Depression and drinking
I’ve talked before about my drinking, and how and why I stopped. My alcohol use was wound up tightly with my depression, one feeding the other, and this went on for years. Today marks 500 days since my last drink and it seems like a good time to reflect on that.
Going without alcohol has not been as difficult as I expected (and my expectations were built on many and various experiences of failed attempts in the past). I don’t have much willpower or self-discipline; they wouldn’t have been any help when things got tough. So instead of relying on those, I made big changes to my life and my behaviour that made not drinking the easy choice, in contrast to the old days when it was the other way round.
The important changes were probably these:
- attitude to drinking. I accepted, with as much self-compassion as I could muster, that my alcohol use was essentially a coping mechanism for depression that was no longer doing its job. This done, I realised the wistful stories I told myself about the fun and enjoyment I got from drinking were just that: stories. None of them were true.
- absolute commitment to tackling my depression. Before I stopped drinking, I worked hard to develop habits that would help my depression (exercise, diet, sleep etc). Drinking was the last seriously unhelpful behaviour I changed. I doubt I could have done it otherwise.
- Coming out as a teetotaller. Very helpful at social functions where drinking is normal or expected. Outside my immediate social circle, people in my world don’t care if I am not drinking, and I have found that I couldn’t care less what they think anyway! But it hasn’t been a problem.
- Planning ahead. Taking my own drinks to parties/functions where appropriate or sorting out a strategy in advance.
- Maintaining stocks of alcohol-free drinks at home – whenever I fancy a beer (most days), or a glass of wine – I have one. Simple. This may not suit everyone, but it has worked really well for me.
Impact on my depression
The benefits of going alcohol-free are strong, and include:
- improved physical health (fewer headaches and ailments generally; weight loss)
- improved appearance (face less saggy, skin clearer, eyes brighter)
- financial (my household spending has decreased dramatically)
- improved sleep
- better self-esteem
- more sociable (and more likely to invite friends into my house, which I hated doing before)
- available for productive activities in the evening (including those which involve driving)
Has it improved my mental health? Yes definitely, albeit in tandem with the other things I now do (exercise, sleep etc). My mornings used to start with imagining shooting myself in the face, then the blood, bone fragments and brain tissue dripping down the wall behind my bed. That very rarely happens now, thank goodness.
Sorry to mention such a gross image, but that was how it was when I was drinking, and that is what I think of if ever I feel tempted to drink again. I am so much better off alcohol-free.