Severe Anxiety, Alcoholism, or Both?
Beware and Be Honest With Yourself
My eyes pop open, my whole body is covered in sweat and I am shaking uncontrollably. I look at the large blue numbers on the alarm clock and think to myself, in a panic, “It’s only four AM?” I immediately grab the Xanax and glass of water that I had strategically placed on the nightstand the night before in anticipation of this exact moment. This had become a nightly routine for me. One that I had attributed to a severe Anxiety-Panic Disorder diagnosis I had received twelve years prior.
I began drinking alcohol as a teenager. While in high school drinking just seemed like the thing to do. All of my friends drank. In fact, beginning every Thursday, the most popular phrase going around the school was “Where’s the keg party this weekend?” The only difference between me and my friends was that they only drank at the keg party…I drank all week long.
I began having problems sleeping at a very young age. I recall having feelings of anxiety, but not knowing what they truly were. I also recall drinking alcohol at night because I thought it was calming these scary feelings and helping me to fall asleep. This is something I carried with me into my adult life.
At twenty-two years old, I married my high school sweetheart and we had our first child together. Other than a couple of beers here and there, I did not drink throughout the pregnancy. However, once the baby was born I began to drink again...very heavily. I also did not stop at drinking. It was at this point in my life that I was introduced to cocaine.
I spent quite a few years going all weekend long without sleeping at night. I would return to work on Monday mornings beaten and worn-out, with my insides feeling like they were constantly on high alert for some kind of disaster. I was still not aware that these feelings were anxiety. My first marriage did not last, and I eventually stopped the use of cocaine altogether.
In 1992 I remarried. This time I found myself with a much more stable man who really had his act together. However, I still drank! I began to drink more. I was working for a company that liked to celebrate every merger or acquisition with large booze infested all nighters. I remember thinking “I love this job…this is right up my alley!”
Two years into that job I was beginning to show signs of severe insomnia. I would toss and turn all night long, staring at my alarm clock, and feeling as if there was some impending doom.
I began to have chest pains, which led to several trips to the emergency room. Finally, after my fourth visit to the hospital and no signs of any heart problems, I was referred to a psychiatrist. I was diagnosed with Depression and Severe Anxiety-Panic Disorder. I was not being completely honest with my doctor about my alcohol consumption.
In 1997 the insomnia and anxiety had completely taken over. I could no longer sleep, go out in public, or do anything other than sit on my couch (in the dark) shaking and crying. After two weeks of not sleeping, I did what I thought was “giving in” and swallowed two bottles of pills with one bottle of red wine.
Thankfully, in a brief moment of clarity, I thought of my three beautiful children sleeping upstairs, came to my senses before passing out, and woke my husband to take me to the hospital. I spent the next two weeks in a psychiatric ward.
I scared myself enough not to drink for the next couple of years, but was still taking anti-anxiety medication. Therefore, after a while, I began to think I was cured and started drinking again.
I drank my way through a move from Connecticut to Alaska, then all the way back to New Hampshire. I also drank my way through one more marriage.
During all of this drinking I was still taking medication. I was also taking two Tylenol PM’s every night, along with my pills and alcohol. I could not understand why I woke up shaking every morning.
I then realized that if I split up my doses of Xanax, I would be able to take one of them in the morning to calm the panic that I was feeling when I awoke. I was convinced that what I was experiencing was severe anxiety, mostly because that is what I was being told by my doctor (to whom I was not telling the truth!)
Much like most recovering alcoholics, I finally reached the point where alcohol no longer served any purpose. I could not get drunk, numb, or fall asleep any longer. I was only able to mildly keep my anxiety under control with my medications during the day and with heavy drinking at night.
I surrendered on July 26, 2006. I called my sister who had been an active member in AA for ten years and she brought me to the hospital for my detoxification. That is where I learned that, while I still suffered from a severe case of Anxiety-Panic Disorder, my alcohol consumption was exacerbating the disease ten-fold. I was an alcoholic who was waking up every morning with the "DT's!"
I have not touched a drop of alcohol, nor have I smoked a cigarette, in over twelve years now, which has helped me deal with my disorder immensely.
I still have my bad days, sometimes weeks, but I still see a doctor regularly and remain completely honest with her, which in turn allows me to live my life in a manageable way.
Alcohol is not, and never will be, the solution to an underlying problem you may be dealing with. Getting the right kind of help is!
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