Today we are kicking off a week-long series which I call “Cary Tennis, Re-advised.” Mr. Tennis is the Salon.com advice columnist, and he tends to write rambling, wishy-washy, careful, complex meditations on the letters he gets. I would like to correct this. So let’s begin. Here is today’s letter, reproduced without permission, and my revision to Mr. Tennis’s advice.
My history in a nutshell: I’m 32 and I’ve had four major depressive episodes. I’ve been on medication for this for 12 years. I’ve done years of personal and group therapy. It is partly genetic — my mother and brother have similar problems (although my mother refuses to admit it). It is also partly environmental. My parents divorced when I was 10. My dad married and divorced several women in the next 15 years. He was financially responsible for us but rarely around for visits. My mother ended up with an abusive alcoholic, and I both watched her be abused (emotionally, verbally, physically and sexually) and was abused myself (emotionally, verbally and sexually, although he never actually touched me — he just said creepy things and did inappropriate stuff). After I left home, I spent years in relationships that were bad for me, was promiscuous and miserable, didn’t take care of myself, and had a lot of problems. I ended up in my very own three-year-long abusive relationship, in which my partner regularly coerced me into sex.
Four and a half years ago, I began to understand what happened to me. I had a great therapist who helped me in so many ways. I left my abusive partner. I had wonderful friends, an amazing brother, and my father became a much bigger part of my life. I met a wonderful man who became my partner (three years now), who is respectful and kind and loving and works around my issues. My mother and I have recently reconciled after years of no contact. I feel like I’ve mostly worked through things. I still have issues here and there, but people keep remarking on how honest and open and “wise” I am. I figured I had this mostly licked.
Eighteen months ago, I moved to England and started a Ph.D. I’m far away from my family, my friends and my partner. It was hard at first, but it got better as I adjusted. After 15 months, and for no apparent reason, I entered another depressive phase. I didn’t realize for a while and got pretty bad before I went to my doctor and got my medication increased. I had started drinking more and more, but figured that it was a coping mechanism. The medication kicked in six weeks ago. I’m still drinking a bottle of wine almost every night, sometimes more.
I’m tipsy-drunk almost every night. I panic. I often crave the release of alcohol. If I start drinking, I don’t stop until I run out or pass out. Thinking about giving up drinking makes me feel a bit panicky. I have, on several occasions in the past year, gotten very drunk at department functions — probably not the best idea when professors/supervisors are around. So far, it hasn’t affected my Ph.D. or my life. I’m young, in school, and living in a culture that glorifies drinking. I’m not hiding my drinking, and I haven’t done anything bad. I’m not cheating on my partner, or failing, or even pissing off my flatmates. I’ve never had a drinking problem before, despite years of depression, anxiety and PTSD. But I’m beginning to worry.
Cary, what do you think? Do I have a problem? If I have a problem, what actions should I take? I really need an objective opinion on this, but I don’t have anyone here that I can really ask about this.