Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Alcohol and RAGE

There's been lots of discussion in the UK recently about alcohol fuelled rage.

Airlines UK, which represents many of the major carriers, have called for stronger deterrents for passengers who decide to crack open their duty-free booze while still on board.

Ryanair have asked airports to ban sales of booze before 10am, and insist passengers drink no more than two alcoholic drinks before flying.

In the last year 387 people were arrested for being drunk and disorderly on a plane, up from 255 the year before.

I bet none of this surprises any of you.

I've found that one of the best things about being sober is the lack of ANGER. I still get cross from time to time, obviously, but it's a slow burn kind of cross, a gradually building irritation. Alcohol (or hangover) induced rage isn't like that at all. It hits you from nowhere like a tornado.

Here's what I wrote, back on DAY 190, about alcohol and rage:

I keep coming across stories in the newspapers about celebrities getting into trouble due to fits of rage. Funnily enough, it’s never the teetotal ones and there’s usually alcohol involved. The most common incidents involve throwing mobile phones at support staff, yelling at air stewardesses, being carted off planes and losing it over inadequate catering arrangements.

Needless to say, I love reading these stories, because all of us big drinkers have, in slightly less dramatic ways, had incidents of alcohol-induced rage. I remember (as, sadly, do many of the other guests) throwing a glass of wine at my husband (the wine and the glass it was in) during a row over a taxi booking at a friend’s wedding in France. Luckily, my aim was terrible, so no lasting damage done, but sometimes these fits of temper can have real consequences.


Years ago, when I was in the high-powered job (with the bar in the office), I had two large glasses of wine with a colleague at lunch. When I got back to my desk I found an email from a very important global client asking for a number of unnecessary changes to the edit of the new TV commercial we’d just shot. I fired off a reply in (drunken) high umbrage, calling him a Neanderthal nincompoop who was obviously unable to appreciate a work of true artistic genius. This email became famous and made me a heroine in the creative department, but it got me fired from that client’s account and could easily have cost me my job.


According to my research, alcohol narrows our focus of attention, giving us tunnel vision, meaning that we become unable to take mitigating circumstances, other people’s feelings or potential consequences into account if we’re provoked when drunk. This means that we can react violently in circumstances that we would ordinarily have shrugged off.


Also, because alcohol lowers our inhibitions, we are more likely to end up in dangerous situations, leading to potential confrontation. We get a dangerous, and false, burst of confidence. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that we are less able to process information properly and are, therefore, more prone to imagining insults (he looked at me the wrong way, Your Honour). 


Since I quit drinking I haven’t lost my temper once (well okay, maybe once or twice, but definitively not a lot). I am Zen-level calm.


Which is why events this evening come as a bit of a shock.

I’m in bed, about to drop off. Mr SM’s in the bathroom. As he closes the bathroom door I hear a whuuumph! as the wet towel I’d recently picked up off the floor and hung up hits the floor again. Needless to say, Mr SM (who must have heard it too) pays no attention and climbs, nonchalantly, into bed.


I sit bolt upright in bed and yell ‘THAT’S IT! I’VE HAD IT WITH THE TOWELS!’


Mr SM looks totally taken aback. Rabbit in headlights. There’s no stopping me.


‘I PICK UP YOUR TOWELS! I PICK UP #1'S TOWELS, #2’S TOWELS AND #3’S TOWELS. IF THE DOG USED TOWELS I WOULD HAVE TO PICK THOSE UP TOO! NO ONE ELSE IN THIS FAMILY EVER PICKS UP A TOWEL. IF IT WEREN’T FOR ME THE WHOLE HOUSE WOULD GRADUALLY FILL UP WITH TOWELS UNTIL WE ALL DROWN IN WHITE FLUFFY TOWELS!’


As I pause for breath, Mr SM puts his hand on my arm (very brave, as I am considering biting it off), and says – very quietly – ‘SM, this isn’t about the towels, is it?’


I stop and think. It strikes me that while I am, obviously, and righteously, cross about the towel situation, the truth is that I am always cross about towels. But a dropped towel won’t usually make me go stratospheric.


#1 is away on a school trip. I’m not going to see her for a whole week. The longest I’ve ever been without her previously is three days. I miss her. That’s why I lost it.

Had I had a few drinks, I would never have realised this. I would have ignored Mr SM’s intervention, which would only have increased my fury. I would have moved on from the towels, and on to my other pet hate – the way everyone leaves their dirty plates and cutlery on top of the dishwasher rather than inside it. I would have accused Mr SM of being a terrible husband and we both would have gone to sleep upset and angry with each other.


So, quitting alcohol doesn’t make the occasional bouts of irrational rage go away, but it does help you to stop, get a sense of perspective and realise that it’s not about the towels. Or the dishwasher. Or the catering arrangements. And that has to be better for our sanity and our relationships.


But I’d still love to know how to get anyone else in my family to pick up a sodding, sodden towel once in a while.


Love and zen-like calm to you all,

SM x

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Beating Cravings

I don't think I could have quit my thirty-a-day smoking habit, fifteen years ago, without the help of nicotine patches.

Those first few days and weeks without my former drug of choice were pretty unbearable. I was irritable, couldn't concentrate, couldn't sleep, had terrible headaches and was totally obsessed with the thought of smoking.

Nicotine patches really helped to take the edge off. They were advertised everywhere. Your doctor could prescribe them on the NHS. We wore them with pride.

When I quit drinking, the cravings and withdrawal symptoms were just as bad but this time there was nothing available to help. Or so I thought.

A few days ago I got an e-mail from a friend I met through this blog. J's drinking history is very like mine. She's been struggling for years to quit the habit, but hasn't got past the first few weeks.

J, unlike me, had the courage to confess her problems to her family doctor. He prescribed her a drug called Acamprosate (also known as Campral), an anti-craving medication. Here's what she says:

Day 9. Acamprosate is bloody brilliant.  All of my previous attempts have had me crawling up the walls, bad tempered and, in AA style, surviving one day at a time until an argument with the husband "justified" a dash to Oddbins.

I know it's early days and there's a long road ahead, but I haven't had the slightest urge to drink at all. I feel so upbeat and my energy levels are amazing. Husband came home on Monday and hardly recognised the house!

And I didn't even want to drink when a plumber fixing our bathroom tap managed to flood the bathroom floor and water came down through the ceiling, drenching the hallway, kids screaming. 

I Googled Acamprosate. It's been approved in Europe since 1989.

I've written a lot on this blog about how long term abuse of alcohol changes our brain chemistry, reducing the amount of dopamine our brains produce naturally, so that - without booze - we feel tetchy and depressed.

After we quit drinking, our brain chemistry does, eventually, find its way back to equilibrium, but in the initial months we are left to cope with badly malfunctioning neurology.

That's where Acamprosate steps in. It helps to restore your brain's chemical balance and, therefore, helps with those terrible cravings.

Why, why, why had I never heard of this? Why aren't the government advertising it widely? How is it that everyone knows about nicotine gum, patches and inhalers, yet no-one's heard of Acamprosate?

If any of you have experience with this one then please can you comment below and let us all know if it works for you? If you've discussed alcohol issues with your doctor, have they offered you anti-craving medication?

It's easy to comment totally anonymously. All you do is go to www.blogger.com and set up a Blogger account under any pseudonym you like. You can then use that Blogger name to comment on any Blogger or Wordpress blogs.

Huge thanks to J for letting me share her e-mail, and love to you all,

SM x

Monday, 7 August 2017

Changes

When I first quit drinking, I was constantly noticing changes.

Initially, I noticed the lack of hangovers and improved sleep. Then better skin, a less puffy face and bouncy hair. Followed by improved moods and less anxiety. And, after a while, weight loss and better relationships.

Inevitably, though, over time, you find an equilibrium. I didn't think much had changed for the last year.

But then, the I came down to Cornwall with the family for our traditional summer holiday.

I've been getting up early every morning while the children, exhausted from hours of fresh air and surfing, are still dozing, so I can do the final edit of the book which I have to send back to my publisher this week.

As a result, I was re-reading a passage I wrote about coming down to Cornwall just five months after quitting the booze. Here it is:

DAY 155

It’s time to leave for Cornwall!

I get up at the crack of dawn and spend several hours packing, trying to cram everything into our (not large) car and still leave enough room for three children and a dog. This isn’t easy as I’ve bought enough Beck’s Blue (alcohol free beer) to sink a battleship. I don’t know if Beck’s Blue has yet penetrated such a remote corner of the world and want to Be Prepared. Luckily I squish it all in and don’t have to choose between leaving behind the beer or a child. Not quite Sophie’s Choice, but awkward, nonetheless.

I do the drive down in horrible traffic on my own (John, as usual, is following on by train after a day at work). Everyone seems to be heading for the coast, and the M5 resembles a car park rather than a motorway. We’re all hot, tetchy and tired.

Then, finally, we turn off the A30 and onto the North Cornish Coast Road and I can feel the tension leaving my shoulders. Even the air smells different – of heather and salt. We play the usual competition, seeing who can be first to see the sea and shout ‘Icanseethesea! Icanseethesea!’

After another half-hour of tiny Cornish lanes and terrifying blind corners, we arrive at our little cottage. Then I have another hour of unpacking while simultaneously dealing with three overexcited children.

Arriving at a holiday destination pulls every trigger there is: stress (tick), exhaustion (tick), celebration (tick), reward (tick), anxiety (tick). BUT I have planned ahead! I am an expert at this game! I have a chilled Beck’s Blue waiting for exactly this moment.

What I hadn’t counted on was there being NO SODDING BOTTLE OPENER! What kind of holiday cottage doesn’t provide a bottle opener?! I turn the cottage upside down. The children are hollering to go to the beach. I’m a woman possessed. I look like… AN ADDICT! (Who’d have thought it?). Or a crazy poltergeist, opening and closing, then reopening, every drawer and every cupboard.

I’ve obviously lived a sheltered existence as I have no idea how to get the lid off a beer bottle without an opener. I try everything, and only succeed in hurting my hands. In the end, I go into the tiny walled garden and smash the top off on a stone. Needless to say, beer goes everywhere, leaving me with two gulps of liquid, lots of foam and broken glass and smelling like a brewery.

It strikes me as ironic that, however badly I was addicted to alcohol back in the day, I never resorted to smashing bottles like a lunatic.

The kids and I walk down a narrow footpath, across a field, over a stile and through a dark, tangled copse down to the beach. As the sun sets, we sit on the rocks and eat Cornish ice cream, watching the waves crashing, with hypnotic regularity, on to the sand. Bliss. The vast Atlantic Ocean and three weeks’ holiday stretching out in front of us. I watch some reckless teenagers tombstoning off the cliff into the choppy waters below, and the dog – in a hilarious display of hope over experience – trying to catch a seagull.

Later, the children are in bed, windblown, exhausted and happy, and the dog is fast asleep, his legs twitching as he dreams of finally getting the better of those birds. I’m snuggled on the windowsill in my pyjamas, looking out at the stunning, wild, wet and windy landscape and listening for the sound of John’s taxi. He’ll be fresh as a daisy after a relaxing train journey with a good book and a half bottle of vino. But I forgive him as he should, as instructed earlier today, be carrying a bottle opener. If he isn’t, I’m not letting him in.

And, on reading this passage, I realised that I ran out of Beck's Blue a week ago and haven't even bothered to search the local shops for more.

That's another addiction crossed off the list!

Happy holidays, everyone.

Love SM x