Unraveling: A comic artist's journey through alcoholism and recovery in the pandemic | Health Issue | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Unraveling: A comic artist's journey through alcoholism and recovery in the pandemic

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Because no one brought me a sourdough starter and I never learned to knit,
my pandemic project is less skill-based and more opportunistic.
I became an alcoholic.
This actually takes very little effort.
In August 2019, I had gastric bypass surgery.
By the start of quarantine seven months later, I've lost a substantial amount of weight and my liquor tolerance.
There's much data linking alcoholism to post-bariatric surgery. *cheers*
But I choose to ignore it.
I have many instances of substance abuse in my family history.
But I choose to ignore that, too.
And in my own mental health history, I have ADHD, anxiety, and depression diagnoses, all of which can heavily overlap with addiction. *Correlation, check! check! check!* *Circles the word "Ignore"*
Beer is delicious.
I'm a beer snob. I love bitter and hoppy and creamy and sweet and stout and rich and crisp and clean.
I love it all.
I start drinking at 7 a.m. and put away a four-pack of high-ABV craft beer by 10:30.
Nap at noon, if you can call it that.
Hungover before dinner but keep drinking because it tastes so good,
and I can barely feel anything anymore.
It doesn't matter because I am home alone.
Drinking alone.
Always alone.
So it's not a problem.
My anxiety seems on par with the rest of the world,
during a global pandemic.
When your mental health baseline is already skewed, sometimes it can take longer to recognize unhealthy patterns.
I'm always sleepy,
even with the highest dose of Ritalin XR,
and two iron supplements.
I'm working out regularly and barely eating,
but I've started gaining back weights. *Patterns.*
I reap the financial benefits of my coping mechanism because I work at a brewery.
Everyone else is drinking more, too.
Just a pattern, not a problem.
"Are they also drinking in the morning? Are they also drinking alone?"
I wonder as I place another couple of cases into the trunk of a regular's idling car.
Three times I reach out to friends and almost say it, almost admit it.
I am ashamed.
The blackouts scare me after I realize the pattern by its consequences.
"I think maybe I'm an alcoholic."
I whisper out loud to no one because I always drink alone.
I panic and quit cold turkey on December 1, 2020.
I tell my psychiatrist that I think I'm becoming addicted to water.
Just the physical act of drinking something, anything.
I throw myself into strength training and my new job.
I recalibrate my meds. I cry a lot.
And with the spring thaw, I finally wake up.
Not healed, not whole. But present. Here.
Still fat, still anxious. But focused.
As my physical health improves, my mental health follows.
Or maybe it's the other way around?
I say the word "alcoholic," adding it to the collection.
Acknowledging the pattern.
I am just one of too many, from stories and anecdotes and essays and obituaries.
I dont know much, but almost a year later, I know the "who I was" isn't the same as the "who I can become."
If you're struggling, if you're drinking alone.
If you're whispering and wondering to yourself ... reach out.
I never learned to knit.
But I have learned to listen.

Andrea Shockling is a Pittsburgh comics artist and storyteller. You can follow more of her work at andreashockling.com.

This comic was co-published by Pittsburgh City Paper and PublicSource, and was made possible with financial support through the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.