Addressing addiction

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Physical sobriety

There was an audible collective sharp intake of breath during my share.
But this is the safe space where you can say ANYTHING right?
A space with no judgement, expectations or opinions?
Where someone else has always done worse?

So my big reveal was that I was a doctor. That is to say a human being who’d been to medical school and was employed in delivering healthcare, not someone who’d been born with supernatural skills to look into other people’s souls and see the truth.

But it was Bill and Doctor Bob who founded AA was it not?

So my big reveal was that I was a doctor. That is to say a human being who’d been to medical school and was employed in delivering healthcare…

Why are nurses seen as human angels who are inundated with compassion as they reveal their flaws but doctors are STILL TO THIS DAY seen as people who should know better?
I’d spent my first year in the rooms hearing people say that they’ve EVEN been to their doctor to get help, as though they’d been failed.

Like we’re superhuman beings with superhuman powers.
Don’t get me wrong, my ego loved the admiration back in the day but my non-existent self-esteem was taking a battering now.

How could I be an alcoholic if I’m the one who is supposed to be able to spot an alcoholic a mile away and save them?
The indirect condemnation hurt.
There IS an expectation.

I wasn’t drinking alcoholically until a few months before I hit burnout (probably an indicator that I should have left sooner). I’ve learnt since that I’ve been thinking like an addict my whole life, my alcoholism was a late symptom just awaiting the perfect storm of circumstances.

I wasn’t sick. No jaundice, cirrhosis or pancreatitis. Not physically dependent. No DTs, no seizures, no withdrawal. I hadn’t been under the influence at work, or behind the wheel of a car or outside of my living room really (where I drank alone). But I had done plenty of harms to those I love the most. My spouse and kids – partly under the influence, and mostly with my disordered thinking and obsessive controlling.

My family had, for years, been trying to love a chestnut who chose to remain in a very prickly coat. I can see that now. I can’t explain how it came about and I don’t have to. I have worked through the 12 steps with two people whose compassion has (finally) reduced me to tears.

Emotional sobriety

So, 2022 was the year I gave up the drinking but 2023 was the year I gave up the thinking. After all, that’s what was really doing me harm. The way I used to think. If I hadn’t got out of my head, I’d soon have found a quicker route than alcohol for self-harm.

My most important discovery is that I’m not alone. There’s lots of people like me. Intelligent over thinkers who need to learn to not take life quite so seriously and somehow settle for, or even enjoy, its simplicity. The first step is a huge deflation of ego and willingness to ask for help. HUGE hurdle when self-reliance was your only route for decades.

How exactly, in this day and age of social media, and honest discussions about mental health, have we still not openly named and shamed the toxic role alcohol plays in hindering wellbeing? How are cigarettes clearly understood to be the cancer sticks they are, but alcohol not seen as unnecessary mood altering meths? The alcohol industry is as powerful as the tobacco industry once was. The sugar industry deflected the spotlight to cholesterol for decades. There is still so much to learn.

Amends may be made to other people for harms caused, but the biggest most sincere apology must be made to self.

Man’s desire to escape reality is timeless. The ability to ferment virtually anything has been attempted with varying degrees of success and somehow the fine tuning of flavour has made it culturally acceptable and often expensive.

Once life is simpler, grappling to escape your reality loses its edge. You can live what you might have historically described as a boring life, literally getting high on stopping to smell the roses. You notice things you hadn’t before, you’re honest about things you hadn’t even realised you were lying to yourself about.

    Be somewhere quiet and safe. Come inside from the storm of your emotions and feelings outside and just observe. Let things rise slowly to the surface. No expectations.
    Hear what comes up. Just let it happen. Sometimes I write stuff down or say it out loud (as happens during a share). No judgement.
    Listen to/read what’s been revealed and acknowledge it as your truth. You’ll be amazed how dishonest you’ve been with yourself in the name of people pleasing. Take responsibility. No blame.
    Look after you and respond (rather than react) with boundaries in place. Learn to say no. Make prompt amends where appropriate. No regrets.

Amends may be made to other people for harms caused, but the biggest most sincere apology must be made to self. Forgiveness must follow (self-hugs). You’re no good to anyone (and life is, at its essence, about human connection) if you’re no good alone.

I am unrecognisable to myself this year (in a good way) and I have a lot of people to thank for that. However, I am also aware that I’ve worked hard to get here and the new me is delighted to put down my old friend the spiked chain (previously used regularly for self-flagellation) and give myself a very well-deserved pat on the back.

Well done me. Not everyone makes it.


Featured image by Natalia Y. on Unsplash

The BJGP is the world-leading primary care journal. At BJGP Life we add multi-media comment and opinion for the primary care community.

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