A Patient's Journey
I just wanted to send you something to put on the website in the hope that like me, if someone googles alcohol home treatment and is lucky enough to stumble upon your service they may read my testimonial of both Alcohol detox and the Sinclair method and have some hope that it could work for them by hearing the warts and all honest account of what was and is like. So here goes (apologies if this is quite long!)….
I come from an Irish family of heavy drinkers. My dad drank a lot but was borderline functioning alcoholic (he was lovely though!) my eldest elder brother is a barely functioning alcoholic who drinks at least a bottle of whiskey a day and in my view is dying and my other middle elder brother was a chronic alcoholic who, after becoming homeless, now lives in a care home as he has Korsakoff’s dementia brought on by extreme addiction to Vodka. My youngest elder brother also drinks a lot but is very controlled (binger). I think my paternal grandfather and great grandfather also drank a lot and my paternal uncle died of alcoholism.
So that leaves me. Not a good heritage and prime risk of both inheriting this addiction (nature) and being brought up around heavy drinking (nurture). But no - this wont affect me will it? I do like a drink I thought but I am controlled, I hold down a good job, I’m too level headed, I have better willpower.
A dangerous assumption indeed.
I drank heavily all my life. I am now 46. I was the party girl, the fun girl, all night raves and a few recreational drugs thrown in for good measure but really only so that I could drink all night and not fall over. I partied HARD through my twenties, through my thirties - always though at weekends - always maintaining a good job and career. I went party crazy at weekends but only drank a bottle of wine every night during the week (yes only a bottle ha!)
Then into my forties - the weekend clubbing and parties stopped and I became a typical high flier - needing more than ever that bottle of wine a night to de-stress - but that was just the baseline. Nights out or parties would start with a bottle of wine whilst getting ready to go out and then on to 2, 3, 4 bottles of wine - hey it’s a party right? And then always needing 2 bottles the next day to get me through the all day hangover before going down to my ‘sensible’ 1 bottle, the day after (maybe).
Then you get the real downside - if you are reading this you will know. The hideous feelings where you wake up knowing you have talked too loud, too long, upset someone you love/like or even worse waking up with the gut wrenching dread in the pit of your stomach that you might have …but you just cant remember. The days when you go to work sweaty after just a short walk and are paranoid that you smell of alcohol. The puffy glassy eyes. The shame, the sadness, the guilt.
Then a year or two ago things started to escalate.for me No reason, no trigger they just did. 1 bottle of wine opened at 7pm became 1.5 bottles opened from 6pm then 2 bottles of wine from 5pm and maybe at the weekend starting at 4pm with beer (which didn't count as a drink to me) and then 2 - 2.5 bottles of wine…always taking the last glass of wine to bed to finish there. But then if I didn't finish it…waking at 4am and drinking the last half glass to get me back to sleep. I never drank in the morning but there isn't much of a leap from 4am to 7am is there? I could see where this could be heading.
I tried to cut down and if I managed to get it back down to 1 bottle of wine I felt I had achieved something. It always went back up! Hmmm so this was the slippery slope I had been warned about that I thought I was too clever, too smart to slip down. I had high awareness of the dangers, having supported my now brain damaged brother through the worst of years leading up to the brain damage - seeing delirium tremens (DTs) from Vodka withdrawal is like watching someone possessed - like they are being tortured whilst they watch a horror film they are living in.
Then in August last year I had a night where I went OTT again and I just about upset everyone I care about and that morning was the worst dread of all and I was in despair and knew the time had come to do something about it.
I knew I needed a medical detox due to the length of time I had been drinking daily and the level of drinking I was consuming. I know I had looked into home detox before or going into a rehab as an outpatient as I simply could not afford to take 6 weeks off work to go into rehab. When I had looked into this in previous years (when things got bad) there was nothing at all available other than going through your GP and I wanted experts.
When I look back now I almost feel like some angel was looking down on me when I googled home detox that morning and had a first hit on Paul’s website This was August 2015.
My thoughts at the time were that I just had a bit of a habit and although I tried many times to cut down - it never worked and I knew after drinking for so many years I would withdraw if I stopped suddenly - I knew I needed a medical detox. My thinking at that time was - I would have a detox and then I would be fine. I would give my body a month’s break and then go on to normal drinking - say only at weekends (still in denial at the scale of the problem and how I would feel after the detox). I did briefly skim read the info on the Sinclair method but I was adamant that detox would solve my problem and it all sounded a bit new age bumph. Plus I didn't need it right?
So onto the detox. I was terrified. Having witnessed withdrawal in family members at its extreme I didn't know what to expect. I spoke to Paul who also did a home visit and he talked me through the process.
Now one thing you need to know is that if you have a home detox although you get 24 hour support from Paul - he cannot move into your home with you through the process - he would never be at his own home and it would not be appropriate. So you need to have a trusted friend or family member with you 24 hours a day though the 4 - 8 day detox. They cannot pop in, in the morning and evening - you need them with you all the time for both the safety and welfare aspect and I would say moral support. I know that is difficult if you are keeping your problem secret. I will honestly say that even though I did upset a few people whilst drunk, most people put that down to just drinking too much, most people were not aware that actually aside from the OTT nights I was also drinking every day…I kept that well hidden in the main.
If you are considering home detox - you are going to have to trust someone. I spoke to my aunt and she agreed to stay with me for the week. Its hard but there comes a point when you need to trust someone. You will probably find it’s not too much of a surprise when you do. Shame leads to secrecy and secrecy leads to isolation and isolation can lead to death. Thats my view. You have a medical problem and you need to stop killing yourself with shame.
So what was it like? Paul explained that it would not be dramatic and would be more comfortable than I thought. My aunt would give me the required meds every 4 hours or so and I would need to record my blood pressure regularly and report in to Paul every 2 - 4 hours.(and you can speak to Paul during the night if you need to - I didn't as I slept through the night). I did not believe Paul at all. I was expecting to go a little crazy, maybe beg for alcohol, maybe climb the walls - I was so so so scared.
You know what? It was absolutely fine. You do feel a little sleepy, I had one night of sweats (which I didn't notice as I was asleep) and no crazy behaviour at all and nothing scary happened. After around 4 days I was detoxed. I felt euphoric to be off the alcohol. Such a relief that life could now go back to normal. Remember - I had a habit that needed breaking not a full blown alcohol addiction - the intention was to have a month off then move on to weekend drinking like everyone else……hmmmm la la land.
So all was well. I had 3 weeks of not drinking. I felt great.
Then it started...
Not just a niggle, not just a ‘want’, not just a ‘oh it would be lovely to have a glass of wine’ - no. After 3 weeks, not triggered by anything, out of the blue - I had the most enormous all consuming tidal wave of craving for wine and lots of it. I tried to get it out of my head but remember driving to the Co-Op, parking outside and sobbing at this incredibly strong urge to drink wine - it was really overwhelming and scary.
I bought the wine.
I drank it. Of course.
I then bought another bottle the next night and then tried to stop the day after that and got heart palpitations - probably brought on by anxiety about withdrawal rather than actual withdrawal! I moved on to lager and tried to ween it down for a few days - then I was back on the wine. I was devastated at my lack of self control after all the costs and worry of detox - I was back to square one. Then I remember reading about the Sinclair Method. When I first looked at it I was adamant on detox approach so hadn't read it fully and to be honest it sounded too good to be true - why wasn't it widely used if it was so successful in other European countries? I had never heard of it before.
So I contacted Paul and we discussed it. As is normal for me I also researched it and watched the film One Little Pill. I decided to try it. I have to say to you right here and now I did not really believe it would work. Not for me. Despite the fact that some people end up being teetotal, some people drink occasionally after treatment and that was a seller for me. Remember - despite the negative impact on my life I didn't want to stop drinking, I wanted to be a controlled, ‘normal’ drinker. The thought at that time of never drinking again…well YAWN…not for me I thought! So my aim was to be the latter not the former.
So here is how it went….
September to December
Now with this treatment you are supposed to drink on the medication. On the days you don't drink you don't take the medication. Its the medication whilst drinking that re-wires your brain’s reaction to alcohol. The one thing to be aware of is the initial side affects of the medication. I started on Nalmefene. The side affects are horrendous in the first 7 - 10 days. They don't affect everyone but they did with me but I PROMISE (and as Paul promised me) they do go away. They do not gradually reduce - they just stop on or around day 7 - 10. The side affects I got were the following:
1) Not sleeping - when I did sleep it felt like I was on amphetamines so went into a weird parallel universe semi sleep
2) In the daytime feeling spaced out and groggy (not noticeable to others)
3) Feeling gloomy and no joy to be found in anything
No getting around this and you may not be affected but if you are - you need to battle through it - I would advise taking a week off work. I didn't and just worked through it but I thought it would never end. Then it just stops. Yay!
All through the first month I drank every evening. Anything from 1 bottle to half a bottle. You will find you drink slower - less gulping - more sipping and you do this without thinking or trying - you just do. I would say that the main thing I noticed was it kept my drinking under control. I fluctuated from 4 units to 6 to 8 down to 4 - up and down but never really going above 1 bottle of wine.
I think from memory I drank every night then through September, October, November and December. All quite low units but still drinking every day. Now you may find at this point that you and maybe a loved one questions if this is really working - it is. The treatment can take 3 - 6 and for some I have heard 9 months but whilst you are doing what you are doing the brain is adjusting.
I also at this point still enjoyed my nightly drink (1 large glass of wine) - and I thought hey even if I stay at this level I am doing OK. I still needed to attempt the dreaded alcohol free night. Even with low level of units I was still terrified of having an alcohol free night. I was worried about withdrawal (unnecessarily when the units were so low)
With a little bit of encouragement from Paul I eventually did an alcohol free night in January. This felt like a HUGE milestone.
So now I had done one night alcohol free I knew I could do it again and I did do it again. The key thing was I also enjoyed the feeling of not having a drug in my system on my non drinking days. You don't have any side effects after the first week but you just kinda know you are on medication.
So through January I had one or 2 more AF days. What was also strange was that even on my most stressful days (commuting to London, working in a high pressure job in the City) I wasn't having the instant knee jerk reaction to reach for alcohol on those stressful days. As February moved along I was having longer and longer stretches without alcohol. I love the feeling of not drinking, not taking medication and having ZERO cravings.
Now here is the rub….I was finding that if I wasn't drinking for a week to ten days then when I did drink I obviously took a Nalmefene tablet to protect my brain - I was getting the old side effects back. It seems that the side effects do wear off when you are taking the meds every day but leaving big gaps can mean you sometimes get the side effects back (sleeplessness/grogginess) when you do take a tablet and drink. It almost puts you off drinking at all because the drug means you are getting less pleasure from the drinking and to add on a sleepless night means your reward is so out of balance with the negative aspects its not worth it. The danger here is you may be tempted to drink without a tablet, I can tell you right now that the fantastic feeling you have knowing the cravings have gone far outweigh the urge to do that - if you do you will be back in the shackles of dependency and craving so for me it just is not worth it.
One of the key things that stopped me thinking I could give up alcohol was that I simply did not think I could stand being at parties/pub/meals whilst other people drank and I did not. I host a lot of dinner parties and they involve a fair amount of booze. One day I just decided to bite the bullet and see how it would feel not drinking. With people doing things like dry January - its not such an unusual thing to say your off the booze for a bit (I had told close friends and some family about the treatment but not everyone). I felt sure that the evening would be painful, that I would feel ‘left out’ and would be craving a drink but…I didn’t. It just didn't happen. I had a great night not drinking, a good night sleep and woke up not having upset anyone or suffering from a hangover - brilliant.
Since then I have done a few social nights - having meals, going to the pub and even with everyone else getting sloshed I have not in any way had the urge to drink.
I still wanted to be able to drink occasionally such as at birthdays and Christmas so discussed with Paul moving from Nalmefene to Naltrexone (fewer side effects and cheaper!) You need to get a liver function test to ensure you are suitable for the medication which I was.
So onto the new drug. You do still get some sleeplessness when you first take it but it is way less harsh and it wears off. Drinking only at weekends at this point.
So to now. To say this treatment is amazing is an understatement. I drink about once or twice a month and only on a special occasion and never on my own. When I do drink I drink less but even so typically I would want a drink the next day too and that just doesn't happen any more. The next night I cant wait to get back onto my non-alcoholic ginger beer (by the way Fever Tree Ginger Beer is a really nice non-alcoholic drink to replace wine!)
I can see my drinking becoming even less than once or twice a month and maybe might give it up altogether. It just simply doesn't feel like such a big bad thing to consider. I would have thought life not worth living without a glass of wine a few months ago!
There is absolutely NO urge to drink at all. I have gone off the taste of my favourite sauvignon blanc and I really don't enjoy drinking. I NEVER ever thought that would be me (hope I don't turn into a teetotal bore!) I had thought that I just enjoyed drinking and so what if I do? Well now I know that was really just the addiction speaking. I know I will now only drink to be sociable and even then I now have the choice NOT to drink if I want and not feel any discomfort, no craving, nothing.
It just isn't a big deal at all. I also have kept thinking each week - this is not going to last. This is a fluke. The urge will return. It hasn't and I am very optimistic that it will stay that way so long as I never drink without a tablet!
Here are a few things I have learnt along the way:
• You will think you are the only person in the world this treatment wont work for- I didn't believe Paul and Shaun when they told me how other people felt coming out the other side as I am now.
• Almost every stage Paul predicted I would go through..I did. I was almost text book
• It stops the need for you to go to rehab, attend AA, live your life in the grip of cravings controlled by white knuckle self control (how utterly miserable that sounds)
• AA works for some people and I wouldn't discourage other types of counselling if the alcohol was being used to self medicate for any underlying emotional issues or trauma - if you have those issues you probably need to deal with those root causes regardless
• This treatment works - but it takes time. It took 6 months of drinking on the tablets before I tried an AF day then it kind of has a snowball effect of positivity
• Once you do an AF day - you will do more.
• The tablets don't stop you getting drunk - if you got obnoxious/funny/loud/extrovert/emotional when you drank before then you will probably still get obnoxious/funny/loud/extrovert/emotional when you drink - just wont happen as often!
• You will eventually be able to be around people who are drinking when you are not and it will not bother you AT ALL
• You cannot be complacent - you can NEVER drink without the protection of a tablet
• Life is 1000 times better without alcohol. But if I want to drink champagne when I celebrate something I can and I will
• You might find you replace the alcohol with rich foods, desserts after dinner or chocolate. This will subside and probably you need to just go with it and enjoy it. Eventually this will subside and you will find something healthier to wean you off this - I am getting on my push bike daily before work and going to the gym. One thing to note is when you are not taking the tablets on the non alco days - you should try do something that naturally raises your endorphins - that retrains the brain to give you the ‘hit’ you had with alcohol on better more healthy things.
• You will think that being a teetotal or a very infrequent drinker is just a step too far - until you go through the treatment and then it will not feel like such an outrageous thing to contemplate
• Paul and Shaun do an amazing service - it is simply tragic the medical profession is not fully pushing this treatment through the NHS or being promoted by private addiction clinics - I guess there is just too much money to be earned on relapsing patients who bounced back into treatment rehab centres again and again and again spending thousands of pounds to no effect
• If you have inherited a physical, predisposition to alcohol addiction - remember this is a family disease - then why wouldn't/shouldn't there be a medical treatment for it?
• Everyone deserves the chance of a happy life - you do too. Accept what you have done, forgive yourself and go get this treatment.
• This treatment is counter-intuitive! Allowing alcoholics or drink dependant people to ‘drink themselves sober’ is not an easy thing for family and friends to accept but let them read this, ask them to speak to Paul, share with them the information, find someone who will support you.
• There was a lady in the film ‘One Little Pill’ who said you don’t give up the alcohol, the alcohol gives up you - that stayed with me.
• I have seen how far this could have gone for me if I had carried on drinking or tried and failed to go the conventional AA path. I would have ended up like my brother. He needs 24 hour care, cannot remember anything beyond ten minutes, he has no quality of life and my other brother will probably die soon - I offered to pay for him to have treatment but he doesn't want to be helped.
• This treatment can help even more extreme drinkers than me - don’t write yourself off before you find out the facts, talk to Paul about your circumstances - Paul will not judge, he recognises this as a medical problem. There will be a specific treatment plan for you even if you are on spirits.
• I hope this helps just one person to just go for it and to gives you just a bit of insight into my journey. It will be slightly different for each person but go look at the success rates in Finland - compare that to the success rates in AA - that will tell you everything you need to know.
• Paul and Shaun do an amazing service but you have to keep in touch with them. You MUST send them weekly alcohol tracking sheets - this is important. They have to be able to track and report on your progress for this treatment to be available to others.
• Life is precious and the world opens up a whole host of new possibilities without alcohol being your first, second , third and last thought of the day.
• Good luck!