As more women are becoming alcohol free, and understanding that life, partially intoxicated by a cheeky little Pinot was not the sparkly marshmallow world that the marketeers would have them believe, I have been making some interesting observations.
First of all, just because supermarkets smother us with promotions and attractive pictures of how life will be if you drink, does not make it true or right.
This promotion is hardly indicative of a grocer, is it? But it suggests that this enormous bottle of wine, not some crisp rocket or fresh broccoli would be the main reason you would do an online shop. Other supermarket items are just as heavy, milk, bottled water, or perhaps laundry powder. We seem to just accept that it’s quite normal to encourage us to ditch any obstacle that might come in the way of home drinking and women particularly, I am sure the marketing department were not thinking of men when they came up with this image. So, let’s just put this into an appropriate place mentally. If you are going shopping the first thing on your mind should not be how much the wine you can buy and carry, if it is then you must become concerned. This is not normal at all.
Secondly the constant battles that women I talk to do with their thoughts of how people will perceive them without a glass of wine in their hand. Rather than focusing on how nice it might be to meet up with old or new friends, chat about fun or serious stuff, the whole process of going out seems to focus on whether they will get some awful stick for not drinking alcohol. Hours can be spent getting worked up over this. If these people are really friends, what difference will it make to them whether you are imbibing or not? They like you for what you are not for how much you can drink. There is nothing dull about being able to string your words together without losing the plot or having no recollection of what went on with the night out or lunch. Being out of control in some quest to become more likeable is just madness. For the most part no one cares what you are drinking if you don’t interfere with their habits, and anyone that does really isn’t worth knowing. All that time wasted on the what ifs of not drinking is just pointless. Alcohol in quantity is never desirable, the only solace for the drinker is avoiding uncomfortable withdrawal.
Thoughts of being seen as a ‘do gooder’ really get my back up too. No disrespect to do gooders, but we are just being real without a crutch of alcohol, who should have a problem with that? None of us in my posse are trying to change the world, ban booze, but we are saying that we are quite enough without it, so now let’s move on.
After 35 I am not sure where the good times come from with wine time. Most clients now drink at home, alone. Where is the fun in that? It’s isolating and lonely. If your drinking revolves around socialising and being responsible, that’s great, but I have not met that many women who have families and work commitments that are able to do that. They retreat into a world of sofa, tablet, teli and Prosecco.
I am still amazed that so many people, especially women, are not more upfront about not drinking anymore. What’s the problem? You have stopped hurting yourself, and undoubtedly others, you are able remember everything you do, and more than likely are looking a 100 times better than you once did.
On the whole, people don’t judge these days, they are all too embroiled in their own lives, very aware of the PC world we live in. There will always be gossip, and for the most part it’s baseless.
I do hope that after having daily bulletins on COVID admissions and deaths, that there might be a varied bulletin regime by the news channels, that includes the harms that alcohol causes, not just to the young, the disadvantaged and poorest in our society, because as Waitrose clearly shows, middle-class, middle-aged women are dying for a drink.
Working with Sarah has given me the impetus I needed to reassess my relationship with alcohol. While I was nervous to go into a ‘programme’, I’m not one for deep introspection and oversharing, the relief of the honesty combined with the matter-of-fact way in which Sarah treats the subject was very reassuring and liberating. I’m so glad I made the decision to work with Sarah, it feels like a grown up thing to do – taking responsibility for a behaviour that was on its way becoming out of control. You wouldn’t allow your children’s behaviour to spiral out of control, so why your own?
Many addiction services no longer have competencies in-house to deal with co-morbid mental ill-health, and mental health services frequently refuse to work with people who have a co-morbid alcohol use disorder, such that patients wanting help with the depression that they see as causing them to use alcohol, are often told they cannot be helped until they are alcohol-free. People in truly desperate states are bounced between addiction and mental health services, with many often falling through the gaps.
So what can be done?
1. We all need to be more aware of what we drink, and why, and at a population level increase our alcohol health literacy.
2. We need to be aware and challenge the alcohol and advertising industries’ attempts to encourage alcohol as the only narrative in our social world.
3. We need to encourage conversations about alcohol use as we now seem better able to do about mental ill-health.
4. We need health professionals to recognise alcohol as a modifiable risk factor for so many mental (and physical) health disorders and have the competence to manage it.
5. We need mental health services to reclaim alcohol use disorders as primarily a disease of the mind, and genuinely embrace person centred care.
6. We need government to commit to the resources required to redress the balance of 10 years of funding cuts.
This may seem like a lot that needs to be implemented, which it is, but the most effective thing we can all do is make small but sustained changes to our own alcohol awareness and behaviours.
I would be more than happy to discuss this issue with the relevant department, there has to be a structure in place of prevention, and not as is currently happening, only trying to deal with the awful fall out of this ever-rising problem.
Reaching 50, aware that I had spent most of my adult years under the influence, at varying degrees, stopping and starting, peaking and troughing, losing so much emotionally, and financially, I needed to find an answer, and by pure serendipity, I found Harrogate Sanctuary.
It is so difficult to describe the Sanctuary Six Week Programme. There is nothing else like it, and believe me, I have tried so many times to stop drinking. Notice I use the word Stop, not Giving Up. Sarah does have a unique way of switching off any positive thoughts about alcohol, it definitely can take time, for sure there was a white knuckle period, but the availability to talk with her at times that worked around my schedule, write to her and meet up online, were always a safety net. There was zero clock watching, weirdly I found it all so relaxing and genuine. Only the first phone call for me was anxiety ridden.
There were no comparisons, no one telling me that I would be doomed if I slipped, and the most important thing for me was complete trust and confidentiality. I am not special but have a reasonably high profile job in the media, had no desire to return to rehab, which I had done twice before, and certainly couldn’t get the AA ethos, as one of the rehabs I went to used The 12 Step Programme and it did nothing to help me.
I had partied, been the life and soul, and as my thirties came around, less and less did I feel comfortable about being in the spotlight, it was as if I was becoming the evening’s entertainment for those I socialised with. Gradually I started to make mistakes, felt embarrassed although I hid it well, in the end my drinking became a solo act. At home, one bottle a night became two. The rehabs I went to certainly dried me out, but never got to the root of my desire for booze. The first lockdown played right into my hands.
Sarah coaxed me to tell her about a very private and extremely painful trauma, that I had buried for over 29 years. I trusted her enough to spill the beans, and that was the key to my new alcohol-free lifestyle, often glorious, sometimes tough, but now I understand how I tick, can manage any urges or wistful thoughts that a glass or two wouldn’t hurt.
I continue with a maintenance programme with the Sanctuary, which has little to do with alcohol and more to do with my wellbeing. Sarah is a fixer and covers many aspects of mental health.
She will not accept that she saves anyone, only that she gives us the tools to mend ourselves, it is a remarkable gift. She has taught me that the drinking was not because I was born to be alcoholic, dependent, whatever word you like to use, but almost forensically examining my past showed me that I did have a future that I could face without damaging myself or anyone else for that matter.
I used to drink too much, worry too much, project too much, and because of alcohol, almost every thought I had was pickled with negativity. It was extreme self-destruction, that harmed others, to wake up in the morning, and know you have not hurt anyone is a magical feeling. In my work, naturally confidentiality has always been key, but the more empowered The Sanctuary women become the more they are now beginning to start the BIG conversation in real time, about what was once a very toxic issue for them. Without stigma or tambourine bashing, they have overcome the fear around talking openly about their reasons for not drinking to excess anymore, and I hope as they do, that they will in turn encourage others who find themselves in the same concerned and fearful position to be able to do the same, casting aside any shame or guilt. For after all, it was never a choice that we became so dependent on such a well marketed and dangerous, legal drug. Wine is dressed up so adeptly as being very acceptable, affordable and a quick, effective way to relax. It is also completely normalised, for many of us, it was never considered ‘proper’ drinking until the wheels fell off, With the added easy edge, that it needs no prescription, just a grocery shop and a fridge. Of course it is not the first time that we have been seduced. Gin was the craze in the first half of the 18th century, the Absinthe movement in the latter part of the 19th Century, and more recently, Mother’s little helper Valium washed down with Gin and Dubonnet in the 60s was a favourite mix for middle class Mums. My Mother was a victim of this over prescribed prescriptive drug, trusting advice that it would make all the tragedy and angst in her life disappear, sadly the reverse was the case. So many clients are prescribed Anti-depressants, Citralopram, Prozac, wash them down with a cheeky little number, ignoring the fact that their drinking totally negated the effects of the other legal drug they were taking. It is not the fault of them or the GPs, admitting that we drink too much to ourselves and others is far too painful because of the stigma that surrounds it. So, in many ways history is repeating itself. But this is a modern problem, faced by modern women, who wanted it all, and for the most part got it, except for the indisputable fact, that biologically we just are not equipped to drink like men. In everything else of course, we beat them hands down! This BIG conversation will only start with us. Like minded women, from different backgrounds, who have had enough of the self-destruct button. Without being preachy or evangelical, by playing our wellness and clarity forward, we can make a change. We do not have a rule book, or belong to a cult, but we are very obviously, savvy, intelligent, articulate women who have now got control and choice. Methods at the Sanctuary are not mainstream, I have no time for the depressing thought that I will be burdened with a lifetime of regret. The gold standards of care that are in place today, are antiquated and inconvenient for many. What I would love all women who are concerned about their drinking, is to campaign for at the very least gender specific care, and at best combine that with age specific care. To be told once you have decided to cork it, there should be immediate and appropriate therapy in place that maintains your determination to make this change. If you broke your leg, your GP doesn’t fix it you’re referred to a specialist. Only when the problem has become desperate, mopping up the outcome of misuse costs the UK at least 37 billion a year, surely that money would be better spent in prevention that does not come across as weakness of the client, the opposite, it so courageous. There is no value with ineffective care, waste of time and money. Because of the drip feed with drinking, rarely do we count the financial cost of it. We did the stats at the Sanctuary. Last year the average saving per client, was £4674.00 per annum, and that did not include, any wild online shopping, guilt purchases or taxi fares. We must be proactive, vocal and concise in the inappropriate way our once problem is handled. We need to speak with the powers that be, MPs, local Councils, to all services either private or public who would are involved in change. We should join forces pool our resources, one small group will not have enough leverage, but given the amount of online help out there, surely it would make sense for those groups, sites and forums to get involved in real time. We need to make bars and clubs give balance to the drinks on offer, and we need too to tackle our supermarkets and get them to address this balance also. We are the consumers and there is strength in numbers.
We have to banish the taboo, there is none with sexuality or smoking, so why the hell are we still frightened of talking about once drinking too much? It’s insane, and the best definition of insanity provided by Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to change. We have all been there! We live in the 21st century not the dark ages.
To coin a saying that did the rounds with COVID, we all are in this together, but not outwardly, in reality, doing anything about it. Sending messages across the internet, staying anonymous simply is not going to stop this escalating epidemic, we have all find a way of joining forces and taking this to those in power and make them listen.
I am 57 years old and have been a heavy drinker for many years. Up until my menopause, I was highly functioning, admittedly in complete denial of the problem, and selectively ignored any reference to my habit.
Sarah has explained to me the type of plateau I was on, then I started to slide down the other side of my personal mountain. I felt hormonal, anxious, and afraid of what I saw a chapter of my life in which I would start to disappear, old, haggard, and alone.
Then lockdown. Like many others, I was furloughed, and had more time and opportunity to drink, given the stage I was at, it was almost like a warped gift rather than a disadvantage or a worry about isolation, I had isolated myself already with wine. By the time the first lockdown was lifted, I had replaced food with wine for both lunch and dinner. One evening in July last year, I had a blackout and fell down the stairs. When I came round, I knew I had to call for an ambulance, there was blood everywhere from a head injury. The paramedics were compassionate and thorough, that all changed when I arrived at A & E.
Carrying a shedload of shame, guilt and fear and shocked into sobering up, I was then bundled onto a trolley, left for an hour, seen by a nurse then wheeled into to a room with a tub in it, was roughly stripped and put into tepid water. I had not been examined but was told I had to have my hair washed to get rid of the blood. As I watched the water turn red, I saw clumps of hair swirling around in the water, matted because the blood had dried as I must have lain at the bottom of the stairs for a while. Not strands, handfuls. My personal hygiene had not been good I saw no point, but I had always had thick long hair, one of the only parts of me that I could admire, my body had shrunk, almost skeletal, this event was my last part of complete breakdown of self respect, and I cried for the first time for many years.
Back in the hospital bay, I was then given the statutory tests, heart, BP, bloods, put on a drip and left again, my head was still bleeding, but the wound had been covered. Time was vague then, but eventually I did have my head looked at by a doctor I think, a CT scan was arranged, where thankfully there was no serious injury.
I was transferred to a small ward, women only, I found out all were there because of alcohol problems and consequences they were all over 50. I was asked to get into the bed. The others were laying still, quiet, detached. It was very eerie, I wanted to say hello, to engage I suppose, somehow that didn’t seem appropriate. My balance was extremely poor and needed assistance. Left again with another drip, I asked for a glass of water. I waited more than an hour for that. Eventually a doctor came and asked me questions about my drinking, and assessed whether I was a fall risk, I was, and he would arrange for a mental health worker to visit me.
During the rest of the night, I wanted to go to the lavatory, was told they would put me in waterproof pants, so to stay still, I simply could not go through that humiliation, and wanted to get out of bed. I did make it to the toilets, hanging onto the rail at the side of the corridor, with two nurses, one in front and one behind. I constantly apologised for wasting their time.
The next morning, I had a talk with one of the mental health team, there was no advice, no mention of how to handle my drinking, or which came first, the drinking or my issues that I drank upon. He ticked boxes. After this very cursory meeting, I was then told that a Physio would visit to address my imbalance and whether I was fit to walk unaided, climb stairs, my house has lots of steps, with a view to me being discharged. That exercise consisted of again a nurse behind me, the Physio in front of me, and I managed with real difficulty to climb two steps. That was it.
I also then summoned up the courage to talk to the others. They were in different stages of alcohol dependence, one was very late stage. They had tried to stop, three had been here before, two were extremely disadvantaged, had no transport, no internet, and old broken phones. One had had a very good job, until her world fell apart, and was now so shut down that having gone through instruction to seek help she had tried, but could not succeed, and had now given up, she said she was only in hospital because someone had found her collapsed in backwater of the town. She had wanted to be left.
I was told by the next doctor the obvious, I had to stop drinking. I asked if I could have a detox plan, that was not possible, no course of tranquilisers so that I didn’t have a dangerous withdrawal, but only that I should taper off the alcohol. One sip of this toxic substance that had been my crutch for so long, would never be enough, I told him this, he shrugged, and told me that was the only option. I cried again, if that was going to be the only way to stop I was doomed.
I asked him about support from the mental health team, he said he had nothing to do with that, but they probably would be in touch. Then I was discharged, given my crumpled clothes, and told to go home and the discharge team would visit the following day. I had thankfully got my bag with me, and able to afford a taxi home.
I lived alone, in a fairly hazardous house for someone who had been through a head injury, and yes, it was self-inflicted, but not intentional, I felt judged and even more of a hopeless case than ever. I was a drunk, middle aged write off. That was the impression I got, and I guess I deserved it. I sat down, and then started to have intentional thoughts of ending everything. I was useless and worthless. This may sound like a pity party, but I truly didn’t see any other way out.
I was shaking, couldn’t walk without having items to hang onto, struggled to do anything but get a plastic beaker of water. I hallucinated, I was too frightened to go up the stairs, get a toothbrush or toothpaste, which was never offered to me in hospital, just a dirty, smelly piece of broken humankind. I don’t live in squalor, I am not disadvantaged or deprived, to the outside world, I wore the mask of a middle class, middle-aged woman, with a good job, nice house and chattels, never needy, always quick to ask how others were. No matter what social strata we are on, the outcome of being hooked on alcohol is the same, pride certainly has got in the way with me, when I experienced this, I had no pride or respect left for myself.
The next day the discharge nurses arrived. They were efficient and brusque. They did get my toothbrush & toothpaste, along with some soap and a towel, told me I could wash in the kitchen sink, looked at my downstairs cloakroom, decided that for now the seat was too low for my limited mobility, ripped the toilet seat off, and installed a plastic temporary steel framed contraption over the pan, and told me to sleep on the sofa for the time being. They watched me trying to walk, unaided, two steps at best, and got a walking stick out of their car, and told me that would help. I asked again about the severe withdrawals I was having and was told to call my GP.
This is a précised version of the event, but the disjointed, unempathetic way I was treated and those other women, will stay with me. I wanted to stop drinking so badly but given what I had experienced felt that I would simply end up a statistic.
I did call my GP, as the withdrawal hadn’t killed me in the 48 hours from my last drink, he would not allow a prescription, nor a home visit, lockdown had ended, I was given a number to call, for alcohol problems, and the number of AA. With the addition of an offer of anti-depressants. There was no encouragement for both my decision or willingness to seek help. I am not entitled to more than anyone else, but reassuring words when I had summoned up the courage to call would have been something. I then assumed that whoever I rang would make me feel as though I was wasting their time.
I am now alcohol free, once I told my family about the depths I had sunk to, I was overwhelmed with the look of relief on their faces, and in turn the help they gave me. My sister knew about Sarah, and then organised an ice breaker meeting with her, and although it has been very tough to face my fear, with unlimited time during the six weeks and more with Harrogate Sanctuary, I have realised that I lost the right to choose with alcohol, that I am not a bad person, but with any alcohol inside me, a very sick one. I was lucky, once I had fessed up, I did have support and financial help to access care that would work for me. It haunts me daily the lack of immediate intervention within the system, and how those other women could ever get out of their hell.
I have got honest, I have regained my confidence, I have told friends, I have got my self-respect back.
This is a long read, and maybe not the way it is for others when admitted into hospital, perhaps they have accessed aftercare, in that ward on one of the darkest nights of my life, every other woman in there looked as scared.
I shall reveal my true identity a little further down the road, but for now, I am not as frightened of revealing that I had a drink problem, as I am of the repercussions of describing my experience with the NHS. I do have the greatest respect and sympathy for what all the staff have gone through with COVID, but I think very few of us wanted to be a burden to them or highlight any failings. Please can we start to feel able to address this with kindness and as Sarah says, remove the taboo status that surrounds it.
When I first stepped off this wine oiled hamster wheel, others were surprised or even a bit sceptical — but over time, many friends and strangers (mostly women) quietly started to reach out, letting me know they were inspired and had followed suit, or asked me how it was done.
How? For me, it started with a genuine desire for change. Then a very intricate search for a method that made sense to me. I did not want group therapy, I didn’t want to share intially my habit with others, but I did want to find someone who was on the same page, except without the daily intake of alcohol, and a skilled one to one approach that was suitable for my lifestyle, the only name that seemed to keep coming up trumps was Harrogate Sanctuary. After the ice breaker meeting online with Sarah, I was convinced that her very personal, understanding and empathetic nature was a good fit. Over six weeks, she taught me how to rewire and reboot. There were no scripts or rules, the programme was tailored to me. We worked together for over six months in the end, and still have a light maintenance programme going on, she keeps me on track, but has allowed me to see that I am not damaged or a slave to wine or what others may think of me for being alcohol free.
She taught me about making commitments to myself rather than trying to please people, which I had done for over 45 years. This was made stronger by telling others rather than allowing them to assume, or making up stories about health kicks and so on. Then persistence, dredging up a belief I could do it, staying focused on the positives.
Sarah also feels it is critical to maintain being busy, even through these awful last few months. I needed forms of joy and abandon in my life to stave off becoming bored and resentful.
Sarah’s programme is goal driven, that suited me as well.
She reminded me that change was a long process and to do it properly you need to have both a reason and the ability.
I had both, she told me — others who wanted to stop drinking weren’t nearly so lucky or priviledged. I had choices — so what kind of life did I want to choose?
Her advice to consider how drinking fits into life goals, along with being aware of alcohol’s relationship to stress.
I found like so many others, that alcohol is an ingrained coping mechanism and so can feel very necessary in order to deal with stress or help wind down after a challenging day. Swapping that for writing daily to Sarah, became my new coping mechanism, and always journal for my own wellbeing these days.
Writing down why I drank, why I no longer wanted to and what it was like dealing with stress and anxiety without an artificial crutch became extraordinarily useful.
I cannot recommend this wonderful, logical, and no nonsense approach enough.
This is one of the best blogs I have read, to describe the lack of care for one of the biggest triggers of mental illness, alcohol. As someone replied to a tweet of mine recently, ‘I think it’s largely because almost everyone uses it and society doesn’t want to acknowledge that it’s a problem for many, many people… it’s hidden in plain sight.’
We know that people’s mental health is suffering during the pandemic and is likely to worsen during this second winter lockdown, and also that many of us are consuming more alcohol than usual.
The trouble is that alcohol presents itself as an immediate (but short-term) solution to feeling anxious, low mood, winding down from a stressful day, difficulty falling asleep, and moving on time when it hang heavily on our hands. Lockdown may add relationship and financial stresses, and significantly reduces our access to other options for destressing.
However, the short-term fix that alcohol provides starts to become the problem as tolerance develops and we need to drink more to have the same effect. Once that happens alcohol starts to cause or add to the problems we were trying to solve (feeling anxious, low mood, poor sleep etc).
So, the same symptom may be either a cause or a consequence. For instance, symptoms of depression or anxiety may increase our alcohol use, which then is likely to worsen our mental state, worsening anxiety and depression symptoms, and fuelling further alcohol use which people may regard as treating their anxiety or depression.
Similar vulnerability factors (genetics, adverse childhood experience, social inequalities, stress, life events and personality traits) may be common to both mental ill-health and alcohol use disorders. For example, higher levels of impulsivity are seen both in alcohol use disorder and bipolar disorder and likely contribute to their high co-occurrence.
But while stigma around mental ill-health is thankfully starting to reduce, the same cannot be said for people with alcohol use disorders, where it remains frequently dismissed as a ‘lifestyle choice’, a ‘lack of willpower’ or a form of ‘moral weakness’.
People who become physically or psychologically dependent on alcohol often feel a huge sense of shame, and self-stigma, which adds to their already low mood, and sense of hopelessness, and is a significant barrier to seeking appropriate help.
Sadly, most health professionals are not trained in what should be the simple act of assessing levels of alcohol consumption or offering brief interventions, which have a strong evidence base for effectiveness.
Other factors also have an impact: confusion over alcohol units; the increase in alcohol strength and portion size in recent years; the alcohol industry’s sub-standard labelling; and advertising which implies that no event is complete without alcohol (have you tried finding a birthday card without an alcohol reference of late?). All this results in a potent cocktail of social norms of high alcohol consumption combined with ignorance of its harms, which can drive people further down the road to mental ill-health and risk of suicide.
The health and social care act changes of 2012, resulted in addiction services taken out of NHS commissioning, and subject to frequent re-tendering and budget cuts. This has disproportionally affected people with co-occurring alcohol dependence and a mental health disorder.
Many addiction services no longer have competencies in-house to deal with co-morbid mental ill-health, and mental health services frequently refuse to work with people who have a comorbid alcohol use disorder, such that patients wanting help with the depression that they see as causing them to use alcohol, are often told they can’t be helped until they are alcohol-free. People in truly desperate states are bounced between addiction and mental health services, with many often falling through the gap.
So what can be done?
We all need to be more aware of what we drink, and why, and at a population level increase our alcohol health literacy
We need to be aware and challenge the alcohol and advertising industries’ attempts to encourage alcohol as the only narrative in our social world
We need to encourage conversations about alcohol use as we now seem better able to do about mental ill-health
We need health professionals to recognise alcohol as a modifiable risk factor for so many mental (and physical) health disorders and have the competence to manage it
We need mental health services to reclaim alcohol use disorders as primarily a disease of the mind, and genuinely embrace person centred care
We need government to commit to the resources required to redress the balance of 10 years of funding cuts
This may seem like a lot that needs to be done, which it is, but the most effective thing we can all do is make small but sustained changes to our own alcohol awareness and behaviours.
It has taken me too long to write this blog, for the relevance and importance of the connection between wine time and depression is so key.
More and more I hear from clients of how they are treated by GPs with regard to their mental health, and primarily, their drug of choice, alcohol, which is a gateway to so much more, is broken before the conversation can begin. I am very fortunate in having a great general practitioner, caring and compassionate, and most importantly, a good listener. However I am in the minority. Before anyone starts about how much pressure GPs are under, we all are, which is why so many seek solace in a bottle or two. It is not to have fun with, it is to self medicate, having drawn a complete blank with their professional health expert, their first port of call, their hope.
There is a script that seems to be followed to the letter. It goes something like this. ‘Doctor I am very anxious and depressed, probably drinking a bit too much’, nervously giggling which translates into shameful embarrassment. Asked how much is imbibed, the lie is told, and that is just above safe guidelines, with the odd binge now and again. Then asked if they are depressed, there is an immediate admission of that, often ‘Yes, deeply, and so anxious, work, family, you know….’ Three options are offered, the go to anti depressants, which will take apparently weeks to take effect, and you can potentially suffer awful side effects, including more anxiety and depression, beta blockers, along with ADs these won’t work effectively either given the drinking that’s going on, and possibly CBT, with a therapist who is up to their eyes in it, months of waiting, and when you get to see them, few specialise in alcohol or other drugs, another script. GPs also have alcohol problems, some of them, and I have seen many. So they do leave judgement at the door, although often my clients tell me they have had a sniffy sort of look followed by, ‘cut down, you know it makes sense’. Doh, we are not stupid, we are at the end of a very long tether, wanting some sort of clear and kind plan to help.
So that has taken the ten minutes, off you go, with your new prescription, and get on the merry-go-round of most likely anti depressants, which could be another lifetime of despair.
Hoping for the best, because most people that I see do have that attitude, they don’t feel like victims, they start the course, along with celebrating that they at last may have an answer to the low mood, with a bottle of white.
Now it becomes extremely dark. Anxiety ramps up, tiredness, worse than before sets in, and the drinking increases. There is an awful pattern of guilt and frustration because we have always been taught that doctors know better than we do. Well, newsflash, they don’t with this. They haven’t got a clue what to do with us, they are not trained and they have no empathy unless they have been in the same place as we once were.
There is a major epidemic now, more than ever before of stigma and taboo. There are more and more suicides and lost families because of the non joining up of dots with drinking too much and mental health. No amount of shiny leaflets and platitudes can replace some honest and quality care. What is potentially a fixable mental health issue, then becomes something so much darker, more dangerous and potentially life threatening, when what was needed was some truly empathetic care and general non stigmatised attitudes.
More and more in the media we hear of tragic loss because of complex mental health crisises, many of which could have been nipped in the bud if they had been handled appropriately in the first place.
It makes me incredibly angry, and more and more fired up in my desire to break this last taboo, and most especially for women. 64% of my clients this year were on anti depressants, having stopped drinking, only 12% remain on them. We just want an open and honest approach to this without all the fear, and a simple change of attitude will do that.