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Mental disorders and alcohol - Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Old 04-15-2013, 05:19 AM
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Mental disorders and alcohol - Body Dysmorphic Disorder

My second post for today... And this is a difficult one to write as there is a lot of shame involved.

Since I was about 13 I have suffered from mental health issues. It began with an obsession with my hair, I could spend hours making every hair perfect in a pony tail, having to redo it over and over in case there was imperfection or asymmetry in the hairdo. This went on for a couple of years until the obsession became focused on the skin on my face.

I never had severe acne, a few spots here and there as any normal teenager, but I would spend hours investigating what to me appeared as imperfections; picking, squeezing and damaging my skin, then trying to cover it up and make the wounds heal. It became a vicious circle and I became increasingly anxious about showing my face in public. In my early twenties I was diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a condition which is similar to OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I would isolate myself for weeks, sometimes months, feeling too embarrassed and self-conscious about my appearance.

After many years of therapy I have gained insight about the underlying issues that express themselves in this disorder. BDD, like OCD, is a way to manage anxiety and stress, to suppress and focus on something more "tangible". There are many facets to this disease, and the experience is very personal. For me I think it is related to my parent's divorce, my father's OCD, and the pressure I put on myself to be perfect from an early age - in every aspect, "the good girl syndrome". I was pretty, best in my class, popular among friends, but in my eyes I was never good enough. I felt strange, awkward, disgusting, abnormal.

I still pick my skin, sometimes a lot, sometimes less. The way I feel inside is directly reflected on my skin, a lot of wounds and I am not in a good state... I have learnt to live with it, but like alcoholism it is a disease you have to live with for the rest of your life, trying to live one day at a time. A day without picking is like a day without alcohol, and the abstinence is associated with a lot of stress and anxiety.

I think my problems with alcohol are very much linked to my mental health issues. When I drink I momentarily escape my obsessions, only for them to become worse.

Now when I am sober I find it harder to stay away from my face, I feel restless and anxious and when I pick those feelings are - for a little while - subdued. The decision to stay sober involves a desire to be healthy, on all levels, and while I understand I need to take one battle at the time, I am afraid that the BDD will become worse - one addiction swapped for another so to speak.

It would be nice to hear other people's experience of mental health issues and alcohol, to find support in each other.

Sorry for the long post. Just wrote it all down and put it out there before I changed me mind.
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Old 04-15-2013, 05:35 AM
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When I was younger I had Tourettes Syndrome (the non swearing variety). As the years have passed the habits have subsided until I hardly notice them now. They now take the form of mental habits, rather than physical, and they´re manageable. If I am stressed, tired or angry they will resurface physically again, and I have to concéntrate hard not to roll my eyes, twist my head or make odd facial expressions. Alcohol certainly helped initially. It seemed to calm everything down, so I could sit still without figiting all the time so it´s no wonder that I self medicated with it when ever I could.

Obsessive compulsive disorder and various other habit forming mental illnesses probably feature quite highly in the average alcoholic. Though I never met anyone in AA who has obvious physical habits.

I have no idea if TS is genetic, but I began to develop it after something that happened to me when I was 5. Up to that point, as far as I can recall there was no problema.
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Old 04-15-2013, 05:42 AM
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Good Morning Sobreia,
I understand your situation, my sister does something quite similar. She sought medical advice from her doctor.....have you considered this? Sometimes, OCD responds to some medications.
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Old 04-15-2013, 05:45 AM
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Hi Shaun, thank you for sharing your experience. When you say "mental habits", what do you mean? I am glad to hear your symptoms have subsided. When I am stressed I often touch my face and pick the skin without even noticing. I am hoping CBT and habit reversal therapy might help. Over the years I have become increasingly dependent on certain routines, that are more or less debilitating, but it creates a lot of stress and anxiety if I do not perform them.
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Old 04-15-2013, 05:59 AM
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Thank you for your response Pondlady! I have tried medication and it became a bit better, but as soon as I quit it returned full force or even worse.

At the moment I don't want to go down the medication route again but am trying to find other ways: therapy, exercise, meditation/mindfulness...

I think BDD/OCD and obsessive skin picking is similar to alcoholism, and by learning about how I can stay sober and fight urges to drink and deal with related stress and anxiety I might find ways to manage my BDD.

I think recovery for me, on all levels, is dealing with underlying issues, learning to identify triggers, accepting myself as I am, and finding practical ways of dealing with negative thoughts and emotions; breaking destructive habits.

Many years of therapy has made me understand what might have set all of this in motion, but insight isn't enough. On one hand I understand where it comes from, but I am still very judgemental towards myself and it is very hard to break certain pattern of thoughts and behaviour. Sometimes I feel as if I need to be reprogrammed in order to recover. To take all the pieces apart and put them together again.
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Old 04-15-2013, 10:40 AM
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Physical habits. Touching things a certain number of times (always an odd number), Facial tics, twisting my shoulders around, tensing an un-tensing my limbs, pouting my lips, rolling my eyes, blinking. Also, I had some verbal habits as well. Coughing sounds, grunting sounds etc.

There would be an intense need to complete the habit, and the need would become very uncomfortable if I resisted. After doing the habit I would find relief, only for the need to arise again very quickly and have to do the habit again. When it was bad I would have 3 or 4 habits going at the same time, and when you do something 300 times a day, for each habit, it would be terribly hard to remain still. Well, impossible actually.

With regards to the mental habits (which are always done in my head) I count to certain numbers (always odd numbers!), repeat sentences that people had said time and time again, make patterns out of numbers. But these are not too bothering and at least I can sit at the cinema without annoying people around me!

I am very glad that physically I am so much better.
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Old 04-15-2013, 11:05 AM
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Mental health issues led to my drinking, for sure. My issues were not obvious, which in a way was a negative because I never knew I should be looking for help. I have had obsessive thoughts since I was a child, though they never took over my life. I began having panic attacks in my teens, but I had no idea what was happening to me. I felt a lot of anger and flip-flopped between anger and depression for years. Both the anger and depression were ways of avoiding the real emotional pain I felt. They distracted me. Eventually I began to need more numbing and self-medicated with alcohol which was disastrous.

From what I've read, CBT is quite effective for stopping habits. I hope that it works for you. One thing that really helped me with the habit aspect of drinking, was to change my daily routines. Is there a specific time of day or activity that you associate with the skin problem? If so, changing routines and patterns might help a bit.
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Old 04-15-2013, 11:37 AM
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Hi, since I was 13 ive had bulimarexia, switching between periods of starving and binging. I noticed when I started drinking heavily at 20, that issue lessened...and when I stopped drinking it came back for me as well. I dont really have advice to give as I havent found the answer, but want you to know you're not alone and there is no shame in wanting to talk it out and seek help. Keep at it, we will both get thru this. Hugs
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Old 04-15-2013, 12:09 PM
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I have anxiety with mild OCD... in my case there's some skin picking/nail biting/fidgeting but luckily not enough to alter me visibly. I'm more of an internal obsessive... the way some people check door knobs, I'll revisit a conversation or an interaction over and over again if I'm feeling anxious.

Medication is working wonders for me after several years going on and off, but I respect your choice... it's not for everyone.

Have you tried doing yoga regularly? I go to a nice vinyasa class (flow rather than static poses) 5 - 7 days a week and it makes a huge difference in my anxiety levels. When I skip it for a few days in a row I can really feel the difference. And a nice side effect is that it's really good training for impulse control, which has been helping me deal with alcohol cravings and urges to futz with my skin.
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Old 04-15-2013, 01:39 PM
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I have heard about the thing with picking your skin. I read about it in one of Elizabeth Wurtzel's books and she called it tweezing. It rang some bells for me because my sister used to do something similar, but she'd cut into her skin with a stanley knife rather than dig into it with tweezers. I was a self harmer growing up, and I think there was a direct parallel with me stopping that and an increase in my drinking, it seemed like the more socially acceptable option, or so I thought. When I stopped drinking I thought about self harming a lot. I was just searching for another coping strategy and that was the only other one I knew. But as time has passed the urges have got less. I've had issues with obsessive exercise and food issues too. I just started reading Appetites by Caroline Knapp and I am sure that will be as insightful about that issue as much as her other books are on other subjects.

It sounds like you are on the right track Sobreia. I agree that understanding isn't a cure all. I have found that finding different coping strategies was essential. But a big part of it has just been very passive, acceptance without judgement. I try not to judge myself as well as others now, it simply isn't productive. I think a lot of it is just accepting life on life's terms. That's easier said than done I know, but it is possible. I don't know how long you have been sober Sobreia, but I found after I had been sober a year I really turned a corner and things started to settle down. I know there has been a lot of stuff I've been doing which has contributed to that but I also think that time not doing destructive behaviours is very healing in itself.

Thank you for sharing your story with us x
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Old 04-15-2013, 01:55 PM
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Christ I don't think I would have enough space to write my mental disorders down.

I've been on every antidepressant which is in circulation. Also CBT and a lot of therapy.

I also have eating disorders (anorexia), no strong OCD but I have elements of it. Addiction effects my life in other areas such as weight loss and (silly as it may sound) piercings (it may be the pain aspect).

I'm waiting on a full consultation to see if I have bi-polar disorder. Which would explain a lot.

There is a stigma attached to mental health in the UK (unsure about anywhere else) but there are pioneers to fight the ignorance. I have been to doctors who have been so dismissive it's ridiculous. I do a lot of charity work for MIND and it really does effect everyone of every creed and persuasion.

I'd advise getting a second prognosis as it can change your life if the practitioner you see isn't as supportive. I believe if you haven't been there or experienced someone else going through such an ordeal you can't simply give the "cure" of "buck up there's worse off". There really isn't, once your mind goes, what else do you have?

Don't feel afraid to post your experiences of mental disorder here. Although it is advised you visit a doctor to get help and you should, as your mental health is nothing to mess with.

All the best friend. Keep on, keeping on. You were brave to post this regardless and a lot of people are grateful.
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Old 04-28-2013, 07:18 AM
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Thank you to everyone for sharing and being so kind and supportive. I am sorry for not having responded sooner. Managed to stay sober for 17 days until I caved for the craving yesterday night... So back on day one. Am feeling very anxious and shameful today. I will write a more proper response once I feel a little better.
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Old 04-28-2013, 08:57 AM
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Sobreia,

Sounds like we could be twins separated at birth! You wove together some sober days, and you will do it again. Getting right back to it is a great sign that you are ready and able to do this!

Working my recovery for substance abuse has really helped me with all those other issues. I apply the same sort of thinking, behaviors, and choices in those other areas of my life and things have improved beyond my wildest dreams.

I found it most useful for me to not say "Ok, that's it, as of today I am never doing any of those things again!" but instead to open myself to the process of recovery, make a commitment to recovery, which is very different from making a commitment to NOT do something.

I made a commitment to grow and heal. Putting my energy towards healing rather than towards fighting urges has made all the difference.

So glad you joined our family here!
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Old 05-01-2013, 12:00 AM
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Originally Posted by Threshold View Post
Sobreia,

Sounds like we could be twins separated at birth! You wove together some sober days, and you will do it again. Getting right back to it is a great sign that you are ready and able to do this!

Working my recovery for substance abuse has really helped me with all those other issues. I apply the same sort of thinking, behaviors, and choices in those other areas of my life and things have improved beyond my wildest dreams.

I found it most useful for me to not say "Ok, that's it, as of today I am never doing any of those things again!" but instead to open myself to the process of recovery, make a commitment to recovery, which is very different from making a commitment to NOT do something.

I made a commitment to grow and heal. Putting my energy towards healing rather than towards fighting urges has made all the difference.

So glad you joined our family here!
Threshold, thank you so much for your post. I am sorry for taking time to respond, have been feeling quite low, anxious and without energy since drinking on Saturday. Three days sober, one day at the time.

I have been trying to identify my "weaknesses" from last time, what made me cave in for the craving, so I can work on these to help me stay sober. I realised that some of them, like not being able to talk about my problems with family and friends, a tendency to want to please others rather than doing what feels right for me, are aspects that also affect my mental health negatively. By dealing with these issues, to stay sober, I hope I will also be able to feel more stable mentally, and less alone with my problems.

It is really encouraging to read what you write about recovery, how it has helped you with other issues and how making a commitment to recovery and healing has been the key, rather than making a commitment to not do something. I have been trying to think in similar terms, how I am making a commitment to be kind to myself, to treat myself well both physically and mentally.

I am so glad to have found this place, and all the wonderful people on here. I am here if you want to talk more about this, or other things. A big hug, S
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