When I stopped drinking, I thought that my problem was that I drank too much.
I learned shortly after stopping that drinking was actually not my problem; it was my ineffective solution to my problem.
Drinking was my coping mechanism for my problem.
My actual problem was clinical anxiety.
I had postpartum depression and anxiety with both of my children—the second time worse than the first. The depression eventually subsided, but the anxiety decided it would stick around for the ride. For the next eight years, I would be on and off a variety of anxiety meds and drinking alcohol at the same time.
I was told that drinking alcohol while taking a drug for anxiety negates the purpose of taking the medication. Alcohol, a depressant drug, will cancel it out. I didn’t listen to that part, because I wanted to keep drinking.
I wanted to believe that my body would respond differently and that it would work despite continuing to drink. Maybe I could have my cake and eat it too.
What I didn’t understand was that “drinking alcohol was like pouring gasoline on my existing anxiety” as Laura McKowen says.
I thought I was relieving it by drinking. Alcohol is supposed to relax you, right? It does for the first couple of hours you drink it, but what is it doing in your body after you stop ingesting it? It just goes away, right?
It stays on board for a long while after its consumption, and your body responds to the depressant drug by releasing cortisol, a stress hormone, to regain homeostasis (normalcy).
I was drinking every night, so my cortisol level at steady state was elevated. That elevation attributed to my chronic anxiety, which was getting worse year after year.
And there was the cycle: drink, anxiety, drink, anxiety, drink, anxiety…
It was a never-ending, exhausting merry-go-round from hell.
Soon after I quit drinking alcohol, I started taking 40mg of Prozac—one pill every morning and a clean body for it to work in. My anxiety went from a constant eight to a one in about two weeks.
It was like night and day, the relief that I felt.
This prescribed drug, combined with my sobriety, helps me show up as myself every day. Without a racing heartbeat, it settles those feelings of imminent danger and disaster. Without panic, it helps me organize my thoughts and articulate them more clearly. It allows me to get the sleep I need. It doesn’t make my life perfect, but it makes it more manageable, more consistent, and peaceful.
Quitting drinking was just part of the puzzle. Finding my own underlying causes and conditions for drinking in the first place was another.
I couldn’t tackle my anxiety properly until I took responsibility for my drinking.
When I came out from under the fog of drinking, I had a chance to help myself. We all deserve that chance.