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Journey to Mental Health Recovery

How Trauma Pushed Me to the Brink of Alcoholism

Published about 2 months ago • 4 min read

Twenty years ago, I joined the police. I was immediately confronted with the horror of the double suicide of two teenage girls. I was diagnosed with PTSD, but I carried on working.

Trauma piled on top of trauma, and I saw death in almost every way imaginable.

The catch with real PTSD is you can’t face reminders of the trauma. That rules out talking about it, especially to strangers, aka therapists. So, I avoided the healthy route to recovery.

At the same time, policing is a macho world. There were other officers traumatized on the night of the double suicide, but I never found out until years later. To me, they all seemed to cope when I fell apart.

The solution to trauma in the police was to drink, tell crass jokes, and be abusive to each other. Combine that with PTSD secrecy, and you have one hell of a destructive combination.

I wanted to be one of the boys.

I’d been desperate to fit in with groups of men my whole life. After being bullied and shunned at school, the police force was where I felt I belonged. I didn’t know it, but the culture eroded my character. The sensitive version of me died and was replaced with a harsh, judgmental person.

I started meeting my colleagues after work at the police bar. I also had a friend in London who was also lost in life and had unlimited spare time. I used to go and stay with him whenever I had weekends off. The sole purpose of these get-togethers was to stay out as late as possible and get as drunk as possible.

I hoped my pain would seem less through beer goggles — searching for solutions at the bottom of a bottle.

The danger of self-medicating.

I became everything I hated — a belligerent drunk. The first time I had an inkling it had gone too far was when I went to a bar, and one hour later, I was puking over my shoes.

From there, we went to a club where I continued to drink. Obviously, I was sick again. I remember standing at the urinal, trying as hard as I could to appear sober. I suddenly felt a shovel-like hand grab me around the back of my neck.

The hand owner guided me roughly through the club and threw me out of the front doors. I was so drunk I didn’t even look around and accepted my fate. I staggered around the corner and collapsed in an alleyway.

I tried to call my friend, but instead, I called his dad. This was at 3 am. His dad answered the phone to me, moaning, “Tom, I’m dying,” and hanging up. Goodness knows what he must have thought. Shortly after, my friend Tom found me and fell beside me in the alley.

I awoke from my slumber to two women bent down, looking at me with concern. My friend wasn’t as drunk as me but was still there in the alley, keeping me company.

“Is he ok?” one of the women asked my friend about me. I must have looked quite a sight, snoring on the floor covered in my vomit.

Somehow, my friend got us into a taxi, and the next thing I knew, I’d woken at home, fully clothed on the bed. I hadn’t even taken my shoes off.

My mum looked disappointed. All my life, I’d been sensitive and academically minded. She always loved me, but she didn’t like the path I was taking.

Instead of blocking out my trauma, I felt as bad as always, only now with a splitting headache.

The night when everything came to a head.

You have to hit rock bottom to finally start changing your life. My rock bottom came during another night of drinking in London.

By the time my friend and I reached the nightclub, I’d already puked from drinking shots of Absinthe. Nonetheless, we made it past the bouncers. Sometimes, I’d flash my police warrant card to help me beat the queue. A warrant card gives you perks, such as free train travel, provided you can help if a crime happens. I was in no fit state to tie my shoelaces, never mind fight crime.

I don’t remember much about that night except that I only lasted an hour. As I looked around, I started hallucinating. People were losing their heads, and I was seeing blood gush from their necks. It mainly happened to blonde women. One of the victims of the double suicide was blonde, and a particular shade has freaked me out ever since.

I barged past people as I dashed for the exit. I needed to make these visions stop. I felt like I was losing my mind to terror.

I got outside and collapsed around the corner. My friend was right behind me. I tried to explain what I’d seen, but he was drunk. He dismissed what I was saying as absurd and told me to come back in as he didn’t want to go home yet.

I persuaded him as I was staying at his house. He begrudgingly took me home. Despite being drunk, even he told me I needed to get proper help for my PTSD. The answers weren’t at the bottom of a bottle.

Recovery.

And that was it. I wish I could give you a detailed breakdown of how I stopped drinking, but the truth is I just stopped. This is why I say I was ALMOST an alcoholic. Quitting was easy once I saw alcohol and mental health medications don’t go well together. I only had to reflect on my litany of embarrassing moments to know drinking wasn’t solving anything.

Drinking had become a problem in its own right.

So I stopped. I lost my best friend because our relationship was built around going out and getting hammered. Without that “common interest,” we stopped talking. He went on to join the police himself.

My recovery from PTSD and schizophrenia took years. Therapy was useless, but after much experimentation, medication turned my life around.

Don’t let alcohol become another demon to fight. The only way to confront those nightmares that terrify you is to face them head-on. When you face your fear, it breaks down. Mental illness thrives in secrecy.

Medication stabilized me, and the love of my family supported me. I then used controlled exposure to confront my trauma until it no longer affected my life.

I wish you all the best in your fight.

Journey to Mental Health Recovery

Leon Macfayden

Schizophrenia and PTSD survivor sharing my journey to recovery. Join over 800 subscribers learning to improve their mental health. Every week, I share personal stories and effective tips to help you and your loved ones live the life you deserve.

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