What I thought was one of my best friends, my constant companions, actually turned out to be my worst enemy.
I’m not quite sure what triggered it, but back in October 2020 I got to thinking about all of the things that have gone wrong in my life, and realised that most of them were because of booze. I’m not blaming every single thing on the sauce, but it’s definitely been a huge contributing factor.
I thought all the way back to GCSE results day, when one of my friends had a party. We were all due to stay over, and then go to the cinema the next day. I got ratted, and his parents sent me home because I was creating a scene (something to do with my boyfriend at the time, but I don’t remember what). I was also un-invited from the cinema trip the following day.
Yes, I had loads of great times in my teens (and beyond) while I was drinking, but there were also so many times where it went horribly wrong.
When I got to Uni, I was a fairly seasoned drinker. Loads of my friends would spend their evenings drinking tea, but my boyfriend and I would be drinking Southern Comfort and cider (not together). We didn’t just drink when we went out, like most students, but pretty much every night. It absolutely drained my bank balance, I gained a ton of weight, and our arguments got way out of control when we’d both had too much. By the time that I’d dropped out of my initial course (because I wanted to party, like a normal 19-year-old, not work 40 hour weeks on the ward as a student nurse) we were smoking weed too. He’d buy from one of his friends, and when I got back from my evening job stacking shelves in a food hall, we’d smoke and watch cartoons ‘til the sun came up. It definitely didn’t do my mental health any favours.
After we’d broken up, and moved in to different house shares, I was drinking less casually, but massively binging when I did. My friends and I thought it was dead funny when we were trashed – causing a general scene, being loud, being sick, drinking out of shoes… One of my friends even got run over one time, and we just thought it was hilarious. Those days were great, but I got a fair few injuries, and more than my share of hangovers.
Shortly after that, I started going out with the man who would one day become my husband.
I don’t even remember our first kiss, because I was twatted.
One of the scariest experiences I ever had, was when I went out with my friends (my boyfriend and I were long distance), and I met a guy who was a mutual friend. We kissed, and I went back to his. Nothing else happened, we both went to sleep, but when I woke up in the middle of the night, I panicked and realised I had to leave. He lived in halls, in a building I had never been to before, and I couldn’t find my way out. I stumbled across a load of guys hanging out in a communal area, and I remember thinking how tragic I must look – this drunk girl in the middle of the night just turning up. They laughed at me, and thankfully that’s all they did. It could have been much worse. I remember finding my way out of a fire exit, but realising I’d left all my stuff in his room. I had taken my contact lenses out before going to sleep, so I was blind this whole time, and trying to find my way back to his room to get my stuff. All the doors looked the same – endless white doors along white corridors. It was a near impossible task. A really scary night.
The next year, I moved in with a couple of girls who I hadn’t lived with before, and we kept a box of wine in the fridge. It was nice to have it there, but the problem was, it was always there. I ended up buying myself bottles too, cuz I was drinking way more than my fair share. I don’t remember our Christmas dinner that we had together, because I drank a whole bottle of sherry beforehand.
When I moved in with my future husband, that’s when things got really bad. We moved to the city together, where I would spend a decade of my life before leaving and retreating back to my parents’ in the countryside last year.
We had a whole house to ourselves, and no one to stop us doing whatever we wanted. No housemates, no parents, just us. I took this opportunity to buy myself a home wine-making kit, and make my own to save me buying so much. I would drink at least a bottle a day. Sometimes two. That continued for years. It was just normal to me. It never made me feel ‘drunk’, just relaxed. I rarely had a hangover, and was able to function pretty well at my job.
I had my first major breakdown in 2013, following two miscarriages. I sometimes used to wonder if my drinking contributed to them. I never drank once I knew I was pregnant, but what kind of state was my body in in general?
After I was discharged, and when I was still recovering, I had an affair. I know for a fact that it wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t had that first drunken kiss. That was a big mess, and the nail in the coffin of our marriage (even though we stayed together for years after it happened and I told my husband about it). My greatest shame.
I began working in hospitality around that time, and eventually ended up working at my favourite bar. It was an absolute dream job. It was social, fun, and there was SO MUCH BEER. I was encouraged to try different styles, different breweries, and progress through qualifications to become a beer sommelier. It was basically my job to taste and know beer. When I hosted beer tastings, I would sit with a group of strangers, drinking beer with them, and talk about them. They would often say to me ‘You have the best job in the world!’, and I really did. But what I didn’t realise, was how toxic it was.
I had so many wonderful times, probably the best times of my life, while I was in that job. It took me all over the world. I made friends in different cities, and even different countries. I became ‘someone’ in the city (I’m not saying I was like a big-shot, but I was no longer faceless), and got to know people who worked in different bars and breweries. My network became wide and full, just like my heart, but it was all centred around booze.
Go to a meeting? Have a beer.
Finish a shift? Have a beer.
Start a shift? Taste the beer.
I gave up my work as a counsellor, because it was too depressing, and working at the bar was just more fun. Before I knew it, I was full-time. Then I was a manager. Then I was THE manager.
Things that I once enjoyed slipped away. I just came to accept that I would never be able to attend an 8AM Saturday yoga class or something like that, because I would have been drinking the night before.
Everything changed when I went on a course in another city. It was a two-day course, so we stayed the night. I really let go at the drinks afterwards, and ended up cheating on my husband again (yeh, I know, I’m a dickhead). The next day, my best friend asked me if I had considered divorce, and for the first time, I actually did. The thought was terrifying, but liberating. I remember sitting with her while crying my eyes out in this really tacky gay bar.
I left my husband, and that’s when things started to get out of control. I had no one to supervise me anymore. I got myself a studio flat in the city centre, just a few doors down from the bar that I managed. I spent most of my life in the bar, either working or drinking. Either way, just trying to forget. Being in the city centre was great, but dangerous. If people went out for drinks after work at 2AM, there was absolutely nothing to stop me going along. I could just stumble home when the bars closed at 5. I got myself in to some pretty dangerous situations. Pretty much all of them booze fuelled. Some coke fuelled too.
Letting men treat me like shit, self-harm, going out to work on New Year’s Eve and not coming home until January the 3rd, eating crap (or not at all), drugs, sleeping all day… Those are a few things, but I can’t possibly list all of the regrets I have from those ten months. Even if I did, I definitely wouldn’t want to share.
I was lost. I was an absolute mess.
And then I fell in to a relationship.
I thought that it had fixed me, but what I now realise was that I just had someone to share my misery with. He drank just as much as I did. We all did. In my group of friends, it was just normal. We would often joke that we were all functioning alcoholics, but in the pit of my stomach I knew it was a serious problem. Several of my friends had alcoholic parents, we pretty much all worked in hospitality, and it was just normal to drink as much as we did. We all fuelled each other, just normalising it. I am in no way judging anyone else for the decisions that they made, and are probably still making, but it didn’t work for me. That’s why I got out.
Work got more stressful, so I drank more. The way I would relax on a day off would be to drink beer in bed while watching endless Netflix – either alone or with my man, it didn’t really matter.
Eventually, my whole life was consumed by alcohol. I worked around it, my friends drank it excessively, it was the main common interest that my boyfriend and I had, my holidays were centred around it (I didn’t do ‘normal’ holidays – I just did beer festivals and brewery visits), and it was how I relaxed when I was alone. Literally, every single facet of my life was booze. Even on the rare occasion that I left the house to do something non-booze related, like shopping or reading in the sunshine, I would end up at a bar.
When I was in hospital following my 2020 breakdown, I didn’t drink anything for a few weeks, and I felt pretty good. When I got out, I didn’t drink anything at first, then it slowly crept in. A G&T before dinner sometimes, turned in to a G&T before dinner every day. A glass of wine while watching TV with my parents turned in to drinking wine in bed while watching TV alone. I realised I was slipping back in to old habits, and it was making me cranky. I would take my dog out for a morning walk, feeling groggy and nauseous. I would feel sad when I drank, and occasionally feel like doing something stupid like a post I might regret on social media, or sending an inappropriate message.
I decided that I wanted to be a better dog mum, and a better person. I wanted to be in control of my actions and my emotions. I wanted to be healthy.
Now I am 10 weeks sober.
I wake up at about 7 every morning, and go for a walk in the woods with the dog – feelin’ fresh. I have managed to sort through a bunch of my stuff. I have enrolled on a Masters. I no longer feel bound by the constraints of alcohol. Like, ‘Oh I can’t do that in the morning, because I’ll be hungover’, or ‘Oh I won’t be able to drive there because I will have had a drink’.
I feel free.
Have I slipped? Yes. Once.
The night the garage burned down I went to my neighbour’s house, and she offered me a drink. I said just water, but she said ‘Are you sure you don’t want a glass of wine?’. I actually really did, so I had one, and then I just kept going.
I felt horrible the next morning.
I decided not to re-set my start date though, because I figured I need to give myself a break. It’s not like I fell off the wagon and just kept going and going and going. I got straight back on. The fucking garage burned down when I was less than 2 months sober. Yes, I slipped, but I’m not going to punish myself for it. November 1st 2020 is when I started my recovery. There may well be bumps along the way, but it’s the day that my life changed direction, and that’s what makes my start date significant to me. The day that I started trying to make a change.
Do I miss it? Sometimes.
There are some evenings where I’d love to have wine with my dinner, or sit in the bath with a glass. But I’ve found some great alternatives, and what I hold on to is that the feeling of being in control tastes better than anything in the world.
Has it improved my mental health? No end.
So, after half my life, I have finally stopped drinking. It’s a radical and scary change – one that terrified me for years. I always knew I drank too much, but I knew that if I ever admitted it, I would be expected to give it up. It was something I had to realise for myself. Something I had to realise when the time was right.