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Reblog: Once Upon An Alcoholic

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Alcoholism is not a topic I have written much about so far on this blog. Since it is so common, the post is an important contribution to demystify the condition and reduce stigma. The post is personal and honest, and I have immense respect for her courage  in writing about what she went through.

You can read more by the author in her blog santeachers

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On October 5, God willing, I will have been sober for 31 years.  That’s just about half of my lifetime.  And what a journey it has been.

People get sober for various reasons.  I remember going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and standing near an open window sipping a cup of coffee.  There was a commotion at the window and in tumbled a man.  As I happened to be the closest person, he staggered a couple of feet to me, grabbed my arm for stability and said “my wife told me to get in here or I can’t come home.”  At least that’s what I thought he said. It was garbled. I in turn signaled a man near me and said “he’s yours.”  It’s encouraged to have a man help a man and a woman help a woman from the get-go.  omg-i-need-help-gif

I should mention that the window was about 4 feet from the door and had bushes in front of it, so it’s a statement about how drunk he was that he missed the door.  He has been sober ever since.

A lot of people have horrible, yet funny from an insider’s point of view, stories about how they knew, or were pushed, to get help.

One of the first lessons one learns is that no one is unique.  Our stories might have different twists and turns, but our lives have spun out of control from alcohol, drugs, or a combination.

But how many people get sober when their family is against that?  I had the opposite experience from the man who fell in the window.  I felt like the first person in the history of mankind whose family tried to stop them from getting sober.  For real.dont-get-sober

I didn’t think I knew anyone who didn’t drink a lot. In my family, people were categorized as drinkers (normal people) and non-drinkers (odd people). “They seem nice enough, but they aren’t drinkers.”

When I started going to AA meetings, I hid it from my family.  So that my ex-husband didn’t catch on, I went during the day when my kids were in school and/or got a babysitter.  I told my children I was going shopping so their father wouldn’t know.  Can you imagine?  The craziness of the disease.

My first Thanksgiving in sobriety was at my father’s house.  By then everyone knew and I had to listen to comments like “you don’t drink that much, everyone drinks” and “what if people find out.”  At my place setting, instead of the glass of wine I would have had in the past, there were two glasses of wine.  I threw them out and my father was mad that I wasted the wine. Welcome to the Twilight Zone.

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But back to what brought me to AA.  The signs were there.  I started drinking in 7th or 8th grade, by sneaking whiskey into my coca-cola.  I’m writing that out so as not to confuse people by saying coke. That should have been clue #1, but it was so normal in my house that I thought it was normal behavior in everyone’s home.

Then drinking “for real” in high school.  Then almost out of control in college.

Funny story that shouldn’t have been funny but I still think it is: I went out drinking with a friend of mine from my sorority the night before a midterm.  College midterms are a very big deal.  We got an hour or two of sleep and went to take the midterm.  I can’t remember how many students were there, but it was a fair number and my friend and I sat on opposite sides of the room.  Each question seemed funny and it was one of those times where you know you can’t laugh, your shoulders start to shake, and then laughter explodes from your mouth.  Which made her laugh on the other side of the room.  

I was still drunk.  

I went to Ohio Wesleyan University which was at the time, and maybe still is, in a “dry” county.  Appalling.  My parents felt sorry for me.  About the second week of school, my roommate and I got each got a care package from home.  Yay!!  She excitedly opened her large tin of homemade cookies.  I excitedly opened my case of pint-size bottles of Seagrams 7.seagrams-7-pint

Clue #3.  On my 21st birthday, a bunch of us went into New York City to celebrate.  At the time, the drinking age in NY was 18, but 21 is a banner year.  My maiden name is Harvey, so even though I was only used to drinking whiskey straight (ice cubes are for sissies), I had a bunch of harvey wallbangers.  Little girl drinks.  I remember standing up from the table, and getting about half-way up and then nothing.  I “came to” the next day in Rockland County with no idea how we got there.  Lots of people that night must have had angels looking out for them.  I know that I did.

Side note: I had blacked out before.  I didn’t know at the time that is due to alcohol poisoning.  Tell your friends.

When I married and was blessed with my first daughter, I wanted to be the best mother I could be.  So I planned my day and her day around my drinking.  Baths in the morning, not at night.  Waaaaay less drinking (and none during pregnancy).  I thought that made me a good mother.

My second daughter died on Christmas Eve, 1981.  I had not drunk during the pregnancy at all.  She was one day old and died of cardiac arrest during open heart surgery.  My addiction exploded.  Heavy morphine in the hospital and whiskey that my ex-husband brought into the hospital.  No drugs upon release, nor again, but my drinking certainly increased but did not stop the pain.

I’m skipping a lot here but want to lighten it up.  Not all of my story is icky.

One Sunday morning, all of the above and all that I’ve left out brought me to the point where I realized that I needed help.  1985 was back in the day.  I had to look up the AA Hotline number.  The deal was that you called, and the hotline people had someone call you right back.  im-scared

For whatever reason, I opened my wallet and the AA Hotline number fell out.  In my handwriting.  I must have looked it up and written it down in a blackout.  With my heart racing I harnessed every ounce of courage I had and called the number.  A man answered and said he would have a woman call me right back.  He sounded kind, happy and serene.

When the woman called me back, she asked me if I had any liquor in the house.  Duh. She told me to put the phone down and empty it all down the sink.  Was she crazy? I screamed at her I’M NOT A DRUNK.  And then realized that I was the one who was acting crazy.

She told me that it was just for today.  That the next day I could buy as much as I wanted.  Just not that day.  So I did.  I couldn’t do it for myself; I did it for my children. And that was the last time I had to pour liquor down the drain and the first day that I didn’t drink.

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When I was sober for 8 years, my son was 6 years old.  At the dinner table I said to my kids that I hadn’t had a drink in 8 years.  He turned to me and said “Aren’t you thirsty???”

October 5, 1985.  Thank you, God.

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What is tryphophobia

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I have two phobias: Trypohobia and blood phobia. What follows is a description of my first and most severe phobia.

Trypophobia is relatively unknown peculiar phenomenon that affects thousands of people. The term ‘trypophobia’ itself was only coined in 2005. It is not recognised as a phobia technically, but it does seem to be a uncontrolled reaction or response (typically fear, anxiety, revulsion and/or self-defense) of a kind of pattern of holes or bumps. It seems to affect all kinds of people young and old and across different cultural barriers which suggests it is not a culturally learned response. Often, a trypophobe will not know that anyone else suffers from the same experiences that they do.

For a long time I wondered why do certain patterns give me goosebumps? As long as I can remember since I was a kid I had this reaction, and there was very little information about it on the Internet that I could find. I wanted to add my knowledge on it.

What triggers it and what doesn’t?

The effect of a triggering image on any individual trypophobe can vary from no response to a severe reaction, but many trypophobes will agree that certain images are triggering. Generally speaking, any kind of cluster (of say at least 7) of holes or bumps (and in some cases, lesions) may cause discomfort. For me, asymmetric/non-uniform patterns are worse. Others have said that the texture of the holes (in the sense of touch) matters. Some repetitive patterns like honeycomb, clusters of bubbles on the surface of water, the texture of crumpets and the bumps in your skin on your knees when you kneel in carpet for too long can also be triggering.

You can do a Google search for “trypophobia” and many of the images that turn up will illustrate the concept.

To know more about triggers, we must explore why trypophobes have this reaction.

Why do trypophobes have this reaction?

There is not much research data on trypophobia to conclusively explain this reaction. From what I’ve read, and what I’ve experienced, my best guess is that certain kinds of clusters are similar in nature (visually) to some degenerative diseases, pox, infections/infestations, swarms, etc., which one would do well to avoid. You could bring some kind of evolutionary hypothesis into this, the revulsion and therefore aversion of anything that looks like this would be beneficial for survival.

For most, when the clusters/pattern is on something natural/biological such as skin, the reaction is worse. Perfectly symmetrical patterns like the holes in a cheese grater may not be triggering at all (like in my case) due to its visual uniformity (man-made appearance.) But again, different people are sensitive to different things.

As it is, trypophobes are not generally aware of any particular reason they have a reaction. It is like getting goosebumps when it gets cold; it is a reaction one cannot typically prevent.

I have done some small experimentation with this since I am affected by trypophobia, and it is very interesting to me (I’m sort of a scientist at heart.) In my case, the visual scale of holes makes a big difference. For example, looking at something from a certain distance may have no affect on me, but viewing it from further back may trigger a response. It doesn’t seem to depend so much on the “understood” scale (compared relative to other objects around it) as the visual scale – how many of the holes can be seen, how much detail, how big they are, the spaces in between them, etc.

What are the reactions to triggering images?

Reactions vary from person to person. Speaking only from my own experience, the first and most noticeable reaction I get is goosebumps. I always get goosebumps when I am triggered, and my hairs stand on end. It will continue until I am no longer triggered. I believe this is part of some kind of overall self-defense/self-preservation mechanism. At the same time, I feel anxious. I feel as though there is possibly some kind of danger. My mind starts analysing the image and for long exposure, it is all I can think about. Heart rate increases. It can have such a strong presence in the mind that it affects your ability to focus on a task. To that extreme level, it is a little bit debilitating.

The worst, though, is having the triggering images flash into your head. Continuously, more and more, until you start to feel panicky and feverish. In my opinion it is a very unpleasant experience to have a war with your mind, in trying “not” to think about something, which is slowly driving you crazy. After extended exposure, I got more sensitive to trypo triggers. I started to get reactions from simple everyday things like the shower head, bubbles of oil in the frying pan, and even the texture of toilet paper.

Others have said their reactions include things like anger (possibly aggression which can be linked to self-preservation), a desire to destroy the clusters, as well as wanting to cry (a natural reaction after being scared.) One thing that trypophobes all have in common is a very strong revulsion. Most will physically move further away (subconsciously) or look away from the image with disgust. Other common reactions include itching, skin crawling, and being sick to the stomach.

How can I get rid of it?

It takes a lot of mental solidarity to reduce your sensitivity to trypophobic triggers. I don’t believe you will be able to get rid of any reaction altogether, especially to the more severe triggers, but being able to control your reaction and curb the effect it has on you is a good start.

Firstly, I don’t recommend take the exposure/desensitizing route if you already experience any of the reactions above. Being exposed to a lot of triggers in a short amount of time can make you panicky. A lot of the images aren’t real and just created for shock value. Some people have said desensitizing works, and it can, depending on how you do it. Don’t go on a binge looking at triggers until you’re sick. If you’re out and about and see a trigger you can take the time to share your phobia with someone close to you. Being able to explain it and share it can turn it into a good experience and help condition you to associate less negativity with triggers.

Accept that you are not in control of the physical reaction your body has, and know that it is natural. Just like goosebumps, or getting hungry, these are natural feelings and it isn’t something to worry about. What you are in control of is how you deal with it.

If you need to, remind yourself that you are not in any danger.

Do not reinforce yourself into a corner of fear. The more you label trypophobia as something scary, the more it is scary, to you. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant, but do not encourage it by saying things like “This is going to give me nightmares,” and “I’m so afraid to click on this link.” Just forget those thoughts. Own it, don’t be a prisoner to it.

Finally, do not expose yourself more than you have to. I know there is a deathly curiosity that comes along with trypophobia. It takes a lot of willpower to pass up an opportunity to freak yourself out. But once you are able to say, “No, I don’t want to see that,” and go on to do other things, you will be one step closer to feeling more at ease.

By doing these, over time, your reactions to trypo images should decrease.

What are some of the worst triggers?

Here is a list of well-known trypophobia triggers. You will know immediately if you have trypophobia if you experience anxiety in response to these stimuli.

  • Lotus seed pod, lotus breast, lotus seeds photoshopped onto skin (there are many of these), etc.,
  • Surinam toad giving birth
  • Botfly removal
  • Tafoni (rock formation)
  • The “frozen peas” image, most likely also photoshopped
  • Googly eyes on face

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