Some people are scared of heights. Some people are scared of flying. Some people are even scared of the dark. An alcoholic like me can also be scared of any of these things. But none of them are even slightly comparable to the absolute fear I have of ever going through alcohol withdrawals again.
Most people know about ‘the shakes’. I think we all grow up knowing that an alcoholic shakes when they need a drink. Now don’t get me wrong, the shaking part of withdrawal terrifies me too. But that is only scratching the surface of what severe alcoholic withdrawals, or Delirium Tremens (DT’s), can present themselves as. Essentially, the DT’s cause sudden and severe problems in your brain. I learnt this the hard way.
I was 21 years old and in my final year of university. Somehow, I had just past a fitness test for the royal marines. That was my dream – to be a royal marine. The plan was, I would go to university and get a degree, whilst I took all of the entry tests for the marines in my final year of uni. Sounds like a great plan right! Well, it could have been a great plan if it wasn’t for the ever-increasing dependence I had on alcohol.
The next step in my application process was a medical. However, there was a good few months between passing my fitness test and the medical itself. Within those months I quickly went from drinking every evening to drinking every morning till night.
For months I was constantly under the influence of alcohol. Drinking up to a litre and a half of vodka a day. I knew it wasn’t normal, but I never accepted what I really was. An alcoholic.
Before I knew it, I was just a couple of weeks away from my medical. I had to get sober. So, I went cold turkey. It surprises me now, when I think back, that I actually managed to go cold turkey. The easier thing to do would have been to keep on drinking, which was the option I took many times in later life.
For two days I was violently ill. I threw up to the point where I could barely see from the strain I was putting on my face. But that was by no means the worst part of going cold turkey. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to temporarily lose my mind.
It all began with bits of coving flying off the wall towards me. I remember filming it on my phone so I had evidence I wasn’t seeing things. Then In the corner of my eye, I kept catching heads pop around the doorway and windows. They would disappear as soon as I turned my head to look at them.
Next, I could feel something pushing up through the mattress I was sitting on over and over again. Then all of a sudden, my legs were getting tied up by cobwebs and the floor became a bed of insects.
As you can imagine, it this point I was terrified. I thought I was losing my mind. I knew I couldn’t stay where I was, so I got in my car and drove to my uni where I had a hotel booked for the night. As I drove, every lamp post had a person on top of it. By then, I was praying to wake up from the nightmare. But it wasn’t a nightmare at all.
I made it to my hotel room where the hallucinations gained momentum. I had the police called twice as I imagined people were trying to break into my room. The floor was once again a bed of insects and every time I kept my legs still, they would be bound by cobwebs. As if this wasn’t terrifying enough, I began seeing the locks on the door and window turn as if someone was trying to get in. So, I spent what felt like hours running between the two too relock them.
This went on and on, and progressively got worse and worse. I was literally living a nightmare and I had no idea why it was happening. A tiny part of me must of knew that it was something to do with the drink, what else could it have been? But in that moment, I thought I had lost my sanity.
What happened next still haunts me to this day. I could hear footsteps walking towards my door. Then they would stop. A minute later they would start again. Eventually, I plucked up the courage to look through the looking hole in the door.
Standing there was a tall, sweaty, bald man. He asked me to let him in over and over again. All I could do was ignore him. That was until I heard a woman’s voice. I looked through the looking hole again and saw something I will never be able to unsee. The man ate the woman whole. He picked her up and swallowed her like something out of a cartoon.
Again, I thought I had lost my mind. What was happening? Why is this happening? I think it was at this point that I ran. All I had on was my trousers as I sprinted out the door and down the stairwell. All the time hearing the tall, bald man shouting at me.
I ended up running semi-naked towards traffic on a dual carriage way. Eventually someone stopped, and after some convincing, took me to the nearest police station where they called an ambulance straight away.
After describing all of the things I had seen to the paramedics and telling them someone was trying to kill me, they asked me if I had taken anything. At this point, I told them how ill I had been because I had stopped drinking.
As soon as I had explained the quantity of drink I had been consuming daily and that it had been going on for months, they knew what was wrong with me. I had the DT’S from alcohol withdrawal, and I had them bad!
I spent another three days hallucinating in hospital whilst they detoxed me with medication. During that three days, one of doctors even told my parents they were not sure if I would regain my sanity.
That was the first time I learnt about alcohol withdrawals, which is crazy in itself, isn’t it? In the years to follow I would have many more hallucinations from withdrawal. I’ve also had two seizures from going cold turkey.
This stuff should be taught in schools. You can die from it. I know it’s not something that’s going to affect everyone in life, but surely, it’s something worth knowing for the sakes of the thousands that will struggle with alcohol at some point.
Sever alcohol withdrawals are no joke! The first time I was lucky enough to get a place at rehab, I had a couple of weeks to wait for my place. The problem was, I needed a detox as I was both mentally and physically addicted to alcohol.
The doctor told my mum that it was too dangerous for me stop drinking whilst I waited for my place in rehab. I had to be weaned off. My mum had no choice but to give me vodka. Around a litre a day to start with. Imagine that…. having to give your son the thing that is killing him because it’s too dangerous to not do so. The things I put my amazing mum through. Just another reason why I have so much making up to do!
Experiencing alcohol withdrawals again is my biggest fear. For me, the DT’s are every nightmare I’ve ever had rolled into one – not to mention the fact that they can easily kill you.
But I DO NOT want to forget them. They are just another memory of what it would be like if I went down that path again. So, believe it or not, those withdrawal memories are precious to me.
If you think you may be vulnerable or high-risk to severe withdrawals (DT’S), speak to your doctor. The advice they gave me, was not to stop drinking, but to slowly reduce the amount each day. If you have stopped drinking and think you are experiencing the symptoms of the DT’S, call an ambulance.
Thank you so much for reading. If your struggling, just remember there is always a way back.
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