My Experience of Withdrawal and Medical Detox
I remember waking up in the pitch black, I was totally confused, unsure of what day it is or how long my binge has lasted. I did know it had been the worst binge and I had been drinking at least two bottles of straight vodka a day. I wasn’t even sure why I was in withdrawal, whether it was because I was unable to get to the shop to buy more or by choice. I could taste stale alcohol and sick.
My stomach and abdomen were in tremendous pain from where I’ve been sick and from dry retching. I tried to get out of bed to go to the bathroom but my legs gave way and I almost cracked my head on the door frame. I was unable to stand or walk so I had to crawl and lift myself onto the toilet with the towel rail and sink. After making my way back to bed I tried to get back to sleep but agitation made it impossible. Hyperactivity and muscle tremor made being comfortable impossible and much of the night was spent tossing and turning.
Soon vivid visual hallucinations started. To begin with the hallucinations were just shapes and patterns, but soon they were horrible silent movie clips of the worst brutality you can imagine, child soldiers being killed in gruesome detail. No matter how hard I closed my eyes the images were still there in resolutions that TV manufactures would be proud of.
Withdrawal and hallucinating exacerbated my anxiety and depression, leading to fear and paranoia, I thought I was dying and at first I was petrified but soon it turned into wishing for it to be over with and for death to take me. Wanting to die is an indicator to just how retched and depressed I was feeling. At some point auditory hallucinations began. I could hear voices and I became convinced that my landlady was outside with a police officer to have me removed from the property. I panicked, my heart felt like it would beat out of my chest. I packed what I could into a small backpack and went out to meet them but there was no one there. I thought they had left to pick up some paperwork so I sat on the stairs and waited for what felt like an eternity but no one came.
My anxiety was through the roof and I couldn’t deal with it so I left. I could hardly walk, not through drink but withdrawal. My legs almost gave way a few times, narrowly avoiding falling into the edge of a brick wall and into traffic a number of times. I managed to make it to the hotel I’d booked for the night, but I couldn’t check in as it was only 8.30am. I was at a complete loss of what to do and not able to think properly. The only thing I could think to do was to get a drink. I didn’t want to drink and I wasn’t even sure my stomach would hold it but my mental state, tremor and my unsteadiness were dangerous.
I purchased a bottle of vodka, sat in a bus stop so I was out of the rain and wind, and drank. It was March and I was absolutely freezing and convinced I was homeless. To get warm I waited until the Queens opened and sat drinking in the warm trying to get dry. I was completely unaware of how disheveled I was and I looked a complete mess. My plan was to stay there and drink just enough so I could function but thankfully a good friend finally convinced me to get help.
She came to pick me up and took me to the Drug and Alcohol Team (DAT) where I was informed that due to the severity of my tremors and hallucinations, I’d been in danger of seizure and it could have been fatal. This severity is uncommon though so most people will not be in the same danger but if you are going to detox, seek professional help.
After my assessment with DAT, my friend took me to A&E where she kindly stayed with me, which was a massive help with my anxiety. I was assessed by the doctor and started on a high dose of a benzodiazepine called Librium, which helps prevent the worst of the withdrawal symptoms. I was on a drip constantly for 48 hours to administer saline to help with dehydration and high dose vitamins due to the deficiency caused by alcohol consumption. My first two nights were terrifying as they were plagued by vivid hallucination, fear and paranoia. Due to the danger of possible fits I was given high a dose of gabapentin. As I was lying in bed during my first night I was completely ashamed: I was scruffy, dirty and drenched in sweat, unable to recall the last time I’d showered or brushed my teeth.
Drinking to black out had completely taken over leading to deep-rooted shame and guilt. I felt like I didn’t deserve the bed I was in or the help I was getting. I thought constantly that there must be someone more deserving. The staff at the hospital were amazing and kind. They assured me that I was deserving and that I needed help just as much as anyone. Over the course of the week I was there my appetite slowly returned, I was drinking plenty of fluids and the dose of medications was tapered down. I’m not going to lie and say I was feeling better because I was still really unsteady on my feet and confused which would continue well after I left hospital.
I was unable to return to work for three months. This was also due to the fact that withdrawal had exacerbated my underlying mental health issues, sending them into hyperdrive. After I left hospital DAT continued to support me and I started to see a counselor at Motiv8 which has helped me to understand why I was drinking and deal with difficulties from my past. Motiv8 also run a group therapy called SMART which has helped me open up and talk about what’s happened to me which has been a massive help. The groups have also given me Cognitive Behavioural Techniques(CBT) and mindfulness practices to challenge and overcome my negative beliefs.
To anyone who thinks they needs support to go through a detox or to reduce their drinking, I would recommend contacting DAT or Motiv8. There is really good support in place and most people do not experience symptoms like mine. If I can get through it and be a stronger person the other side, I believe anyone can if they want it.