When Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS) first introduced me to grief, alcohol was everywhere. For the first 7 months, during the evening’s, once my daughter had gone to sleep I would frequently self-medicate. I became dependant on it to help numb and avoid my pain. If I’m honest, when the silence came so did the darkness. Alcohol was the only thing I knew I could use to beat grief away just so I could avoid or postpone it that little bit longer. Without it I knew as soon as I took my ‘Dad’ hat off, I would crumble. Grief was a new beast I’d never encountered. I just wasn’t ready for it. Alcohol was my weapon, without it I’d simply be punching smoke.
For me, using alcohol to sedate myself was just one phase of my widowhood I had to go through. Especially when dealing with the sudden death of my wife. It was only last weekend when I started to think about just how cohesive alcohol is in all our lives. It’s so deeply integrated that we don’t even notice how acceptable it is. Life is good? Have a drink. Life is shit? Have a drink. Out celebrating, are we? Have a drink? Cooking a nice steak at home tonight? You don’t have to drive – roll out the bottles of red. At a wedding? Oooh, free drinks. Wetting the baby’s head? Have a drink. Big match on the television? Then it’s beer o’clock. At a funeral? You guessed it – drinks! It’s probably safe to say unless you work in a pub or restaurant, your place of work is the safest place to avoid alcohol.
This grief self-care medicine created a massive gap between knowledge and behaviour. At the back of my mind, I always knew it was a risk to become dependent on drinking the pain away, it wasn’t a healthy coping skill. Being a single parent, I had responsibilities. I had to be Mum and Dad. I knew people would be looking at me to see how I was coping. Plus, who has ever made a good decision when drinking? Somehow, I just found a deeper connection between rationalisation and alcohol. It addressed the symptoms of my grief, not the underlying problems. It made a real exploration of the underlying issues more difficult, masking them with a temporary “fix” and delaying me from addressing the feelings I should address. It put me at high risk for developing dependence. It put a strain on my body and more importantly my mind.
I’ve always loved craft beers and fine wines, I still do to this day. I’d be one of the biggest hypocrites in the world to say you have to cut it all out of your life. It is really important to highlight that your grief can always put you at risk of developing a problem. I feel nothing but shame when I look back now. Once I could eventually break the cycle I knew I could embrace my grief and make it part of my life. This is what I described in the analogy of grief I shared last week. I can always recall the groundhog day feeling each morning I would wake up after drinking, the grief was still there looking back at me, it never went anywhere. This is when I soon realised that the only way to release my strong emotions is to feel them. This made me discover more self-awareness and it enforced more moderation of certain things into my life.