I haven’t been drinking alcohol for awhile because it has such detrimental affects on my health. It adds to the layers and layers of exhaustion in my body. I realized this 4 years ago when my burnout hit so hard and have been attempting some sort of moderation since to be able to fully recover from this long round of burnout. I wasn’t a heavy drinker. Wouldn’t call myself an alcoholic, but over 50 years of masking as neurotypical (even masking from myself) can bring up a need to self medicate. Beer has always been my choice for that.
Here are some absolutely mind blowing (to me) discoveries after stopping.
#1 I never really learned how to fully process the big emotions I felt in my body. Alcohol was a way to diffuse the bomb that was about to explode within me. I discovered I have alexithymia, so beyond not learning how to process the emotions, I often couldn’t even identify them. My body just felt a strong frenetic energy that I needed to diffuse. [Alexithymia is an inability to identify and describe emotions and is a common for autistic people. I think the percentage is estimate at 50% of autistic people experience alexithymia.]
#2 My emotions are processed through my body. Yours probably are too. As an autistic person, my experience is one in which my body is reactive and highly sensitive to ALL the input ALL the time, rather than being able to tune out certain things as seems to be true for neurotypicals. It’s like a sponge of all experiences, even for those I’m not fully cognizant, and can easily cause sensory overwhelm. Alcohol dulled the sensory overwhelm and soothed the emotions I couldn’t label, but also kept me from actually processing those unnameable emotions so they’ve remained lodged in my body.
#3 Through the help of my mental health team, I am actually learning to identify and process emotions as they come up. This newly developed skill initially felt so good, but became really hard in September (plus all those retrogrades) as layers and layers of past trauma bubbled to the surface asking to be acknowledged and processed. Hello deep depression and grief.
#4 I now understand better why I struggled so much in adolescence. I was experiencing huge emotions and was hyperaware of my inability to truly fit with group dynamics, but also was unable to express or communicate what I was feeling or why due to the alexithymia. That is like being fully aware the building is about to collapse and watching it happen in slo-mo, but not being able to identify why the collapse is happening. And really, how does one ask for help without being able to describe why the help is needed?
Anyway in the past couple weeks as I processed these deep old layers of cPTSD, I’ve begun to feel that familiar frenetic buildup in my body again. Yesterday I felt it so strong along with a sense of despair that the chronic fatigue I’ve felt for the past 4 years is never going to end. So I did all these near alcohol things giving myself an opportunity to partake. I ordered food from a local pub and went to pick it up and of course ran into a couple friends who had just sat down for a beer. But I took my food and came home. THEN went to the liquor store to buy some nonalcoholic beer so I could at least have a close taste to what I was craving in my body. And I bought a 6 pack of alcoholic beer (for a pal) and a 6 pack of nonalcoholic beer. And I drank the nonalcoholic beer.
And THEN I put on my roller skates and all of that frenetic energy washed away. I skated around the shop and out in the street. I danced on my skates to ABBA and ELO. I sang at the top of my lungs to the albums as they spun on the turntable. I connected to that adolescent girl who loved these things. And I felt so much better. Today I am so very glad that I didn’t drink because I woke up at 6am and felt slightly refreshed instead of having to write off the day due to utter exhaustion from my body processing alcohol overnight. I am learning a new way of being.
There are so many great resources for learning more about processing emotions and listening to your body. One great one is the Feminist Survival Project podcast by hosted by Emily and Amelia Nagoski, authors of BURNOUT: the secret to unlocking the stress cycle. My friend, Crystal Marie, shared this podcast series with me and I highly recommend even just listening to Episodes 58-63 on How the Listen to Your Body. In those episodes, Amelia also describes alexithymia from her own experience and it is a bit different than mine. She didn’t believe emotions existed while I couldn’t identify or describe many of my emotions.
The book, BURNOUT, is on my very tall stack of must read books. I am climbing that mountain, but it is ever growing. So many good books, so little time.
Skate on, my friends. Skate on. [PS: I got my very comfortable Chaya Skates at Legacy Skate KC ]