Feel No Shame

Writing a public blog has come with it’s negatives as much as it’s helped me and others who have reached out my way. I’ve shared personal and raw parts of my life with strangers and as we often hear ‘once something is published on the internet there is no going back’. I’ve often thought twice about hitting the publish button but most of the time I’ve gone ahead and shared the draft version of my writing – I guess that’s what a Blog should be shouldn’t it? A raw and uncensored account of my thoughts, reflections and experiences.

When I started this period of my life I often call my ‘recovery journey’ back in February 2021 I wasn’t the person I am today. I was broken, lost and unsure if I wanted to go on anymore. I needed an intervention to change my pathway in life, finally leaving the dark and lonely road I’d be travelling on for a number of years and making the first steps down a new road. A road which felt like it could be kinder to me if I persisted and stuck to it.

I didn’t need to share my story with the ‘World’. I say this tongue in cheek but I’ve had readers from every corner of the World visit my Blog and continue to be humbled that other people have taken the time to read my blabbering. So whilst I didn’t need to start a blog I wanted to use a platform in which I could quickly and easily post my thoughts from a mobile, iPad, laptop, etc. and not rely on carrying a journal. My head is so busy and writing allows me to lighten the traffic in there. I also wanted the option to share the posts at a later date with friends and family if it felt right to do so. I set up the site anonymously and Happy Daddy was my gift to myself as I started an unknown journey into a new way of living. There was never a plan and I’m not sure there ever will be!

Something I’ve come to reflect on a lot in the last 19 months is that whilst staying clean doesn’t fix you it gives you a massive head-start over your demons because you don’t have the fog of substance to alter and influence your thinking and decision making. I’m a lot more attuned to recognising when my mental health is starting to deteriorate and it enables me to apply the techniques and tools that I know can counteract the Depression and Anxiety which has been part of me for over 20 years. One of those tools is writing – something I never used to regularly do until 19 months ago.

I no longer feel shame or embarrassment when telling people that I suffer with mental health conditions either. I will talk to others about my alcohol dependency, being sectioned by the NHS under the Mental Health Act and my episodes of Dissociation which lead to interventions from the Emergency Services. I suffer with an illness and that is nothing to be ashamed about. Yes, I used alcohol to self-medicate and that is harder for people to often sympathise with but I’ve stopped drinking and want to give myself the best possible chance of living a good life where my mental health no longer dictates. I want to make the conversations around addiction and poor mental health more natural and less awkward because I never practiced what I now preach and I reached the cliff edge.

Giving up alcohol shouldn’t ever be underestimated as an easy thing to do. It’s rare for somebody who has drank alcohol for all of their adult life to just ‘stop’ without any strategy. There are certainly people who can do it and I’m in awe of that strength (or maybe just lack of interest in the stuff that dominated my life for 17 years) but it’s also likely that most of those people didn’t have a history of dependency or addiction. The numbers are low in Western society of those able to just end their drinking whilst the relapse / return to drinking rates are high. Let me be clear, I can’t have a glass of champagne at a Wedding. My relationship with alcohol has gone beyond that and there is a very high chance I’d have a full blown relapse if I decided to have that ‘one’ drink. Those reading this now who haven’t had alcohol issues might find this difficult to imagine but that is how delicate recovery can be for us.

That said I’ve chosen a method of recovery which gives me the tools to say that I won’t drink again. It’s not that I can’t drink. I could go and buy some beer right now from the shop across the road. There is nothing stopping me from drinking alcohol. I’ve chosen not to. I’ve chosen not to have ‘one’ drink on a special occasion because my choice is to never drink again. I’m just somebody who doesn’t drink. I didn’t drink yesterday, I won’t drink today and I won’t drink tomorrow.

Most days it takes no effort at all to remain sober but there are occasions where I have to fight my addictive voice and remind myself as to why I don’t drink anymore. Thankfully the addictive voice is a lot quieter than it used to be but I’m not arrogant enough to think I’ll never have a fight with it again. Fortunately I’ve defeated it time and time again in the past three months using AVRT (Addictive Voice Recognition Technique) and that gives me the confidence that when I do need to apply the recognition techniques to remain sober, they will work and I will continue to abstain from alcohol consumption.

So today I end with this. Don’t ever feel shame or embarrassment for what has gone. You’ve made the brave decision to change your direction in life and that shows massive strength. We can’t undo what has already happened but we can control how we shape our future. Don’t sink because of your past, fly high because of what is to come.

Let’s Talk About Dissociation

Have you ever heard of ‘Dissociation’? I hadn’t heard of the term until a Psychiatrist treating me in hospital said she thought I’d been suffering from this throughout my mental health deterioration and breakdown.

So let’s explain what the term means first of all. The mental health charity ‘Mind UK’ provides a good summary on their website…

“Many people may experience dissociation (dissociate) during their life.

If you dissociate, you may feel disconnected from yourself and the world around you. For example, you may feel detached from your body or feel as though the world around you is unreal. Remember, everyone’s experience of dissociation is different.

Dissociation is one way the mind copes with too much stress, such as during a traumatic event.

Experiences of dissociation can last for a relatively short time (hours or days) or for much longer (weeks or months).

If you dissociate for a long time, especially when you are young, you may develop a dissociative disorder. Instead of dissociation being something you experience for a short time it becomes a far more common experience, and is often the main way you deal with stressful experiences.

For many people, dissociation is a natural response to trauma that they can’t control. It could be a response to a one-off traumatic event or ongoing trauma and abuse. You can read more on our page about the causes of dissociative disorders.

Some people choose to dissociate as a way of calming down or focusing on a task, or as part of a religious or cultural ritual.

You might experience dissociation as a symptom of a mental health problem, for example post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.
Or you may experience dissociation as a side effect of alcohol or some medication, or when coming off some medication.”

It was such a relief to finally find out about this from a medical professional because on a number of occasions I had incidents which were difficult to explain or process. Granted I had a drink problem and would mix beer, whisky and wine with my medication which lead to abnormal thinking and actions from myself but there were also occasions where I hadn’t had a drink, was taking my correct doses of meds and still had ‘episodes’.

One time stands out from November 2020 where I’d been to work as normal, been out for a run and there were no obvious triggers but that night I lost it in my bedroom and was headbutting the wardrobe doors and mirror, I was mumbling and making no sense to my wife and grabbing my head and crouching down on the floor. Naturally there was no explanation for this and the police, then paramedics were called. At first they were assuming drink or drugs were involved but when it became clear this wasn’t the case I was taken into hospital where the Crisis Team were assigned to me, blood tests taken, etc.

I came out of the episode whilst in hospital and it was agreed I could return home with my wife with the provision I remain under the care of the Crisis team in the community. I was signed off work and over the coming 6 weeks or so spent most days in the house on my own (remember this was during the pandemic) with the kids at school and my wife at work. Unsurprisingly after a few weeks I turned back to drinking as I struggled to understand why I had this episode and my anxiety got a hold of me along with my depression.

One thing that sticks with me is that the paramedics were asking me what the Queen’s name was and what my year of birth was and I couldn’t answer either. In the ambulance my heart rate was through the roof and I had a vacant look. I basically wasn’t me.

I did have more of these moments after that night but they were less severe. I’d be sitting watching TV and then I’d realise I’d been staring into space for 10 minutes. My wife would notice this more and more often and say I looked ‘out of my body’ as if what was sitting there was just a shell. I was once out riding my bike alone and I remember just standing at a bridge overlooking it. I can’t remember how long I’d been there but I was just standing looking at the drop, brought back to reality only by a dog walker who spoke to me as he passed and brought me back to some kind of reality.

The night I was sectioned (which I have wrote about numerous times) did include alcohol but not the high levels I was often consuming so the actions and behaviour from me couldn’t be solely explained as been alcohol induced. There needed to be more to it and as I say, to be told about Dissociation in hospital did help me process this long standing battle I’d been silently facing and not understanding.

Since leaving hospital, getting sober and generally getting consistent and regular treatment for my mental health I haven’t had any severe cases of episodes which would suggest that naturally I’m in a better head space. There have been a few incidents, albeit minor where I’ve zoned out or been slurry (as if I’ve had a drink) and my wife has noticed this – but they’ve normally been when I’m tired or a bit stressed, and they have passed. I haven’t had a panic attack either in what feels like forever (something I wouldn’t wish on anybody!).

There is no cure or standard way in which Dissociation works in people so identifying if you are suffering from it, diagnosing it with a medical professional and managing it as part of managing your wider mental health is all I can really advise. I suspect there are a lot of people out there undiagnosed and regularly experiencing Dissociation.

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