Warning: Discussion of body reaction to heavy drinking, including detoxification. Includes body function talk, e.g. toileting, vomiting, and menstruation.
NOTE: This is merely a description of what i go through getting off the sauce. Do NOT do this. It isn’t a step-by-step method. Detoxification from alcohol/drugs should be done under a doctor’s or other accredited professional’s care, at a hospital or other detox facility. I’ve gone to the ER for IV fluids and other care on numerous occasions, and wouldn’t hesitate to go again.
In the past, over time, i’ve learned to share about when i fall. It started out as vague references couched in romantic metaphors, and has progressed to full disclosure about what falling can mean in my life. Among other things, it can mean i lose control to a full switch for a significant period of time. It can mean i engage in any number of destructive behaviours. These have involved things like hitchhiking into the city (i live on a farm more than 30mins away), partying and its ubiquitous drug and alcohol use, which can and has resulted in stays in the “psych ward”, and the involvement of law enforcement. As i’ve improved, the higher risk stuff has disappeared, but taking off, and drug and alcohol* use, can still occur.
Lately, therapy + world events = my anxiety being at a near fever pitch, which means i can experience a hard switch that i cannot control. Well, that’s somewhat redundant, because i can’t control a switch at all. Therapy has me so vulnerable, that i can lose the face before the end of a session. Even long after, i remain raw and easily triggered. My Bits N’ Pieces are either terrified and totally flipping out, or i’ve done enough work that they’re beginning to feel safe in my environment and are asserting themselves a bit more. Understand that i’m not saying it’s one or the other – i’m saying it’s both, it just depends on which part we’re dealing with. They’re not a fun time right now. Everyone is stirred up and i’m losing my grip.
I’m fine for a week or 2, and then BAM, the next thing i know i have a raging hangover and must figure out what the damage is. They crawl into a bottle for a number of reasons: it was used in abuse scenarios, it made social interaction easier in my late teens, and it made consensual sexual encounters as a young adult tolerable. During all those times drinking was not a problem. It became a problem when i first became fully manic in my late 30s. It seemed like that’s when the levee broke, and everything and everyone came flooding out. I’d begun drinking heavily when the mania first started, while i worked a job that had me mostly in various bars. It progressed to the point where i lost my job, lost my oldest son to emancipation, was forcibly committed on more than one occasion, in a detox facility twice, in long term rehab once, and spent a few weeks in an actual mental hospital. At that time, i was completely at the mercy of my system and the mania. They conspired to break me, utterly.
Years and lots of stories that i’ve already told later (like this one, but it’d be hard to read everything, and this is relevant), i’m doing far better than probably most people thought i would. But after a few years of being out of therapy and thinking i was fine, i found out there was more work to do, and that it was the hardest work. It’s exacerbated drinking behaviours, as i once again struggle to manage and control the people who live in my brain. These people who’d all been born by the time i was 10, most of whom masquerade as being older than that.
I’ve been finally, and fully honest about that here, but i haven’t said much about the part where i crawl out of the hole i’d fallen into. I haven’t because it’s ugly, and very, very embarrassing. However, one should know all of it that i can tell. You should have the clearest picture of how dark and far down i’ve been, and how hard i still struggle today. In the truth lies hope, and i know well and surely that it is hope that i offer here. It’s all i have to give the world, and after so many years of contributing little, my love of humanity compels me to do what i can, until i can do more, and then do that, too. I assure you that i aim to.
So we are on to the ugly bits now. This may be full of TMI for some, so a second warning here.
The first thing to know is, while my system is out and very active during a bender, i am not. It’s like blackout drinking, except i wasn’t even there to get to the blackout stage in the first place. The second thing to know/understand, is that they can drink a LOT. My husband and son have both related to me how this can look. They’re dealing with 1 particular part who is clearly drunk; stumbling, slurred speech, etc., and then i’ll switch to another part and will immediately present as sober; the prior symptoms being gone, and i’m speaking and moving without difficulty. They can hand off to each other like this for days, but when my body has had enough and begins to become the primary, unavoidable concern, here is the third thing to know: the little buggers always ditch the party, and leave me holding the bag.
I know immediately something’s been going on upon waking. Sometimes waking is the regular kind, sometimes it’s being slammed back into the face by a part that doesn’t want to handle what’s going on for me, physically. I’ll have a raging headache and my guts will feel like they’ve been the ball in a game of rugby. I’ve the physical certainty that “we’re done here”, coupled with the mental experience of my system hiding in my brain. I hear whispers and soft crying – they know we can’t go any further. There’ve also been occasions where i’m thrust back in the primary position because they’ve gotten me into some trouble they’re either afraid to deal with, or think i’m the only one who can, say, an argument, destruction of property**, or damage to the body**.
I know what’s coming, and brace myself – although there’s nothing to be done but survive the process.
Despite the already terrible state of withdrawal beginning, i usually still feel that buzzy-numbness of being drunk. I know i can’t take anything for my symptoms yet, lest i fall asleep/pass out while my breathing and heart rate drop too low. It’s not that acetominophen raises one’s heart rate, it’s that i can become comfortable enough to fall asleep. (See: My Fear of Dying, coming soon!) If i’m not in bed, i go there.
There, my headache will increase, and then will come the worst –and it won’t leave me for days– nausea. I learned from a doctor years ago, that i likely carry a genetic trait for severe nausea. I’m inclined to believe him. Like one of my sons once remarked, “For someone who hates puking as much as you do, you sure do it a lot.”
In this case i won’t be puking though, and the truth is i almost never do, technically speaking. I retch. Almost nothing will ever come out of me, due to a history of childhood abuse and bingeing/purging. In other words, vomiting during abuse resulted in more abuse, and one of the ways the abuse manifested in later years was to eat until i was physically sick to my stomach.
So the retching has begun, which takes my kicked and punched entrails, and wrings them like a wet dishrag, repeatedly. At some point my heart rate will begin to rise, and so i take some acetominophen and diphenhydramine. The latter never works to suppress the nausea, but it can aid in getting me some sleep. I try because that will soon become impossible. I sleep as much as i can before my body begins removing the poison i’ve put into it. When that happens, i’ll be pissing razor blades and shit for around 12hrs. All while retching my guts into a nearly paralysed state. So i sip as much water as i can – once my guts shut down, there will be no food or water for anywhere from 12hrs, to a full day (for water, food can go longer).
Now i’m sweating: i soak my clothes and the sheets and anyone close to me, i.e. my husband and my dog. I’m alternately hot and then cold. There is no comfortable position; i shift from laying positions, to semi-sitting ones. My back aches and my head feels like it’s being crushed, the base of my skull as if it’s being ground to powder. I feel like i’m going through a rough period, literally. Back when i did menstruate, one could start. I feel as if i’m being filled with cement that’s slowly hardening, except when i must use the washroom, which is frequently. Then, my legs have trouble supporting me and getting me there. Urination has ended but the other isn’t done with me yet. I’m becoming severely dehydrated, with scratchy eyeballs, an itchy, sticky throat, and numb hands and feet. I get random stabbing pains that feel electric.
I want to sleep, but now anxiety manifests in the form of fear of death. I’m gripped by it. I know it’s a part of the process, and that i’m still here so far, but i also know that i’ve repeatedly taxed my body way past what is reasonable or healthy. Now there is no laying, only sitting up as straight as i can. I try to distract myself with mindless games and videos online. Every muscle cries out, my organs feel like stones. My brain feels as if it may explode; the band across my forehead so tight my skull may crack. If it’s daytime, i see movement out of the corners of my eyes. If it’s nighttime, i see figures in the blackness of the room, and behind my eyelids. There are whispery, skittish breaths across my flesh.
These are not full-on DTs, but i would guess they’re similar, if not a precursor.
No food, no water, no sleep, only anxiety and pain. Time passes with excruciating slowness and i sit with it, knowing i deserve it all (i know i do and i don’t, this is just my mindset at the time). My thoughts are drawn inexorably towards all my failures and shortcomings. I’m coated in a foul slick of hopelessness. I feel heavy with despair and shame. At some point my legs start working better, and my body scrapes me out and gets rid of everything. I now notice how very badly i need a shower, but i still can’t stand for long enough to get it done. No, not even 5mins with a bar of soap.
I take acetominophen where i dare, but now it hurts my insides, so only 1 at a time. Two caplets burns (stomach acid) like heck, so i stagger them. Diphenhydramine is not an option. I’m afraid if i go to sleep, i won’t wake up.
After 24hrs, things are usually improving a little, and i begin to drink a bit of water.
The final stages:
– everything tastes like crap, even water;
– thickly chapped lips;
– canker sores on my tongue.
The headache lasts for at least a week.
The nausea comes and goes.
I want to eat compulsively.
At least 1 or 2 days of insomnia.
Three days to 1 week to get back to normal energy/functioning levels.
I’ve only been struggling with this since i started back at therapy 2yrs ago. It’s frightening, dangerous behaviour and i know it. I’ve been working hard for my betterment #1, but also because i know that at my age, my body can’t tolerate much of this, or for long. I’ve stopped every self-destructive habit i’ve ever had, and this one will be no different. I’m no longer abusive, nor do i put others in harm’s way. There’s a process by which my brain figures stuff out. For a long time there had to be general consensus to lay something down or stop it. Now it comes down to me – if i say it’s done, it’s bloody done.
The realisation that the impetus is on me has been a sobering one, in this case especially.
<go ahead and snort – i did>
Yes, i realise there are people, places, and programs out there designed to help this specific problem. I have worked them and sought the receipt of their promises as hard as i sought those offered by religion. If i am, as some claim, “terminally unique”, it will not be from lack of trying or a desire to let go. I am a woman with a particular set of skills that make it difficult to function with the rest of the world on its terms, but i am doing my damnedest.
While there has been a disconcerting return to some undesireable actions while i flop around trying to find my legs out of this psychic primordial ooze, it hasn’t all been about a loss of control. I think some of it comes from trusting myself and freeing myself from the shame that’s followed me for my whole life, like Pigpen’s cloud in the Peanuts comic strip. When i learn something in therapy (like when i learned shame is my body asking for human connection), there comes a time when the rubber meets the road. This may be one of those times, i’m not sure. I am sure i’ll do my best, and if i fall down another hole, no matter what is entailed, i’ll crawl out again.
I watch myself from the inside and from the outside. I provide constant inner commentary on my own life. I see the thing that i was and am, and am becoming. And i have much to say about it all. Maybe it’s worth sharing, but perhaps not. Then i think of that stupid, wonderful starfish, and i know that >>i<< am the starfish. And i am the one who tosses the starfish. I am also the beach and the ocean, and the one who asks why any of it matters.
So i write about drinking to excess and retching and piss and shit and blood and tears.
I write it all out to live.
I write it all out because it seems to be helping.
I write it all out because i must.
And i have a lot ot say about that, too.
So, while i am indeed sorry for the TMI, it was starting to feel like i was hiding/avoiding, so i blogged it. Life as me and all that.
I’m an innocent victim of a blinded alley
And I’m tired of all these soldiers here
No one speaks English, and every thing’s broken
And my Stacy’s are soaking wet
~Tom Waits, Tom Traubert’s Blues
Have as good a weekend as you’re able, and so will i.
Love and Peace,
P.S. The 2 dreams i was going to write about won’t be happening… I waited too long and now they’re gone but for wee snippets. Ah well, lesson learned.
*I know alcohol is a drug, but find the distinction an important one.
** With the exception of a few weeks ago, these haven’t happened in many years.
IMAGE: Melodie Wasser