By JasonR86 33 Comments
Easter this year marked my year of attempting to be clean from alcohol. Officially I have been clean for about 7-8 months. My use started during high school, escalated during college, but sky-rocked during graduate school and especially my first year as a full-time mental health therapist. You might think that someone in the health profession, especially the mental health profession, wouldn't fall victim to bad habits. But as it turns out the health profession is stressful. More so then I ever imagined. But my use was a little more complex then just a reaction to stress. In this blog I'll try to explain my use and the rationale and nature of me quitting. This blog is about me developing into a more mature person. It's also about mental health. It's about a lot of stuff and is also mind-numbingly huge. It also may not lead to much community discussion. But I'm linking it to the 'off-topic' section of our forums anyway with the hope that maybe someone might get something out of it.
So I'm 26 right now and will be turning 27 in November. Every age range is weird developmentally and the 20s are no exception. The 20s represented a time when I was both maturing into an adult but also feeling stuck because, into mid-20s, I was still in school. That's a long time. Friends around me were getting married, having kids, and developing their careers. I was still a lowly student. It was frustrating. Add that to the fact that when I was in graduate school I didn't have a lot of time to hang out with people and still do well in school. Then there were was the internship which was my introduction to therapy work and trying to find my place and my view of therapy in a real, tangible, practical way. Also my part-time job had a way of sucking up all my free time too. All of these things lead to me not have a lot of downtime to recuperate.
Then there came alcohol. I was living with people who worked at the time and we all drank pretty heavily spending the majority of our money on alcohol. But unlike them, I started to drink non-stop. I didn't have a sober time. There wasn't a point where I didn't have alcohol going through my veins. At school, at my internship, at work. I had moments when I wasn't drunk. But I never had moments where I was sober. So I suppose I became a functional alcoholic. I was always in a hazy state. This lead to a feeling of just being out of it. Of being lethargic and depressed. Which lead me to drink more. So my functional alcoholism quickly turned into heavy, dysfunctional alcoholism. I would show up to work at 8 AM still drunk. I would see clients with a hangover still pounding my skull at 3 PM. Then I would go back home and drink another fifth.
It all culminated during one fateful party on Easter. I went to my parents' house with all my extended family with three fifths in the back of my car. By two or three hours into the party all of the liquor I had had was drunk and when I sat down to eat some dessert I passed out for a moment and spilled cake all over myself. Embarrassed, but too drunk to play off what had happened, I went upstairs to a spare bedroom in my parents' house and passed out up there. It was on that day I decided to stop drinking.
Well it didn't happen quite that easily. A week went by and I had more drinks in my hands. Then a week dry. Then a few weeks hammered. It went back and forth like this for about a month. This all coincided with the fact that I was going to have to end the therapy of four of my clients because either we were done with our therapy or they ran out of funding.
So, with all of that in mind, here's where I had my revelation. It was when I had been about two weeks clean. This was the longest I had ever been without a drink since high school. Not a drop. And I was dying. Alcohol was my elephant in the room. The more I tried to not think about it the more I seemed to think about it. Eventually it became an ever present thing on my mind that I couldn't shake. I went outside to our garage, grabbed a beer, opened it, and held it to my lips. Then I thought of my four clients and I got anxious. The need to drink escalated even higher. But this link was more important to me then the drink. So I thought about it.
One of the things that a therapist, at least in my opinion, tries to do when ending therapy with a client is express to that client what that therapy meant to the therapist and also to ask the client what the therapy meant to him/her. A big part of this is discussing the nature of the relationship between the therapist and client and moving the conversations from the abstract and cognitive to the emotional. I'm not good at this as it turns out. It's because I like to keep people at a distance. I'm not good at dealing with emotions when they are about me or me in relation to another person (I sure picked the right profession didn't I?). It stresses me out. My normal defense is to be sarcastic and aloof to show everyone that I'm not bothered by all this emotional stuff. Those emotions can't touch me.
But at the time I also knew that I couldn't do that. I couldn't avoid the emotions and I couldn't be aloof when I was with my clients ending our relationship. Rather I had to face those emotions head on. Most importantly I had to lead by example. That scared me. That made me anxious. That realization lowered my anxiety. It lowered my desire to drink.
Looking back what I had realized was my immaturity. This immaturity led to these maladaptive behaviors. My fear of emotion whether it be from a relationship, from my reaction to work, school, being stuck in school rather then starting the rest of my life, all of it. It was all immature reactions leading to extreme emotions that I didn't want to experience and it was all coming to a head when my way of coping with those emotions, drinking, was causing me to ruin more then just my liver but also my reputation with my family, my ability to be a professional, and my own evaluation of myself as a person. And the kicker was that my solution to extreme emotion couldn't be used when I ended therapy with my clients because it would have meant that I would have to send my clients away while hammered out of my mind (which is not the most ethical thing to do).
So I decided to reassess what I was doing with my life and changed my habits. I started an exercise routine to help me cope with extreme emotions and cravings. I sucked it up and one by one got through all of the therapy terminations unscathed. In fact, every termination was refreshing and made me feel happy and proud. In short, I grew up. I haven't had a drink since.
Man this is a long blog.