At age twenty five after my second episode of schizoaffective disorder I was sober and I wasn’t planning on drinking ever again. However, as life progressed I returned back to my old habits with drinking. I had a lot of emotional pain from trauma and from going through therapy and readdressing all the trauma. I had a lot of problems to fix and when the emotions were too salient I sometimes took to the bottle. While drinking, my social interactions were contentious and I caused a lot of problems with family, friends, and others. All the negative emotions I had dwelling within my unconscious mind came out when I drank. I said a lot of mean things. The issue was that I didn’t know how else to cure the pain from schizoaffective disorder. I had a great deal of anxiety and I needed relief.
Recently I decided to quit drinking and it’s been the best decision I’ve made in a long time. After quitting drinking my tensile senses immediately returned to me. I could once again taste food much better, my sense of smell was returning to me, and I could feel temperature and tensile feelings once again. I walked outside the other night and it was freezing. I laughed because it felt good to finally acknowledge and have a sense of the cold. I felt alive. It felt like a reawakening but I was initially scared.
When I was in college and I quit drinking cold turkey I spiraled into the worst of my first episode, where I was in a full episode of schizophrenia. However, I reminded myself that this time things were different. I was in a completely different place in my life where I was close to my family and friends, I had a stable job and living situation, and I had learned a great deal about my illness over the course of several years. During my first episode sleeplessness was the main issue that catalyzed all my symptoms. However, the sleeplessness was from great deals of anxiety which had now been addressed. I used to think that the alcohol I had been drinking in the frat (twenty beers per night four nights a week), was the one thing that was helping me sleep and deal with all the stress. I realized I’m at a better point in my life. I had medication to help me sleep. I also realized that I haven’t lost any sleep since quitting drinking. I’ve actually slept better. I also wasn’t experiencing mania, which is a constant rush of adrenaline keeping me up all night. I learned even without the alcohol the mania and sleeplessness were gone so I didn’t need to drink to prevent myself from going into a third episode.
As far as social interactions have gone quitting drinking has helped me become much better at socialization. I was previously contentious and wondered why I struggled to get along with everyone. Internally, I knew I was a good person. I used to wonder why people would say mean things to me while I drank. I was clueless as to the reasons for my social ineptitude. I realized that if I’m the one who has had problems with everyone else then I’m the one that needs to change. Quitting drinking has cleared my mind and improved my social interactions. I finally was able to understand people much better than previously. I just needed a clear mind to help me do so. Until I was sober I wasn’t aware of the extent to which alcohol hampered and changed my thinking.
I had reservations about quitting drinking for several reasons. I was previously told I was not a lot of fun to be around unless I was drinking. This was two years ago when I was a lot less healthy. The alcohol helped me to socialize during those times but I’m now at a point where I’m fairly social without it. I learned I can have a lot of fun without drinking and that I’m an even better person to be around when I don’t have alcohol in my system. My mind is clear and I can make good decisions as to what I’m saying to others.
In past years I used to think alcohol allowed me to be the person I wanted to be. It helped me to say the things I wanted to say and to have more courage in social situations. At this point in my life I realized that I can be the person I want to be without alcohol and in fact I’m a much more likable person without it. At work I was pretty easy to get along with and I made friends with all the customers. At pool league and while out with friends was where I struggled. I initially thought it was just the people I was hanging out with outside of work but I realized that once again, the problem was my drinking. When I went back to the pool league and out with friends without alcohol, the problems were resolved and my social interactions were smooth and easy. Ironically I liked myself much better without alcohol than with it.
I used to think alcohol was one of the main reasons to release my stress, but in reality it was one of the factors causing it. I was spending about sixty dollars per week on alcohol between buying rounds for friends and buying wine and beer for my home. Quitting drinking freed up a great deal of money and alleviated the stress I was having financially. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to golf that much with my current budget but with sixty extra dollars per week, I could play an extra eighteen to twenty seven holes depending on the courses I played. Golf is also one of my favorite things to do and this really helped. Currently I’ve been playing simulated golf and it’s been a lot of fun. I wasn’t previously able to afford this every week. So right away, after quitting drinking, I gained an extra 240 to 300 dollars per month that I could spend on anything. I also found that I could now afford to go out for meals and treat myself every now and then with the extra money I had. This was really helpful for my emotional health. I had previously starved during my episodes and weighed 125 pounds when first hospitalized when I should weigh 210 if healthy. Not being able to spend money on food was a huge stressor so having the extra money to buy snacks and good meals also alleviated a lot of stress.
I sometimes get a thirst for a drink and I try to replace this with other stimuli such as food or water, or exercise. It’s a feeling as if I’m thirsty for water where I get extra salivation and I feel a little depressed. I’ve learned from my doctor that when there’s an addiction every time you get the craving for it replace it with a different stimuli. The key for me was to choose healthy stimuli so I don’t create a new problem for myself. When the thirst occurs I’ll sometimes play music, or I’ll write, or I’ll just keep my mind occupied. Usually if I can participate in an activity that is emotionally positive or an emotional catharsis it’s been pretty helpful to get rid of the cravings for a drink. Sometimes I go for a drive just to get out of the house and listen to music on the way. The thirst was initially difficult to bear but the further I’ve moved away from drinking the easier it’s become to manage.
One of the most difficult parts about quitting drinking was that everyone I knew was still drinking. The way I handled this was to be nice to them about deciding to drink or not drink. When I was in the frat I quit drinking cold turkey. I used to be very respectful when people offered me a drink. People appreciated the respect and they respected my decision not to drink. This still holds true to this day. No one felt guilty for their decision to drink or not drink and it was a win win situation. I also reminded myself that drinking works for some people and for others it doesn’t. It’s an individual decision that I have to respect either way. On my worst days at the frat I used to fill beer cans with water so people wouldn’t offer me drinks. I don’t do that anymore as I’m older and in a more mature environment but it was a good plan at the time. The easiest way for me to quit drinking while being around people who were drinking was to respect them for doing what works for them because they in turn have respected me for doing what has been working for me.
Photo by Les Chatfield