Alcoholism, Trauma and Depression

It’s the day after my 49th birthday and I have no hangover! It wasn’t always like that though.

I always drank to get drunk, right from my first carry out at the age of 11 or 12. Scotland was like that, and in many ways it still is. I think that’s why I never really considered it a problem until much later. I mean if everyone’s doing it, right?

My drinking grew progressively worse right up till my last drink. I was 34.

Let’s go back and add some context.

I joined the army in 1988 at the age of 16 and it provided a pretty safe drinking environment for a teenaged boy. Drinking in the campus bar was permitted, but even off campus it was no problem to drink in the bars in downtown Harrogate with an army ID card.

At the age of 17 I had a pretty bad climbing accident while out on military exercise in the Lake District in the northwest of England. I almost lost my leg and spent the next three years in and out of hospital and physio clinics. I think the final count was 13 surgeries and it eventually put and end to my army career.

On the 30th anniversary of my accident, I made a video talking about my alcoholism, my recovery and my trauma. Why trauma? Well, it was interesting, but up until that point I had never really connected the alcoholism and depression with the trauma, but once I did, it made perfect sense.

I was diagnosed with clinical depression in January 2019 for the second time in my life and was prescribed SSRIs. The first diagnosis was when I was at the University of St Andrews in 1996, at a time when alcohol and drugs were a big part of my day. After the diagnosis in 2019, a friend of mine recommended a book about trauma, and it was that book that got me looking back at events in my life that could be considered as traumatic and that might have contributed to my alcoholism and depression. And there it was, a glaringly obvious example of trauma that I had somehow never connected to my mental health issues.

Did connecting the dots help? I think so. I mean I’ve not had counselling or anything like that, but I am a deep thinker, something that I’ve come to understand is a character trait of a lot of addicts.

Reading the book and looking at that event in my life has helped me to see that it wasn’t all my fault, and I think that that does help to relieve some of the guilt and low self esteem. I’d heard of PTSD of course, but never really applied that to myself and I’m not sure why.

I got sober through Alcoholics Anonymous and am still part of a group today. As soon as I walked into the rooms in October 2005, I knew I had found a solution. And now I’m considered as an ‘old timer’ in the rooms of AA, someone with experience, strength and hope to share with others.

There are times when the spiritual tools that I got from AA aren’t enough, but I’m grateful that I was spiritually aware enough to recognise that and make an appointment with my GP when the depression got so bad that I was no longer able to ‘work the program’.

AA has given me the strength to live my life without alcohol and started me on a journey of self awareness and spirituality that I wouldn’t give up for anything.

I’m not saying that life is all rainbows and unicorns now or anything like that, but I’ve learned how to be grateful and that ‘practising these principles in all my affairs’, the last of the 12 steps, is a really good recipe for happiness.

Cams is a guitar nerd living on a Scottish island with his wife and two teenagers. He learned Russian in the army, before a climbing accident saw to his medical discharge and led him to the University of St Andrews, where he studied Russian language and literature. Cams is a recovering alcoholic, having got sober through Alcoholics Anonymous in Luxembourg in 2005 and is still a member of a local group in Scotland. His first bash at AA was in 2001 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, while he was working as a translator and interpreter. It didn’t take the first time and he continued drinking until his final ‘last chance’ made him pick up the phone. AA has put Cams on a spiritual path that has helped him deal not only with alcohol addiction, but also with depression and anxiety, and has given him the tools to perform live music despite crippling stage fright. Besides playing guitar, Cams enjoys photography and reading. 


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