Ashley Kennedy (Anxiety and Alcohol Use)

There is a way out of the darkness and into the light. My 12-step program saved my life, and I have learned more about myself in these last 2 years than I have in my entire life!

For as long as I can remember, I have suffered from anxiety.  As a small child, I didn’t know what exactly I felt.  I simply knew there was an uneasiness.  I felt uptight at friend’s sleepovers, birthday parties, class field trips etc.  I had my first panic attack at about age 10.  I was in a restaurant with my parents when a wave came over me, for no apparent reason.  What followed was terrifying heart palpitations, an extreme sweat, my eyes, and ears felt like they were closing over, and I was shaking uncontrollably.  It was this episode that changed my course for me, I believe.  I lost all trust in my mind and body.  If this was possible, with no apparent trigger, what else could happen to me?

My mom took me to a doctor and she “diagnosed” me with GAD (general anxiety disorder) with some panic. I was never medicated as a child, I only remember her talking to me about breathing techniques to calm myself.  

My childhood was great.  I grew up as an only child, in a loving home with supportive parents.  I had a great time in school, surrounded by wonderful friends.  I knew early on though that I didn’t have the same academic smarts, such as my friends all did.  I struggled.  I had people smarts.  I was social, outgoing (despite my anxieties), and extremely empathetic and sensitive.  I believe this is where my feelings of being less than began, and I struggled with my self-confidence, and abilities.

I turned 18, my grade 12 year, and began going to bars.  It was there that I experienced a different sort of social anxiety.  I also quickly learned that if I had a few drinks before going out I could bypass any sort of uncomfortable feelings.  This was the beginning of my self-medicating, without even knowing that’s what I was doing.

I spent all of my 20’s binge drinking.  That’s just what young people did.  I never felt there was anything wrong with the way I drank.  My life was still completely manageable.  All of my friends I surrounded myself with were military, and all heavily drank themselves.  My anxiety would come and go through the years.  I moved from Manitoba to Nova Scotia with my then husband and had my two children in my late 20’s.  I thank God today my mother was in a position to move.  She joined us shortly after in NS.

I experienced depression when we first moved to Nova Scotia.  I was isolated and felt so removed from everything I had ever known.  My anxiety was terrible, and I was off and on medication for a few years before, in-between, and after my pregnancies.  

At age 30, with a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, I went off on my own.  My husband and I separated and later divorced.  The first year or so was actually okay.  I gained some independence for the first time in my life, got on my feet, and was managing being a working mom.  On the weekends I didn’t have my children I would go out with friends, or have girl’s nights at my house and always found myself overdoing my drinking.  I was boisterous and over the top.  I was the girl dancing on the tables, and the one suffering the most extreme hangovers the next day swearing to never do THAT again!  

I found myself becoming increasingly unhappy, and lonely.  I felt isolated, I was unhappy with work, financially struggling, and the demands of being on my own with two small children were taking their toll.  The pressures moms with partners face nowadays is like never before, never mind the moms without that in-home support, and level of freedom like myself.  My drinking increased, as well as my anxiety.  I would have that romanticized glass of wine in a bath, to find myself finishing the bottle.  A beer after mowing the lawn on a hot day turned into being drunk on the deck in the sun. I feel there is a certain glamorization over moms who drink to manage stress.  You’ll often hear reference to “mommy’s sippy cup” or “wine moms”.  Just google wine memes… It’s all jokes about mom’s juggling it all, with their crutch.  Potentially though, there could be a lot of women out there suffering and heading down a dark path, maybe themselves not even knowing it yet.  When I did go out with friends I would notice myself wanting to get home to get into whatever I had at home waiting for me.  It was no longer social.  It was no longer fun.  It is a progressive illness, and you don’t know it’s happening until you’re in it.  I would drive to the same liquor store every day after picking the kids up.  I didn’t care what they thought of me and felt instant relief having that alcohol beside me on the seat of the car.  

For about 2 years, I was simply existing, going through the motions.  All the evenings seemed manageable with alcohol.  Supper, bath time, bed…a beer or glass of wine in hand.  I was emotionally bankrupt.  My kids were cared for, and I maintained my employment as a caregiver, my home & bills…but I felt like a shell of a person.  I was living in a constant state of hangover, and drinking nightly.  I was completely isolated and suffering during the day with crippling anxiety.  I would wake up nightly at 3am, riddled with anxiety, shame & despair.

March 30th, 2016, I woke up just like I always did, fighting a terrible hangover and popping ibuprofen to get my day going.  (I thank God now that I never discovered day drinking!) Something inside me, which I now call my higher power, clicked.  I’d had enough.  I was done.  Physically, mentally and emotionally I was drained. That night I attended a meeting and began my 12 step program.  I have been sober ever since.

There is a way out of the darkness and into the light.  My 12-step program saved my life, and I have learned more about myself in these last 2 years than I have in my entire life!  There’s a quote I love… “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety.  It is human connection.”  Not only have I developed amazing connections with amazing human beings, but I have a spiritual connection that I’ve never had.  

I still struggle in my sobriety and recovery.  I still have anxiety and panic, but I manage it.  Though the obsession to drink has lifted, I still have to deal with life on life’s terms.  The difference is, I now have tools to help manage life.  I practice self-care, I maintain healthy eating, I exercise, I became a runner!  I maintain my close connections, who understand my struggles.  

Most importantly, I am present now in my life.  As a mother, as a friend, as a caregiver, as a human being.  I experience moments of true joy.  I try to take things one day at a time, and I have faith that there’s a higher power guiding me.