Withdrawal from alcohol is hell on earth.
An old timer told me once that an alcoholic isn’t afraid of hell because they’ve experienced it here on Earth. We open the gates of hell if we take a drink. The anguish, the inferno of rage, sadness and oblivion sweeping through, carrying us uncontrollably towards insanity and an untimely demise.
Attempting to close the gates of hell is a somewhat insurmountable task. Escaping the vacuum of physical dependence feels so daunting it prolonged the drinking. Usually after the third day of drinking solidly I knew it would be difficult to stop without severe consequences. It’s not just a bad hangover, it’s horrendous in every way you can imagine.
The first few hours are subject to anxiety and heightened vigilance. There’s an impending sense of doom, however, enough alcohol remains in my system to feel subdued. Anxiety is seeping into my consciousness, both physically and mentally. I want to escape to the shop to purchase cheap booze and stop what is about to happen. Despite not eating for a week I have energy reserved for the acquisition of alcohol. My energy is so depleted my body is breaking down. My hair is greasy, fingernails are brittle and unkept, bloodshot eyes, dirty stained clothes and furry tongue beckoning unpleasant breath. The hour before the shop closes is the worst. The opportunity to stop this tragedy from unfurling into a flag of hopeless surrender is diminishing. A quarter of an hour until the shop is closed. A cold feeling runs through my body, dread has arrived to accompany anxiety.
I’m alone with my thoughts. An aura of nausea and sustenance deficiency resonates from my body. The blanket makes me expel heat in waves of discomfort. When I remove it a coldness occurs like crystalised ice on a railing. The monotony is unbearable, the same thought, feeling, sensation of anguish buzzing like an intensifying current through my very being. Muted television is a minimal comfort, or I should say distraction, from this tortuous existence. Images cascading into my brain, I can’t stop looking, I’m emulating car crash tv.
Rest seems like a good idea. Alcoholics don’t make good decisions, they make self serving bad decisions designed to prolong the madness of the disease. I close my eyes. I resent myself for stopping and allowing this to happen. A skull begins to rotate on the inside of my eyelids. Shades of green, black and grey accumulate in swirling chaos to settle as an image of a skull. Sunken eye holes, edged nose cavity, sleek jaw line turning in an ominous orbit of foreboding. I open my eyes to the luminous images of the television, silence pervading the living room with a sense of exhaustion. I manage to sleep for a few moments before my mind conjures up auditory hallucinations of it’s own to compensate for the silenced television. I hear crowds of people incoherently celebrating. Distant cheers intermingled with conversation. I attempt to listen closely and catch a small distinct uttering but it evades me and the elusive sound seems to exist in its world of joviality and mirth.
Startled, my eyes open with the immediacy of a wild animal low in the pecking order. Panic stricken I check my immediate environment. Misery floods into my consciousness and I try to grasp the last few moments of slumber by closing my eyes. Light sleep is about to transcend into Rapid Eye Movement sleep where the dreams live and escape tantalises like a mirage. Startled, my eyes open with the immediacy of wild animal. Misery floods into my consciousness and I realise I’ve lost count of how many times this has happened in the last hour. Perpetual torment seems likely until the dawn provides some normality.
Exhausted and bewildered I’ve made it through the night. I sip tea and churn a small morsel of toast around my mouth until it dissolves and makes its way to my cavernous, bile strewn stomach. Vitamin B/Thiamine enables my body to absorb the liquid diet I try to introduce. A selection of soups line up in formation to challenge nausea in the battle of my emerging recovery. I notice how weak and shaky I have become when I reach to collect the hot broth. I wonder if the sounds and images will come back to haunt me like Jacob Marley. Death and indulgence wafting in and out of my cognitive perception whilst my spirit remains barely able to provide solace and encouragement to recover.
I explained to a psychotherapist once what it’s like to experience withdrawal from alcohol dependence. I could tell they couldn’t empathise with me in this regard when they commented about never drinking again if that was the outcome. I relapsed many times and endured plenty of home detox’s over the years, three times in AA, before I found the courage to ask a gentleman to sponsor me. I was never an inpatient at a rehabilitation treatment centre, however I did seek medical help numerous times, always after the damage was done. Alcoholism is an insidious disease that is cunning, baffling and powerful. It awakens the four horsemen, Terror, Bewilderment, Frustration, Despair and as an alcoholic I still have insane thoughts of drinking.
There is hope. Out of the array of recovery solutions out there I use three components on a daily basis;
1.) One day at a time. I’ve witness people relapse after a year because they no longer had an attainable target, plus the adulation had disappeared. The concept of ‘one day at a time’ puts me on a level playing field with the old timer who has 30 years of sobriety. One day, 24 hours, is an attainable target I can remain focused on. AA birthdays are really great to acknowledge and celebrate but in terms of sustained recovery I embraced #odaat as a touch stone for unity, fellowship, service within AA. In essence, I belong and feel like I found my tribe after being out in the cold, uncontrollably drinking myself into oblivion.
2.) Serenity Prayer. I’ll be brief with this as my last post detailed most of what I think about this magnificent recovery tool. I apply it to almost every challenge in life. I ask my concept of a Higher Power for acceptance (forgiveness, patience, tolerance) of people, places and things that might be causing me difficulty. I ask for courage to, as Brene Brown says, not shrink, blow up, stand my sacred ground and show up in the arena and in doing so, change the things I can. Lastly, I ask for the wisdom to know the difference i.e. know when to accept or adapt.
Step One. “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable.” The first step of the Program grants me the protection against taking the first drink. I accepted I’m an alcoholic and when I drink my life spirals out of control to the extent I don’t know what will happen. Before working through the Steps with a sponsor I was ‘white-knuckling’, my sobriety was fragile and an emotional disturbance was enough to cause relapse. I now know the difference between being sober and being in recovery.