Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hangover Hell

My eyes open suddenly, and I’m temporarily lost--awakened from a black hole of oblivion--and I’m confused.  It takes several moments to get my bearings, and the very first thing I’m aware of is the terrible taste in my mouth, like chalk and sulfur. I smack my tongue against my palate a few times in vain; the thick, pasty coating remains.

Squinting to see the clock I notice my husband is sleeping peacefully next to me. It’s 2:11 AM. I don’t remember going to bed. I’m suddenly aware that I’m wearing only a tank top and nothing else. Did Tom and I have sex?  Fragments from the evening flash through my mind like faded old snapshots.  

I remember drinking early in the evening as I prepared dinner.  I was so nice and buzzed by the time it was ready to eat that I decided to sit and observe everyone else enjoy the meal while I continued to nurse my drink. I remember retreating to the office afterwards to listen to music, and hang out on Facebook. How much did I drink? A familiar dread washes over me, and I quickly push it out of my mind; I don’t want to know how much I drank.

Did I give my son his epilepsy meds before bed? Fuck, I can’t remember.  I try hard to come up with more details from the night. Did I ever eat dinner? A dim snapshot of me heating up the spaghetti and meatballs; did I clean up the kitchen, and get the kids clothes ready for school? I draw a blank.

Despite having just been in a dead sleep I feel completely exhausted and lay motionless on the bed, my eyes shut tight. Heartburn rages in my chest and throat and I try to cough it away. I drift in and out of a fitful, un-resting semi-conscious state.  In a dream I’m standing by my kitchen sink with the water running drinking cup after cup of ice cold water. It feels heavenly as it hits my dry insides, but I wonder why no matter how much I drink I still feel thirsty. My eyes startle open and I’m aware of a thin layer of sweat covering my entire body. It’s 2:36 AM.  I sit up straight and my headache roars.

“Here we are again”, I think.

Me and my regrets.

I stumble out of bed and reach for panties carelessly tossed on the floor. There’s a condom wrapper nearby. Yup—we did it last night.  But there are no fuzzy snapshots of that in my mind just yet. With one hand on my forehead and the other gripping the handrail, I hobble downstairs to the kitchen.

The water doesn’t feel refreshing like in my dream. It stirs up the chalkiness in my mouth and throat and feels like lead in my stomach.  How much did I eat last night? One look around the messy kitchen and I realize I didn’t clean a thing after dinner. I force more water down and walk back to my office. I hesitate a moment before I turn on the light, a little anxious about the things I won’t remember from the night before, but terrified of what I will remember once I flip that switch.

Empty beer bottles stand at attention on the credenza behind my desk.  I count 6, hoping against hope I don’t find more lining the floor. Napkins…Crumbs. Before I even check the garbage pail I remember—I binged on cookies while basking in my drunk. No matter how determined I am to eat right when I’m sober, alcohol never fails to completely break down my resolve.  Stashed stealthily alongside the pail I find 3 more empty bottles.

Why did I do this again?

Why do I do this to myself?

I down a handful of Tums and as much water as I can stand and creep back to bed. With some hydration and the fire on my insides put out I feel a little better, and I’m hopeful that sleep will take care of the rest.

If only I could fall back asleep. I keep my eyes closed but it’s pointless; I’m wide awake, trying not to think about what else I might have done that I can’t remember.  

By 7am I force myself out of bed, leaden and exhausted.  Though the pounding in my head has dulled in intensity, it spread to an ache of my entire body. My stomach feels bloated yet hollow, and I’m nauseous and hungry at the same time.  The thought of having to go forward with the day feels like a momentous task in front of me.  

I know my head is going to ache all day.  My eyes will be red, my skin dry and I’ll have diarrhea off and on until after lunch.  My stomach will be raw and burn like an open wound. I know I’ll be so tired all day that canceling some of my plans might be inevitable.

With a familiar dread, I sit down at my computer and wonder what I will find. Who did I drunk-message last night? I pray it wasn't my old boyfriend from high school. Again. How many classic rock YouTube videos did I post?  Oh my God I hope I didn't take a drunken selfie and make it my profile pic. Again.

I hate myself with a vengeance that only someone who abuses alcohol regularly can comprehend.

Mental Addiction and Choice


Back in August my psychiatrist and I agreed to try a different antidepressant in hopes that it may give my brain a little kick and help with the anxiety that has worsened in the past 2 years. Effexor is one of the newer drugs that seems to be very helpful for some people. Unfortunately, it was not at all helpful for me.

Two weeks into the new medication I started getting severe sinus problems—swelling, pressure and a horrible smell that reminded me of cheap baby powder.  It followed me everywhere and eventually I wished I could rip my sinuses out of my head just to get the smell to leave.  My throat was dry and painful and no amount of water, iced tea--or beer-- could quench it.  It took me about a week to realize this was not caused by allergies or an infection--it was the Effexor.

My doctor told me to drop down to half my dose and stay that way for 2 weeks.  Even though I’d only been on this medication for ONE MONTH, the physical withdrawal was hellish.  I was lightheaded to the point of stumbling.  My mood was all over the place and I was physically exhausted.  Incidentally, it was the perfect excuse for me to drink because “It was the only thing that made me feel better”.  Yeah right. 

At any rate, about a week after cutting the dose in half I started to feel normal again.  My body adjusted.  Only to have the same hell return when I had to eliminate the drug completely.  Even though I went to 20mg of Prozac, the withdrawal from the tiny dose of Effexor took my body for a loop once again.

One night as I lay in bed I contrasted the physical withdrawal I was enduring from the Effexor with the mental withdrawal that occurs when I try to quit drinking.  

The Effexor never helped my mood or anxiety at all, so the withdrawal is truly physical in nature.  And its hell at first, my body is screaming in protest, my brain struggling to compensate for the disruption in chemicals.  But I know that time is my friend here, and each day that goes by my body recovers and adjusts a little more, and eventually it figures out what to do.

Then I thought about how I feel when I remove alcohol from my life.  Luckily I don’t have a physical addiction to booze, so in my case it’s all psychological—opposite from Effexor.  At first I feel lost, scared and anxious without my constant companion—beer.  I don’t know what to do with my time and the cravings are so strong it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever go away. Yet just like a physical addiction, time is on my side.  Each day I am sober I am one day further away from that mental addiction to booze. My brain starts to adjust to long term sobriety slowly but surely.  The longer I abstain the more my psyche adapts. 

Knowing that a psychological addiction is no different than a physical one in terms of time healing the wounds is so reassuring.  Yet there is one glaring difference here that needs to be acknowledged:  Choice. With the Effexor there is zero psychological attachment or desire for the drug, therefore it is purely a matter of time before the effects of withdrawal are done and over with. I know I’m not going to suddenly pop an Effexor against my better judgement; in other words, the suffering has an expiration date and I know it.  But because booze has a psychological hold on me there is that ever-present knowledge that at any point I might choose to pick up the bottle.  This “choice conundrum” hangs over me like an ominous cloud of booze that could erupt at any time.  

“So what can I do to eliminate the issue of choice?”, I thought. And the answer came quickly:  I can turn it over to God. 

Dear God, I turn over to you my will to drink alcohol. Given the choice I know I will eventually return to boozing, so I am taking that will and giving it to you so I don’t have to make that decision.  I know your will is for me to be sober, and I will gladly make the exchange with you.  Thank you for taking that burden from me so I don’t have to battle with myself over the choice to drink. 

My Sober Blog is Sailing


For 3 weeks I’ve been trying to write the first post in my sober blog.  Ideas for what I want to say have popped in my head countless times, yet whenever I’ve sat down with my fingers over the keyboard words escape me.  I don’t know where to start.   Why is writer’s block the strongest when the stakes are so high?  In any case, while I’m sure there is no right or wrong place to start there certainly must be a logical one, but that too escapes me. So I have decided that today is the day. Come hell or high water this post is getting written.  My sober blog is taking its maiden voyage and this ship will sail today.  I’m accepting that it will probably lack cohesion but am hopeful that the more I blog the clearer my blog will become.

Today is Friday, and I have managed not to drink for the past two evenings.  Since every other day binge drinking has been my M.O. for so long this is noteworthy, though not unheard of.  But the weekend?  The last time I abstained from drinking for an entire weekend I was in a different decade, I’m sure.  But here I am, looking the weekend in the eye and daring to do it sober.
Yesterday my mother in law called me at 8am in hysterics. She had woken up to find Baby, one of her two little dogs, dead on the floor.  As a widow in her late 70’s, caring for those dogs gives her life purpose, and my heart broke for her sadness. I offered to go over and remove the body from her bathroom floor until my husband could bury it with all the other family dogs when he got home from work.  

As I scrambled to get dressed it occurred to me that if I had drank the night before I would probably have gone back to sleep after dropping the kids off at school and wouldn’t have answered her call.  Most likely I would have heard her message and quickly conjured up some story as to why I wished I could help but had an important appointment that I couldn’t get out of.  My guilt would’ve been strong but my hangover stronger, and after lying my way out of going there I would’ve crawled back under the covers, dehydrated and exhausted, bloated and burnt out, the shame and disgust of the reality of my self-made prison cutting yet a little more deeply into my soul.  So yes, it was really nice that this happened on a morning after a “day off”.

A few hours later, after helping prepare little Baby for burial and scrubbing the bathroom clean with bleach I sat consoling my mother in law and her remaining little dog.  Out of nowhere there it was:  The thought of drinking.  Cravings for alcohol are so ingrained into my psyche they’ve become an addition to hunger and thirst.  You know that feeling when your stomach growls and you quickly envision that sandwich or Greek salad you plan to eat for lunch?  There’s a little rush of excitement and anticipation of the satisfaction you’ll get when the time comes to eat it.  Well my drinking pangs arouse the same eagerness and anticipation.  The thought hits, I think of beer and being buzzed and the beast in my head says “later you will do this”, and I’m content with the thought of having something to look forward to.

Yesterday was no different--the urge and the automatic thoughts all happened as usual, followed immediately by the reality that I really want to quit drinking.  The result is a feeling of emptiness, disappointment and anxiety.  What WILL I do with myself this weekend?  

There’s one thing I am counting on:   While I accept that right now the urges to drink will still come, and that for now disappointment and dread will follow these moments, I am certain that there will come a day when that automatic urge hits my consciousness and instead of dread and fear I feel relief and gratitude.
A reminder of my disgust with myself...the beer empties.  Many more are buried under the soda bottles.