Quelling Anxiety with the Oblivion of Alcohol

In Addiction, Anxiety, Vile Depths by Louisa Leontiades

I used to be famous for hosting great house-parties. People don’t really know why I’m in the habit of holding them (if it even occurs to them to ask). They assume I am social, gregarious and I love having guests. It’s all true.

Nowadays, not straying far from home is easily passed off on the fact I have two very young children. But at the age of 21 I had no such excuse. I certainly went out, but I had a habit to sticking to regular initimate bars where I knew the staff and patrons which were close to home. The apartment I rented was upstairs from my most regular hangout in Paris. I rarely travelled further then a 2 kilometre radius and more often than not, I brought the party back home (10 people partying in a 13 squared metres apartment, that’s no mean feat).

Why? Because I knew that the closer I was to my bed, the easier it would be to pass out safely.

I knew even at 21, that my ‘off’ button didn’t function in the same way as other people’s. I lost 4 pairs of shoes whilst out drinking over the course of 2 years. I ‘woke up’ walking down a street I didn’t know.  Once I even woke up falling into the River Seine before the firemen fished me out. All of which made me incredibly anxious about drinking and the consequences of my drinking.

But the other option of stopping drinking – caused even greater anxiety. And this prompted drinking even more to seek the oblivion that would relieve me of feeling that way. I couldn’t live with my anxiety, the anxiety of being me. I had been taught by my mother and my society that I was not acceptable the way I was or the way I wanted to be. I was shameful, unloveable and personally responsible for being so.

With heroine chasing the dragon is commonly used to refer to the elusive high that you feel on your first heroine trip. But chasing that good feeling isn’t only restricted to physical symptoms. For addicts, escaping the mental stress, the invisible cage you are in – however it’s been built – is the only desire.

That and the buzz I got from alcohol, where I was able to be funny, sociable and for me – finally myself without repression, shame and guilt weighing me down – was addictive.

Because people are addicted to being themselves and addicted to being accepted for themselves. It’s what we all want. It’s even worth dying for.  So what we do is to try and kill off the false part of ourselves, the control mechanisms that we have built around ourelves and re-establish our own personal identity.

The black and white view of alcoholism in our society doesn’t help. Whilst in part this polarity kicks some people out of denial (you are an alcoholic and you must ALWAYS be) more often the not the choice to face yourself and the anxiety is too hideous. Because the first step is to accept that you suffer from a disease/syndrome for which there is a huge stigma. And that’s got to be rock bottom.

Of course there’s even an alcoholic gene you can blame if you believe the scientists.  I’m not a scientist and I don’t claim to be one. But I have been an alcoholic [where I was emotionally dependent on alcohol to get me through my day] and am still an occasional binge drinker.  I haven’t seen causation established between this gene and the prevalence of alcohol consumption, only the correlation. And I don’t believe that pinpointing the gene is going to provide relief. The same study claims that

“Some 30% to 70% of alcoholics are reported to suffer from anxiety and depression. Drinking is a way for these individuals to self-medicate.” Alcohol Addiction & High Anxiety Linked to the Same Gene

The motivations behind our behaviours are multi-stranded but from personal experience, I’ve noticed that addiction problems can manifest in the most popular or the least popular, the most weird and the most seemingly prosaic lives. I don’t believe i the ‘personality type’ narrative for myself. The common ingredients are lack of self-acceptance, thwarted desires and/or repression of the self.

Around the anxiety and alcohol relationship there seems to be a consensus. It is this. Don’t drink, and the anxiety will get better. Sure, in the short term that might work. But unless the anxiety generated is purely biological (bad headache, seratonin drop and tiredness), denying the presence of anxiety in the subconscious means that the wounds which cause it are not open to healing. Because when you are drunk your true self comes out. And the day after, your false self is horribly anxious, normally about what your true self did, who they kissed, what they said and how they acted (compound that with the physical symptoms and it just gets worse).

Admitting and embracing your drunk self and using your anxiety to enquire into this therefore means a degree of self-acceptance. You may not like your drunk self. Your drunk self may not conform to artificially constructed society norms, in fact she probably won’t. It means asking yourself a really hard question.

Who are you afraid will come out to play when you are drunk?

Are you worried she won’t be loved?

And can you still love her?