but a disease.
Addiction is not a weakness, not a failure, but a disease. Nobody chooses to get addicted. You don't choose it. It hits you like the flu or cancer. The bad reputation further ensures that those affected do not dare to get help, to admit that things are out of control. Not everyone with a problem with alcohol is homeless or living in public housing. The vast majority of them lead a "normal" life, go to their practice every day, have a family, a job, good personal hygiene and just the bad luck that their genes make them prone to self-destruction.
The word dry also has negative associations with most people. And what do you mean, I'm dry? So are all normal people wet? Doesn't make sense to me. I look jealously at the Anglo-American languages, which have a word with “sober”, which gets to the heart of the matter better. Because in addition to being abstinent, it means “to be clear, level-headed” and is more associated with a rock star than with a lack of focus.
And yes, these are just words. But words affect how we think about something. And breaking the pattern here is the beginning of a more respectful and less derogatory approach to people not only with addiction problems, but also to problems in general. Because I know: it can affect anyone. This is not a threat, but unfortunately more of a promise. And that's exactly why reason enough for me to speak more openly, break stereotypes and see that mental illnesses belong out of the stigma corner and up on the table. And that's where I start.
Disclaimer: In this text Dominique writes about her experiences. “I'm just a case, I have my story. The other person affected can differ from mine in almost all respects. Therefore, with this article I do not claim to speak for all addicts, but would like to use my example to show what such an addiction looks like from the inside. "
You can find out more about Dominique on her blog “Traveling the Borderline”.
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