Today, I’m chatting about our brains on and off booze, and how to get through Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms.
We spend a lot of time, when we embark on the sober pathway, about our psychological and spiritual needs.
Much less time is spent talking about the physical damage that we may have done, plus the ongoing physical effects of too much booze.
I suspect that it because we are terrified about this. We are ashamed that we have damaged the only body we have, and we are just hoping that it all works out for the best.
However, facing the physical issues, can help us through sobriety – it’s about facing our truth, to start with, which I believe is essential for a complete recovery, and also to help prevent relapses.
One of the reasons that finally compelled me to quit drinking for good, was that I was scared shitless about the number of blackouts I was having.
Not the ” Oh didn’t we have a larf last night…what did we do?” or the kind of woozy memories that come back in embarrassing flashes of you dancing on the table, or doing embarrassing Karaoke, no, I mean the total loss of memory. FOREVER.
I still have no recollection of seeing some movies, (although my husband swears that I did) and thank goodness for Netflix, otherwise half of Mad Men wouldn’t have made sense, if I didn’t have the ability to catch up with episodes in secret (the day after I apparently watched them).
I have no recollection of making phone calls, posting on Facebook, sending emails – only the horror of the evidence the next day, or the confused and irritated texts from friends (and occasionally an ex-boyfriend, I’m ashamed to admit).
How convenient, I hear you say skeptically, total memory loss of bad behaviour!
Well it gets worse…at the end of my drinking days, I would have complete blackouts of conversations and complete situations….even when it appeared to other people that I wasn’t that drunk.
In the end, it was not uncommon for me to have no memory of getting to bed. I would wake up at 3.00am, dehydrated, depressed and frantic that I was losing my mind.
Recently, scientists have found the reason for these blackouts. It’s both a vindication for me, and frightening to think of the permanent damage I may have done, had I carried on drinking.
It’s all to do with your Hippo
That’s correct. Your Hippocampus. Australia’s National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH) recently released their research on the connection between alcohol and blackouts. Firstly ladies, they found that women experience blackouts more frequently than men, and with less alcohol.
Your Hippocampus (Hippo) resides in your brain, and effectively is a recording device that stores all your memory data. When you hose down your hippo with booze (as I did daily), you stop the recording process. But already recorded memories, up to that point, remain.
This is why I can remember the start of many evenings, the first couple of glasses of wine then…..nothing.
The Hippo can recover from it’s wallow in alcohol – for a while. At some point (and scientists don’t know when) damage becomes permanent, and also starts to affect the rest of the brain. Scientists also don’t know the reason why it gradually takes less and less alcohol to blackout more frequently.
But should that matter? If we blackout once, even twice, isn’t that a wake up call? Shouldn’t we listen to our Unhappy Hippo?
Stupidly, I took far too long to care for my floundering Hippo. Luckily for me, there seems to be no permanent damage – except to the unhappy recipients of my alcohol induced communications, and my own embarrassment.
But every so often since I quit drinking, I have had a few days when my brain seems really foggy, I feel tired and lethargic – sometimes even flu-like …almost like a hangover.
When it first happened – it was a surprise – up until then, being sober meant that my energy levels had increased – my sleep was refreshing – but all of a sudden I wasn’t bouncing like Tigger, I was moping like Eeyore…Not only that, I was really forgetful – and my fear was that my poor hippo really had suffered from permanent damage..
But I discovered, that all these symptoms were normal and had a cute cuddly name –PAWS (Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome).
These symptoms – which can be really debilitating – like a severe bout of flu – are the body and brain’s way of re-setting and re-wiring if you like – like a regular maintenance check – now that we have stopped dowsing our brain with booze, it’s having to adjust and tweak….and sadly, this can continue up to two years after you quit.
BUT, these symptoms occur less regularly and less severely.
However, a bout of PAWS – if you’re not prepared – can lead to a relapse. In fact, it’s been recognised as a leading trigger for relapse.
So, for me, being informed was the biggest defence. Recognising the symptoms, knowing that they will pass – making sure that all my self care routines are in place, being as gentle with myself as my daily routine will allow – ALL these things got me through my bouts of PAWS.
I look at it like this – I welcome PAWS. It means that I’m healing. It’s like when you have a cut or a wound – it scabs over and starts to heal – but you get a really annoying itch – and the temptation is to scratch and pick at the scab – but you know – that this will mean that you potentially can open up the wound again and your healing will go back to square one.
This is how I view PAWS. That itch – that means that your unhappy hippo is adjusting to life without booze, your body and brain are healing and improving – and our JOB when this happens is to let it happen – don’t scratch, don’t open the wound – let out body do it’s job.
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