I had my brain injury in May 2007 and was discharged from hospital in October just short of 6 months later. I equated coming home from hospital to coming out of the Big Brother TV show House in that I was very popular for a short time, just like the contestants but after a short while the buzz was gone and the contestants went back to their day jobs. The problem was my day job had been being a student and drinking heavily! Now I had an apparent disability that I or nobody else truly understood, but one thing I did understand was that Stella Artois was no longer a beverage to be consumed with breakfast!
For the next couple of years that followed my sole focus was to get back to going out and getting drunk. Apart from the month of fitness before my accident drinking and going out was my life. All I wanted to do was be able to drink again. I would ask doctors constantly “when can I drink again?” People would ask me constantly “when can you drink again?” Brain injury was not something that I or anyone else I knew had heard of and everyone assumed that just like with other medication, there would be a specific date when I was ‘allowed’ to drink again. How wrong we were! The truth was that nobody told me that I couldn’t drink, I was advised against it but never ordered not to drink.
It just felt different now. It no longer made things funnier or gave me confidence, it made me shy and I became quite panic-stricken, claustrophobic, disorientated and wanting quiet, fresh air and space! I simply buried my head in the sand and assumed that it would all go away! I hated noise, being in a busy bar with loud music was horrible. I remember describing it as ‘like someone putting a steel bucket over my head and hitting it with a wooden spoon!’ Haha I think that may have been a slight exaggeration but nevertheless it wasn’t cool!
As for good conversation in this environment forget it, my brain didn’t work properly anymore, it was as if the cogs that turned in the machine that was my brain became jammed. I’ve never heard a neurologist recommend spraying WD-40 in your ear but that’s what I felt I needed!
I never felt right but I suppose I always held on to the belief that it would go away one day and that normality would return. After probably two years I tried to go for a night out, I think I lasted about two pubs before I went home. One of the doormen at the first bar wouldn’t let me in, I was unsteady on my feet and had real difficulty speaking. I looked and sounded drunk, when I tried to explain myself then the stress of the situation made my brain seize up and I felt like I needed the WD-40. Not a good night!
This was followed by another few years break and I went out with my friends armed with the neurologist’s advice of drinking a pint of water after every alcoholic drink. The booze was hardly affecting me I felt immune! I was drinking Jack Daniels, Stella, rum and the rest! I must have had several drinks each followed by a pint of water so I must have consumed over 10 pints of liquid altogether! Apparently when we walked over to the taxi rank the woman took one look at me and said “NO WAY!”. Shamefully using the excuse that I had a brain injury my mates Tim and Gareth convinced her to allow me in the car. For some unbeknown reason they suggested that I sit on the back seat between them both. Without being too graphic I think we got about 50 meters before the contents of my booze filled stomach covered both Gareth and the inside window and door!
I remember being awoken the next morning at about 10 am by the sunlight coming through the curtains and then the headache! I know we all like to have a moan about hangovers but trust me I have experienced both and honestly a hangover is made worse after a severe brain injury!
After a night out with the staff at the Scarborough Sports Centre (where I had been volunteering) I had woken up with a complete blank from the night before. An old secondary school teacher had asked if I was ok as she had seen me do a sly vomit on a dance floor. I was so embarrassed! I was 29 but acting like a stupid 13 year old who has stolen his dad’s whiskey and couldn’t handle it!
It was then that I started to accept that something has changed in me, my experience of brain injury is like changing a car from a brand new Ford Mondeo to a an older model that’s been owned by a boy racer. The steering is less responsive ie. I don’t feel 100% in control of my body. That is hard to describe but it’s as if nothing works quite the way it did when it was new. My brain starts buffering and can’t load information at any kind of speed (the cogs need oiling!). The engine is not as efficient, it doesn’t get as many miles to the gallon ie. I have to rest more often. I haven’t fully accepted it yet but I’m on my way. I don’t do it as often anymore but I still like to get drunk, its just now I know it’ll take over a week before I’m feeling anything like normal again. Age isn’t helping things either! I did give the non alcoholic lager a go, it’s not the same but you get used to it. “My name’s Brooke and I’m a non-alcoholic!” haha its certainly better than drinking a lot of Coca Cola!
I really sympathise with anyone young going through what I went through, I wish there was an answer but I’ve never found one. I used to really have a problem with it and fixate on what I couldn’t do but when you think about it the time you spend out on the town is about 2% of your life and you need to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t! I want to write about playing to your strengths.
I don’t like it when people think they can give advice, I certainly don’t want to become one of those but if had to give some advice from my experience I’d say don’t listen to those people who say “you can do anything you want to do!” I don’t know if you’ve experienced that but I have, a lot. Nobody can do anything they want, we all have limitations and a brain injury limits you much more but I’d say make an effort to learn those limitations whatever they may be. You live in a new world now with new limitations so don’t moan about them but do your best to learn them! I understand how hard it can but but do your best to be proactive rather than reactive. I have been guilty of wanting sympathy myself but that gets you nowhere, it gets no respect but just makes people say “Awwww” (I hate that sound! haha) My main limitation is fatigue so I avoid places that make me tired, I give myself a time to be home by and stick to it because the longer I stay out the worse I get. It’s better to have less time feeling ok than to drag it out and end up offending someone! (which I have done! haha). It is worth noting that my brain injury was over eight years ago and I have by no means figured it all out but am just trying to share what i have learned in the hope it benefits others! If it has helped then please let me know by adding a comment at the end, anything i missed then please let me know, all feedback is good both positive and negative!