Monday, 9 March 2020

Substance Abuse: My Recovery

Carys writes about her experience of recovering from substance abuse and the effect on her mental health. 
- Carys

**Trigger Warning: This blog discusses substance abuse and self-harm**.

I started drinking when I was 16. My parents have always been quite strict with me drinking alcohol underage, and not drinking themselves meant I didn’t really have anyone to learn from. I drank alcohol ‘normally’ through sixth form and first term at university. However, a depressive episode in term two of my first year resulted in me abusing alcohol to such an extent that I was completely out of control of my actions; I have no memory of the times I spent intoxicated, and was often ending up in vulnerable situations. I believed that alcohol made me so happy, confident and relaxed, but it is also a depressant. When the university welfare team got involved, I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and shame about my inability to control my drinking. I began to isolate myself, and whenever I found myself in an environment with alcohol I was in absolute panic and distress, whether I was drunk or not. I avoided alcohol and drunk situations, as a way of dealing with my issues. 

In my second year at university I was prescribed sleeping tablets by my GP to help with insomnia, but I would overuse them. I finally got referred to a drug and alcohol recovery service by the university counselling service. I was a bit sceptical at first that it wouldn’t be useful as I ‘was over that now’ and felt reluctant to trust support services. However my counsellor was incredible and reassured me about the confidentiality of the service; it was completely separate to the university and neither the university nor the university counselling service had access to my notes, whilst they could only be shared with doctors or police in situations of immediate risk to myself or others. I was also told I could contact my counsellor at the service by phone any time I wanted to.

The first meeting was very difficult. I had to answer so many questions and became quite overwhelmed and distressed. However, as much as I thought I’d gotten through my substance abuse, the emotional damage was still on my mind every day. Of course my recovery wasn’t all that easy; I felt worse to begin with and the loss of one coping mechanism led to the replacement with another (I would hurt myself in different ways rather than resolving distress with alcohol). But, week by week, my counsellor taught me how to control my alcohol levels, learning about alcohol units, and planning my nights in advance to prevent any vulnerable situations. I had to log every substance and every alcoholic drink for months; I knew that if I wasn’t honest I wouldn’t get the help I need. Anything I struggled to say I could write it down.

It did wonders for my second year at university having someone I trusted to talk to each week, and learning how to drink normally again so I could once again enjoy parties and the rest of my student life. The emotional support also meant I made enough progress with recovery to study abroad during my third year after having been initially told I was ‘too high-risk’ to go. Even though I am now discharged from the service, I know I can still ring up anytime I want to speak to my counsellor and can get more sessions if necessary.

Now, I am happy to say that I have recovered from this, despite wishing that I had got this support much earlier on. I still find alcohol and places like bars triggering, but it is no longer stopping me from enjoying my nights out. Since my sessions I am able to put in place strategies to keep me safe, and I have the best housemates and course friends to look out for me when necessary. It doesn’t mean that I no longer enjoy drinking and partying, but it has changed my perception on student drinking culture and given me the confidence in myself to say ‘no’ if I don’t feel up for going out drinking. 

For more information and advice about dealing with substance abuse, visit Talk to Frank or find out more on page 32 of Student Minds' Transitions guide.

Carys studies MA Interpreting and Translating at the University of Bath and is the Deputy Editor for the Student Minds Blog. She is dedicated to helping students access any health and additional support they need to succeed at university. 

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