I QUIT BOOZE AND GOT MY SANITY BACK
I QUIT BOOZE AND GOT MY SANITY BACK
I'm not exactly what a supposed 'alcoholic' looks like, really. But what is an 'alcoholic'? And am I even one? I don't think I am, but that doesn't mean I didn't need to quit drinking alcohol. Society has a preoccupation with the black and whiteness of it all, and the question is 'are you an alcoholic?' instead of 'is alcohol a negative presence in your life?'. There is a huge grey area, and I am in that grey area.
I chose to give up drinking last year for my own mental health. So that I could be a better mum, a nicer wife, and to achieve more in my own life - not being hindered and held back by constant hangovers, insomnia, shame, anxiety, depression and everything else that came with drinking for me.
I'm 38. So, in 1996 I was 16. I grew up in boozy Britpop times, when hedonism was the order of the day. TFI Friday came on at 6pm every Friday, live from a fake pub where guests were interviewed with a pint in hand; Zoe Ball (now teetotal herself) clutched a bottle of Jack as she left the house to marry Norman Cook (ditto); Kate and Jonny were pictured, cigarettes in hand and eyes glazed with booze (not just booze either) at swish parties. Oasis and Blur battled for the top chart position, members of both bands regularly depicted in the press off their heads at festivals and the like. It was a buzzing time to grow up.
I'm not blaming the culture, but merely explaining that ever since the age of 13 I have drunk alcohol to excess as it was just the norm. There was nothing else to do apart from knock about at the local park with a bottle of cider. It was what teenagers did.
Fast forward to me as a grown up. A respectable, married mum with two kids, a nice house in the country, a Labrador and a parenting blog. The whole yummy mummy package. Until I gave up last year, I was getting drunk (I class drunk as not being able to remember bits or having a hangover the next day) twice a week on average, sometimes more, not often less. Whether it was a last-minute wine binge with a mate, or an impromptu pub visit with the family, then continued drinking once the kids were in bed – I managed to fit in a couple of sessions without fail. I've never been a wine o clock, every night drinker. I'm more of a 'go big or go home', get plastered then recover for 2 days type.
Except the recovery bit was getting harder and harder. I've always felt a bit delicate mentally. I am a creative, a high or low person. I've been tested for bipolar before, so giddy can my highs and dark can my lows get (although not any more since I quit booze). My husband once said being with me was "like a rollercoaster of amazing highs and terrifying lows". I think there might be a compliment in there somewhere.
The transition from my party-going 20s - working for creative agencies in Manchester, going out several times a week till all hours - to my child-rearing 30s was hard. Obviously when the kids were very little I didn't get smashed very often but when I did... oh the regret. Babies and hangovers seriously do not mix. Then your kids get a bit older and you start socializing and drinking more... it creeps back in.
As I entered the second half of my 30s I started to wonder, "have I got a problem?". Not only did the mental after effects of booze seem to worsen, creating insomnia for days and then deep anxiety and low self esteem, only remedied by - you guessed it - another booze sesh. But also, the grip alcohol had on me was tightening. I felt an itch to scratch. I wanted to get pissed, almost needed to, a couple of times a week. When I'd had a few I wanted more. Until I was drunk. I couldn't step off the train until the destination had been reached. I was on a horrible weekly big dipper ride which consisted of get pissed, feel awful, get better, feel OK, get pissed and so on. My life was like a drunken Groundhog Day. I had everything – to the outside world I was living a dream life – yet I felt an emptiness that I couldn't articulate. But there didn't seem to be a reason for my on and off depression.
Lots of people around me were drinking in a similar way. But I felt my drinking was different. They seemed to be able to leave a party before it ended. They seemed to not utterly loathe themselves the next day. When I rang a friend in tears with serious, dangerously low mood she told me I was being too hard on myself. She was being kind, of course, but deep down I knew I had to take action.
There was no rock bottom with me, and indeed many people who quit don't get to a point where they want to stop. But there were a few things that rang serious alarm bells. Wasted, I fell and whacked my face on the sink one night in the bathroom and walked around for two weeks with a black eye. That was embarrassing. Was this really who I wanted to be? Then I had two episodes I can only describe as waking nightmares. One time, at my parents' house, my mum woke me as I appeared to be frantically trying to get out the window, crying my eyes out, and put me safely back to sleep on her sofa. But the next time I was on my own - thankfully I managed to wake myself up but I could've fallen down the stairs. They were utterly terrifying and I never want to experience them again – plus they were dangerous. Was I really going to wait for a personal tragedy to address the detrimental affect my drinking was clearly having on my brain?
Then there's the kids. My beautiful, amazing kids. I don't want them to drink like I did when they grow up. I don't want them to get older and see me really drunk. They were becoming more aware and I wanted to stop before that happened. I don't want them to have any more rubbish days because mum is so hungover she can’t face the outside world.
I've never drunk in the morning, hidden alcohol, craved a drink with the shakes, got drunk on my own even – I always had company. But that doesn't mean I didn't have a problem. And I could feel the grip it had on me tightening.
For me, quitting was both easy and hard at the same time. Easy in that you just have to decide to do it. With the right support it's very doable, though of course if you have a more serious drinking issue you must see a doctor. I found an amazing group called 'One Year No Beer' who have a Facebook group, real life meet ups, podcasts – the lot. It's full of people just like me, who decided enough was enough and who wanted more out of life – it's incredibly non-judgmental and supportive. After several minor blips where I went back to drinking then realized I was better off without it, I cracked it. It's hard in that you have to undo years of social conditioning that says you need a drink to have a good time. You seriously don't.
I am now alcohol free. I still can't get over how good saying that makes me feel. I've been liberated from the witch in my ear telling me get trashed. I am free from those awful crushing anxieties filled days and nights alone rigid with fear. I sleep well; I am a million times less irritable with the kids; I look better; I quit smoking (which I also used to do when drinking). My husband, who still drinks, much prefers me now and has massively reduced his own drinking as a result of me not egging him on all the time.
For me, drinking took me away from what's real. I guess that's the whole point of it! Socializing becomes about the drink, not the occasion. Chasing the next drink from one minute to the next. When you're sober and free from the 'fake happiness' you're really switched on. You're much more tuned into your body, to what you need - and what you don't want to deal with any more. Sometimes long dormant issues rise to the surface, which can be testing, but you have to face up to them. And, feeling consistently well for the first time ever, you have the strength to do so.
Most people who quit find that lots of good things start happening – and I did too. My quality of sleep and energy levels went through the roof; I am so productive now. Without at least two self-loathing sessions to indulge in per week I became so confident and sure of who I was for the first time ever – I even started to really like myself, which was brand new. It gave me the confidence to progress my blog properly and take what I was doing on YouTube seriously. For ages I flimflammed at vlogging, not sure if it was 'me' (secretly worrying what people would think). Now I feel like, this is me, take it or leave it.
I started to exercise properly for the first time ever – but that soon stopped when I found out I was pregnant! We were thrilled – we'd been trying for 3 years. The infertility was unrelated to the drinking (I had an underlying condition that finally got diagnosed). People might think pregnancy is a get out of jail free card re remaining sober, but if anything, it breeds complacency, so I've been doing more 'work' on my sobriety to ensure I don't have the baby and feel like celebrating with a glass of fizz.
Will I ever drink again? That's a tough one. I'm inclined to say a definite 'no, why would I'? 99% of me thinks that will be the case. I have gained so much and lost nothing. That said, when I'm older and the kids have left home, it might be nice to share a meal with my husband and have one glass of wine. Will I be able to stick at one though? That would be my fear. I think, possibly, with years of sobriety under my belt I may dip my toe in again one day. But maybe it's just not worth the bother. One thing is for sure, I will NEVER get drunk again. I don't want to waste another minute of my precious life being a part-time pisshead. Being sober is too much fun.
Written by Rachel Brady
Rachel blogs and vlogs about family and food.
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