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  • Writer's pictureCraig Field

Alcoholism and Mental Health: From Masking to Healing

So following up from my previous posts, I thought I would delve deeper into my specific illnesses. Starting off with Alcoholism. Yes I'm an alcoholic. That means I cannot consume alcohol safely and was masking all of my issues. And yes alcoholism is classified by the World Health Organisation as an illness, in and of itself.

Alcoholism is a pervasive issue affecting millions worldwide. It often begins innocently, with a drink to relax or to socialize. However, for some, including me alcohol becomes more than just a beverage—it turns into a coping mechanism to mask deeper mental health issues. This blog explores my story and how I used alcohol to mask my mental health struggles and outlines the best ways to overcome this dual battle.

The Descent into Alcoholism

I was working as a successful photographer in his my early  40s and on the surface, I seemed to have it all: a promising career, a loving family, and a circle of supportive friends. However, beneath this veneer of success lay a tumultuous sea of anxiety and depression. I found it very difficult to express his emotions and cope with my mental health issues, which as I've mentioned in earlier posts, I didn't even realise I had. Instead, I would turn to alcohol as an escape.

What started as a beer after work to unwind after a long day quickly escalated into a dependency. I found solace in the numbness that alcohol provided, a temporary reprieve from the constant barrage of negative thoughts and overwhelming anxiety. But as time passed, my tolerance increased, and so did my consumption. 1 beer became 2, 2 became a six pack and soon it was a a carton every other day, along with some nice wines and a bottle of good scotch. The alcohol, initially a mask, became a chain that bound me, leading to deteriorating physical health, strained relationships, and declining job performance.

The Turning Point

My wake up call came one morning when I found myself able to remember the night before, plagued by a hangover and a deep sense of despair. I had behaved in a manner which broke even my very low moral standards. I had endangered the lives of people I love with no regard to their feelings or safety . My rock bottom, as it were, was not as low as some, but it was mine, this was my turning point. I didn’t yet realize the extent to which alcohol had taken over my life, but I decided to seek help.

Steps to Overcome Alcoholism and Address Mental Health

  1. Acknowledging the Problem: The first and most crucial step is acknowledging that there is a problem. I had to admit to himself that my drinking was out of control and that I needed help.

  2. Seeking Professional Help: I reached out to my doctor. But it would have been equally useful to seek out a professional that specialized in addiction and mental health. Fortunately, my doctor organised that for me. Professional guidance is vital in addressing both alcoholism and underlying mental health issues. Therapists can provide tailored strategies to manage anxiety and depression without resorting to alcohol.

  3. Joining Support Groups: After a time, I found I was getting worse. I wasn’t drinking but I found my mental health deteriorating and I was in a really dark place. Support groups helped me through that. These groups offer a sense of community and understanding, helping individuals realize they are not alone in their struggle.

  4. Building a Support Network: My journey was made easier by the support of my family and friends. Open communication and understanding from loved ones can provide the emotional backing needed during recovery.

  5. Adopting Healthy Coping Mechanisms: My therapist taught me healthier ways to cope with stress and negative emotions. Exercise, mindfulness, meditation, and hobbies became my new outlets for managing my mental health.

  6. Avoiding Triggers: Identifying and avoiding triggers that prompt drinking is crucial. I learned to navigate social situations without alcohol and developed strategies to deal with cravings. And these days even after nearly 11 years I always have an escape plan.

  7. Consistent Monitoring and Relapse Prevention: Recovery is an ongoing process. I committed to regular therapy sessions and check-ins with my support groups to ensure I stayed on track. Understanding that relapse can be part of the journey, I made sure I prepared strategies to deal with potential setbacks.

The Path to Recovery

I hope that out of my story, you are able to gain some hope and resilience. Overcoming alcoholism and addressing mental health issues is not easy, but it is possible with the right support and resources. If you put half as much effort into recovery as you do your drinking, you’ll come a long way. It is my hope that my journey highlights the importance of addressing the root causes of alcoholism—which are often deeply intertwined with mental health struggles. It is my firm belief that you must treat the underlying mental health issues as well as the addiction, or eventually one or the other will trip you up and send you spiralling back out of control.

It is worthwhile to note here that, although I am referring to alcoholism, you can substitute that with any addiction, and the principles remain the same.

Recovery is a personal and unique journey. What worked for me might not work for everyone, but the key is to seek help and not to shy away from the challenge. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism and mental health issues, remember that help is available, and recovery is within reach. By taking one step at a time, embracing support, and adopting healthier coping mechanisms, it is possible to reclaim a life of sobriety and mental well-being.

A note about the author: Craig Field (me) is not a trained counsellor or therapist. I do try to offer advice based on my own personal experience; however, you should always talk to a medical practitioner or qualified therapist to come up with a tailored plan to help with your illness.My knowledge comes from my own personal, lived experience and that of witnessing people close to me navigating the mental health system.These blog posts are not intended to replace your doctor or psychologist. 

Together we CAN make a difference!

If this post has brought up some difficult thoughts for you please seek help from your doctor or one of the services listed below. In an emergency dial 000.

13YARN 13 92 76

Blue Knot Helpline 1300 657 380

First Nations Support Line 1800 959 500

Headspace 1800 650 890

Mens Helpline 1300 789 978

Standby support after suicide 1300 727 247

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