This is my story over the past year and a handful of months. I went through some major soul-searching, priority changing and altered how my personal world rotated on its axis.
It all started in January 2011.
January had been a rough month emotionally. My Uncle had been battling Lymphoma and was a near-permanent resident at John Hopkins at this point. My mom has been declared a match for a bone marrow transplant (his sister). There were the highs of being so proud of my mom who donated bone marrow to her brother even though it was very scary and came with risks of its own. There were also severe lows with supporting everyone else emotionally as best as I could and seeing my Uncle laid up in bed with nothing but prayers and hope to keep him going… and a bad ass attitude.
We flew out to support my Mom and my Uncle during the transplant and to be there for her travels (aka be her pack mule). (*Not to have you worry or to detract from the story, 1 year later my Uncle is alive and cancer free still… thanks to my mom) We got her home safely and in time for everyone to go back to their respective houses and watch the super bowl. I found myself in the fetal position on the couch, ignoring all requests and invitations to watch it with people and simply depressed. I could tell my emotions and body was a bit off, but didn’t pay much attention to it at the time.
The next couple weeks were weeks from hell. The Generalized Anxiety Disorder that I have been suffering from (diagnosed) since I was 19, reared its ugly head in full force. This was no kitten of a speed bump, this was a mangy, starved and crazed lioness of anxiety… ripping and shredding its way through my mind, body and spirit. In my personal reflections at that time I could not for the life of me figure out what was going on. There didn’t seem to be a huge needle in the haystack that would be causing me to lose my sanity like this.
However, there it was… severe anxiety and panic attacks that would have me writing an email at my desk at work one moment, and locked in a bathroom stall or conference room the next minute. I’d sit there, cry and hug myself. Rock back and forth until my heart stopped trying to beat out of my chest and my pupils returned to normal size, I could stop wringing my hands and the chest pains and tightness subsided. There were times when this would happen right before a meeting and I would think that I couldn’t do it, but I would muddle through.
I would walk around outside of work talking with my mom and crying and pacing and walking until my feet were sore, my mouth was dry and my nose was plugged with snot.
The worst part was that at this time in my life, anxiety wasn’t the only medical/mental concern. I’d been drinking heavily which had started a pattern of bingeing and purging after a night of heavy drinking. I would feel hungry and woozy after I got home from a night out, I would eat until I felt better, then I would feel sick because I had eaten so much and then everything… the booze and food… would come up. This became a horrible and self-deprecating pattern where I hated most of the things leading up to the purging, the embarrassing and gross act of purging and then would demoralize and beat myself up after the purging.
I couldn’t seem to get control of anything in my life.
When I would try to analyze what was going on, I would ponder if the chicken or the egg came first… Did I drink because I was anxious? Did I throw up because it was the one thing I could control? Did I make these poor decisions to spite myself or could I truly not help it?
I hated the person I had become. I did not like myself drunk, however I had become “that” friend. The one that everyone could count on to be at happy hour, be there early and be the last one standing. I’d be up for shots, martinis, beer and it didn’t matter in what order or quantity. I was just having a “good time”. I’d party hard, party all night and do it again.
I’d wake up the next morning with no recollection of the end of the evening. Including conversations I did/did not have, people I saw, places I went and how I got home. I would check my phone and cringe at the insecure and/or hurtful messages that were sent at all hours of the night. I once called someone and chastised them for not calling me back the night before, when they had in fact called back and we had a long conversation… that I had no recollection of.
I would run into people who I didn’t remember meeting, but they knew who I was and everything about it. It was disturbing and embarrassing, as was the pattern in my life at the time. On the outside I was funny, witty, smart, extraverted and easy-going. People looked at me and wished they could walk into a room with confidence like I did.
Inside I was a wreck. I saw nothing special, beautiful, unique or even nice about myself. I longed to see myself as other people saw me, because no matter how much I looked inside myself and at myself in mirrors, I just saw an insecure pathetic person who couldn’t manage to get their life in order. I felt permanently broken and no amount of super glue, dark chocolate, or girls nights out could fix it.
Finally in the spring I began to see a therapist. Whether or not you believe in couch-therapy, I am a proponent of it. There is nothing better than bearing your soul to someone who knows nothing about you, expects nothing of you, and has talked to WAY crazier people than you.
The first thing to improve was the bingeing and purging that stopped immediately because I wanted to have something good to report. I might have still had a horrible self-image, unmanageable anxiety and no clue about life… but at least I was keeping all my food down. I was avoiding foods I knew I could and would eat fast and way too much of. I was avoiding eating after I drank. I was managing that and doing a decent job. I would still think about it often and struggled, but the desire to tell those that were rooting for me that I was doing well… kept me on the straight and narrow.
Gladly a year later I don’t struggle with this at all anymore. It never even crosses my mind. I eat what I want and when I want and exercise and practice a healthy lifestyle. I’m so thankful that I don’t have that hanging over my head anymore. I feel like a much smarter and successful person because of having burned the closet that held that skeleton. In therapy I also learned that it is common for eating disorders to accompany anxiety disorders. Like a mental tick you’d pick up in the woods. It made me feel a little better knowing that this was the case.
The most dramatic (and obvious in hindsight) revelation was that I had a drinking problem. I thought this was an absolutely absurd conclusion. I mean seriously, I live in Wisconsin. It is the land of cheese and beer. Everyone drinks, tailgates, celebrates their drinking problems with more drinking. It all sounded a little dramatic to me and I brushed it off at first. I didn’t want to be that girl waving off drinks and sighing about my life’s problems and how drinking ruined it.
Shortly after this I did Crazylegs, an event where you are rewarded after a run/walk into the stadium with a couple free beers. Needless to say 13 hours later, countless bars, a handful of hours I have no recollection of, and another drive home… I had crossed a line. At my next therapy session I was explaining how the blackouts were a new thing and how I didn’t like not having any recollection of things. Especially when I was walking around and talking to who knows how many people. I was lucky so far. Luck runs out.
At the time I was a high-functioning drinker. I could drink a bottle of rum and those around me would think I was just fine because I was still walking and talking and was seemingly just buzzed like everyone else. My boss pulled me aside shortly after starting to let me know that I could stay out until bar time if I wanted, that was my perogative, but I might want to not do it next door to the place I work and other people would see me. It was embarrassing and a hard conversation, because of the topic and because I had done that the night before and was having trouble not tossing my cookies.
This was a time when I would start the night with 3 to 4 martinis and switch to whatever the drink of the rest of the evening was. I’d even go out alone sometimes. I considered it independent and I knew the bartenders where I went (because I was a regular at several establishments) and felt safe that nothing bad would happen to me.
Finally the therapist got my attention by factually adding up my stories, symptoms, and anxiety to all very clearly (and clinically) point out that I was becoming chemically dependent on alcohol. The stages I was going through were just steps leading me to full-blown alcoholism. In the words of my therapist, “you can listen to me know and help yourself, or you will find yourself a recovering alcoholic not even able to have a single glass of wine with your friends at dinner because you will have altered your body’s chemistry and made it dependent on alcohol”.
Also hitting a clearly exposed nerve she pointed out that I was painfully single and any man who would want me in my current state at that time, wasn’t the kind of man I wanted in my life. If he was supportive or turned a blind eye to such destructive behaviors, he wasn’t a “good guy”. Being 30 and not being able to control your drinking isn’t a cool thing and he would be worried or embarrassed that I might do something in front of family or friends. I really thought about this and realized she was right. I had a string of bad relationships trailing behind me and this seemed to click as something that made sense. I had become my own roadblock to finding Mr Right. I instead had become an expert at Mr Right Now, Mr Bad Credit, Mr Please Don’t Remember My Name.
Tied into all this was my anxiety. Turns out the drinking was a large catalyst to my anxiety. As my blood alcohol level rose, my anxiety would go down. As my blood alcohol level lowered the next day, my anxiety would spring back 10 fold like a rubber band with nails in it. It’s called Rebound Anxiety. I never knew about this and found out that I’d been torturing myself quite effectively for some time. Hearing this also helped. I’m a facts kinda girl and knowing that some chemical reaction was making things worse was easier and more tangible to manage than me just thinking I was not capable of managing it on my own.
So, as all this was discovered and I pondered over it, I decided to quit drinking. I didn’t tell anyone, didn’t blog about it, just quit. I wasn’t prepared to explain myself or the very personal and raw revelations that I had just dealt with. I went 1 day at a time, 1 dinner at a time, and went from there.
At first it was a real struggle and I just stayed home. I would make up an excuse like I was taking antibiotics, had to drive, or was going to wait and have something later. Sometimes I’d just get a soda and tell people alcohol was in it. Slowly I began to really enjoy myself sober. I was still just as funny, honest, witty and awesome as before… only now I was sober and I remember and was probably even wittier because my brain cells weren’t slowed by alcohol. I would go out with good friends who knew and supported my decision and were sensitive to it. I would avoid people who didn’t understand or felt threatened by it. A couple of friends would say things like, “you don’t have a problem, just have a drink” and I know a part of it was them thinking… If she has a problem, that means I might.. and that is just not possible.
I ended up not drinking for 9 weeks. 9 weeks of discovery, finding myself, prioritizing my life, lots of soul searching exploring of new adventures. I did find that I could do everything I did before and not drink. I just needed the conviction to do it, a non-judgemental attitude, and some cheese curds. I liked myself so much better. I respected myself. I was hopeful. I did slowly start to introduce alcohol into my life again.
Now, a year after I committed to changing my life around and my views on alcohol, I am a far more responsible person. I am aware of how much I am drinking. What the atmosphere is around me. I am comfortable saying no. I have found a loving man who supports that and doesn’t ever push another drink on me or convince me otherwise if I don’t want anything certain nights.
I found him after finding myself.
Weird how that happens.
This was such a close and personal story for me. In going through my blog recently I discovered that I never had really written about this stuff and it changed me in such a profound and positive way that I wanted to share. In case anyone else is ever in the depths of despair and not only can’t see the light… but can’t even feel the ground under their feet… it all comes around. Making myself and my mental, physical and emotional health a priority was the best thing I ever did for myself.
I do not manage my anxiety with medicine at the moment. I have in the past and believe it does have a place and definitely helps to get you back on track. I work out every day and use that time to decompress and give that anxiety somewhere to go. I zumba and shake it like no ones business, so I don’t find myself incapacitated by anxiety.
I came, I conquered… now if only I could figure out how to make zero calorie brownies… I’d be a happy little millionaire.