I first spoke to Mark a few months ago about writing this piece, and it’s not so much about putting it off, but about not knowing how to start it.
As I write this I’m on the train back from a great day at Lords watching Jimmy bowl out the Indians and a sort of flashback came to me from three years ago, when I went down for an Ashes test and couldn’t get out of the hotel due to panic attacks and anxiety. Things do get better- I am living proof as are many others.
That said…whenever I heard people say “things get better” it did nothing for me at the time. I struggled with bouts of depression, anxiety and battled addiction and when I was in that dark place, no matter how many times people said it…I didn’t for one minute believe things would get better. When you’re in that place, no matter how hard you look for it you can’t find the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the most lonely place in the world.
I think the stigma amongst mental illness is slowly starting to turn and is becoming more spoken about, but when personally in that position I found it impossible to talk about for a long time. I honestly don’t know why…I think it’s a multitude of reasons. Pride and shame all at the time, denial, fear…however I think, for me, at least if you can’t make sense of your thoughts how can you expect other people to? That was how I felt anyway, but now I realise that’s not true, there is help out there and help from people who’ve been through it and seen the other side, because no matter how you get there and how lonely that place feels, we are never alone.
Finally “opening up” and getting help was the most terrifying thing for me, but I can honestly say I know what the phrase “a weight off the shoulders means.” When it was out there I could stop hiding, I realised very very quickly I wasn’t alone. For such a long time that’s how I’d felt, I was the only person in the world feeling this way but it truly is overwhelming quite how many people feel the same way. I had been self medicating with alcohol for a long time and that made me feel ashamed, I was stuck in such a dark hole it felt my only release was to repeat the process.
Once I had accepted help, it didn’t all change in a day, I wasn’t “cured.” But I woke up the next morning and I didn’t feel alone any longer, I didn’t have dark thoughts about what I perceived as my only way out, because they were becoming more and more regular.
In terms of the alcoholism I will never be “cured” I have come to terms with that, when people ask me “will you ever be able to drink a bit again?” I answer no. I tried that, I think when I first accepted I had a problem I never quite accepted that was it. Now, I have and I’m approaching 18 months sober, and it does get a lot lot easier. I used to wake up and think about a drink, now I don’t. I just don’t drink. I still go to meetings and I will continue to. If I wanted a drink, I can have one there’s nothing at all stopping me, but I have completely accepted I am incapable of just having one drink and the consequences for me are not worth thinking about, but that’s OK now….it wasn’t at first, I couldn’t accept that but as time goes on I can.
I have learnt it’s not about just not drinking…going to meetings and getting honest with myself has affected my life in so many other ways than just being sober, I used to lie to everyone…to hide, I wore a mask that said everything was ok, but now things really are OK…I can look at myself in the mirror and know I am an honest person. I don’t always get things right…nobody does, but that’s OK as well, that’s life. I don’t have to beat myself up about that.
I would be lying if I said I don’t still get anxiety. I do. The difference now being I can take steps to deal with it. It’s not always easy, but I can turn to friends now and say “I’m not feeling right.” I can tell my family. And I can’t tell you how much that helps. The minute I say it out loud, it feels better.
I have coping mechanisms, for me there’s two big ones that work for me. Meditation…10 minutes to relax my mind, and simply writing everything down because whenever I am anxious it’s because there’s a million and one things swimming around in my mind. Even just knowing that now is a huge step for me, knowing what makes me anxious. Those two techniques for me help me realise that the things that make me anxious are manageable, and to be quite honest…they’re rarely a big deal.
Last year, I wrote a piece for Opening Up on what it was like for me, I was overwhelmed with the response I got…it was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done, but it was also the most freeing in a way. I remember hearing an early talk from Mark and he said to me “if it’s got through to one person in the room, that’s great.” After writing that piece I had people open up to me. I don’t say that to blow my own trumpet, far from it…I say it because it really couldn’t be more true that by opening up yourself and accepting help, and getting honest I found I could help others. Being able to help others is not something I could ever do before, and it is also the 12th step of Alcoholics Anonymous.
It does get better.
* Read Matty's original piece on life with addiction here*