I'm 65 years old and I have had a drinking problem since I was in my mid to late 20s.
I'm an only child in a family that moved around a lot when I was a kid. I went to 14 schools in all and ended up shy and socially awkward, always keeping myself a bit aloof from others. I never made friends easily.
In my college years I smoked a lot of dope. I was away from home – my parents still living abroad and I developed what I now believe to be cannabis induced psychosis. My life was disorganised, I had no life skills and it all went to pieces. It was relatively mild as the condition goes, but one effect was the start of a life-long struggle with anxiety. At the time the anxiety was at times completely crippling and left me curled up on a sofa my arms wrapped around me, trying to stop my anxious thoughts. In later life it has much reduced but I am sure I remain at the higher end of the anxiety spectrum.
I discovered that alcohol handled the anxiety pretty well. The mental anguish that came with the condition lasted into my early thirties, though thankfully the paranoia that was a symptom to begin with eased off after two or three monstrously difficult years. Later of course, I learned the hard way that regular daily drinking generates an anxiety all of its own.
Despite all that I managed to get two degrees by the time I was 28, my first at Art School and then at Uni studying Social Work. Later I qualified as a teacher and then took on an MA and then a further post grad qualification. I mntion this not in any way to brag, but to remind anyone who doubts it that the homeless alcoholic in the gutter is probably not the most typical. The average guy is. I did OK with my chosen career and was successful, as these things are measured I suppose, reaching the top of my particular greasy pole by the end of my career – one that ended five years ago as I applied for early retirement.
I drank all thorough those years, which included two marriages and a third long term relationship, which I am in now. I had two children, both of who are grown up and doing well. I love them both and we are close, which is a blessing.
I drank to relax and to suppress anxiety. And then of course I drank – and still do – because I am addicted to alcohol. As these things are measured the amount I drank was on the moderate side, as alcoholics go. Four cans of beer a night for many years and a bottle and a half of wine in later years. Whatever the amount it was alcoholic drinking- dependent drinking.
I have tried to stop many times. I have had periods ranging from a year here, six months there and last year a further 10 months. To do this I used methods ranging from self control and will power, to counselling and several times AA, an organisation I ultimately grew to mistrust and dislike intensely, which is not to dismiss the help it has given many people.
I don't very much like or feel comfortable with the me – the mental and internal me that emerges once I am sober for a while. Not my personality - I think I am kind and a decent human being. I am tolerant, forgiving and willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. I have never had what AA refers to as 'resentments'. Alcohol however has made me weaker than I should be. Less tough when it counts than I should be. The 'me' that I don't like when I am sober for long periods is simply a rather tenser and more anxious person than I am when I drink. My whole 'self' tightens up ever so slightly and I never truly relax.
My most recent attempt to stop drinking was by using baclofen. I read Dr Ameison's book, The End of My Addiction, found a forum where it was discussed and started taking the tablets. I built up the dosage to 140 mg and then stalled. I think I increased the dose too fast and I experienced unusually unpleasant side effects in the process. I also struggled with some negativity about the 'baclofen route' and found managing large quantities of the drug – purchasing it and managing it a bit stressful.
I decided to stop taking baclofen – which is to say to slowly reduce the dosage over time - at that point and also to stop drinking. It was pretty easy too – perhaps because of the residual effect of baclofen. I stayed sober then for a two and a half months before drinking again.
I firmly believe that baclofen can and does work. I trust and believe the people who have said as much, however don't be fooled into thinking it is an easy route or that baclofen is a magic pill that will take your desire to drink away. It takes time and effort and for most people tolerating side effects – not dangerous ones but sometimes unpleasant enough ones.
Alcohol has been with me all my life. It has been a crutch and it has been my saviour. It has also been my master and made me its slave. Sometimes the bargain feels worth it but much of the time it feels like a bad deal.
I don't know if I will ever be free of it.