I had my first drink when I was 15 years old. It was vodka and it was disgusting. It took a surprisingly short amount of time for that initial disgust to turn into love -a fine line between love and hate and all that.
I dabbled in alcopops, I never got the taste for beer and because my mother always says: ‘It takes a certain type of animal to drink whiskey’ I never tried it. Vodka was my jam.
By the time I was 18 I had a weekly social life based around how much drinking and partying I could fit in between Thursday and Sunday. I loved it. I never missed a weekend out and I never experienced a hangover that a packet of meanies and another night on the town couldn’t fix. By second year of university I was really hitting my stride with alcohol. I was always the one you could depend on for an impromptu night out and was the source of amusement and a model on ‘how not to do relationships / study’.
I pissed away my university education and barely scraped a 2:2 at the end of it but I chalked it up to life experience and got on with my life. Life as an adult didn’t curb my love affair with vodka . My hangovers got steadily worse but that didn’t stop our house being the epicentre of weekend carry outs. My friends joked that their hangovers were always worse when they went out with my husband and I (I would basically shame people into drinking more or they would be labelled ‘shit craic’) and as long as I was still able to rock up to work on Monday then I had no reason to evaluate my drinking.
When my kids came along the nights out stopped but the drinking didn’t. Friday night was my night and my reward for keeping my children alive all week and I definitely rewarded myself. I would force the whole family outdoors the next day so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about being hungover and the kids were happy so I could still justify being able to drink a large amount on my Friday.
I was functioning, my kids were happy and healthy and life was pottering on nicely. Drink wasn’t the problem, I was exhausted from having two young children. So what if I was having a few too many drinks, it’s not like I was a raving alcoholic, right?
Now for the truth: I had my first depressive episode when I was 16-years-old. It’s no coincidence that these episodes coincided with my first flurries into alcohol.
I was a teenage girl who was crippled with insecurities and could only find my worth in the boys that deemed me attractive enough to take under their nose. Alcohol helped my confidence sore so I could spend the nights dancing and walking up to complete strangers in order for them to notice me.
Alcohol turned me into a loud, obnoxious, overly confident asshole that could take on the world and fuck anyone who got in my way.
Spoiler alert: it still does.
We all know it lowers inhibitions but that’s the thing about inhibitions: they’re there to protect you so it’s not exactly a good thing to throw them out the window with the appearance of a cocktail or ten. With the rise of the #metoo movement I sat and really looked at all those ‘funny’ times I was too drunk. Those times when I woke up with no memory of the night before or worse: with memories of boys that should have resulted in my reporting them to the police and I felt shame.
Isn’t that sad? I was the one that felt shame for what they did to me? At the time I buried it with more alcohol and more bad decisions. I was the one ready for a party and that was my role in my social circle. I was stuck in a cycle of drinking to suppress all the things I hated about myself and then feeling shame when I inevitably drank too much and made a tit out of myself.
I never had cause to really sit down and examine my drinking – even when my children came along. As I said earlier: as long as I was showing up in my life then I did not have to take a look at my choices.
Two year ago I had too much to drink at my mother’s Christmas party and the next morning I was filled with so much self-loathing I decided to quit booze. I was confident that this was the time I could wise up and start putting my mental health first. I lasted 28 days. My best friend died and after her funeral I spent the next 16 hours drinking heavily ‘in her honour’. Drink to the good times; that’s what I told myself. What utter bullshit.
Her death was all the excuse I needed to go back to drinking. Life was too short to deny myself a drink when I felt like it and as long as I’m not putting vodka on my cornflakes everything is cool, right?
My depression was coming and going but I could handle the episodes like a champ but now there was a new player at my mental health roulette table – anxiety. At my mother’s 70th birthday party back in August, I drank until 6am. What followed was the worst hangover of my life. The anxiety was crippling me so badly that I genuinely thought I was having a heart attack. It took over a week for that feeling to subside and it still haunts me. It was the final nail in the coffin for my drinking.
Sitting on my bathroom floor trying to figure out if I needed to get sick or go to the hospital to get my heart checked out was a wake-up call when I realised that I literally didn’t need to feel like this again. I could choose, then and there, to never have another hangover again.
At first it was, my anxiety (which was not all caused by alcohol) had resulted in me not wanting to even go down the stairs so I mean that was easy enough… not ideal for a functioning adult though.
I went on Instagram and Pinterest and read about all those inspiring people who were now sober and how much their lives improved and I felt totally inspired but it wasn’t until I came across Catherine Gray’s book ‘The unexpected joy of being sober’ that I really began to believe I could do this.
If you’re doing dry January or are simply sober curious then I urge you to check this book out.
I got in contact with her and with her encouragement I decided to commit to 100 days alcohol free. Today is day 100 and to say that my relationship with alcohol has fundamentally changed wouldn’t do the experience justice.
Sure, it’s really made me take a look at my ‘grey area drinking’ where I wasn’t considered an alcoholic but my drinking was definitely problematic, but the most important change was my relationship with myself.
I really like who I am now. I can say that with kindness and sincerity. My worth is no longer tied to toxic and draining relationships and I put absolute value on my time meaning there’s not a chance in hell I’m wasting it on those who don’t deserve it.
I read recently that a person’s character is made up of the five people you spend most of your time with and that hit me hard. If you want to be inspired, spend time with inspiring people. If you want to be drained and unhappy, by all means continue spending time with the friendly neighbourhood narcissist (I know it’s not as easy as that, I’m simply making a point).
And that point is: I didn’t give up alcohol, I gained a life I am happy and proud to be a part of.
The decision affected every facet of my life: personal growth, professional ambition and relationships with my family.
I don’t know what the future holds when it comes to me and alcohol but I know for certain that it’s not going back to where it was. Ever.
That’s enough for me, for now.