Confessions of an autistic alcoholic

This is a confession and a rehash of an old post I took down. I’ve decided to put it back up again as I have recently started drinking again after a long period of sobriety and, as I have a history of alcohol abuse, this is not a good thing.

It was anxiety over a work night out that led me to drink. That and I have to admit, stupidity.

Having a new job, I felt I couldn’t make my excuses and avoid the night out as I would have done in my previous job. Of course with hindsight, my life and my sobriety is much more important than the work Christmas party, but I was convinced that this time I could control my drink. After all, now I understand myself. I found out I had Asperger’s syndrome after I stopped drinking before and I realised that I drank to cope with that, to be able to socialise and make friends. So surely now I’d be able to moderate my drinking?

No.

In a matter of days I went from being someone who was into keeping fit to being someone who only thought about drink. I couldn’t care less any more about the things I do to maintain my health, running and walking, my whole being was fixed on when I could next have a drink. I went from someone who didn’t even know where the booze department was in the supermarket near my work to being acutely aware of every shop selling alcohol in the vicinity of home and work. It was like my brain was being hijacked. Over Christmas, all I did was to drink. No nice walk in the country, no Christmas morning run, my habit of the past few Christmases. Just wine and thoughts of more wine, knocking it back, keeping going, having more if I felt myself sober up.

wine

I knew it was a bad idea so I stopped drinking in the new year, but couldn’t stay stopped. I drank again and this weekend I made myself so ill I’ve been in bed for 3 days.

Like I said, stupidity. I don’t consider myself a stupid person but I am stupid about alcohol.

My history with alcohol was one of the reasons my psychiatrist hesitated over an Asperger’s diagnosis. It does seem to be true that for a lot of people with autism, alcohol does nothing for them, or drinking is an unpleasant experience or they  don’t buy into the social pressure to drink.  However, this isn’t the case for everyone, and there is some evidence that for some of us, drinking and/or drugs can be a coping mechanism and can be problematic.

In my case my drinking started at the age of 13. I read a magazine article about a teenage alcoholic who drank before school to give her confidence and I decided to try it as I couldn’t make friends. The few mouthfuls of Woodpecker cider I drank just feel a bit sick and didn’t help me talk to people, but the seed was sown that alcohol could give confidence and later that year on a family holiday abroad, I got drunk for the first time. I didn’t drink often after but I still got drunk occasionally.

It wasn’t until I  was 18 and at university that my drinking took off. On my second day, I was handed a pint of beer and I wondered how I would get through it. By the fourth day, drinking pints was second nature, by the second weekend I was drinking whole bottles of spirits. I loved drinking and I was damn good at it. I could be in a social situation feeling awkward, and all I had to do was to have a few drinks and the awkwardness went away, I felt ‘normal’, the talking and the music stopped jarring and bothering me and instead I felt part of things.

I’d never been a particularly good actor and found it hard to hide my social difficulties other than with shyness but now I could create a persona around my ability to hold my drink and, as drinking a lot to get drunk is such a huge part of life for a lot of young students, I felt normal for the first time in my life. I felt that I’d left my weird younger self behind and found myself and people liked me.  I went out drinking every night and I had a group of friends who friends drank the same as me. I loved the feeling of acceptance, of being part of a group, which I had never had to this extent. The only difference was that I would sometimes have meltdowns get aggressive or upset when drunk. I could never predict how I’d be. I may be a lot of fun or I may be a nightmare for everyone around me.

I continued drinking in my twenties. They say alcoholism starts as fun, then fun with problems then problems and it was in my twenties that the problems started. I had an inkling that something was wrong with my drinking when I realised I couldn’t go shopping without ending up in the pub. I started having panic attacks and depression and ended up in Accident and Emergency with a panic attack after an alcohol binge. I had problems getting on with people and and changed jobs and moved house regularly. I was drinking every night again after work, every morning vowing that I’d get an early night, but by the time 5pm came around, I was ready for the pub.

I still clung on my drunk girl persona, booze was a huge part of my identity. If I met someone when I was sober and they didn’t seem to like me, I would try and get drunk with them and think it would change their mind. In retrospect, alcohol probably didn’t help me as much as I thought it did, I’d often make a fool of myself or get angry or loudly upset when I was drunk and there were plenty of occasions where I felt as awkward and alienated as I’d always been, on the edge of the group throwing drink down me hoping that it would work and the edginess would go away.

At the age of 28, I had a breakdown and became seriously depressed. This was when my drinking pattern changed and I started drinking alone.  I’d sit in my boyfriend’s flat drinking vodka while he was at work. My depression was bad, I was in hospital a few times, and I lost jobs and eventually my relationship.

Eventually I moved again to another city for another relationship which floundered on the back of a drunken meltdown and was alone. I had few friends and I was drinking more and more on my own. My drinking had started off to make me sociable but now I wanted to drink alone because I could drink as I wanted and I no longer wanted to socialise, I just wanted it to be me and the bottle.

My drinking got worse. By my mid-thirties I’d drink in the morning. I started having horrendous hangovers, the sweats and shakes which were only cured by drink.  I had a trip to hospital for alcohol poisoning, I puked in my sleep and could have choked, I had to drink every day, there was no option not to now. If I wasn’t drinking, I was thinking about it. I’d stay in bed drinking wine and vodka, unable to leave the house, except to get more booze. It wasn’t pretty.

I stopped in 2008 and have mostly stayed sober since then apart from a few relapses. Sobriety was not easy, I’d built my whole persona around being a drinker and I was horrified to discover how socially inept I really was without a few pints of beer in me.  However, it was staying sober that helped me and my psychiatrist discover my underlying autism and I discovered a lot about myself and began to accept myself.

However the social anxiety which led me into drink in the first place is still there. The truth is I’ve been the most successful socially when I was drinking and so the draw is still there, to feel my anxiety dissolve with the wine, to feel OK about myself in company, to not feel awkward and stiff and unsure of what to say, to not sit on the edge feeling bad.  And so I drank and then realised that once you’ve crossed the line into alcoholism there’s no coming back. All that it gives me is not worth what it takes from me.

Here is what alcohol takes away from me

  • My ability to cope with the challenges of life without alcohol
  • My interest in things that I can’t do while drinking. My life becomes all about when I can have the next drink.
  • My mental and physical health
  • My energy
  • My ability to communicate with other human beings without alcohol.
  • My self-acceptance = I was beginning to accept myself as a person with autism but I use alcohol to mask my autism.
  • My integrity – I try to be someone I’m not and I lie and hide bottles
  • My ability to function – I’ve already taken time off sick from work

It does give me something – hangovers, the shakes, the sweats, the low mood.  I am ashamed of my relapse. I worry that my family will despise me and my weakness.  That you the reader will despise me.  I know that if I continue drinking my life will descend further and further into a hellish existence. Yet the crazy thing is that despite all that, I still would really love a chilled glass of wine… or ten.  That is alcoholism.

It feels good to have written this even if I’m not sure if anyone will read it or relate. I know I need to get help to get past this relapse. I can’t do it alone.

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4 thoughts on “Confessions of an autistic alcoholic

  1. “I may be a lot of fun or I may be a nightmare to everyone around me.” – that summed me up with my drinking habits too. I can relate to your post a fair bit, thank you for your openness, I think you’re really brave 😊

    • Thank you for your comment 🙂 I’ve been tempted to drink lately and it’s good to remind myself why it’s not a good idea – I can be a nightmare…

  2. I’m 39, been sober for 5 and a half years, and over the past year have been considering an autism spectrum diagnosis because it makes so much sense of so many things in my life. I just found this post trying to find stories that sound like mine, so thank you for this. So much sounds familiar to me.

    • Thanks for your comment and congratulations on your sobriety. I’m glad you found this post helpful. Did you stay sober with AA or another method? I found AA helpful in early sobriety when I was all over the place but not so much later. Anyway good luck with your diagnosis if you decide to go ahead with it. I can relate to it making sense of your life.

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