Hi, My Name Is

Photo: Michael Discenda

Hi, my name is {redacted} and I’m a {redacted}.

It’s 4am on a Sunday morning and I’ve spent hours tossing and turning as my stomach rolls and lurches in protest from what I can only describe as me poisoning myself. Giving up on the illusion of sleep, I pull myself out of bed and stumble towards my toilet to begin the lengthy process of exorcizing the demonic alcohol out of my system.

After my first purge I go pour myself a tepid glass of hydralite. I put drops of it on my tongue because if I try to drink anything larger than that, I will immediately throw it back up. It has to be lukewarm too, anything too cold is too much hard work for my body.

Sleep eludes me. The nausea which hit around 2am will prevent me from sleeping again. I flick on tv and watch something mundane like a home renovation show or a documentary about something I don’t particularly care about. I need it to keep me distracted while my body shakes and I await for the next trip to the bathroom.

Sometimes I think about my oesophagus and the damage I’m inflicted upon myself, but I don’t think about it too hard because then I start to ponder the life span of my stomach lining and brain cells. Once I start thinking about the physical damage from drinking, I have to include the mental damage that I’ve also inflicted on myself. To avoid the spiral, I focus my attention back on the TV and rock back and forth while my stomach continues its gymnastics routine.

I didn’t realise I had an issue with drinking until I overheard a co-worker mention that she, quote; “got so drunk I actually blacked out!”

I laughed, because I black out every time I drink. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? I have a scar on my shin from when I blacked out and woke up in a ditch on the side of the road when I was 18. I have a broken phone from when I blacked out and apparently smashed it against a brick wall when I was 20. I would mention more examples but you see, I can’t remember them.  

I began to question myself about my weekend ‘adventures’ and then ask friends and co-workers how often they’ve blacked out from drinking. Once I gathered that the consensus was “barely ever” I booked an appointment with my doctor and called my closest friends to discuss my fears that maybe I had a drinking problem. Their responses surprised me, they didn’t question me and also mentioned that the last couple of months had been concerning them, but they always thought that my drinking was a little bit different than everyone else’s.

If I hadn’t been so blind (no pun intended), perhaps I would have noticed that no one else was getting drunk like I was. No one was doing shots at the bar just to see how many they could handle without throwing up. No one else was making their drinks with ¾ vodka and ¼ soda water. No one else was vomiting from their hangovers for 8+ hours every time they went out.

I decided to go see a doctor and ask for a referral to see a psychologist again, I hadn’t defined what exactly I needed from a psychologist, only that I thought I needed to speak to someone about my drinking and perhaps redefine what ‘normal’ drinking is.

During my consultation, the doctor asked me what had brought me to him that day, I answered honestly that the weekend before, I had drunk so much that I went to a guys’ house whom I had never met and we had sex. But I had blacked out and was unaware of what had transpired between us until the next morning when I asked.

My doctor asked if this happened a lot, the blackouts, yes, the hours of missing time during sex, no. We discussed my drinking history from age 13 until now and talked habits and strategy. In order to make me understand how and why my drinking is not healthy the doctor asked:

“How would you define an alcoholic?”
“Someone who abuses alcohol.” I reply.
“And do you believe that drinking until you black out isn’t a form of abuse?”

I wouldn’t define myself as an alcoholic, despite the doctors scare tactics. But I believe that because my problem doesn’t fit into the definition of alcoholic, it’s almost as though I’ve given myself permission to stay immersed in this problem I have. Which is bizarre right? Just because a person doesn’t have suicidal tendencies, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t depressed. If a person doesn’t have daily panic attacks it doesn’t mean they aren’t riddled with anxiety. I don’t have to drink every day but it doesn’t mean I don’t have a drinking problem. These strict definitions of mental health problems are probably a factor as to why many people don’t even seek help to begin with.

Currently, I’m booked in with a psychologist for once a fortnight and we discuss triggers. Anxiety is obviously one of them, but what triggers my anxiety when I’m home alone on a Wednesday night and I decide the time is ripe for tequila? And is it always anxiety? Why is it that when I’m in a good mood while having a few wines with a friend that I insist it’s time to bring out the gin? How does my brain go from girls night in, to waking up in a stranger’s bed 20 miles away?

I can start to recognise the signs more often now. Usually before an event where drinking is involved, I won’t eat. This has never been deliberate, I just don’t get hungry. There is a part of my brain that is preparing for maximum intoxication and I didn’t even realise it was doing it. I make sure there is a carton of eggs in the fridge at all times now so I can at least line my stomach with scrambled eggs. I often force it down. Even the memory of how awful my hangovers are aren’t enough to make me hungry let alone to stop me from drinking so much that I pass out half naked in my bathroom while getting changed for a friend’s dinner party.

Recognising a problem is half the battle, I’ve been told. Changing unhealthy habits is difficult and frustrating, especially as I am only a fraction of the way into discovering exactly why it is that I continue to indulge in this type of behaviour. The short answer often leads into more questions; the short explanation is that I don’t like myself very much and I don’t respect myself. Getting drunk while engaging in social situations means I am less inhibited and feel as though I am free to be myself.

But why can’t I be myself and like myself when I am sober?

Why am I allowing other people to dictate my worth?

Why can I only discuss my interests and passions with people when I am 3 steins deep at a hostel on holiday?

Why is it, that I’ve only ever had one sober ‘1st time’ with someone?

Why am I deliberately withholding information from my mental health professional who is being paid to help me overcome these barriers?

Why can’t I publish this essay with my real name?

Is it shame?

Is it fear that saying the words out loud to the entire world will solidify that I have a problem with booze?

Why am I writing this and publishing it before I have any of these answers? The selfish answer is this; it’s cathartic to write this right now, it’s soothing to see the words in front of me, it’s giving me a selfish hope that maybe I am not alone in this.

It’s 3 pm and I’ve manage to keep a glass of water down for over an hour, which indicates that I have permission to eat now.

I continue to sip carefully on water and even cautiously drain a second glass of hydralite. My shakes are almost gone and once I have food in my stomach it’s okay for me to shower. Sometimes if I shower too soon the steam compels me to throw up again.

I stare at my reflection for a few seconds, noting that my stomach is completely flat and my ribs are sticking out, my eyes have deep purple shadows under them and the whites are bloodshot from the excessive retching. Aside from how terrible my face appears, I’m am grossly obsessed with how thin I am in those precious hours between food being an unwanted guest and a permanent fixture in my stomach.

As the sun is setting and most people are farewelling their precious Sunday, I am somewhat haphazardly squeezing 5 hours of chores into 2, preparing for the week ahead. I tell myself that I will never get this hungover again and that this feeling of despair that begins to creep over me is only a result of spending the day sitting down. But I know my depression will engulf me for the next 3 days, because that’s what always happens. As I tell myself again that ‘this is the last time’, while getting ready for the blissful sleep that was denied me from the night before, I am comforted by actually believing I will be.