Lisa dedicates her life to studying the behaviours of others. She is currently completing her MA in Counselling Psychology.
The following is an over-dramatization of a fictional individual. This is not necessarily a depiction of a realistic life of someone who lives with a substance use disorder, but rather to flow through specific examples of possible acute effects, chronic effects, motivations, and withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol use disorder. It is also important to note that there are different severities of problematic substance use. Remember to check up on your loved ones; someone may need your support and not know how to ask for it.
Monday December 20th, 2020
I feel my body waking up, but I cannot bring myself to open my eyes. I lie in bed wondering if it is even worth making an effort to get out of bed today. My head is pounding, my mouth is so dry that my lips are beginning to stick together, and I feel like if I just as much roll over in bed wrong I will vomit. I inhale deeply as I rub the sleep out of my eyes, and hesitantly open them as I breathe out. I knew that I must have drank a lot yesterday as this deep breath caused a coughing fit, which I can only assume is due to the heavy chain smoking I partake in when I am intoxicated. I stare at the water stains on my ceiling, trying to remember how much I drank last night but I cannot for the life of me lookback on anything that happened; everything is a painful, lost blur. I slowly push the blankets off of my body and groan at how uncomfortable it feels to be alive right now. I manage to swing my legs around to sit at the edge of my bed and feel the sharp sting that is the freezing wooden planks below on the soles of my feet. I bend down to help slide my feet into my fraying plaid slippers, but I get halfway and feel a sharp, stabbing pain in my abdomen for the ten billionth time. I clutch my belly and wince in pain, telling myself that I should be used to this by now.
I compel myself to hobble my way down the hallway and into the kitchen, knowing that some hair of the dog will alleviate my current aches and pains. I stop and stare at the pile of unpaid bills sitting on my sore excuse of a table. I think to myself how, buried in there somewhere, sits a bill for the heating of my apartment as I watch the snow fly by outside my back window. I grab three blankets out of the side closet and sit beside a make-shift indoor “fireplace” that I have placed on the floor in the middle of my living room, which consists of a single couch chair and a framed photo of my two daughters, Rebecca and Alesha. I have forgotten what it feels like to be kept warm from the love of family and friends; all I have left to rely on now is the pile of empty whiskey bottles in the corner of the room and the full one I have sitting beside me… which will be joining the empty ones by the time the night is over. I go to remove the cap from my bottle of whiskey, and my blankets slip off of me in the process. My shivers are uncontrollable, intense, and extremely uncomfortable, but I just need to hang on long enough to get this cap off and pour myself a glass. The sound alone of the sweet liquor babbling over itself as the glass fills gives me a wave of excitement. I already feel less empty inside knowing that in only a few moments I will feel the comfort of the stinging sensation that is the whiskey falling down my throat. I take that first sip, and my body simultaneously covers itself with both warmth and a sheet of goosebumps. I close my eyes as I feel the sharpness of the drink hit my palette and fall down my throat; I finally feel at peace. As the taste leaves my mouth, I open my eyes to take another sip from my old-fashioned glass, a personally engraved Christmas gift from my eldest daughter Alesha three years ago. I rotate the glass in my hands to read the text “World’s Best Dad” on the side, written in barely legible cursive. I run my fingertips over the texture of the engravement, feeling each letter as a tear runs down my cheek. It begins to resonate with me that I have this glass from Alesha, but I have not seen either of my children in over eight months. These thoughts begin to ruminate in my head, playing over and over again about how I have sacrificed all of my interpersonal relationships just to remain loyal to my drink. Granting all this, I cannot help but to realize the ongoing irony of my behaviours. Yet even so, my black & white thinking and impulsivities always manage to overpower my ability to reason; I take two big gulps of my whiskey to cloud the thoughts of my lost relationships with my daughters.
I hold the nearly empty bottle of whiskey upside down over top of my glass, waiting for every single drop to leak out of the bottle as I cannot afford to waste any amount of booze. I throw back the few ounces in my glass, flinching at the overwhelming amount of liquor in my mouth all at once. Knowing that there is now no longer any alcohol in the apartment, I begin to panic. I stretch my neck and back up to peer over the window ledge to check the weather outside… it is still blizzarding. I realize I will have to venture out into the storm to get more alcohol, as not obtaining more alcohol is not an option. Grasping this, I become filled with rage. I go to punch the window out of frustration, but I miss and fall over onto the floor, trying to catch myself but I fail. My vision is too blurry, and I have lost too much of my balance to be able to get back up and try again. As I feel my cheek smushed up against the rough, peeling wood floor, I begin to lose consciousness and notice my surroundings fading away into nothingness.
1:05pm, dream-state flashback
It is Friday April 17th, 2020. I sit at my desk on the 21st floor of Spirit Intelligence’s headquarters, making a living as a business metrics analyst. As I type up my last report for the day, I glance at the clock to read 4:45pm, becoming excited that I get to go home and see my wife, Stephanie, and my kids soon. I hear a knock on my door, so I quickly save my report file and yell “Come in!”. My boss, Megan, slightly cracks my door open and peaks her head in, asking to come in and if I have time to talk, to which I oblige. She sits in the chair on the other side of my desk, taking a deep breath before she speaks. She says, “As you are probably aware, Spirit Intelligence is having to undergo a lot of budget cuts due to the drastic decrease in sales since COVID-19 initiated quarantine practices a month ago. Due to this, I unfortunately had to make the difficult decision to let you go.” The last three words to come out of her mouth began to ring in my ears. I felt as if I was watching myself from a different perspective, dissociating myself from the situation; I am unable to respond to Megan. She looks at me with an endearing expression and says, “Please have your office emptied out by the time you leave today.” She stands up and opens my office door to leave, but before doing so turns around and looks at me and says, “Take care of yourself” and shuts the door. I stare at the family photo I have on my desk, at a complete loss as to how I am going to tell Stephanie that I just lost my job.
I pack up my office and head home. I open the front door to our suburban home and both Rebecca and Alesha rush to hug me, excited to tell me about their day at school. I hide my anxiety of being unemployed from them, but that does not last long as Stephanie turns the hallway corner to greet me happily, until she sees that I am holding a box of my office supplies. She looks at me like a deer in headlights, and all I can manage to say is “How was your day?”. She storms off into the bedroom at the other end of the house in response, knowing that a massive conflict is about to erupt. I set my box on the coffee table, look at Rebecca and Alesha and tell them to finish their homework before dinner is ready. I walk down the hallway until I reach the bedroom. I knock on the door and say “Honey, it’s me. Can we please talk?”. She opens the bedroom door and immediately walks away to sit on the bed, letting me know that I can come in but that she is not at all impressed with me. I walk in and shut the door and join her on the edge of the bed. We sit in silence for a few seconds until I begin to apologize, but she cuts me off to angrily say “How could you let this happen to our family? We are already behind on paying off our credit cards and the mortgage on the house, and now we’re left with just my menial job as a waitress. What do you want me to do, Pete? What do I tell the girls?”. I responded with the truth, explaining how it was due to COVID-related layoffs and not because of my work habits. Her reaction was fueled by her temper, responding with “Oh yeah, sure. Don’t try to cover up your mistakes with a virus. You know what, I am finished with this. I am not letting my daughters’ lives become ruined because of you. If you can’t support this family, I want you out.”
I wake up to the feeling of my right cheek being jabbed with something sharp. I bring my left hand over and run it across the surface of my face to find a splinter penetrating my cheek from the wooden floor that I shamefully fell asleep on. I grab it and pull it out with ease; I hardly feel it as the pain in my stomach from being filled with only whiskey overpowers it. I throw the splinter onto the floor a few feet away from me and rest my head back onto the floor, but this time so that I can face the ceiling. I wonder to myself how I ended up on the floor as the last thing I remember is staring at the massive pile of scattered bills on my kitchen table. I tell myself to forget about it, that it does not matter, and that I am better off trying to clear my mind with a drink. I roll over to grab what I thought was a partially full bottle of whiskey to pour myself a glass, only to find that the bottle is empty just like the rest of the bottles in my apartment. I groan in frustration knowing that I need to get up and go to the liquor store. I manage to get myself sitting up, and as I look out the window, I am reminded that it is the middle of December. The wind aggressively blows the snow around on the partially plowed street, not a single person in sight. I sit and watch the weather for a while, thinking about how Rebecca loved making snow angels when she was younger, sparking my memory of the dream that I just had. My mood immediately spirals downwards as I know it was not a dream, but simply reliving a past event while sleeping. My need for alcohol grew even stronger now; there is no way that I am able to exist in this world without alcohol to blind the reminder of my previous divorce, loosing custody of my children and my job, and the chronic loneliness and depression that plagues my well-being. I manage to slowly and painfully prop myself up, eventually reaching a standing position. I hobble back to my bedroom and put on as many layers of clothing as possible. I make my way to the front door, put on my footwear, and venture out into the hallway. I enter the elevator and reach the apartment lobby, making sure to walk slowly as my body feels as if it is slowly disintegrating with every step. I push open the door to the outside and feel the bite from the winter air rushing over my body. I think about how the walls of my apartment shelter me from the elements, and I debate walking back inside, but I realize that is not going to get me another bottle of whiskey, which is, in my mind, evidently more important. I start my journey to the nearest bus stop, having difficulty controlling my body from being shoved around by the strong winds as I feel too weak to fight against it. The pellets of snow pierce my unprotected face, debilitating my vision. I take my next step, unfortunately causing me to lose my footing due to the deep drifts of snow hiding the edge of the sidewalk. I fall face-first into the snow, unaware of how much further I need to walk to reach the bus stop as the snowstorm is limiting my visibility to only a few feet in front of me. As I lie here, the snow surrounding my body, I feel a wave of numbness flow through my body; I no longer feel the pain I was once feeling. I feel the comfort of the falling snow cover me in a blanket, feeling the tranquility of the stillness within my body. My mind becomes plagued with confusion, and the malaise from this hangover feels too great to leave the padded ground. I tell myself “Just a few more minutes”, just as Alesha would say every morning as I woke her up for school. I feel my mind drift off, feeling the weight of the snow around me act as one last hug from my two daughters.
If you or someone you know needs support...
The following is a list of Canadian and/or Ontarian mental health & addiction resources.
Crisis Support (24/7)
- Call 911 or go to the nearest hospital if you are in need of urgent service
- ConnexOntario - Helplines for drugs & alcohol, mental health, and gambling problems: connexontario.ca/en-ca/our-services
- Crisis Text Line - Support for young people in crisis: crisistextline.ca | Text HOME to 686868
Free One-on-One Counselling
- Wellness Together Canada - 24/7 counselling supported by the Canadian government: ca.portal.gs
- Beacon Digital - Internet-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Ontario residents: mindbeacon.com
- Abiliti CBT - Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Ontario residents, run by Morneau Shepell: ontario.abiliticbt.com/home
- BounceBack - Videos, telephone coaching, and workbooks for ages 15+: bouncebackontario.ca
- Talk4healing - Culturally grounded, confidential helpline for Indigenous women: talk4healing.com | 1-855-554-HEAL (4325)
- Ontario Caregiver Helpline - Information and support for caregivers in Ontario: 1-833-416-2273 | Live chat available at ontariocaregiver.ca
- LGBTQ YouthLine - Peer support for LGBTTQQ2SI youth (29 years and under) in Ontario: Text 647-964-4275 | Chat online at youthline.ca
- Government of Ontario summary of resources - ontario.ca/page/covid-19-support-people#section-4
- Take Care 19 - Community-sourced mental health supports for coping through COVID-19: takecare19.com
- Anxiety Canada - Coping with COVID anxiety: anxietycanada.com/covid-19
- CAMH - Mental health and COVID-19: camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-health-and-covid-19
- Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario - Collated mental health, addictions, and COVID-19 resources: ontario.cmha.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Resources-for-crisis-Ressources-en-cas-de-crise-FINAL.pdf
Addiction and Recovery Support
- Overdose Prevention Line - A confidential number to call if you are alone and using drugs: 1-888-853-8542
- Alcoholics Anonymous - Online intergroup: aa-intergroup.org
- Narcotics Anonymous - na.org/meetingsearch
- Canada Drug Rehab Addiction Services Directory - Directory of alcohol, drug rehab, and other addiction-related services: 1-888-245-6887 | canadadrugrehab.ca
Apps for Mindfulness
- Mindshift - Build skills for managing anxiety and depression: anxietycanada.com/resources/mindshift-cbt
- My Life: Stop. Breathe. Think. - Recommends brief mindfulness activities: my.life
- Insight Timer - Database of guided meditations: insighttimer.com
- Headspace - Guided meditations and exercises on mindfulness: headspace.com ($ in-app purchases)
© 2021 Lisa Hallam