Ask Fiona: My drinking is getting out of control
Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman whose drinking has become a problem, and reassures a mother whose son has left home
MY boyfriend and I split up just over a year ago and I took it very badly.
I started drinking quite a lot but then I thought I was getting to be okay and cut back.
Then we went into lockdown and I've got to be honest, I've been drinking most days – usually on my own.
I've been so depressed and miserable and as things are, I don't see how I'm ever going to meet anyone else ever again.
I know people say it will be over eventually, but I can't see it ever being the way it was.
I don't think there will be clubs and parties and things for a long time.
It's all so depressing and as I'm working from home, there's no one to notice that I've usually had a couple of shots by lunchtime.
The evenings are the worst because, living on my own, there's nothing and no one to stop me.
I'm getting through at least one bottle of spirits a week which I order with my online groceries, but I've been topping it up through the local off-licence as well.
I've tried to talk to my parents but they're worried and think I may be turning into an alcoholic.
Do you think they might be right?
FIONA SAYS: I can't tell you whether or not you are an alcoholic, but I am pretty certain you are developing a serious drink problem that you desperately need to get under control.
The fact you were able to cut back is a good thing – hopefully, if you've done it once, you can do it again.
A great many people have tried to cope with the loneliness and isolation of lockdown by drinking more heavily, but most have found it simply numbs the pain but doesn't cure it.
The strain you are putting on your liver and kidneys is enormous, and the damage will only increase the more you drink.
Breaking up with your boyfriend may have triggered your initial problem but, while you are still lonely and depressed, I think the problem has now moved on.
I'm sure that, not only do you miss your boyfriend, you also miss everyone and everything else too.
Working from home is a challenge for most people – it's hard to stay focused on work when it's easy to be distracted – and if there's no “down-time” to compensate, it's even worse.
Instead of thinking of those video conferencing calls as simply work related, why not see if you can't persuade friends and colleagues to join you for more social activities?
Quiz nights, karaoke sessions, gaming, reading groups and music sessions are just a few of the many things people are getting together to do together, virtually.
You are not alone in feeling depressed and lonely; a survey for the Mental Health Foundation found young people aged 18 to 24 were the most likely to experience loneliness since the lockdown began.
Almost half of those questioned feel this way,and there is a lot of support out there – you could join one of the many online communities that are working to tackle loneliness.
Mind's Side by Side, for example, would be a good place to go for support – sidebyside.mind.org.uk.
I think your parents are right to be concerned, so please don't dismiss their worries. Instead have a look at the Drinkaware website (drinkaware.co.uk) where you can find a self-assessment tool.
The website can also provide you with support to get you drinking under control before it spirals out of hand.
MY SON LEFT HOME AND HASN'T BEEN IN TOUCH – WHAT DO I DO?
EIGHTEEN months ago, my eldest son left home, and we haven't seen him since.
He was 19 last month and I'm desperate to find him.
I've tried Social Services but they were useless, and I've asked any of his friends that I can find, but no one seems to have heard from him.
My younger son, his brother, is missing him badly and has become really withdrawn and depressed.
It's heartbreaking to see him like this.
We all love our eldest boy and just want him home, but I just don't know what else I can do.
I can't go searching for him because of the lockdown, and all I can think of doing is posting his picture to everyone I know and ask them to look out for him.
If I could just know he was okay that would help, even if he doesn't want to come home.
I cannot stop crying about this and don't know what to do for the best.
I just wish someone could tell me if they've got any idea where he is now.
FIONA SAYS: What a terrible situation to be in and how hard it must be for you to deal with.
I am not clear, from your email, what caused your son to leave in the first place – was he angry or upset, was he forced to leave for some reason?
How and why he left may have some bearing on why he doesn't seem to want to come home.
It may be that people know where he is but won't tell you because he doesn't want you to find him.
If he doesn't want to be found, it is going to be very hard indeed to trace him.
Social media might help – you could post that you're looking for him, with a photo, on Facebook; Instagram etc. and explain you just want to know he's okay.
That way, if people aren't telling you because they know he doesn't want to be found, they would encourage him to at least let you know, for his brother's sake, if nothing else.
You don't say whether or not you've contacted the police – if you haven't, I'd definitely encourage you to do so.
In your case it's obviously been more than 24 hours but, for others reading this, just to say you do NOT have to wait 24 hours before calling the police, as some people seem to think.
The police may ask you for various things, including a photo, details of friends and other relatives and possibly a DNA sample.
I'd also encourage you to register with the Missing Persons Unit(missingpersons.police.uk); with Missing People (missingpeople.org.uk) and with Look 4 Them (look4them.org.uk). Look 4 Them has links to a number of tracing services that may be able to help.
All these organisations hold tracing databases and can help and advise you further.
You should remember though that all these organisations will respect your son's confidentiality and will not tell you, if they do find him, if he doesn't want you to know.
One of the links on Look for Them is the Salvation Army. They also run a Message Home service where people who do not want to be found can leave a message reassuring friends and family that they are okay.
Meanwhile, although you are hurting, I'd encourage you to try and support your younger son too.
He is grieving for his missing brother and, like anyone who is grieving, he needs to be able to express his feelings and anxiety.
If you don't feel able to give him the support he undoubtedly needs, talk to your GP about getting counselling for him – which is something you might benefit from too.
Finally, if you, reading this, have walked out on or lost touch with your family, do please contact them either directly or through the Message Home service. It provides enormous reassurance for those who are left behind.
HOW DO I COPE WITHOUT SEEING A THERAPIST?
I'M struggling with huge emotional problems about something dreadful that happened to me.
It's so awful I can't tell you as I can't bring myself to write about what it is.
I think I'll go out of my mind it I don't sort it out, but please don't suggest I see a counsellor.
If I can't tell you, anonymously, what it is, I certainly can't tell anyone face -to-face.
Is there some way of treating yourself with things like this?
FIONA SAYS: Self-help therapy is fine until you need some outside support – and, at some point in a recovery, most people do.
There are books available though and although it's quite old now, Be Your Own Counsellor by Sheila Dainow is very good.
However, although you won't like me saying it, I think you should still seek professional help.
I know you think it will not be easy to talk about what is bothering you, but I assure you, once you open up to someone, you will start to feel better.
Most counsellors have heard some pretty horrendous things in the course of their work so, whoever you speak to, I am sure they won't be shocked by what you have to say.
It needn't be expensive and, if your GP refers you, it may even be free, but without knowing the nature of your problem, it is hard to suggest any other specific sources of help.
HOW DO I MAKE MORE FRIENDS?
I'VE been a widow for three years and I don't have a lot of friends.
My husband was only in his late 40s when he died of cancer and it's been a real struggle.
One friend, who I work with, has been a real rock for me and I may have come to rely on her more than she realises.
So, when she told us at a team meeting last week that she was leaving for a new job, I was devastated and had to make an excuse to log out of the meeting.
What's more, she's moving away from the area, so I won't even be able to see her.
I'm already starting to feel lonely, just thinking about her going. I have never been good at making friends so have always been reluctant to join singles clubs as I'm not sure they're safe. How will I manage?
FIONA SAYS: If it's friendship and companionship you need, then why would you join a singles club?
Generally, they are for people looking to form a new relationship – you need friends, so why restrict yourself to people who are single?
Most properly organised singles clubs are perfectly safe, but there are many other ways you could meet new people, even now, during lockdown.
What are your interests or your hobbies?
What have you always wanted to do but not had the time for – sports, crafts, hobbies, adult education? They are all a good way of meeting new people as is voluntary work.
Facebook has loads of links to all manner of groups for people's interests – and their local groups often organise get-togethers.
Finally, try not to lose contact with your friend, wherever she is moving to, she will still only be at the end of a phone.
If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.