I am a 49 year old man diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, living in the UK, and I have just returned from my first trip abroad in 8 years. It was a three day stay in Paris with my girlfriend. Not much to remark about there, one would think. But my last trip abroad had also been a trip to Paris in 2002 , and since then my world has been totally transformed.
Back in 2002, I was married, in full-time employment and most significantly, a heavy drinker. I had never heard of Asperger’s Syndrome. The following year my marriage broke up and I lost my job, due mostly to my drinking. I used alcohol to deal with the overwhelming sense of anxiety which I had had since childhood. I had also abused tranquilizers to help cope with the levels of fear and stress I experienced in day-to-day life.
After two emergency hospital admissions for liver failure and alcohol poisoning, I had two pieces of fortune. I got a place in rehab and also heard of AS for the first time. It seemed to be a perfect description of both my problems and my abilities. The CBT I received at the rehab, helped me to stay sober to this day, along with my understanding of myself. I received a formal diagnosis and moved to a coastal town to study and start over as a sober man, aware of being on the spectrum.
I now help deliver Asperger awareness training, write and have had a book published about my experience: ‘Asperger Syndrome & Alcohol: Drinking to Cope?’ I discuss how I used the alcohol as a tool to deal with the intense anxiety I felt in dealing with day-to-day life. I have met many people who have relatives or friends with AS and who also have substance misuse problems, and I explain to them that when you understand the nature of your condition, it is simpler to find coping strategies.
I have downsized my life considerably. I used to work part-time and am now self-employed. As a sober person I am not using any substance to deal with my anxiety, therefore, with the help of friends and family, I make sure that I can avoid anxiety-inducing situations wherever possible.
On my recent trip to Paris, my partner acted as my buffer and interpreter to the strange world I was in. Previously, when I drank, a trip to Paris passed in a blur. Now, although still very anxious, I could appreciate the beauty and magic of the city. I find that both the therapy I received, as well as the knowledge of my condition, enabled me to live a new and fulfilling life. I know others can, too.
By Matthew Tinsley
* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.