Bressie’s six top tips for good mental health

We were at a very interesting event  where Bressie, the celebrity mental health campaigner gave his top tips for good mental health. They’re worth sharing.

 

1.Limit exposure to toxic people

These are the people  you meet who are  always moaning or being negative. They don’t even have to be nagging you, they may just be giving out about the world and how bad it is  in general. Limit the time you spend with these people as they will lower your energy levels.

 

2.Draw a circle

If you do have to spend time with toxic people, then before you meet them, take a few minutes to draw a high, thick colourful imaginary circle around yourself. Then tell yourself, nobody can get into your circle. When you’re with this person keep thinking of  the person being outside your imaginary circle and you’ll be impacted less by their negative energy. This is a very helpful tip for people who have a lot of empathy and tend to absorb other people’s emotions.

 

3.Be grateful

Each day before you get out of bed, think of a list of 30 things you’re grateful for. These can be as simple as you’re glad you’re awake, to looking forward to your breakfast, to meeting a friend. Initially it can be hard to think of 30 things, so start with 10 and build up. What this does is changes your mind set so your day starts on a much more positive note and you’ll have more energy to get through the day.

 

4.Limit the amount of bad news you listen or read to

We’re biologically wired to respond more to fear, because as cavemen the ability to react to threats kept us alive.  So the media attract our attention by always focusing in on bad news and creating a sense of fear.  They rarely report on all the good things happening because that does not sell enough newspapers or attract social media attention.

So limit the amount of bad news you read or listen to especially when there’s yet another dreadful tragedy. It does not mean you don’t care about the people involved. Does reading every little minute detail about a tragedy really help anybody? Why not focus your energy on something more positive instead to show you do care?

Try just two  days without reading or listening to any  news and you’ll be surprised how positive your mood becomes.

 

5.Stop judging people

As Atticus Finch, said in to “To kill a mockingbird”

You never really understand a person, until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”

bressie

Yet, we spend a lot of time and energy judging people and what they do. Getting annoyed or angry at what someone does or does not do. Wasting a lot of energy on our thoughts saying,

“Well she was right out of line, saying that, she’s so mean and unfair, does she not realise I worked so hard on that”

We need to accept we can’t control what other people do and all we can control is our reaction to other people.

We don’t know what is going on in their lives. There may be very good reasons why they are acting the way they are.

So assuming you’re not in a toxic  relationship and need to take action to protect yourself, don’t waste time judging and analysing other people.

 

6.Don’t use alcohol as a crutch

Bressie has been very open about his own struggles with mental health and using alcohol to manage his anxiety. While the first drink of alcohol can initially help you relax  all the research shows  alcohol makes you depressed.  So don’t binge drink.  Drink less than six standard drinks each time your drink  and have two days off alcohol every week.

bressie

For more information on managing your drinking and avoiding hangovers, please click here.

Bressie has set up “Lust for Life”

If you find these tips helpful, Bressie and his team have set up a useful website on all things mental health  and well being and you can find it here.

 

One very simple action to help manage your drinking

Nearly all of can feel at times we’re stuck in a dark place with too much going on, drinking  a little too much but feeling too low to even think about manage your drinking. We know drinking alcohol helps us to relax but don’t realise too much alcohol, is actually stopping us getting out of that hole or dark place we’re stuck in.

We need to take some kind of action but there’s too much pressure at the moment to think about changing our lifestyles. That glass or two of wine at the end of a long stressful day helps us get through the day. Maybe we just don’t have the energy to take on and plan a major lifestyle change. Anyhow in our society, it’s just so difficult to get away from alcohol is n’t it? So it’s just too much effort to do anything to manage your drinking.

 

Don’t run away

But don’t give up.  There is one simple thing we can do which all the psychological research shows really does help us to take control of our drinking.

All we have to do is to actually record how much we’re actually drinking. So why not try tracking your drinking for just one single week?

 

Track your drinking for a week

Tracking our drinking really does improve our motivation to actually take action on reducing our drinking.  It really helps us to see just how much we are drinking on different days, helping us to see if we are drinking too much. The really nice benefit from this is many people find the very action of  recording their drinking helps them to actually reduce their drinking. They don’t have to do anything else! This can happen even when we don’t set specific targets for our drinking.

 

How to get started

First thing is  keep it really simple.  You can get into very complicated calculations but we recommend using a “standard drinks” approach. So you simply find out the standard drinks for your usual tipple of choice and use that.

To make it easy we‘ve shown the standard drinks for the most popular drinks below.

manage our drinking

 

If you have any trouble knowing your standard drink, you can use this official HSE online calculator here.

 

Start tracking

So now you know your standard drinks, every time you drink, complete  the form  below. Try and fill it out before you have each drink. This helps you to be more aware of what you’re drinking. It takes less than a minute. If you forget to complete it when you’re drinking try and complete the form the next morning.

Use this form below to start tracking your drinking. Each line should be for a separate drink.

manage your drinking

You can download a copy of this form to print here

We’ve completed a form below to show you how.  You can see this person is drinking more than the low risk drinking guidelines of 12 standard drinks for women. (explained here)

manage your drinking

 

You can add other helpful comments such as who you were with or what your mood was like, but to get started we recommend keeping it really simple and not too complicated.

 

You really can manage your drinking

Sometimes if feels like we’re on one of those hamster wheels & have to keep running. Constantly trying to stay on top of things. Finding a drink or two is helping to keep our feet running and not fall off the hamster wheels and get stuck in a really dark place.

So if you feel like this and are finding it really hard to motivate yourself to start managing your  drinking  to a safer level, try this tip.  It takes very little time and effort as you’re simply recording your drinking and not making any major life decisions.

More free  help to manage your drinking is just a click away here.

 

Does alcohol abuse run in families?

As an adult child of a Mother who drank too much I was no stranger to the effects alcohol abuse had within my family.  My childhood experience of my mother was marred by her daily drinking and punctuated by short lived periods of sobriety.

 

There was no history of alcohol abuse

It is important to note that my mother did not have a history of alcohol abuse in her family.  She developed chronic depression after the death of my sister in 1973. And after years of struggling to cope with her death and being told

“that is was Gods will”

and she

“needed to get over it”,

she succumbed to alcohol abuse in a bid to cope with that loss.  My mother was first introduced to alcohol at a work function.

 

My Mother was a high performing sales manager

Contrary to popular belief, my mother was not an unemployed fall-down-drunk.  She worked as the sales manager for a publication firm.  She was what I later learned to be  “a high functioning Alcoholic”.  In fact, in my mother’s 30-year long career she rarely missed a day of work because of her drinking.  She was a master at hiding her love affair with alcohol to the outside world.

 

At home, however…

A memory that sticks out in my mind as a child was watching the bus-stop across the road from our house while waiting for my mother to come home.  When she came in she was the Mother I wanted to spend time with. I wanted to be seen and loved by this beautiful lady, and for a brief hour before she pulled the cork out of that bottle in the drinks cabinet, she was all that, elegant, refined, witty, and kind.

 

My heart would sink

The minute I saw her reach into that oak cabinet, my heart would sink, it was when I knew that the evening was destined to go horribly wrong.  I would feel my belly flip, my mouth go dry with worry, I was acutely aware of the glug glug glug of the gin spilling out into a crystal tumbler.  Every evening I would try my best to distract her, fighting for her attention, and each time was always sent away to play with the words

“later darling, mommy needs to relax”.

 

It became futile to try and talk to her

After a while it became futile to try and talk to her. She slid further and further away from me with each glass. I would be engulfed with worry and sadness.  A short while later my Dad would come home.  At first, he wouldn’t say anything, but myself and my three brothers knew! We just knew my Father was disappointed and that potentially there would be an argument, a dinner ruined, crying, doors slamming and horrible tense silences.

 

The Elephant in the room

No one dared challenge my Mother, not while she was drinking and most certainly not the next morning.  We would tell her what she said and what she did.  We were told that we were lying and she would cry and we felt responsible.  My dad would shout, call her names, and us? We would take cover in the bedroom at the end of the hall and try and distract ourselves from the arguments, the banged doors, the futility of it all.  Not only were we not allowed to discuss my mother’s drinking with her, we were not allowed to let anyone outside of the home know what was going on behind closed doors.

 

I became my Mother’s carer

I became my Mother’s carer. While she was drinking, I would make sure she wouldn’t hurt herself.  I became her confidant, her friend, her Mother.  We were all affected by my Mother’s drinking. My brothers all reacted differently.  My brother Ciaran became rebellious and angry, Brendan was the clown and Dara, poor Dara the quiet one. It is fair to say that due to my Mother’s depression and subsequent alcohol abuse my Mother for those years was emotionally unavailable and absent to us.  My Father had lost his wife too and I remember him being a lonely man.  We had to grow up fast.  Emotional hostages to something we neither understood or could fix.

 

Editor’s Note

SouthLady beautifully describes the impact a Mother’s alcohol abuse often has on families.  But once again we see the pattern of pain behind the alcohol abuse. If Southlady’s Mother’s had received loving support and empathy around the pain of losing a daughter, her alcohol abuse would probably have stopped. She was most likely using alcohol to numb her grief. (Often called self-medication)

 

Are genes to blame?

While some types of genes have been linked to alcohol abuse, the exact process is not fully understood.

Pain and grief in families  is very common factor in  alcohol abuse. But it is not inevitable. It appears the more “adverse childhood events” or “ACE”  we have  the more likely we are to have a physical or substance abuse problem.

While SouthLady herself had an alcohol abuse problem, she made a full recovery because the pain behind her alcohol abuse was tackled.

 

Don’t blame yourself

So don’t blame yourself if you are finding it difficult to reduce your drinking. Instead focus on your mental health. Ask yourself if depression, past events or trauma in your life may be affecting your desire to drink?

You might find our Janus course useful which helps to identify the pros and cons’ drinking useful.  Or if you think a counsellor might be helpful, here’s some tips here on finding the right one for you.

12 Top tips to make your New Year Drinking resolutions stick

It’s that time of the year when people are “failing” their New Year drinking resolutions. So here’s some quick tips to make your New Year drinking resolutions stick

 

1.Set a goal which is bigger than your drinking

 I’m a great believer in setting goals because as Harvey Mackay says

 “A dream is just a dream. A goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline”

 I find setting goals and writing them on paper helps me to keep moving forward as I’m clearer on what I want. We usually know where we want to go when we turn the key in the car ignition, so why not know where we want to go in life?

 

2.Set a goal which is positive

It can be very depressing in January to decide my new year drinking resolutions means I stop drinking or I’m going to drink less. This implies sacrifice, pain, drabness and losing pleasure. A better way is to set a positive goal.

For example,

“I’m going to treat myself to a weekly beauty treatment with the money I save from drinking less.”

 So develop a goal that has positive meaning for you using the tips below.

 

3.Understand what’s important to you

Is it family, money, fun, health, career advancement, and friends? Susan Jeffers in her book “feel the fear and do it anyhow” suggests making a nine box grid and putting the nine most important components in your life into it.

What changes would you like to make when you look at this grid?

For example leisure might be important but you’re always too busy working or doing housework to get any, so a goal might be to have more leisure time. So make sure your goals relate to your nine box grid.

 

4.Understand  what stage you’re at

Make sure you understand what stage your motivation is at using the “Stages of Change”  model below as this will help determine which goals are most useful for you.

New year drinking resolutions
Prochaska Stages of change model

 

So if you’re not totally convinced that you need to reduce your drinking, as you’re  still in the “contemplation stage”  maybe your goal should be to get a better understanding  of your pro’s and con’s of drinking, rather than  setting a goal of not drinking. You can use our course here for this.

 

5.Don’t set too many goals

It’s very easy to get carried away and try to tackle every area of our lives, but it’s better to focus on one or two aspects, as then we can be more committed to these.

So if you’re decided to reduce your drinking, make sure to balance this with something fun that you enjoy, rather than also deciding your house is going to be spotless from now on!

 

6.Leave out the “I should have’s”

 When people set goals, they often give out to much to themselves when they “fail”.

We find this is often the biggest problem with clients we see.

“I’ve failed, I should n’t have drunk that bottle of wine last night”

rather than

“I’m great, I went four nights without drinking and only drank too much on the 5th night”

As you saw from the “Stages of change” picture above changing our behaviour does not happen in a straight line. We can go back and forwards as we attempt to change how we live.

 

7.Recognise our culture makes drinking less difficult

The majority of people who drink are abusing alcohol according to the Health Research Board.

drinking socially

In this culture with social media pressure that sees drinking too much as normal, it can be difficult to reduce drinking so accept that sometimes drinking less can make you feel a little isolated from your friends.

Again your thoughts around this can help. See yourself as someone who is ahead of society, a thought leader, rather than someone with a problem with alcohol.

 

8.Break down your goals into smaller targets

So having set broad goals, often they need to be broken down into smaller targets. Particularly  if they are very ambitious.  In a work setting these are usually called objectives which many people use in their work performance reviews. So some tips on setting objectives.

 

9.Make sure your objectives are specific and measurable

Saying

“I want to be physically fitter”

is not as psychologically useful as saying

“I want to be able to climb the stairs at work without stopping”.

You can actually measure this achievement as it’s very specific.

 

10.Make sure your objectives are achievable

For example, saying

“I want to be CEO of RyanAir before the 30th of January 2017”

 is unlikely to be achievable as there is n’t even a vacancy. In the same way saying you’re giving up drinking altogether when you’ve drunk every day for 20 years will be very difficult unless you can afford professional help

So in this case an achievable objective might be “I’m going to research and find out what support is available to help me reduce my drinking. You might find this post here useful if this is you.

 

11.Make sure your objectives are realistic within your time scale and priorities

The person wanting more leisure time might find getting an hour a week to do something fun is more realistic before moving to an hour a day.

If you drink every day on the weekend, you might find reducing the number of drinks you drink each day helpful or maybe it’s easier not to drink on a Friday.

So set goals that are a little challenging but not too difficult as you want to have a good chance of succeeding by a specific date.

You’ll notice the tips for objective setting make up the acronym SMART:

   Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed.

 

12.Don’t beat yourself up if you fail

As the Japanese proverb says

Fall  down seven times, stand up eight.”

If you can learn from your failures you’ll be further along the path towards your goal then when you started.  Thomas Edison the inventor of the light bulb had thousands of failed experiments before he was successful. When asked how he kept going, he siad he did not see it as failure but thousands of ways he had learnt how not to make a light bulb.  So never lose hope, you can succeed.

 

Bo Bennett put it well when he said

“The discipline you learn and character you build from setting and achieving a goal can be more valuable than the achievement of the goal itself.”

 

Did n’t set  new year drinking resolutions ?

So maybe you’re not ready to set a goal or did n’t set  new year drinking resolutions?  For everybody who is thinking about their drinking a really useful tip is to track your drinking. We like this free  app developed by an English Charity as it has some useful tools as well.

 

If you enjoyed this post and you’d like to receive a weekly email full of practical tips and personal stories click here.

 

 

A glass of wine did wonders for my anxiety

  

Which is worse anxiety or depression?

If someone were to ask me if I could choose between my anxiety and depression, I would have to answer that I would much prefer to be depressed.  Anxiety for me was so much harder to cope with.  It’s that feeling you get when you are stepping off a pavement or walking along and slip or trip and suddenly find the ground rushing up to meet you, But instead of lasting 5 seconds the feeling lasts months on end.

 

I was so stressed

I spent so much time, obsessing! About my work commitments, my children, my marriage, my housekeeping, finances, friends, health; expending huge amounts of energy trying to meet the needs (as I perceived them) of others, I had effectively scheduled myself out of my own life.  After a while I started to become convinced that all this stress was going to give me cancer, or a heart attack or a mental breakdown and that I was sure to die young.

 

I had bouts of anxiety

Over the following weeks and months I was to go through bouts of anxiety. And coupled with depression it nearly drove me round the twist!  Just when I thought I was safe and that everything was going to be ok, anxiety would rear its ugly, snarling, spitting, frightening head and threaten my sense of well-being and sanity.

 

I was exhausted all the time

Then followed the chronic relentless fatigue and I couldn’t tell if the tiredness I felt was more mental tiredness, or was I just physically tired? Night time didn’t bring reprieve, no matter how exhausted I felt.  I could not sleep, it was like having a movie projector showing me a combination of my worst fears being realised and the stresses of the day, playing over and over again in my head until I was sure I was going mad or having a breakdown of some sort.  When I did manage to fall asleep I would be jerked awake by nightmares.   My heart would be beating out of my chest, every muscle in my body ached, nights were punctuated by a restless half-awake-half-asleep slumber, my days filled with constant worry.  The anxiety constantly bubbling away in my stomach.

 

A glass of wine did wonders

Now, I never considered myself much of a drinker  per se, but in the end found a glass of wine a great antidote against my anxiety.  At first it “took the edge off”, gave me energy, lifted my mood, helped me relax and even helped me sleep.  Soon the glass of wine became 2, then 3 and before I knew it, it became a bottle. I seemed to need more and more of the stuff as time went on to get the same effect.  And while it helped at first; the anxiety always came back, and when it came back it did so with a vengeance.  Not to mention also being the proverbial slippery slope towards problem drinking. It served only to compound the existing problem and in itself was starting to affect my personal and professional life, amplifying my anxiety even further.

 

I had a full blown anxiety attack

Over time the anxiety become worse and worse until I experienced a full blown anxiety attack.

The first time this happened was on my daily commute to work in Cork.  As I approached the first round-about I suddenly felt sheer panic consume me, my heart beating wildly out of my chest. With a white knuckled grip on the steering wheel the sheer panic rising with every car that proceeded in turn onto the round-about, my breathing became short and erratic, the sensation of pins and needles ran down the length of both arms and lower jaw, I wanted to jump out of the car and run for help,

 

I ‘m going to die

I felt trapped, akin to the same feeling one gets when jumping off the high diving board at the local swimming pool.  “Dear God! It’s finally happening! I am having a heart attack! I am having a heart attack and I’m going to crash the car and kill someone, I’m going to die”.  But of course I didn’t die, I got through the round-about telling myself to breath, to concentrate and to hang on. I knew that something was very wrong and that I was in serious trouble, I felt as though my life was unravelling before my eyes.  I needed to get to my office and ring my GP and tell my boss I needed to go home.

 

The flood gates opened

That same afternoon after the worst of the attack had subsided, I drove home and found myself in my doctor’s office later that afternoon telling her what had happened.  It was like a flood gate had being opened and I broke down crying, telling her everything and asked her what the hell was wrong with me?  She told me that I had had an anxiety attack and reassured me that I was going to be ok.  She gave me a prescription for Xanax and told me to take one and get some rest, she also sent a referral letter to Adult Mental Health and I received an appointment letter from them the following day

 

I was self-medicating with alcohol

At my mental health appointment I told the psychiatrist that my life was “simply not working!”  That my anxiety was making me miserable and my life was becoming intolerable, and something needed to be done!  I admitted to her that I was self-medicating with alcohol.  I was referred to see an addiction councillor which shocked me, I mean, was I an alcoholic?!  I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety and prescribed medication, and told not to mix my medication with alcohol and told to attend mental health on a weekly basis at first so I could be monitored.

 

I’m better now

Anxiety can be both frightening and debilitating for even the strongest amongst us, but with the right support from Adult Mental Health, your GP and organisations like Aware we can find a way to manage and work through its effects on our daily lives.

 

Should this life sometimes deceive you,

Don’t be sad or mad at it!

On a gloomy day, be humble:

Have faith – cheerful days will come!

 

The heart lives in the future,

Yes, today is gloomy;

But everything is transient, and passes;

When it passes, it will be dear!

Pushkin (Russian translation)

Editor’s Note

Southlady’s story shows how it is important it is, to understand the reasons why you may be drinking too much. By tackling the reasons you are drinking too much, rather than blaming yourself you are more likely to be successful in managing your drinking. You might find our Janus course useful for identifying your reasons for drinking. Click here for details.

I drank to be normal and not feel like a fool

I drank because I was n’t normal

“Dear God, please, make me normal”  I whisper these words while on my knees at the side of my bed. I need to whisper them because if my husband heard me, he would then know, I wasn’t normal. It would explain why I drank the way I did and drove him crazy in the process.

I had this daily ritual for the best part of ten years of my life. Ten years when I drank too much. God bless God, but he never actually answered my prayers and made me normal.

 

What is normal?

I even did all the actions that went along with a determined person asking God to fix them. You know the ones. Squeezing the eyes tight, putting the hands in the prayer position and being on my knees. All the tell tail signs of desperate women trying to gain acceptance in a world were only the “normal” survive. So in trying to feel  normal I drank too much.

I know it sounds like a cliché, but I now have a daily gratitude chat with myself. It includes

Thank God I’m not normal.”

Simply because what is  normal ?

 

How is normal measured?

 So scientists decide to look at studies of “normal” patterns of behaviour. Let’s say for example they want to know how quickly children learn the alphabet. They take a classroom, look from the slowest to the fastest. Then they  take the group in the middle and declare this group the “normal or average”.  This group’s  speed and time is  the average time to learn the alphabet.  All the school programs and curriculum are designed around the average child. (I’ve over simplified this a  lot but you get the picture!)

 

Lovely shiny labels

Mental health is sometimes measured  much the same way.  A some what exaggerated example.  Scientists  take groups of people, going from the “ manic”  to the “ catatonic”.  Then the middle group are defined as the “average or normal” behaviour. The rest get lovely shiny labels. Usually  with some expensive drugs to help them fight their “disease or disability” and change their behaviour to normal.

 

Homosexuality was not normal

Don’t laugh. This type of process was once used to label people who are homosexual as not normal. At one stage, less than 50 years ago,  homosexuality was labelled as a disease in the DSM. The DSM is  the psychiatrists bible of mental health disorders.  So because people who are homosexual are a smaller group they were seen as ” not normal”. They were told they were ill. We still see the awful effects of this to-day with rates of mental health distress higher in men and women who are homosexual

So remember

There’s No Such Thing As Normal

We seek to be normal

You’re probably still thinking -ERM….YES, THERE IS!  And you and I desperately try to fit in there for fear of looking like a fool. So all through your educational, social, family and love life, we seek to be one thing. Normal, and this is where my problems began.

To fit into the norm, many of us must turn our natural talents up or down to suit the social circle we live in. Some of us have gifts in ways that are truly beautiful. But because we live in a world where it’s not good to stand out  we tone them down. It means our actual brightness and brilliance is never exposed. It’s almost  tragic when you realise that you and I are being denied the talents of musicians, artists, playwrights because they are trying to fit into the normal world.

 

I missed the opportunity to enjoy my children

For me, the real pain hit hard. I realised I was so desperate to fit in and be acccepted as a good, “normal” mother that I missed the opportunity to enjoy my children.

I was sticking to rigid  routines and forcing my kids to keep up with “normal” children.  From sleeping through the night, to  toilet training and  reading ability.  The pressure to have our  children “normal”  is disastrous for any mother. We know that children develop at their own pace and speed. By forcing them to fit into the middle normal section of society, we are sending the message to them that they shouldn’t be different.  They are not wonderful as they are.

 

I don’t worry now about how “normal” I am

I’m thankful now. I don’t have to worry (or even care) about how normal I am. I’m blessed with a mind of my own and talents  I have developed over time. Of course, I’m not totally confident inside.  I still have insecurities. I very often have to double check my words before they come from my mouth. I do this as I don’t want to hurt or offend anyone and not everyone thinks and feels the way I do about everything. But this is what makes being human so interesting.

 

A world with no shame

Imagine a world where there was no judgment, shame, norms or rigid  rules about how we should behave. A world where we drank sensibly, purely for pleasure and without harming ourselves?  (Ok we still need good rules about not killing each other and stopping at red traffic lights.) But imagine  a world where love, freedom, and respect were the three most important components to a blissful society. Well, this is how our world is supposed to be. So why isn’t it?

 

We are easier to control if we strive to be normal

Society tries to  keep us in a constant state of normality.  We are easier to control this way. The way I drank  meant I did n’t  have the energy to think and question things around me. Some people would lose out on a great deal of money and power if the whole world started to think for themselves.  What  if everyone walked away from making products and doing things that don’t serve humankind or our planet?  What if we started bringing our  gifts, talents and beautiful selves to the surface. What do you think might happen. Yes, you’re right. Our lives would be incredible.

As the song goes

“Tell me why are we so blind to see, that the ones we hurt are you and me

From, Coolio, Gangsters Paradise.

 

Don’t be afraid of society’s judgement

So be the person, you would want to be if you were not so afraid of society’s judgement. Be a good role model of a person happy with themselves.  So  your children will be grow up to be happy in their own skins and not trying to constantly to fit in.  Be the person you would like to hang out with.

You’ll be more fascinating, fun and dare I say it…One day being just ourselves may be “Normal”

I could not stop myself crying

Last week my son graduated from National school.  He’s the last child we have living with us out of five children and during the graduation ceremony, I could not stop myself crying. It meant the end of an era for my husband and I.  We wouldn’t be coming back to the school again for anything to do with our children.

I sat there with hot tears dripping down my face, trying not to draw attention to myself and hoping I didn’t burst into the “noisy ugly cry”. Then I thought about how good it feels to be able to cry now for a “real” reason. It feels great to know “why” I’m crying. I’m happy my son is graduating, growing up and becoming more independent, but sad I won’t be visiting the school any more.

It’s nice to be able to “own” my feelings and know they aren’t exaggerated or numbed by alcohol or a hangover.

 

Alcohol numbs our feelings

It’s said drinking numbs our emotions and that it’s impossible to selectively numb our feelings.  I believe this to be 100% correct. Many people who don’t have alcohol difficulties think that those of us who use alcohol to cope, don’t have “real feelings” because we’re numbed out.  I don’t feel this is 100% accurate. However, I understand why they might think that way.

However, it’s a little trickier than just numbing and not feeling anything.

It’s more like our emotions are either exaggerated or dulled down by alcohol. We do still feel pain and joy; it’s just not  our real emotions.

The therapists call these real feelings  “authentic” feeling.

 

I never cried at the start of my drinking journey

When I discovered alcohol was a great energy booster, I never cried. I was on top of the world, getting my work done in record time. I was able to cope with life, felt great and had nothing to cry over. I was happy almost all of the time. I was able to invest a lot of time into my children because when they went to bed, I got my glass of energy booster and had completed the following days chores before I went to bed.

It freed up my time to “be a better mother” you know like the ones in the glossy magazines that show off their homes and family portraits. However, alcohol is a drug that doesn’t come with a warning that says “the happy side effects don’t last forever.”

 

I could suddenly find myself crying

I can’t put my finger on when the crying and frustration started, but I think it was when I was about a year or so into my drinking life. I might suddenly find myself just crying for no reason at nothing in particular. It wasn’t the deep hurt crying; it was more the tears slightly flowing while peeling the spuds or driving alone somewhere and it was very subtle.

I put it down to me just being an “emotional woman.” You know those days when the Christmas adverts come on, and they play the songs and show pictures of loving families coming together for the holidays. The ones that that rip your heart out and make tears stream down your face? Yes, it was that type of crying.

 

When crying becomes unbearable

When I was a few years into my drinking and after my first rehab, the crying became painful. It gets that way because it turns into an angry, frustration cry. There is nothing worse than trying very hard to do something and doing it the way you are instructed, only to fail time and time again.

What hurts the most about  alcohol related crying is that we get very little support or compassion from families and friends.

We get told to

Cop ourselves on”

or

“What do you expect?”

You know the usual

“It’s your fault”

talks.

For many of us that have been on the drink/sober roundabout for many years, these remarks and comments can become dangerous. The reason is that if we feel we are not able to do what is expected of us, then our thoughts can often turn to suicide. We very often become exhausted after many years of failed attempts, insults, and shame.

 

It does get better

When the cost of failure is so high, the impact can be horrendous.  But if you are prepared to change or tweak some parts of your drinking, then you may have a better chance of leading a happy life than trying to stop drinking altogether.

When I left the alcohol rehab world and moved over to a mental health service, I was taught to think differently about why I needed to drink.

I was encouraged to cut back rather than cut out drinking; I felt I had some power. I refused to allow my family to confront me anymore about my drinking and informed them I was on the road to getting better.

I told them their negative comments were making things worse; I also stopped crying about failing and I began to get it together. So everybody is different and you need to find an approach that’s right for you.

If people trying to  help you keep simply blaming you, rather than helping you to understand the reasons you drink too much, it may be time to discuss whether  their approach is helping or hindering you.

 

My drinking still makes me cry

You might think that my drinking doesn’t make me cry anymore. It sometimes appears to others that I have moved on.  My life is much better now that I can go from one day to another without reaching for alcohol. However, it doesn’t take away the regret for my wasted years of drinking  and this can make me cry even after all these years.

Sometimes I get emotional with the gratitude I feel that I now have power and don’t need alcohol to make it through the day.

 

It doesn’t happen all the time, and more of my tears are for other people rather than myself. But now if I ever cry about anything I can be sure it’s authentic and real. My crying is helping me to heal whatever it is I’m crying about because it’s a great way to release frustration.

So even though it burns a lot of my energy, I allow myself to cry without feeling ashamed.  I still cry at the flipping emotional adverts!

Finally, if you’re trying to decide whether you should stop drinking altogether or simply reduce your drinking, you might find our online course helpful. Click here for details.

Is Dementia caused by alcohol?

Dementia is a term used to describe a range of symptoms affecting the brain which can affect people differently. Symptoms may include memory, language loss, and ability to do everyday tasks.

These words cannot really describe the cruelty and pain of dementia where the person you love gradually disappears and is replaced by a stranger who needs 24 hour assistance. Helping to care for my own Mother who has Alzheimer’s is really challenging and I now totally understand the meaning of “Burn out”.

I’ve often come home, really wanting to drown my sorrows in a few bottles of beer. The only thing that stops me, is the certainty I will have a massive handover the next day. (I’m a lightweight when it comes to drinking!)

 

People wore black for a year

In the old days, in some groups, people wore black for a year and kept the window blinds down to indicate they had suffered a bereavement. I sometimes wish this tradition existed for people caring for a loved one with dementia as it would make life easier. No more door to door salespeople ringing the doorbell when I’m struggling to get my Mother changed. My Mother’s hearing is acute and she always insist on the door been answered. A single doorbell can add another 30 minutes to the personal care routine. Both my Mother and her (late) Mother have dementia. So I’m very interested in avoiding it, if I can.

 

Risk factors for developing dementia

There are many different risk factors for developing dementia. Some of these can be controlled for example, high cholesterol. Other factors can’t be controlled  -for example genetic factors. (That’s me in trouble)

Generally it appears that a good diet, exercise, close friendships, an active life using your brain all help to reduce the risk of dementia. (Does writing blog posts count as using your brain?)

 

Is alcohol a risk factor for dementia?

Research indicates a definite YES. Alcohol is a risk factor for dementia. Studies show heavy drinking can increase your risk of developing dementia. Yet another reason to cut back on your drinking.

 

One dementia type commonly caused by alcohol abuse

There’s even  one specific type of dementia called Korsakoff’s syndrome which often  occurs in people drinking too much alcohol.  There is evidence it is often confused with other dementias and is under diagnosed in older people.

 

Korsakoff’s syndrome

Korsakoff’s syndrome most commonly occurs in people drinking too much alcohol. It can also be caused by Aids, and various other factors such as poor nutrition. A lack of vitamin B1 is thought to cause Korsakoff’s syndrome. So people  drinking heavily may reduce their risk by taking vitamin B1. (Please consult your doctor if in doubt)

One in eight people who are physically dependent on alcohol may develop Korsakoff’s syndrome and the number of people with Korsakoff’s syndrome seems to be increasing.

 

Risk factors for Korsakoff’s syndrome

You are more likely to be at risk of developing Korsakoff’s syndrome if

  • You have been drinking in a harmful way for 5 or more years.
  • You are drinking 28 or more standard drinks per week on a regular basis.
  • You have had frequent ‘memory blackouts’ while drinking.
  • You are over the age of 35.
  • You have had alcohol-related liver damage.
  • You have had many alcohol withdrawals or detoxes.
  • You binge drink regularly.
  • You don’t eat enough while drinking.
  • You have been admitted to hospital because of your drinking.

 

Can Korsakoff’s syndrome be reversed?

Unlike many dementias which continue to progress, Korsakoff syndrome can be reversed.

If a person remains alcohol free and has a good diet, then the majority of people will see some improvement. This can happen over a period of months or up to two years.

  • 25% of people will make a full recovery,
  • 25% of people will make a significant recovery,
  • 25% will make a partial recovery.
  • 25% of people will make no recovery and will have permanent difficulties.

The extent of the recovery may depend on the quality and availability of specialist rehabilitation services. In Ireland, services can be difficult to find. You can find a website on services here.

Younger people have a better chance of recovery.

For more about Korsakoff’s syndrome, click here to go to the Alcohol Action forum guide. .

If you’d like to find out more about reducing alcohol harm, our short free mini course may help. Click here for details.

Finally, if you’re worried about your drinking, you can check if you have a problem here.

 

It’s never too late to stop drinking alcohol

 

I love not drinking alcohol. Quitting alcohol was the best decision I ever made and the benefits to both my mental and physical health have been endless. One of the things I didn’t expect to gain from being teetotal – or rather, something I just never really thought about – is clarity. I didn’t quite appreciate how fogged my mind was from regular and heavy drinking until I put down the bottle for good.

 

I began to see the world in technicolour

Once I’d embarked upon sober living, and stopped drinking alcohol my brain seemed to come back to life and I began to see the world in Technicolour – or that’s how it felt!

For this reason alone, I believe it’s never too late to stop drinking. Even if you’ve been knocking back the booze for decades and feel as if you’re too old in the tooth to make such dramatic changes to your life…my advice would be to just try it.

 

Alcohol prevents us from feeling pure joy

The numbing properties of alcohol can be alluring when things are not going our way and we want to block out pain. But alcohol also then prevents us from feeling true joy – the kind of joy that envelops your whole being and makes you feel like singing at the top of your voice and shouting from the rooftops. That joy doesn’t happen immediately after you quit the booze; it can take several months of adjustment before you are emotionally open to experiencing such unfettered happiness.But it’s really worth the wait.

 

A natural high

People call this type of happiness ‘a natural high’, and for me, these rare moments of über pleasure are better than any ‘high’ I ever achieved artificially from booze or other drugs. I have felt as though I’m walking on air on so many occasions since being sober – running though the park, sitting in my garden, being with my partner and feeling fully connected, watching my youngest daughter sleeping, laughing at a stupid joke with my eldest child…the list goes on. The common factors in all of these experiences are: my mind is totally clear, I have no shame or self-loathing weighing me down, I’m living a life that I love instead of one that brings me misery on a frequent basis, and my appreciation for the ‘small stuff’ went through the roof once I kicked booze out of my life.

 

It’s never too late to stop drinking alcohol

It’s never too late to treat yourself to these natural and beautiful moments, when you are able to see the world for the amazing place it really is. You’re never too old to know what it feels like to be truly happy, or to experience full gratitude for all that you have at your fingertips. For me, it would never have been possible to feel such joy with alcohol poisoning my mind and body on such a regular basis. And while there are countless other benefits to be had from leading an alcohol-free existence, this one, for me, comes top of the list every time.

 

Editor’s Note.

You can find out whether to stop drinking alcohol or simply reduce your alcohol intake here.