This is a post that is not going to be easy. Either to write or to read. I’ll be talking about how I discovered I was an alcoholic, how I quit drinking, and how it all led me to getting my autism diagnosis. I fully appreciate if you want to skip this post and wait for something more cheerful.
I have been in contact with alcohol to some degree for most of my life. For a large portion of it, my drinking was no worse than the average person in the street. I would go out to bars and nightclubs and generally get by with little more than a hangover.
As I got older, though, things began to change. Life wasn’t going so well, my depression was becoming more and more problematic, and I turned to drink to help me get by. After all, the barman was always friendly (it was their job). Access to money meant that as my health got worse, my ability to properly budget got worse. I quickly found myself relying on credit cards and loans. Not to mention getting a notice starting eviction proceedings (thankfully this never came to pass).
As things reached a peak, I was finding myself out at the pub every day and often spending all my time there until the following morning (pre-pandemic, the city I live in had plenty of all night bars). It was when I stole money from my father that I realised that I had to take action and put an end to my addiction. Actually, more accurately, it was when I was caught stealing that I sought help.
With my epilepsy and depression (and the associated medication) I was advised to go to the local NHS Alcohol Support team. As part of the process, patients are required to undergo a medical to establish how much damage has been done and any potential complications (usually as a result of other medications) that might arise as part of the recovery process. When I spoke to the doctor, he gave me some advice that I hadn’t expected. The session lasted about forty-five minutes, and he mentioned that during that time he had noticed that I displayed a number of traits that were associated with autism and might want to seek a formal diagnosis.
It left a lot of questions. How had this been missed before, who should have caught this, how would this impact my day-to-day life? Drinking suddenly became a secondary consideration for me. I followed up with my local doctor and started the process of getting a diagnosis, but at the same time I forced myself to go cold turkey. I quit drinking (in the worst possible way) by keeping myself away from the bars and alcohol, and with no additional support. The first few days were hell, and it took a while before I started to notice any improvement in my health, but over weeks and months it became much easier.
So why was my realisation that I was an alcoholic so important to my autism diagnosis? Without it, I would have never been assessed by the alcoholic advisory team and I could have spent the rest of my life undiagnosed. It gave me another incentive to quit drinking, to get a diagnosis and the support that would help me to get by more effectively in life.
I am not suggesting that people go to such extremes as I did to get medical attention. The way I found out about things was the worst possible approach. However, I have tried to look on the bright side of things lately (a tough thing given the current climate), and I realised that while I hurt a lot of people, myself included, I did discover more about myself, and it made the road to recovery (from drinking) much easier. I can only hope that my story can help somebody else. That they can learn from my mistakes.
If you think you have an issue with drinking then you can get advice (in the UK) from your local GP or dedicated support agencies, some of which you can find here