Coping Skills for Maintaining Sobriety Throughout a Manic Episode
Can you ever fully control yourself amidst the throws of all-consuming mania? That’s the million-dollar question. We can only but try.
I am often asked whether nine years of bipolar experience means each episode gets easier. I have a staple answer for that.
Imagine you lost someone close to you and you had to get through the awful process of bereavement — then imagine you lost someone else. Would the process of grieving be any easier the second time? Of course not.
Experience Can Help
There is an argument, however, that experience of bipolar means you have ventured into many places — some euphoric and some monstrous — and you are therefore able to call upon these thoughts once you start entering a similar situation once again.
If your bipolar has taken you down a destructive path before, you may be able to interject and think, “Hold on, I can take a different path this time.”
In the lead up to mania I have spotted the elevated mood, agitation and irritability and recognized that, from past experience, picking up a drink is only going to make a situation much, much worse.
I always remind myself of the acute ward I spent months in and the pain and anguish I witnessed. I think of the difficult nurses, nightmare scenarios and loss of hope. That motivates me to make better decisions with regards to my health because I never want to go back.
So What Can We Learn?
Apart from learning from our previous experiences and making better decisions, what else can we do?
We can have a toolbox of ideas, which I’ll discuss throughout this article, to use as and when we need them. We can write them down and stick them up on our walls and check them every day.
We may struggle to control ourselves at times, but we can sure as hell try and limit the damage of what our illness does to us when we want to drink.
When I am in a manic episode, alcohol is used to take the edge off my horrible agitation and to push myself into different mindsets. I gamble to lose my head or just become someone else for a while. I don’t think past the first sip, and as long as I have drink, I just keep going until it’s gone.
I have a strategy to help with this. When I start to feel unwell I limit myself to going out and if I do, I drive.
Feeling high and drinking with friends is a false sense of security. My friends can drink until they fall over, pick themselves up again and fight through a hangover; whereas I am likely to keep going, end up going home with some guy or get complete memory blanks and behave deplorably.
A couple of years ago I got so drunk at a party I mumbled, cried and shouted at my friends and had to be taken home. The drink, my unstable mood and my medication pushed me over the edge.
The shame next day was excruciating and I quit drinking for six months due to anxiety and embarrassment. As a result, what stops me going out to drink when I’m feeling unwell is the reminder of the impact on other people and what that debilitating shame feels like.
I also used to drink at home, as I could get in whatever state I wanted and no one apart from my family was around to judge me. I bought cans of strong cider and drank one after the other, but now I make sure I don’t buy drink for the house.
Think of ways you can make things harder for yourself so when you think of picking up a drink, you have space to think about it rather than having it within easy reach. There is a pub across the road from me, but I talk through my intentions with a family member and try and find something else to occupy myself with.
Next page: Keeping busy, and other tips for maintaining sobriety.