These days I feel like I have a reasonably good grip on my emotions. This has not always been the case in my two and a half years of recovery. For years the alcohol I was constantly consuming was blocking me feeling many of the emotions a normal person would do. Emotions such as guilt, remorse, fear, shame and the big one; anxiety. I would go as far to say that in my early twenties when my drinking got out of control, I pressed pause on these emotions. They would only briefly re-emerge when I stopped drinking after a detox in hospital, but I wouldn’t stay sober for long enough to allow them to really surface.
However, at 23 I ended up in rehab for three months. That meant three months sober. The floodgates well and truly opened. After a couple of weeks, all the emotions I had been blocking out with alcohol hit me like a tonne of bricks. The anxiety was by far the worst. I was worrying about anything and everything.
I had never been a ‘worrier’ growing up, it wasn’t natural to me in any way shape or form. It was driving me crazy. I would go over scenarios again and again in my head, until I made some sort of peace with that issue. Then within minutes my brain would go into overdrive once again over another ‘issue’ I had on my mind.
Everyone’s heard of the saying ‘touch wood’ right? When you say something you either want to happen or not happen then touch something wooden. Well, I even became obsessed with doing this whilst I repeated the things in my head which I didn’t want to happen. I would do this up to 20 times a day! It was crazy, but it gave me some sort of comfort from the relentless barrage on my brain of anxiety and worry.
Because I had been watering down these emotions for so long with alcohol, I wasn’t used to them and certainly didn’t know how to deal with them. The anxiety was the biggest problem, but the guilt and shame weren’t far behind. The guilt of how many times I had let those who loved me down and the distress I was causing them. And the shame that I couldn’t see a way out.
One again, I was bottling things up. I wasn’t talking about what was going on in my head enough. And it ended up being another contributing reason to why I couldn’t stay sober.
At the beginning of my sobriety in 2016 it was exactly the same. I got sober, and within a couple of weeks I was hit with a sledgehammer of anxiety, guilt, shame etc. But this time I talked about it more. Talking to people about what I was anxious or felt guilty about, helped me to accept the things I had done and couldn’t change and to put other things into perspective. Don’t get me wrong, for the first year and a half I was still going over the things I didn’t want to happen in my head whilst having a hand on my wooded cabinet every single night! But it helped.
Gradually over time, the anxiety decreased. When I was feeling overly anxious about something, I would talk to someone about it rather than replaying scenarios over in my head. Time really was a healer in this instance for me. And I’m sure it will be the same for anyone who is beginning their journey to sobriety. At first it might feel like it’s impossible to cope with all these emotions, but as long as you don’t bottle them up, it will and does get easier. Every day I cope with each emotion a little bit better.
To this day I still get anxiety and worry about big and small things, but I know how to deal with it. I won’t let it be a reason for me reach for the bottle again.
Thanks for reading and good luck, Toby.