If Replacement of PRDM2 Enzyme Can Cure Alcohol Addiction Will I Choose to Drink Again ?

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My first reaction on reading that depleted PRDM2 enzyme may cause alcohol addiction and that scientists may be close to finding a cure for alcohol-dependence was…

“Do I want to drink again?”

About 10% of American adults are reported to be alcoholic or alcohol-dependent. I often wonder how that statistic is compiled because I know that I would not be counted in that group. But at 18 months sober if I drink again I’ll most likely slide back down the rabbit hole of addiction.

Somewhere around the age of 45 I lost my off switch. I went from someone who enjoyed drinking and occasionally overindulged, to someone who lived for that first glass of wine at the end of the day. I would not be counted in that 10% because only I knew how alcohol dependant I’d become. I was never really honest with my Dr about how much I was drinking so there was no record.

I never had a DUI or missed work due to a post binge hangover. I never visited an emergency room after an alcohol related accident or had any kind of medical evaluation that suggested alcohol abuse. The social worker at my children’s school never questioned the stability of our home environment. But I woke up most mornings thinking never again only to find myself with a big glass of wine in hand by 6 PM. The self loathing that I felt at the break of day was usually replaced by mid afternoon with an absolute understanding that I deserved a drink, wanted a drink, needed a drink and would control how much I drank that night.

I knew that when I drank I was detached from my children and husband and that my hangovers were affecting my work. I knew that although I intended to drink no more than two glasses I often opened a second bottle. No matter how determined I was to break the cycle of regret/ indulgence/ regret, I could never stop drinking for more than a week.

I was addicted but it was a silent addiction and breaking that addiction was hard work.

As one of the lucky ones who was not only able to stop drinking but am happily sober I realize that ability to replenish the PRDM2 enzyme could save countless lives. I came very close to the point of no return with my drinking and have the utmost sympathy for people who cannot stop.

But an eventual drug that could replace the deteriorated or missing PRDM2 enzyme could also mean that I get my off switch back.

I could sit in the sun at the beach sharing a jug of sangria with a friend and not worry that the next night I’d be relapsed and hiding my second bottle of wine. I could enjoy a nightly 5oz glass of resveratrol rich Cabernet at dinner without worrying about wanting more. I could be normal again and get a bit buzzed with the cool kids without losing control.

But these past 18 months I’ve learned that it’s not the sangria but the sun, and the friend, that make for a great afternoon. The heart healthy resveratrol in that 5oz glass of red wine can easily be replaced with a cup of blueberries in my morning smoothie and surprisingly, even the most complex gourmet meal, is equally enjoyable with ice water or tea.

So for now…

today….

I think I’ll pass on the enzyme replacement.

I love living life fully awake. I own every minute of my day and every feeling is genuine. I love sobriety and am not really sure why it’s so important for us to drink. Unless we want to get drunk.

And that would seem to be a lose of impulse control.

Suggesting a need in us all for a bit of enzyme replacement.

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Redefining “Me Time”

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I saw an e-card on Facebook about eight years ago that made me laugh out loud.

“Don’t forget to pick up a bottle of wine for your mom on mother’s day. You’re one of the reasons she drinks.”

That same e-card seems to come up every year with different illustrations and every year I have found it a little less funny.

I never told my kids that I drank because of them and I think that many mothers would find that statement a bit offensive but we are encouraged to drink to relieve the stress of parenting and we’re encouraged to find that funny..

OMG I so need a glass of wine or I’m going to sell my kids is a facebook page with well over 100,000 likes. Their mission is to “encourage all mothers to put themselves first now and again, enjoy a big glass of wine and laugh out loud!”. The OMG twenty-one oz “big glass” which holds most of a bottle of wine can be purchased from their website. “Cheers!IMG_1948

I agree with OMG’s mission to encourage mothers to put themselves first and laugh out loud. Parenting in the twenty-first century has become more stressful than ever. From the minute, we childproof the sharp corners of our coffee tables, the kitchen cupboard doors and the second-floor staircase we’re cautioned not to smother our kids. Forget the sun block or allow too much sugar and processed foods and you can be accused of neglect. You’ll most likely be Lawnmower or Helicopter parent at some point. Everyone’s watching and everyone has an opinion.

Parenting and motherhood are not for the faint of heart! We need to laugh.

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I used to think that pouring myself a glass or two of wine at the end of the day was the best way to have a little bit of much-needed adult time. Between the responsibilities of my job and my family, it seemed that I hit the ground running at six in the morning and finally only screeched to a stop when the kids were tucked into bed. I was the go to mom in our neighborhood for fun play dates and great homemade cookies. I made sure that every birthday and holiday was memorable and adorned with homemade piñatas and towering cakes from scratch. I needed my “me time.” Kicking back with a couple of glasses of wine was empowering.

Until it wasn’t.

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The problem with my “me time” coming in a bottle is that it eventually took much more than it gave. As my daughter approached adolescence and my tolerance to wine increased I realized that my “me time” was taking over our family time. A few glasses after the kids were in bed became a glass while I made dinner, another while I helped with homework, and another while I folded laundry. I stopped looking forward to a few quiet drinks at the end of the day and started to need wine the minute I got home from work. When my wine habit became an addiction there was absolutely nothing funny about it.

Drinking to celebrate and unwind has always been a part of our culture and I understand that some people can smooth out the rough edges with a couple a glass of wine in the evening and not risk addiction. But in this era when statistics are showing an alarming increase in alcohol abuse among women and an unexpected rise in middle age mortality due to alcohol and drug-related illnesses and suicide, I think we need to come up with more creative ways to unwind than just pouring a drink.

With the help of a  blogging community called HelloSundayMorning I’ve been sensationally sober for a bit over a year and a half now. I’ve learned that I do need my “me time” but it needs to be a time that actually nurtures me. If I spend an hour online writing or soak in the tub with a good book at the end of the day I get the sense of self-indulgence I deserve and wake up every morning ready to take on the world.

I have heard it said that sobriety offers everything that alcohol promised and now I know it’s true!

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Sober Serenity

My monster

The depression monster first dug its claws into me when I was 17 and from then on it was always there—dragging me away from a worthwhile life. I didn’t know my monster’s name until I was 20. Mixed and influential messages from various sources, amateur and professional, fell broadly into two categories:

a) depression is a choice; and

b) depression is a valid medical condition

Suggested plans of action accompanying A-type views could be summarised under the heading ‘HTFU’, whereas B-type advocates, also known as ‘soft cocks’, were more likely to encourage a blend of support and tablets.

For several years I went with the soft cocks. In retrospect, I can see that I made important progress in that time: I started leaving the house regularly; volunteered at an Oxfam shop; found a job that forced me to interact with other humans; and eventually started spending time with other humans just for fun.

But I couldn’t let go of the shame I felt over choosing support and tablets. I suppose I’d managed to synthesize all of the advice and information I’d received into one succinct and bitter line which I repeated incessantly to myself: I’m defective.

This broken record of self-loathing was reinforced by a CV that I imagined screamed underachiever. For years its most dazzling bullet points included my BA (minus the honours year I’d dropped out of because I was a quitter who never finished anything); my volunteer work at Oxfam; and 5 years as a Jenny Craig Weight Loss Consultant. By the time I’d reached the first phase of old age (my mid- twenties), I hadn’t changed the world at all. Ergo, I was a failure.

So I came up with a brilliant plan to improve myself: I’d start doing things that scared me—things like flying, applying for new jobs, further study. I’d quit medication cold turkey too because tough people do things cold turkey. Tough people never need help.

It took me four years to tick off all the dot points on my impressive to-do list. My achievement timeline looked like this:

2006: Quit medication cold turkey. (Very painful, possibly tough, definitely stupid. Wouldn’t recommend ‘achieving’ this to anyone.) Also enrolled part-time in a journalism degree.

2007: Started new job with emergency services.

2008: Ended long-term, safe but stifling relationship. Went to China and the US.

2009: Finished journalism degree.

Throughout all of this ‘progress’ I was drinking like Frank Sinatra. I’d started drinking when I was 17. I doubt my reasons for drinking were ever extraordinary. At first I drank because alcohol was new and fun—a magic potion that allowed me to shed my 17-year-old-awkward-girl suit.

While sands slipped through my hourglass, I learned that drinking buys a lot of great stuff—acceptance, escape from discomfort (minor and major, emotional and physical), escape from anything that ultimately requires facing up to, really. Hindsight can be terrifying, and I reckon the only thing that diminishes that terror is sharing lessons learned with others. If I had to plot my drinking timeline on a graph, it’d show a sharp and uninterrupted incline starting in 2006—the year of my first big achievement. Yes, Geri, connect those dots and suffer in your jocks as you reconsider the thing you were so proud of.

Tablets might have been shameful, but in my world drinkers were champions. My substitute medicine was always accessible and relatively cheap. And I could or would not see that I was digging an ever-widening trench between who I was and who I wanted to be. Why was it so hard to put down that shovel?

I think a key part of the answer is that my social world revolved around alcohol and in Australia that’s almost monotonously normal. This makes it very easy for problem drinkers to escape detection. At most social gatherings people who decline a drink are usually subjected to intensive interrogation that stops just short of a full-body cavity search. If you hang out with heavy drinkers you can expect to enjoy the kind of welcome ordinarily reserved for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Abstinence can be thirsty work—much easier to go with the flow and forget where it’s carrying you.

I’d developed a taste for oblivion, too. It felt good, and if something feels good you don’t over think it, you just do it. Who cares if it’s only short-term gratification and bugger the consequences, yeah? Self-sacrifice is for masochistic losers, for example, Christians and vegetarians. I secretly believed that modern medicine would save me from any dire consequences anyway. As a faithless person, I had some truly wild beliefs about science.

At 31 I made another magical discovery as a result of persistent sleeplessness: calmative meds (Mersyndol then Restavit then Xanax). Curiously, I wasn’t ashamed of taking any of those tablets. It was what tough people sometimes had to do to get some well-earned Zs. It wasn’t long before I made a subsequent magical discovery: calmative meds plus alcohol equal a sleep only rivalled by anaesthetic or death. Pretty clever, I know, but apparently not clever enough to consider that the same combination in the correct quantities could actually produce death. Oh well, everyone makes mistakes.

After a couple of years, the rickety support structure I’d set up for myself collapsed. Predictable maybe, but I was still pretty shocked. Under the influence of a broken toe and a 2-litre goon-bag hangover, I committed to a 12-month dry spell on Hello Sunday Morning (HSM). At 33, I finally noticed the ‘terms and conditions’ asterisk on the bottle’s price tag.

I could perhaps best describe HSM as an online support community for problem drinkers even though I’m pretty sure that’s not the target audience its founder, Chris Raine, had in mind. When you sign up you can set goals to motivate yourself—most people’s checklists include saving money, weight loss, fitness, improving mental health and other self-renovation projects.

I did save money and I lost 8kg eventually, but my mental health didn’t improve simply by omitting alcohol. Life without anaesthetic was challenging and often uncomfortable. I learned that getting older isn’t the same as growing up, just as being smart isn’t the same as being wise. In short, there was a bunch of stuff I had to face.  I had to admit that I needed support… and tablets. Hahaha. Sigh.

But I’ve generally found that admitting errors sucks much less than the outcomes of concealing them. Toward the end of my 12 months I posted this on my HSM blog:

“When I consider how I was before I’m so glad I decided to change despite all of the discomfort it’s involved. My robot life, in some ways, was easier—going through the motions, sticking to my precious routine, disconnected from feelings. It was an operating system I developed in response to a deep sense of worthlessness (horrible to think that the operating system and the worthlessness that inspired it were perpetuated by the same fuel) and an inability to face all the sadness I saw in the world. I suppose the aim of my game was self-preservation. I now believe that aim was flawed. (Can a life spent in cotton wool and ether be thought of as lived?)

HSM has given me the time and clarity I needed to work out what matters to me. It’s taken a while, but now that I’ve done it, I’m no longer willing to make choices that support comfort and convenience at the expense of what I hold dear.”

I’m 34 now, and I still feel the jab of those claws every so often. It’s OK to feel things though—that’s how we grow.

'Depression' from Toby Allen's Mental Illness Monsters series.

‘Depression’ from Toby Allen’s Mental Illness Monsters series.