Y’all remember that Phil Collin’s song ‘I Can’t Dance‘ from 1991 that maybe one of the adults in your life really liked and you were like MOM WHY ARE WE LISTENING TO THIS? Okay, so fun story, I’ve had it stuck in my head for a week, except change it to ‘I Can’t Drink’, because people, we have reached the part of the year where I absolutely cannot drink and maintain my mental health. I hate this song. Leave me alone, 1991 Phil Collins, I’m busy! (Side note, I also cannot dance.)
Long gone are the days of me cheerfully drinking my way through the cold, dark months and functioning the next day.* At this point whatever anxiety monster attached itself to my brain not only loves whisky, but apparently will grow to twice its normal size with even the smallest portion. Anxiety like this isn’t necessarily new to me, but it’s been more than fifteen years since it required so much management and attention. And back then I just called it depression, looked at my life choices and said, “Yep,” that makes sense.
Last year, right after what I will always consider a disastrous election, I started having panic attacks. Even though I can look back and say, yeah, yup, those were some rough periods of depression and anxiety, I never actually had a panic attack. First of all, I owe an apology to everyone I know who ever told me they experience them constantly or regularly, because I kind of blew it off. I had no idea what you really meant, and I suppose I didn’t ask either. I do now, at least on some level, understand.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt to incredibly terrible and terrified in my life, and I’ve been chased around a house by a big dude with a knife before because he was hungover and I ate breakfast. This was worse because it was inside of my head, and what I have taken to calling the anxiety monster convinced me I was going to die. And that if I didn’t I should, plus let’s not forget the physical manifestation: vomiting, shaking, aches and chills, and the overwhelming sense of something just not being ok that lasted for days after. (Again, for those of you that deal with this all the time, I don’t know how and I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry this is a thing at all.)
That was the worst of the attacks I had on a physical level, but over the next few weeks the ones that came in waves convinced me that all my friends and loved ones didn’t really care about me, that my coworkers just really wanted to get rid of me, that my children would be better off without me, and on and on until even when I wasn’t having an anxiety attack I was paranoid. Miserable. Full of despair. When I drank, it was much, much worse.
So I stopped drinking almost completely for the winter, and finally went to see a therapist. January was the worst – we had something like an entire month here in Michigan without sunlight. When I eventually saw a doctor for a standard check up my vitamin D levels were so low that she probably thought I was a vampire who lived in a basement and had lived in a basement before being turned, because basically I didn’t have any vitamin D in my body. (I am definitely not a vampire because they are almost all boring now anyway.)
It took me a really long time to feel stable after a pretty lengthy period of Taking Care of Shit. I went to therapy once a week. I painfully and painstakingly articulated what I was feeling to friends and family after alienating most of them. Some understood, some didn’t, and really when a person goes from loving you and seeing you all the time to living in a cave and not responding to smoke signals, what do you normally think?
So, here we are in my favorite season, which I used to gleefully (true) drink rum and cider all the way through, consequences be damned. I can feel the anxiety monster stretching and waking up. The last time I drank I felt some slight panic and paranoia right at the edges of my vision. Melancholy descended. I sent some real stupid, sad text messages. More than the normal stupid, sad text messages, okay, don’t judge me. The next morning all I could really think was I can’t drink at all right now. And making that call felt like a self-preservation step.
I’ve always had a tenuous relationship with alcohol in the best of circumstances. I grew up with abusive alcoholics and while food service was the kick off, it wasn’t until I starting working in tech (and could afford it) that I started drinking heavily. A couple of years ago my bearded life partner and I made a decision to look at how important boozing it up had become in our social and personal lives, and we weren’t super comfortable when we did. From there we cut back a lot, took deliberate hiatus periods from drinking, and started planning things to do that didn’t involve drinking. We both felt a lot better physically, emotionally.
Turns out that wasn’t enough for me when it came to handling my winter mega blues, so this is me drinking La Croix at your party until I get sleepy at ten and ghost. This is a decision I would have had really mixed feelings about a few years ago, because I don’t want to miss out on time with people I love.** I’ve hung out with myself well enough to know that if I drink socially I get caught up in the crowd energy of the whole thing and I feel amazing and I love everything, but then at the end of the night I’m a shit show and I don’t have time for that kind of risk these days. I might not actually show up to your party, but I do love you and hope you have the very best time of your life.
Please send help. I drank too much. 2014
*I’ve never really been a cheerful drinker, this is one of those lies, like when I say I’ve gone running, but I don’t mean real running, I mean, well, you know. Also, that whole functional recovery thing, not true more than maybe twice.
**Or strangers. Also frenemies, the occasional nemesis, maybe some co-workers, and acquaintances of acquaintances, because I am social creature.