Anxiety and alcohol often go hand in hand. Anxiety can be difficult to talk about, yet many of us carry the weight of it. Claire was kind enough to share some of her story of this very topic below. I’ve had the pleasure of following her story since the early days of my own journey with giving up alcohol. She has always been a kind and supportive presence in the online recovery space, always ready to cheer someone on, encourage a bit of laughter or offer a listening ear. She may live miles across the pond, and we may have yet to meet, but I will always consider Claire a friend. - Tracie
Not many people really know about my struggles with anxiety because I’ve always found it difficult to talk about. In fact, I’ve been embarrassed to talk about it a lot of the time. It’s only recently that I’ve realized how common anxiety disorders are. For years anxiety was ruling my life without me even knowing it.
When I think back I’ve always been anxious. The oldest memory I have of being anxious was when I started school at 5 years old. Unlike the other kids who were so excited to get to ‘real’ school, I was clinging onto the railings for dear life begging my mum not to send me. I was worried about daft things but in the mind of a 5 year old these were mega! Where would I put my bag? What if I couldn’t find the toilets? What if I couldn’t find where I go for my dinner? What if the other kids didn’t talk to me? I was absolutely petrified. Nobody knew what anxiety was back then and my thought process pretty much stayed the same throughout my life. When I started brownies I was the same and only lasted about 6 weeks because I ‘didn’t enjoy it’. Now I know I was probably riddled with anxiety. Obviously I decided I didn’t want to go anymore once my mum had bought the uniform! I was going to France on a PGL adventure holiday with school when I was about 12. Although I was really excited to be going, when the departure date got closer I started to feel physically sick at the thought of it. I didn’t know why and it was very confusing but when I think back I know it was definitely anxiety. I was worrying about the most ridiculous things and mainly the thirty odd hour journey on the coach to get there. What if the coach broke down? What if I get sat with kids I don’t know? What if I need the toilet and we don’t get any toilet stops? What if I get travel sick and throw up in front of everyone? None of these things happened and the journey was absolutely fine. In fact, a group of us spent most of it playing cards and having a laugh so the journey went pretty quickly. I’ve realised over the last 12 months that a lot of situations like this was due to anxiety and I sometimes feel like I missed out because of it. I didn’t go to a few of the school discos, I didn’t go to the meal they had when we left school (no proms in those days!) and when I did manage to get myself there I was riddled with anxiety. It was only when it was almost time to go home that I started to calm down and feel more relaxed.
You’re probably wondering why I put myself through all this. I didn’t know why I felt like this and I was just doing what everyone else did. I wanted to fit in and be sociable like the cool kids sitting at home with a book or watching TV didn’t seem the thing to be doing back then. That same thought process stayed with me until well into my thirties!
I left school with pretty crap GCSE results and my mum persuaded me to get a job through an apprenticeship which I did. Going from a school environment to a working environment was a pretty big culture shock for me and I struggled massively. By then even though I was only 16 I was already drinking regularly (my parents didn’t know this) and I was turning up for work late most mornings and usually hungover. Then I remember the Christmas parties. I didn’t go to most of them but when I did I would be tipsy by the time I got there. I’d had some Dutch courage to help with the nerves (I didn’t know anxiety existed back then. In fact, I don’t think I’d even heard of it). Over the years I struggled with anxiety and it was mainly affecting my work. My confidence was being battered and I didn’t have much self-belief. I never seemed happy with what I was doing and jumped from job to job thinking I just hadn’t found the right place to work. I was also keeping a massive secret that I was absolutely not willing to tell anyone. I was basically living a lie, as a straight person.
When I was 26 I decided I’d had enough and couldn’t cope with all this crap anymore so I decided to come out hoping that it would be the answer to all my problems. The fact I was struggling so much with life was obviously because I was living a lie. Everyone was amazing and I think most were expecting it anyway. It didn’t change anything really with the way I felt about myself. My drinking got worse over the years and so did my anxiety. I decided to seek therapy in 2007 as I was really struggling by now and having quite a lot of time off work because I just didn’t think I could cope with day to day life. I struggled with every day general tasks and I was so anxious about going into work I had to force myself through the door. One morning I even threw up all over the steering wheel when I got in the car and I was begging my partner at the time to help me as I thought there was something seriously wrong. I went to the doctors and explained some of the symptoms and when they occur. Straight away I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and the doctor explained that the depression was because I was struggling to cope with the anxiety. It made complete sense and I felt a massive weight lifted off my shoulders because I finally knew what the problem was. It wasn’t just me being pathetic. Over the years I had lots of therapy with lots of professionals. Some worked, some didn’t but I think it all depends on how well you connect with the therapist. I’d always recommend CBT for anxiety as I was given some really good techniques which I still use today.
I could go on forever writing about situations I’ve been in where I’ve really struggled with anxiety but after years of trying to deal with it through alcohol, I know I was only making it worse. Not only is alcohol a depressant, it also massively increases the effects of anxiety. I was prescribed Citalopram and continued to take it for 5 years without knowing it doesn’t work if you’re drinking so much. What I do know is, my anxiety is mainly social related.
I’ve learned a lot about myself and my anxiety since I stopped drinking. I know the alcohol was making it 10 times worse than it actually is. I know it’s OK to say no when I’m uncomfortable with certain situations or social events. I know I’m fine and there’s nothing wrong with me. I know it’s because I just don’t deal with certain things as well as others. I know it’s OK to be introverted and I don’t have to ‘look’ sociable all the time.
My confidence, self esteem and self belief have increased a huge amount since I stopped drinking and this is all because I’m dealing with my anxiety a lot better. I know what to avoid and I know what I’m comfortable with. I know my close friends and family will help once I explain how I feel about something and this also helps them understand. This is something that took a while to get my head around as not everyone understands anxiety.
I guess everyone has their battles in life and this is mine. I know anxiety will always be a part of my life but I’m finally able to manage it and I know it’s only going to get easier over time
I do believe if we share our stories, we can all help each other. I’ve learned a lot from other people’s blogs and that’s partly why I carry on writing about my issues. Even if I help one person then that would make it all worth while.