On giving up alcohol

I realised on the first attempt at writing this that it wouldn’t be a recommendation to give up alcohol for the obvious reasons. It’s a description of how I got to the point where I let go of it.

The risk of “advice” is that it can be devoid of the right context. When you ask people for “advice” they’ll tell you what works for them and sometimes express that as if it’s universal.

I had been drinking alcohol regularly since my early 20s, never being a seriously heavy drinker because I simply don’t have the capacity, but still with enough instances of consuming way too much and making myself ill. I resisted alcohol for a long time because I hated the taste, but eventually I think I was influence by others to start or join in. It’s actually long enough ago now that I can’t remember if I had any conscious idea of it making social situations easier to deal with, and I can’t remember if I would ever plan to use alcohol to be more sociable, or if it has ever helped particularly.

More recently alcohol has been the only thing I could see to reduce my feelings of stress at the end of a week, or that could allow me to relax and enjoy a film even. There had been a few days with no drink here and there, but rarely more than a week off. So it was essentially a habit where I tried to avoid drinking too much by only buying something for one day. There is always the risk of passing a certain stage and essentially wanting to keep the relaxed feeling going and simply drink more.

Eventually I’d had enough of these times of going too far and giving myself a hangover the next day, overshadowing the weekend which should be a time to regenerate, not recover from self-inflicted alcohol poisoning. Something clicked in me and I didn’t want it anymore, decided to let it go and I haven’t had a drink for two months. And for me, where I’m often struggling with energy levels and burnout, it was essentially dragging down my life overall for the sake of some temporary and non-sustainable relief.

After a week or two off alcohol I realised it had been causing me extra low level energy drains, even when I just had one beer. I hadn’t made myself significantly worse for that day, but I had no alcohol-free reference because I had never stayed off it for that long. After a month my moods were more likely to be positive and what anxiety or stress I was dealing with was easier to manage.

It has tipped me over the edge from “surviving” to “living”.

It would be misleading to say that giving up alcohol is what I should have done years ago to get me to this point faster. Many autistic people have been habitually using alcohol as stress relief when they have objectively difficult situations to deal with and are struggling to find any hope, and when they are finding it difficult to change ingrained coping behaviour that holds up a “fake” life.

This post would keep going for a long time if I described all the supporting changes that happened over time, but I’ll try and get over my detail distraction and summarise:

  • Self-kindness – something that I’ve seen regularly mentioned by other Autistic writers, but incredibly important and hard to learn. You drink when you are brought low and think you aren’t worth more. The self kindness aspect leads to the ability to forgive yourself for not living up to arbitrary and unrealistic standards. Depression is diverted as you can stop saying “I’ll never be good enough” or “nobody wants me” and start internalising the realisation that the world of humans expects you to be something you aren’t so others can be more comfortable and avoid challenging themselves. The burnout and frustration isn’t all your fault.
  • Eliminating things in your life that are burning you out but adding no value. I’ve had to accept that while I like a tidy environment, it doesn’t mean enough to me to use the energy required to maintain it. I stopped wasting time on people who attach themselves to me even if get a bit starved of human interaction. I stopped trying to engage in social occasions that drain me and don’t actually improve any personal relationship.
  • Focusing on creative ambitions or interests without guilt – which means prioritising them in a way that others might see as “self-indulgent”. For me music comes before cleaning up the kitchen. Some time gaming comes before vacuuming the carpets. I don’t keep things immaculate but I do the chores enough so it doesn’t get too out of hand for me – I don’t care if someone might think I was lazy or slovenly – they have different priorities that I may see as shallow. Unless an autistic person enjoys tidying and cleaning in itself, there simply isn’t any satisfaction in taking care of chores in advance, and probably more resentment about having to do them. I may be generalising a bit but it is a strong tendency with people like me.
  • Getting some help – I’ve had therapy a couple of times to help me get over difficult periods I couldn’t have dealt with alone. I was lucky in being able to afford to pay for something more suitable to the way my mind works. It’s also important to get help from someone who has the right approach, and to be able to say when something isn’t working. Unfortunately I don’t think decent mental health support is readily available to everyone, and there are a lot of vulnerable Autistic people trying to get “support” from people who can’t provide it, even if they seem to be friends.

There is more to say, but it gets over the point that it was a lot easier to stop drinking once I’d worked on the above for a long time, and it’s asking too much to get yourself to give up a substance that gives you a temporary relief – because the attempt to give up and then fail at a particular point only feeds into the hopelessness that you can’t change – my phase of using partially successful limiting measures for consumption was needed first. And before that I had to develop the ability to avoid the kinds of thoughts that lead to depressed and hopeless moods.

I should reiterate that stopping drinking hasn’t immediately made me able to reach all possible goals, it has just made things like improving energy levels by changing diet, and improving physical fitness seem closer and I can achieve some cautious optimism after a long time of having a fairly bleak outlook.

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