Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Alcoholism: A love story - Part II: The year of hell

As I was contemplating how to properly kick off this series after the overview provided in its first post, I had many ideas on where I could start. I could have started at the beginning, how it all began, or started with the great time I had in the early days of entering a state of alcoholism. But I decided against it, because, simply put, for all those young readers out there who are thinking about a "career" in the field of alcoholism, one should not start with the good and glorify the alcoholic life, despite the good times I did in fact have, but instead give you a clear warning that with the good, you are entering sort of a bargain in which your books are balanced between great times on one side and truly horrifying times on the other. In essence, before you considering living the life of an alcoholic I want you to know what you are getting yourself into.

I know a lot of you who lack experience may think that detox is the worst that can happen to you in your alcoholic life besides a slow, agonising death from organ failure, but it really isn't. Detox for me lasted two weeks, and while the first two or three days were abysmal indeed, most of the rest of it was just boring. Nah, the worst period of your life as a drinker is the time prior to detox, the time you are a heavy alcoholic.

Clinically, you could define being a heavy alcoholic by physical dependency, which is true, but doesn't really say much to the average person. To me, it is more succinctly defined as the time when drinking stops being fun. This is, in part, due to the physical dependency that sends you through the horrifying experience of withdrawal symptoms every morning so that you need to reach a high enough level of inebriation to enter a state of normalcy, but, to add insult to injury, is also in part due to the insanely high level of tolerance you develop that it takes ridiculous levels of drinking to ever reach that level - a process which often consumes half the day or more. And many times you would not even reach that level despite drinking all day, eventually only passing out due to exhaustion from the stress caused by withdrawal.

To me, this was compounded by the fact that in 2008 I moved from the city center where all my friends lived and where I could go to the parks or in a pub or many other places, to an apartment far away in the suburbs owned by my parents because no other landlord would take me. Essentially, I lost all diversions and external stimuli, and drinking quickly became all I ever did. This was the beginning of what I call "the year of hell".

Every day would start the same way. I would wake up, and for a few seconds I was very clear, very calm, still half asleep but feeling fine. Withdrawal kicked in just a few seconds after. For me, it took the shape of massive panic attacks. I would feel this intense nausea coupled with an insane fear of choking to death on my own vomit - in fact I would feel my vomit creeping up my throat into my windpipe, which obviously was imagined, but felt very real at the time. This was combined with a feeling of my throat tightening up making it near-impossible to breathe at all. Obviously my first impulse after waking up was rushing to the desk and mixing myself a cocktail. I could not drink hard liquor straight-up because my stomach was so fucked that it would lead me to vomit right away, including the feeling of choking to death on it, so I mixed about a quarter glass of hard liquor with three quarters of beer, making a drink that was about 10% alcohol. Because alcohol abuse leads to a very parched mouth, I could only take very little sips, and even those were hard to swallow, and the taste of the hard liquor made me even more nauseous. But it had to go down, there was no other way. I drank one glass, which with the tiny sips that took forever to swallow and the occasional upchucking lasted about an hour, and then I was back to square one, because after this glass I was feeling exactly the way I was before I started drinking, it had no effect whatsoever. So another glass, another hour of nausea, upchucking, choking, panic attacks and what basically amounted to near-death-experiences.

This went on for hours. All the while I tried to somehow distract myself from the panic attacks for just a few seconds of comfort, but if I did that and snapped out of the distraction, I would just end up feeling exactly the way I did when I woke up, and needed to start the whole routine over again, despite having six beers mixed with half a bottle of hard liquor in my system again. So again with the 10% mix, tiny sips, nausea, upchucking, choking, panic attacks, you get the idea. A lot of the time I was so worked up that I was pacing all the time, trying to take deep breaths but just gasping for air like a fish out of water, trying to drink water to alleviate my parched mouth - but that would only diminish the effect of the alcohol, and I am man enough to admit that sometimes I would just be sobbing like a little girl, which again only made me feel more nauseous and more like my throat was tightening up. Whether I would somehow calm myself down by the time it was evening was never certain. At the height of the year of hell I at times had two bottles of hard liquor and two sixpacks of beer in one day and still felt no effect. And forget about ever getting drunk, you're not even getting close. You're lucky if you feel sober after a day of non-stop drinking.

So many things were out of the question due to this routine. I could only eat every couple days when I hit a rare calm-ish moment, and even then only a small amount was possible until I would start freaking out again. So I was quite underweight, about ten kilos below the healthy minimum, twenty kilos below ideal weight. Personal hygiene was also not possible, because I would never be calm enough to do anything about it, and in the rare cases that I was I would be completely freaking out in the process and be a wreck after I was done. I was very lucky to be in an apartment owned by my parents because paying bills or even opening letters is also not something you generally do when you're stuck in a routine that needs you to just drink non-stop to somehow keep it together. Eventually I had a psychiatric nurse coming to my apartment once a week so that with his support I could at least go to the grocery store if I felt calm enough, which a lot of the time I didn't and begged my mother to do it for me. It is in no way a sustainable life, because if I didn't have that support, I would not even have had a way to buy booze. And without having the luck that my parents own an apartment that was free I wouldn't have had a place to live, either. Life in that state was doomed.

It took a long time for me to decide to go to detox, because honestly, in that state that's a hell of a scary thought, but there was no future, not even a near future, going on the way I did. I had made my decision and talked to my psychiatric nurse about how to go about it. The final nail in the coffin was when I went to my doctor (general practicioner) and had him examine my blood in case the doctors at the detox clinic need to know anything about the state of my body, and a week later I got a letter from his office saying I "urgently" needed to come in. Went in with my mother, and the doctor told us that I was in the early stages of cirrhosis. Okay, yeah, definitely detox. Made an appointment in early August of 2009 and got a spot in mid-August. The year of hell was over.

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