I was raised in a household where alcohol consumption consisted of one or two beer or glass of wine the occasional evening. I was offered small sips of both, and didn’t like the taste of either. In my early university days, I drank, often heavily, on or two nights a week. It was part of a package of having fun with my friends. It wasn’t something I used as a coping strategy, I never drank alone, and I never craved alcohol on nights we weren’t going out. I always planned ahead to make sure I’d be safe, so as far as binge drinking goes I’d say I was fairly responsible.
As I moved a little further into my 20’s, with the odd party night as an exception, I became a social drinker, having a drink or two when out with friends doing non-alcohol-focused things. As I moved into my 30’s and became more asocial in general, I drank alone more of the time, but the general pattern of consumption stayed the same.
But then depression got in the way. When depressed, alcohol became an escape tool. It would allow me to forget some of what I was feeling and thinking about. That worked (sort of) until it started making things worse. Because the temporary escapes meant more and more pain was getting bottled up inside, ready to explode. That’s where alcohol, instead of lifting me off the ground, dropped me hard on my ass.
The most spectacular alcohol-triggered meltdown happened when I was 33. Unfortunately, it happened to be at a work team-building retreat. The team I was working on at the time was pretty laid back, and some alcohol consumption was considered normal at the annual retreats. I had brought a 4-pack of cider, and I figured that spaced out over the course of the day, accompanied by plenty of food, that would be manageable. Except it wasn’t. Somehow, by the end of the afternoon, that 4 cider had got me totally drunk. I remember standing around with a group of people and I started crying. I went to the washroom and had a huge sob-fest. And then I, someone who has never driven drunk ever, started insisting that I was leaving and I was going to drive myself home. Unsurprisingly, others intervened, but it got ugly. I was yelling at people, and they had to physically wrestle me outside and into the passenger seat of my car. Someone drove me home in my car, and I sobbed the whole way. Things continued to get worse from there. A couple of months later, I ended up in hospital, and then a couple of months after that I was back in hospital again after a suicide attempt.
You would think it would have been lesson learned. Perhaps I have, in the sense that I recognize that depression-related escapist drinking is destructive. I still do it, but manage to put the kibosh on it before it gets out of hand. Yet when the depression is relatively manageable, alcohol and I have an easy non-problematic relationship.
Does mental illness interfere with your relationship with alcohol or other substances?
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