Mental Health

My name is Max and I’m an alcoholic. 8 months ago those words would have been impossible for me to say or write down, but now I say them to myself everyday. I’ve struggled with my mental health for the past 6 years but I’m finally getting back on my feet. I’m writing this for me, but putting it out in the public domain because during my recovery openness and honesty have been crucial to repairing my self esteem and dragging myself back from the brink I was hurtling towards. After years of deceit towards my family and friends being able to say ‘this is me’ with confidence and pride has repaired how I feel about myself.

I think it began when I was teaching. I would work 13 hour days, come home and find it impossible to switch off. I have always been a bit of a perfectionist and teaching is not the profession for that mindset! You take knocks to your confidence, ego and motivation every single day. You fail in some small or large way every single day. I’d come home every day and feel like I’d fought a battle, leaving me completely mentally and physically exhausted. I quickly found this harder and harder to deal with.

To help switch my brain off I would have a beer when I got home. Often alone before my wife got back from work. Over the years this progressed from one to two to three beers. Then beer wouldn’t cut it so I moved on to strong cider or wine. A whisky before bed soon followed, although I was using alcohol to help deal with anxiety at this stage I wasn’t yet fully dependent on it.

Although I was a bloody good teacher and always did my best I felt that a move from the state sector would sort me out. I managed to get a job at one of London’s most prestigious private schools. I can remember the elation I felt when I was told I got the job. That Summer Inna and I got married and for a few months I felt good about myself. I started at my new school eager to embark on the next chapter in my life. Soon the cracks reappeared though. I doubted myself massively. If I wasn’t happy at one of the top schools in the country then what was wrong with me? I questioned every decision I made and my anxiety and depression grew worse.

It was at this point that my alcoholism kicked up a notch. I would regularly drink 6 bottles of strong cider a night, followed up by some spirit. Most of my drinking was done alone, before my wife got back from work. I knew exactly when to stop drinking, shower and brush my teeth so that when she returned she couldn’t smell it on me. I’d smoke a cigarette so that was what she would smell on me. My tolerance for alcohol grew and grew. I’d buy my booze from the shop on the way home, after a while the shop assistants recognized me and I felt guilt and judgment. So I had a rota of shops: Tesco Monday, Bargain Booze Tuesday, Sainsbury’s Wednesday. That way the people who sold me the booze didn’t think I was an alcoholic. That’s what I told myself. I’d wake up every day with a hangover, when my wife left for work a long pull on a bottle of spirit was the only way I could clear my head and get myself up for work, my heart would be beating out of my chest as I walked up the hill to work. Then I began having days off with spurious excuses, drinking all day, lost in an ocean of anxiety and self loathing. My half terms were filled with lonely days in the house, drinking to excess until my wife got home. My social life revolved around drink, I’d have 4 pints before whoever I was meeting arrived but always manage to hide it.

I needed to get out so I quit my job and pursued a Master’s degree. ‘This is finally it’ I thought, I’m back near my family, out of the big city, able to breathe and do more of the things I loved. I absolutely smashed my Master’s, I averaged 90 for my academic work and was able to secure backing for my own project to carry on to a PhD, this is a big deal. But throughout my Master’s and the start of my PhD my alcoholism progressed. We lived with my in laws during this period and I was ashamed of the jenga tower of bottles that the recycling bin would become over just a few days. So I switched to cans, drank them alone in my room, often with my mother in law reading in the next room, crushed the cans, put them in a plastic bag and dropped them in a bin on the way to university the next day. Before I got home I’d have 3-4 pints of strong beer in town. Problem solved and my secret life maintained. I worked my way through my father in law’s Whisky collection, a mouthful from alternate bottles so that hopefully they wouldn’t notice. When I thought it would become suspicious I sneaked vodka, sherry, port, whatever I could get my hands on. It’s just the stress of Master’s, PhD, not having our own place I would tell myself. I will only drink Friday to Sunday I’d tell myself but always, always I would submit to that release that alcohol gave me and I’d hate myself a little more and feel another piece of my soul wither every time I did. I became increasingly selfish and devious.

When my wife and I moved into our first house the opportunity for me to ‘work from home’ and drink to excess increased. After a couple of months of progressively serious drinking I reached absolute rock bottom. I realized that if I didn’t do something about it now I was going to kill myself, lose my wife, home, family and everything that we had sacrificed to achieve what we had over the last 6 years. Such was my level of self loathing that I briefly contemplated taking my own life to avoid the effort and pain of turning my life around. I wrote a letter to Inna that morning while she was away, drinking from a bottle of Lambs rum while I did it. I still have the letter, the ink is smeared with the tears I was crying at the time.

This is when I entered AA and finally began to find peace of mind. I have now been sober for 7 months and 3 weeks. By throwing myself into AA and following the 12 step program I feel like a miracle has occurred. I know in my heart and soul that I will never touch another drop of alcohol. I’ve lost 10 kilos of weight, I feel strong, fit and look at myself in the mirror and love who I am. I can devote my time and energy to my family and friends and put them first. I wake up early every day and can’t wait to live my life. The anxieties I suppressed with alcohol came back in a big way in my early recovery, I tried to carry on with my research during this period but soon found that impossible and eventually had to take a 4 month break. I am now back at work, with therapy and support I am now mentally equipped to deal with whatever life throws at me. My withered soul is being put back together piece by piece every day that I remain sober.

An alcoholic is not a disheveled outcast drinking from a brown paper bag on a park bench. Someone who is depressed does not always shy away from life. People struggle on the inside but excel on the outside. For years and years I lived in my head, lost in self loathing and doubt. I’m writing this for myself, but if anyone I know reads this, if anyone I know is struggling themselves, then know that you are not alone. I say the serenity prayer to myself every single day and thank whoever is looking after me for helping me turn my life around, for saving me from a slow, painful, early death, so it is with the serenity prayer that I’ll end this account.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things that I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

Max Rayner