Tag Archives: Addiction

Bob The Street Cat

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“It’s incredible,” said Bowen. “When I first saw Bob on this doorstep, I never thought this is where I’d be today.”

I love this true story and I read the book written by James Bowen to describe his and Bob’s journey when it was first published in 2012 and it made me cry.  Now I’m a sucker for a happy ending and this one involves a cat, that looks not too dissimilar to our family cat, so it was always going to be a winner in my eyes.  More importantly this was a story of addiction and escape from it and the hope and change that recovery can bring.

“I think I’ve opened people’s eyes to things they never understood properly,” said Bowen of the book’s success. “I never ever thought I would be able to turn my life around … and be the voice of people who can’t be heard.”

Why I am I sharing this?  Because the companionship of Bob helped James in the same way that I feel the companionship of the sober blogging community helps me.  I also consider that mine is a voice that cannot be heard.  I’m a drinker who had a problem that needed help where traditional support does not exist and yet here it is – in the very ether around me.  I would have been reclaimed and drowned by the sea of booze if I didn’t have the life-line of all of you.  I thank you all for your support from the very being of my soul that is rediscovering itself slowly but surely now that I am hangover free xx

Edited to add 21/10/16

Street Cat Bob: 500,000 Facebook followers, five million books… meet the world’s most famous cat

Health Warning

In the UK cigarette’s have carried a Government health warning, in it’s simplest form, since 1971.  These warnings were increased in size in 1991 and then again in 2003 so that now 40% of the packaging display is covered.  Plus in 2008 the graphic picture warnings were introduced.

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What does this have to do with alcohol you may be asking?  Well I guess my question is – why doesn’t booze carry the same kind of warning?  See, if you check the list of many of the warnings now given on cigarettes (which you can see listed here) many of them are equally applicable to alcohol.

So why doesn’t a bottle of wine, spirits or can of beer carry the message  ‘Drinking is highly addictive, don’t start’ or ‘Drinking when pregnant harms your baby’?  High blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, cancer, impotence and reduced fertility, aging of the skin, premature death?  Booze will do this too not just the fags.

Alcohol is carcinogenic because alcohol (ethanol) is metabolized in the liver, where it produces acetylaldehyde, a chemical that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has designated as a carcinogen (this was in 1988).  Alcohol creates the greatest cancer risks in the upper respiratory tract, liver, colon, rectum and breast as found in a meta-analysis of 229 studies of cancer in 19 sites of the body (source).

Now you could argue that these statements only apply if you are a heavy drinker but the same could be said for cigarettes.  The more you smoke the greater the risk, right?  So I just wonder when it will be that these warnings will replace the existing somewhat ambiguous, and often tiny part of the advertisement, ‘drink responsibly’ message currently displayed on alcohol.  And what does that mean exactly anyway?

By using a personal responsibility message the cynical might argued that the supplier of the product is putting the onus on the consumer not the manufacturer.  How else would a court be able to consider criminalising a women who drinks during pregnancy and causes harm to her child?  This completely avoids the issue of the nature of the substance being addictive.  Now if the bottle of wine that a pregnant women picked up to drink stated clearly that consuming it would harm her child then it could be argued that she was culpable but it does not.

Cigarette’s also carry the message that ‘Your doctor or your pharmacist can help you stop smoking’ or ‘Get help to stop smoking: consult your doctor/pharmacist’.   Pity alcohol doesn’t have these health advice message’s too …….

Edited to add: Alcohol Justice in the US released this on 26th Feb ‘There is no determined safe limit for alcohol consumption with regard to cancer risk’  and ‘daily alcohol consumption of as little as 1.5 drinks accounts for up to 35% of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths in the United States’. Read more here: http://alcoholjustice.org/press-room/press-releases/988-alcohol-is-a-leading-cause-of-cancer-even-with-moderate-use.html

Waterloo Road

I had a text from a friend of mine asking me if I had watched this programme the night before last as it had a story line about a recovering alcoholic who had relapsed .  I don’t really watch much TV and wasn’t a regular viewer of this show but my interest was peaked so I watched it last night.

Waterloo Road is a British television drama series set in a Scottish comprehensive school of the same name broadcast on BBC1.

The story line for this character in the summary reads:

Christine’s alcoholism continues to be a recurring storyline in this series as she struggles with being in the demanding role of Head Teacher. With George, a friend and former drinking partner, being around once more old habits appear to be remembered by them both. Christine comes close to downing a whole bottle of vodka during the first episode but declines, proving herself to be stronger than she once was. In the last episode, Christine struggles at Simon and Sue’s wedding reception with the alcoholic drinks that surround her.

The summary of this week’s episode:

Christine wakes up with a horrific hangover. In a massive error of judgement, she gets into her car while still under the influence and drives to school.

From that moment on, Christine’s day descends from bad to worse until her whole future hangs in the balance…

You can watch it here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03xclps/Waterloo_Road_Series_9_Episode_19/

To me this felt like watching what would have happened to me if I played the tape forward to the very end of not stopping drinking.  How her error’s of judgement multiple under the influence of either a hangover or drinking.  How rationality and stability is replaced with her increasingly labile emotional state and reactions.  It also showed how unforgiving people can be and how misunderstood addiction to alcohol remains.

Also, as my friend pointed out, there were no telephone support or advice lines offered at the end of the show to help people who had been affected by the storyline, which is both unusual and disappointing of the BBC.  The BBC should be commended however for tackling this as an issue in a popular TV show that is watched by 4-5 million people.  If I had been watching it with a drink in my hand it would have made very uncomfortable viewing.

(Apologies to those reading this outside of the UK who will not be able to view the episode but there is a clip on Youtube)

Calories on wine bottles

The Telegraph has published an article recently about the move by Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s leading supermarkets, to label 20 of its own brand wines with the calorie content of a 125ml glass.

This has led to for and against articles:

On the for side we have will it cure women’s binge drinking which you can read here saying:

“No matter how many times government officials, TV ads and magazine horror stories urge women not to drink too much, for fear of getting seriously ill, it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Pointing out to them that drinking too much will make them fatter, will.

That’s why calories should be put on all wine bottles, spirits and beer bottles (some brands already advertise ‘diet’ beers – e.g. Coors Light – and many modern men, let alone women, gladly choose to drink it over fattier beer).

So Sainsbury’s is onto something here. Putting calories on wine bottles – appealing to vanity over health – could just prompt a step change in women’s attitude to heavy drinking in Britain.”

On the against side we have the fact that this will ‘spoil’ the pleasure of drinking wine, which you can read here and says:

“Our national conspiracy of silence is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact it’s a positively Darwinian response to threats to peace and happiness. A little self-deception goes a long way towards a good night’s sleep.

Do we acknowledge that fact out loud? Umm, duh. Silence, in this case, is as golden as a Chablis Premier Cru.

And so it is with wine and calories. Do we know that white wine contains sugar? Of course we do – that’s one of the many reasons we drink it. It gives you that great lift of energy at wine o’clock – especially when accompanied by a handful of giant cashews.

Yet here comes the Truth Police – aka the head office of supermarket giant Sainsbury’s – which has decided that sticking our middle-class heads in the sand about how many calories there are in our medicinal glass of early evening sauvignon blanc is no longer OK.

These Dementors – sucking the joy out of high street shoppers as their namesakes did to the prisoners of Azkaban in the Harry Potter novel – have decided For Our Own Good to publish calorie counts on the front of its wine bottles.”

The latter article is fine except when the conspiracy of silence leads to a serious addiction to the substance concerned.  If getting people to think about wine in calorific terms helps them to make an informed decision then all well and good.  I welcome the debate and I am really pleased that Sainsbury’s are leading the way in responsible marketing of their products.  Now if the label were to say the number of units per 125 ml glass for it’s ABV and the calorific value then we would really be on to something 🙂

Drinking guilt and its big brother shame

When I used to drink the drinking threw in a free gift of a helping of guilt and shame on the side – how kind!  Guilt is the emotion that we feel when we have behaved in a way that we perceive to be hurtful to others or as a moral lapse.  Guilt serves a purpose when we recognise, acknowledge and rectify the behaviour, such as apologising if necessary.  The thing is, when I was drinking, sometimes I didn’t remember the behaviour so what I got left with was guilt’s big brother, shame.

Shame is the emotion that we feel when ‘we’ as a person are at fault, not our behaviour.  It is the way we feel if we have fallen short of our own internalised ideals or if there is a public disclosure of a perceived weakness or defect. For me shame was the fast track path to self-loathing, failing self-esteem and crushed self-confidence and it was hard not to feel shame as I felt like I couldn’t control my drinking and therefore my behaviour.  Erik Erikson argued that “shame is blame turned against the self” and Pete Walker writes that “shame is the death of self-acceptance and self-worth.”  If I couldn’t manage this there was something wrong with ‘me’ right?

But if you drink alcohol, which is addictive and designed to make you thirsty (so you drink more) and acts as a disinhibitor (encouraging behaviour that you would not normally engage in) then how is that a weakness or defect in yourself?  Now I’m not handing total responsibility for my actions over to the booze monster as the choice to pick up the first drink was always mine.  What I didn’t fully choose was the addiction created by the substance to go on drinking to the point of total black out, guilt making antics and no memories to attach the guilt to therefore leaving me with an overwhelming sense of shame.  And then I would drink to forget the shame compounding the problem. Shame, drink, shame, lather, rinse, repeat.

The leading expert and queen of shame research is Brene Brown who I love.  Her PhD was studying vulnerability.  You can watch her TED talk on vulnerability here and her follow up TED talk on ‘Listening to Shame’ here.

What her research found was that shame is highly highly correlated with addiction.  Shame is the voice in my head telling me that I’m ‘never good enough’ and I can’t do life sober.  Shame is that same internal critic saying ‘who do you think you are’ to blog about my sober journey thinking people would be interested in what I have to say.

This is the most toxic of emotions and now I don’t drink I don’t really experience it like I used to anymore.  I know that I can do life sober and have done it for over five months. I know that people are interested in what I have to say because they take the time to read my blog and comment.  My internal voice of shame has gone quiet and this gift is perhaps bigger than the gift of no hangover.  The no hangover is the physical gift of not drinking but the diminished feeling of shame is the psychological gift of sobriety.  And the two go hand in hand for me as part of the hangover distress was the angst caused by the shame.  In the words of Brene, for shame to survive it needs secrecy, silence and judgement (of self or of others).  Choosing not to drink and this blog is the answer to resolving my shame and I would chose this option hands down every day over drinking now 🙂

PS My other most popular blog post is my Goodbye Letter to Alcohol which you can read here

Edited to add: I found this brilliant card that summed up how this drinking shame and guilt felt for me so if this is how you feel too then can I recommend this self-compassion break  🙂

Overindulgence Disposal Unit

Physical preparation

Having nursed alcoholics I knew what a toll alcohol takes on the body physically so before I stopped I wanted to start addressing that.

B vitamins, especially B1, B2, B3 and B6, are destroyed by alcohol, which primarily affects the liver and nervous system.  When we were detoxing patients on the ward they would all receive daily multivitamins, thiamine and folic acid, intravenously if they could not take it orally.

I started taking a daily multivitamin & multimineral and a 1000mg Vitamin C.  Milk thistle is also good for liver detoxification.

If you read Patrick Holford Optimum Nutrition Bible he recommends for alcoholism:

Multivitamins and multiminerals

Antioxidant complex

Vitamin C 1000mg

Adaptogenic herbs, plus tyosine – which helps to prevent emotional and physical lows after stopping.

Bone mineral complex (including calcium and magnesium)

Glutamine powder twice a day in water on an empty stomach – which  helps the gut and reduces cravings.

He also says that a very alkaline diet reduces the cravings for alcohol and recommends a diet high in whole grains, beans and lentils and frequent meals containing protein such as nuts, seeds, fish,, chicken, eggs or milk produce.  Soberistas are currently running a Love Your Liver 14 day Detox, Cleanse & Rejuvenate Programme put together by their Nutritional Therapist, Clare Shepherd which you can find here.

Oh and lots and lots of water.

He also warns that sugar addiction is often substituted for dependency on alcohol, as booze is just liquid sugar, so avoiding sugar and stimulants is recommended.  I can attest for the sweet tooth but have personally decided to let it slide as I am less than 6 months without a drink and I would rather put not drinking before anything else at this point in time.  The sugar issue will be addressed once being sober is a stable part of my life.

Edited to add 14th May 2016:

Chronic drinking interferes with absorption of critical vitamins by pancreas

Chronic exposure to alcohol interferes with the pancreas’ ability to absorb vitamin C, potentially predisposing the body to pancreatitis and other pancreatic diseases, a new study in the American Journal of Physiology — Cell Physiology reports.

So that 1 gram of Vitamin C is a really good idea 🙂

Deconstructing the buzz

Last night I went to the cinema to watch the ‘Wolf of Wall Street’, Scorsese’s new film.  Going to the cinema is one of my sober treats – a good film, bottle of water and bag of liquorice and I’m happy 🙂

Jordan Belfort, the film’s lead character played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is the wolf of wall street and for me he is the human personification of ‘wolfie’ complete with glass of red wine.

wolfofwallstreet

He develops a massively chronic addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex and money during the film.  You also see him get clean and sober for 2 years, which he hates and says as much, and is very much the epitome of what I would call a ‘dry drunk’.

Early on in the film you see the seeds of his drug addiction take root when you see him take his first hit off a crack pipe.  The acting and filming is superb and he portrays so well the effect of the drug as he inhales and exhales and it hits his brain.

And this is when the light bulb went off in my head – that was it, that was what I was chasing when I drank.  That first drink when alcohol crosses your blood-brain barrier initially and shifts your consciousness making the edges of life fuzzy.  That was what I craved.  Any drink beyond that was drunk hoping for that moment to be recreated again but it had passed.  Now I truly understood what people meant when they said that it was that first drink that was the problem – it was all a mirage.

During the film he took more drugs, drank more, had more sex, earned more money but it had gone from a desire or a want to a need that he now couldn’t live without.  That was me and booze too.  The drinking at the end was determined and not pleasurable – almost a chore but I kidded myself that it was fun despite knowing the next morning it would be far from fun.

I feel like these blogs about my drinking days have been hard-work and heavy going and I’m keen to finish this series of recollections on a lighter note!  So I’ll share this comedy sketch from BBC Radio 4 where the characters of Winnie the Pooh stage an intervention for Pooh Bear because of his honey issues 🙂

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0156jzr

Starts at 12.15 mins and lasts just over 3 1/2 minutes.

The cycle of change

An addiction is a product of the interaction of three things:

The person

The drug

The circumstances

Now I hadn’t changed and the drug hadn’t changed but our circumstances were.

I now knew the harmful effects of drinking and alcohol addiction as I had nursed patients to their death because of it.  I could no longer stick my head in the sand and ignore the facts but I continued to drink.  We tried sporadic attempts at stopping – giving up for 18 days almost 10 years ago and struggled to manage the urges to drink and to stay stopped using willpower alone.  What we noticed when we cut down is that the cravings seemed to get worse, that we became obsessed with when we would drink again, and when we did start again we felt even more dependent.  We had gone from happy drinkers to unhappy drinkers.

There is a famous cycle of change model by Prochaska and DiClemente (1983)

What we had done was we had ventured on to the cycle of change and had moved from happy drinker (pre-contemplative) to unhappy drinker (contemplation and action) and then relapsed.  What we had done is not unusual and we were to go on to do this many many times over the next many years.  We hadn’t done enough preparation to prepare for the change either externally or internally and therefore were unable to maintain the change.

If you are reading this and are thinking about this change in the next few posts I’ll share a few of the tools that helped me move through the cycle of change more successfully.

Why do I have a problem with alcohol when others do not?

This is a question that I have asked myself many times, mostly in a whiny toddler voice when I’d like to have a drink and know I shouldn’t or can’t, like Christmas Eve.  It’s the question that wolfie shows up in time and time again.  And when I talk to anyone who knows me well about my issue with alcohol in any great depth they all say to a man – but you didn’t really drink that much did you?

I nursed alcoholics so know how alcoholism presents and even now struggle to put myself in the same category as those I cared for.  But the only difference between them and me is that I have stopped drinking before I reach the place that they did.  I was psychologically addicted to alcohol, or alcohol dependent, which is only a short step away from physical addiction and the move between psychological and physical dependence can happen in a matter of weeks.  I was heavily dependent and had a high tolerance.  I had blackouts.  If I was honest with myself I consumed waaay more than the Govt recommended guidelines.  I wasn’t consuming as many units as the alcoholics I used to nurse but I was closer to their numbers than the recommended unit guidance.

I was reading this today and it helped me with the answer to that question.

Risk factors for addiction include:

Genetic predisposition

A history of mental health issues

Early use of drugs

Environmental factors, like growing up in a family of drinkers or working in an environment where heavy drinking is common

Childhood trauma

Of those 5 I could check 4.

Now I could go back to drinking but knowing this helps me face the fact that I am probably only a few drinks away from full blown alcoholism.  The odds are not in my favour and it would be like a game of Russian Roulette.  That’s a game I no longer want to play and to be honest having not drunk now for over 100 days why would I?  I feel better than I can ever remember and when I look back on Christmas and New Year I don’t feel like I missed out on anything.  So why risk the bullet and it’s consequences?

Neural network of a dependent drinker

These words of wisdom came from a blogger on Soberistas who goes by the name of Pip:

‘The brain is full of neural pathways and the “priorities” pathways are the ones that give us the ‘want/urge/desire/need to eat, drink water, be sociable and mate… all for survival. If we ignore them we will die.  The pathways created by an addiction will take priority over many others, giving us the ‘want/urge/desire/need (craving) to take alcohol as though the body thinks it will die if it doesn’t have it as it thinks it needs it for survival.  When we stop putting alcohol in, the brain starts sending loud messages out that it wants and needs this chemical to survive.  WE know that we won’t die, but the brain doesn’t.  If we stop using these pathways for long enough, they will narrow down.  New ones are being made with every minute/day we don’t use this chemical (alcohol).  The chemical balance of the brain returns to normal and all the receptors and dopamine, etc start working normally, without being confused by alcohol.

Cravings are the brain thinking we need this substance for survival.  Stop using the pathways and new ones are created.  Then the desire to drink lessens.’

This is supported by research which shows that several characteristics that were identified by a pruned neural network have previously been shown to be important in this disease (alcoholism) based on more traditional linkage and association studies. (Falk, 2005).

The sober blogging community is a beautiful thing.  We are forming networks of sober bloggers like our brains are forming new non-drinking neural networks.  Synchronicity in action 🙂

http://soberistas.com/

Day 80