My drinking was holding me back

For a number of years after I had woken up after a session, I knew my drinking was holding me back.  Correction, I had always known drinking was holding me back.  I would have considered myself a moderate to heavy drinker.  Mainly drinking at weekends, at home or any occasion,  I was the type that would immediately get the drinks in on any social occasion. Any activity that did not involve knocking back the drinks was boring.

Drinking was holding me back

I had been drinking since my late teens and I found it really helped me to come out of my shell and allowed me to talk to people with confidence which was a revelation for a tongue tied painfully shy young man.  Once I started I never looked back and drinking alcohol was what everyone did and what was expected.  It was great for a while, but then the nagging feeling that this was not good for me was always at the back of my mind.

Questioning my drinking

After a big blowout in August of 2017, I started to question my reasons for drinking and began to loathe the automatic drinking that on the weekend. I realised drinking was holding me back. I had also become more aware of the dangers of alcohol as its general acceptance was being questioned more and more by the media.  I had become a Father and becoming aware of  my mortality and a sense of responsibility towards my children sent me looking for a way to cut down or at least take a break from alcohol.

I was not a problem drinker

A few internet searches later and I found a website that appealed to me.  It was a way to take a break from alcohol that allowed to do so without labelling myself an alcoholic or problem drinker.  Alcoholic in particular having connotations of park benches and methylated spirits and something that was completely alien to me.  After listening to a couple of podcasts and being inspired by the general message I signed up to www.oneyearnobeer.com .  They had a choice of 3 challenges 28,90 or 365 days. I selected 90 as I wanted to test myself with a decent time period and 28 was too short, 365 too long but 90 was in the goldilocks zone.

Challenge Accepted

Apprehensive as I was at the beginning of my challenge I was determined to succeed and was hell bent on engaging the process fully.  After joining I got access to the website and their closed facebook group.  I also started daily e-mail messages with links to videos of co-founder Andy Ramage giving daily tips and trick on how to start, get stuck into and crush the challenge.  I was filled with excitement as the daily mails and the instant community I had joined was filled with inspiring people living an authentic, healthy alcohol free life.  The message was that there was nothing to give up and everything to be gained.

Will McD succeed?

Editor’s Note :

So will Mc D succeed in his quest to give up alcohol?  Well, he’s increased his chance of success in the way he’s approached his problem.

He’s done his research and chosen a way that appeals to him. He has not labelled himself as an alcoholic or problem drinker.

Labels are dangerous

There’s lots of research which shows labels are dangerous. The alcoholic label is really dangerous because as Mc D says we think of park benches. We’ve seen this so often. You’ve got to be homeless and drinking on a park bench to be an alcoholic. The unfair myth alcoholics are really nasty awful people who are causing their own problems.

The alcoholic label is really dangerous

The alcoholic label stops people looking for help. Often, it even stops us getting better as the label is so negative we are defeated before we start. Hard to believe, but we’ve seen how our own beliefs can kill us.

Stop with the labels

So listen to your thoughts. Are you constantly telling yourself you’re a no good alcoholic ? If yes,  it’s time to change the label. Try McD’s approach of not using labels and focus on the positive side, that you’re now trying to manage how much you drink.

Next week, Mc D will describe how he got on.

Emma was a high flyer with a drinking problem

Emma Kinsella was a high flyer with a drinking problem. She  had graduated from college with a business degree and got a highly sought after job in one of the big four accounting firms.  On the surface everything was great.

She was passing her accountancy exams. She was getting good performance reviews. Life was busy and good. Inside though she was struggling.

 

A drinking culture

Emma started drinking in her 20’s. Fairly late by Irish standards. She had heavy drinking nights out in college, but always studied hard in between. In work, there were 12 hour working days with a post work drinking culture. Emma however preferred to go home to relax with a bottle of wine. She did not realise this was the start of a drinking problem.

 

She stopped drinking

Although sometimes she felt her drinking was a little high, she had no problem stopping when she got pregnant. She had a difficult labour and suffered from post-natal depression. But she could not put into words

“How I was feeling or how overwhelmed I was”

 

A major drinking problem

Drink helped Emma turn off her emotions. However it stopped working and she started to drink more and more. Her drinking problem became a major issue. She ended up in St Pat’s psychiatric hospital, Cluan Mhuire, then the Renewal addiction centre. Her partner left taking  their son with him.

 

She was a nightmare patient

Emma describes herself as a “nightmare patient” She just kept drinking again and again.  This makes me really angry because Emma had what is called a dual diagnosis. She had both a mental health and addiction issue. But health services see these as totally separate issues, so she kept being told they could not treat her mental health until her drinking problem was under control. As Inside Rehab says

“addiction is the only area of health care where we blame the patient when the treatment does not work”.

 

Emma was failed by the healthcare system

So I’m angry because Emma could have suffered a lot less. The healthcare treatments she received did not meet her needs. They also missed another major issue.

 

Emma‘s childhood experience

When Emma was just 3 years old, the sexual abuse started. It was a relative. Emma blamed herself and thought everybody knew.  She carried a lot of guilt. She blocked out these emotions and never disclosed what had happened to all the different health care professionals she met.

 

Difficult childhood experiences

Difficult childhood experiences ( the experts call these Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE) are well known to be a cause of drinking problems. However  our treatment systems do not look at this. They ask

“What’s wrong with you?”

 Instead of

“What happened you”?

They don’t create a safe space for people to tell their stories and take the first step in healing.

Until our treatment systems change, people like Emma will continue to suffer more than they need to. Treatment systems need to become “trauma responsive”, as the experts say.

 

Emma made a great recovery

Eventually Emma  got the right type of help. Now she’s got her relationship with her son back. Her ex-partner  trusts her again. Emma shows even the most severe drinking problems can be fixed with the right help.

 

Is your drinking problem caused by childhood trauma?

So if you’re having difficulty getting your drinking under control, consider whether your childhood experiences might be an issue for you. It does not have to be as horrific as Emma’s story. It could be something like childhood emotional neglect. We’ve written about this here. It’s very common in Ireland.

So as brave Emma’s wonderful story shows never give up hope. Change is always possible.

 

Like this post?

You can read Emma’s full story, written by Sheila Wayman here.   

You can find out more about the role of childhood experiences in alcohol harm here.

You can find help on finding the right treatment here.

 

Photo Dara mac Dónaill

Drinkers like me is worth watching

TV documentary, Drinkers Like Me was well worth watching. It follows respected TV broadcaster Adrian Chiles as he discovers he has a problem with drink.

 

Adrian drinks a bit too much

Adrian knows he drinks a bit, but believes he’s just a “nice regular drinker”. The programme follows him as he discovers he drinks an incredible 60 to 100 units (UK measurement). Well over the UK low risk guidelines of 14 units a week.

Initially he thinks he’s ok. Liver blood tests are normal. Then he discovers he has fibrosis of the liver which leads to cirrhosis of the liver. This is often fatal.

 

Why was Adrian’s drinking not picked up?

What was interesting, Adrian also mentioned he had despondency, anxiety, high blood pressure and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach). In passing, he mentioned he’d seen a counsellor in the past.  So it appears, none of his health care professionals asked him about his drinking. Despite the fact he had symptoms which are often related to drinking too much alcohol. We’re not really surprised, as we mentioned here and here,  this often happens as the health care system does not take alcohol harm seriously.

 

All Adrian’s friends drink too much

Apart from people who labelled themselves as “alcoholics” and had given up drink, all Adrian’s friends drink too much. One friend, despite being aware she was drinking over low risk limits, declared

“She was not a vomiter”

So she did n’t have a problem. His friends make statements like

“We’re addicted to it without being alcoholics”.

Adrian realises they are all drinkers like me.

 

Adrian feels like an idiot

Very bravely on screen, Adrian pours out his feelings. He realises he’s always lied to himself about his drinking. He always linked the good times to alcohol. That he saw the world as beige without alcohol.  After seeing a therapist he goes on another massive session. Personally I think I’d have done the same.  I though the therapist was very confrontational and the TV segment did not show much kindness.  Adrian berates himself.

“What was he thinking, feeling like an idiot”

But he’s not alone, as he discovers, many over 50’s drink too much.

 

2 months later

Two months later, Adrian has cut his drinking down to 25 units a week. Still too high, but a massive improvement. He realises  he never liked himself  and perhaps that was one of the reasons he drank too much. He now hates the phone app he uses to track his drinking.  But it helped to reduce his drinking. Tracking your drinking is a great way to control your drinking.(More here)

 

Drinkers like me is worth watching

Drinkers like me is a really important programme in exposing our alcohol culture. It’s hard not to feel both sorry for Adrian and inspired by his honesty. He comes across as very likeable. Perhaps, because he’s still struggling, much of the commentary is very positive. He’s not seen as sanctimonious or preachy.  Hopefully he’s started a serious conversation on attitudes to drinking.

 

Let’s blame the person

The only issues drinkers like me does not really cover is just how much the alcohol industry brainwashes us that drinking loads is ok. As a result of industry lobbying, we don’t even have warning labels on bottles and cans.  Also  the healthcare system does not do enough to  warn people about the risks. It’s much easier to blame individual people for being reckless and stupid.

Hopefully Adrian will do another programme on this.  In the meantime, don’t miss  drinkers like me. For the next 24 days you can watch drinkers like me here on the BBC player.

Photo courtesy of BBC.

 

PS

If you’d like tips on reducing the harm caused by alcohol click here.

Pancreatitis and alcohol. My painful story

Pancreatitis is caused by gallstones or alcohol. Many people are aware that too much alcohol can cause liver damage. However most people are unaware that alcohol can also cause pancreatitis. A  really painful life threatening condition which I’ve have the misfortune to have.

 

A gallstone wreaks havoc

Regular readers will be aware of my trip to the Emergency department in an ambulance, which I wrote about here.

Turned out I had pancreatitis caused by a tiny little gallstone (which I did not know I had) travelling into my pancreas and wreaking havoc to the extent bits of my pancreas starting dying off. (Called acute necrotising pancreatitis)

 

Is the pancreas important?

Yes is the short answer. It converts the food we eat into fuel cells. If you can’t digest your food, without medical help you will die. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas which reduces or stops the pancreas ability to process food. So the pancreas is essential.

 

I can’t breath

As well as the really severe stomach pain (think labour pains if you have ever gone through this), I now can’t breathe. This is really scary as I’ve never had lung problems.  Even after major operations, I’ve never needed oxygen for more than a couple of hours. So now I get oxygen through a tube in my nose.  An unwelcome partner to the drip stuck in my arm.

 

There’s no magic bullet treatment for pancreatitis

There’s no quick fix for pancreatitis. Treatment supports the functions of the body until the inflammation in the pancreas dies down. In my case blood tests were taken every day and depending on results, extra supplements are put in the drip.

 

Smelly diarrhoea

With strong pain relief, I’m able to think about eating again. The dietician explains the  low fibre diet I now need. But even sticking to this, every time I eat, about 10 minutes later, I end up in severe pain on the toilet with nasty, vile smelling diarrhoea. Then an hour or two lying on the bed totally exhausted and only for the oxygen drip, I would not be able to breath.

 

They won’t treat the diarrhoea

The doctor says that although they can stop the diarrhoea, they need to make sure I’m not suffering from malnutrition so they won’t give me anything to stop it. So they start me on Creon tables which replace the enzymes my pancreas is no longer producing.

 

Learning how to breathe again

The physio starts teaching me how to breath properly again. Apparently the pain and inflammation means  my stomach organs are now pressing on my lungs. I’m breathing far too shallowly and that’s why I’m so out of breath. They give me what looks like a child‘s toy and I have to breath into the tube and try and make the balls go to the top. (See picture above) The first time I can lift one ball a tiny little bit before collapsing.

 

Despite not being able to breath, I’m told get out of bed.

The doctor tells me, I have to stay out of bed as much as possible and walk at least four times a day. This is vital to me getting better.  All I want to do is lie on the bed. However  I force myself. Between the diarrhoea and total exhaustion I  walk and also use the ball toy at least once every hour.

 

I feel really sorry for myself but think of Joanne

I feel really sorry for myself, but use a lot of visualisation.  When I walk, I try to believe I’m no longer in a hospital corridor full of beeping medical equipment and really sick people. I imagine myself strong, healthy and walking  in the beautiful Dublin mountains with the wind in my face and  the unique smell of gorse bushes.

I also think of 21 year old Joanne O Riordan  the young campaigner born without any limbs. She’s such a strong, funny, positive, feisty person. She has already helped change people lives by helping to reverse cuts to disability payments. If she can rise above the obstacles in her life so can I.

 

It takes two weeks

It takes a while before the right Creon dosage is reached. I still have to stay on a low fibre diet.

In total I was in hospital for two long weeks, before finally I was well enough to come home. Even then I can’t  drive. I’m too weak and exhausted.

I go back in 6 weeks later  to have the cause of my misery, my gallbladder removed. They only do this when the inflammation dies down. Otherwise as the surgeon says it’s like vacuuming up bits of confetti and surgery is much more complicated. In my case it was keyhole surgery and an absolute doodle compared to the pancreatitis.

 

8 months later

8 months later, I still have to take tablets to eat. I’ve improved as I no longer have to take a tablet for a dry snack.  But any meals I have to take two tablets.  Although I‘ve moved off the low fibre diet, I know certain foods will set off the diarrhoea again. No more spicy Indian meals. Even too many chocolate raisins and I’ll be rushing to the toilet.  I hate being so particular about what and where I eat and having to take  tablets in public when I’m in a restaurant.

 

The doctor tells me I’m doing really well. The mental impact will take a little longer to heal though.

 

Good medical treatment

I’m lucky that I got really good treatment, doctors, physios, nurses, dieticians are terrific. When I move to the private hospital, the catering manager even discusses what meals will work for me and tells me to scribble whatever I want on the daily menu, they will make it up especially for me. They all play an essential part in my recovery. But it’s sad that private health insurance is essential to treatment dignity, eating and sleeping properly. As I mentioned here I was unable to sleep in the public hospital ward due to staff testing equipment at night.

 

The future

The doctor says I may have to stay on these tablets for the rest of my life. Most people with a severe case like I had generally do. If I want to come off the tablets, there’s no exact formula and it’s trial and error. He recommends waiting another 2 months before even trying to reduce the dosage.

I also still find I get exhausted really quickly. But for the GP Chinese medicine specialist, I saw I don’t think I’d even have this level of energy.

 

 

Things that make a difference

I’m still optimistic, it will just take time and effort. I’m trying to do all the things that make a difference. Like sticking to a mainly healthy diet, exercise, plenty of rest, chinese medicine,  and saying no to work opportunities.

I’m minding my mental health with regular mediation and remembering to remain “mindful”. I try to stay away from negative people and don’t listen to the news as much. I only watch happy or light TV programmes.

It seems to be working and it strikes me that these things are all very  relevant if you’re trying to reduce your drinking.

 

What about alcohol though?

It’s frustrating the way the same certain questions kept getting asked over and over again. We’re all familiar with different health care professionals asking the same questions 6 or 7 times.

Only once though do they ask about my alcohol use. Even though too much alcohol causes about 25% of pancreatitis cases. As we’ve mentioned before, drinking too much alcohol is not taken seriously in our health care system.

I don’t dare drink alcohol. I don’t miss it. The memory of my illness is still too vivid. Despite my very serious illness, one or two of my friends still don’t like the fact that I don’t drink. I don’t let it get to me.

 

Got gallbladder stones?

Many middle aged women have gallstones. Some like me don’t even know they have them, because they have no symptoms. Gallstones are the biggest cause of pancreatitis.  After that too much alcohol is the next biggest cause.

So if you have gallbladder stones, staying within the recommended drinking limits is really important.

You can find out more about these limits in our free course here.

If you want to know more about pancreatitis this link here to the NHS is good.

 

 

 

Does alcohol abuse run in families?

As an adult child of a Mother who drank too much I was no stranger to the effects alcohol abuse had within my family.  My childhood experience of my mother was marred by her daily drinking and punctuated by short lived periods of sobriety.

 

There was no history of alcohol abuse

It is important to note that my mother did not have a history of alcohol abuse in her family.  She developed chronic depression after the death of my sister in 1973. And after years of struggling to cope with her death and being told

“that is was Gods will”

and she

“needed to get over it”,

she succumbed to alcohol abuse in a bid to cope with that loss.  My mother was first introduced to alcohol at a work function.

 

My Mother was a high performing sales manager

Contrary to popular belief, my mother was not an unemployed fall-down-drunk.  She worked as the sales manager for a publication firm.  She was what I later learned to be  “a high functioning Alcoholic”.  In fact, in my mother’s 30-year long career she rarely missed a day of work because of her drinking.  She was a master at hiding her love affair with alcohol to the outside world.

 

At home, however…

A memory that sticks out in my mind as a child was watching the bus-stop across the road from our house while waiting for my mother to come home.  When she came in she was the Mother I wanted to spend time with. I wanted to be seen and loved by this beautiful lady, and for a brief hour before she pulled the cork out of that bottle in the drinks cabinet, she was all that, elegant, refined, witty, and kind.

 

My heart would sink

The minute I saw her reach into that oak cabinet, my heart would sink, it was when I knew that the evening was destined to go horribly wrong.  I would feel my belly flip, my mouth go dry with worry, I was acutely aware of the glug glug glug of the gin spilling out into a crystal tumbler.  Every evening I would try my best to distract her, fighting for her attention, and each time was always sent away to play with the words

“later darling, mommy needs to relax”.

 

It became futile to try and talk to her

After a while it became futile to try and talk to her. She slid further and further away from me with each glass. I would be engulfed with worry and sadness.  A short while later my Dad would come home.  At first, he wouldn’t say anything, but myself and my three brothers knew! We just knew my Father was disappointed and that potentially there would be an argument, a dinner ruined, crying, doors slamming and horrible tense silences.

 

The Elephant in the room

No one dared challenge my Mother, not while she was drinking and most certainly not the next morning.  We would tell her what she said and what she did.  We were told that we were lying and she would cry and we felt responsible.  My dad would shout, call her names, and us? We would take cover in the bedroom at the end of the hall and try and distract ourselves from the arguments, the banged doors, the futility of it all.  Not only were we not allowed to discuss my mother’s drinking with her, we were not allowed to let anyone outside of the home know what was going on behind closed doors.

 

I became my Mother’s carer

I became my Mother’s carer. While she was drinking, I would make sure she wouldn’t hurt herself.  I became her confidant, her friend, her Mother.  We were all affected by my Mother’s drinking. My brothers all reacted differently.  My brother Ciaran became rebellious and angry, Brendan was the clown and Dara, poor Dara the quiet one. It is fair to say that due to my Mother’s depression and subsequent alcohol abuse my Mother for those years was emotionally unavailable and absent to us.  My Father had lost his wife too and I remember him being a lonely man.  We had to grow up fast.  Emotional hostages to something we neither understood or could fix.

 

Editor’s Note

SouthLady beautifully describes the impact a Mother’s alcohol abuse often has on families.  But once again we see the pattern of pain behind the alcohol abuse. If Southlady’s Mother’s had received loving support and empathy around the pain of losing a daughter, her alcohol abuse would probably have stopped. She was most likely using alcohol to numb her grief. (Often called self-medication)

 

Are genes to blame?

While some types of genes have been linked to alcohol abuse, the exact process is not fully understood.

Pain and grief in families  is very common factor in  alcohol abuse. But it is not inevitable. It appears the more “adverse childhood events” or “ACE”  we have  the more likely we are to have a physical or substance abuse problem.

While SouthLady herself had an alcohol abuse problem, she made a full recovery because the pain behind her alcohol abuse was tackled.

 

Don’t blame yourself

So don’t blame yourself if you are finding it difficult to reduce your drinking. Instead focus on your mental health. Ask yourself if depression, past events or trauma in your life may be affecting your desire to drink?

You might find our Janus course useful which helps to identify the pros and cons’ drinking useful.  Or if you think a counsellor might be helpful, here’s some tips here on finding the right one for you.

She did n’t realise drinking was destroying her liver

Liver damage is for people who have a drink problem

We’ll call her Kate. She’s  30 years old. Totally healthy and  not someone heading towards liver failure. Sure that’s for people who have a drink problem. She has no problem with drink. She is too well educated and intelligent.

 

She does not want to look out of place

Kate has a challenging and  enjoyable  job. She travels a lot. She makes sure to look after herself, walking several times a week. She  eats well. She always avoids the creamy sauce dishes and the desserts at her high powered business and customer events. Though, she’ll have a glass of wine or two.  She does not want to look out of place if everybody else is drinking.  The industry sector she’s in, there’s very few women so she needs to keep up with the men.

Regular visits to the beautician and hairdresser for waxing, facials, manicures and hair styling means she always looks great.

 

She’s a savvy social drinker

Social life involves meeting up in pubs or relaxing at home with some nice Pinot Grigio.  She has a good life. She’s a savvy social drinker. Totally in control of alcohol and never really drunk.

Recently, her employer organised a health screening. There was a very slight abnormal result in one of her blood tests.They said it was nothing to be worried about. Kate mentioned it to her GP, a couple of months later, when she was getting her regular pill prescription.  As her Father died unexpectedly, the GP decides further tests  should be done. Then when those tests came back, more tests including a liver scan were needed.

 

Kate has liver damage

That’s when Kate  discovers she has liver damage. It’s the one organ that can’t be replaced so this is life changing news. It turns out the few glasses of wine at business events and the two bottles of wine at the weekend are enough to cause liver failure.

 

She is one of the lucky ones

The consultant tells her, she is one of the lucky ones. Her liver damage has been caught early enough. Once she gives up drinking totally, her liver should be ok. But if she continues to drink her liver will fail.  Then she will die without a liver transplant.

 

She thought her lifestyle was healthy

Kate realises she is lucky. Private health insurance meant no waiting times for scans. Her liver damage got caught in time. She is also angry though. She’s knows she’s well educated and intelligent. She thought her lifestyle was healthy. She certainly drinks less than her friends. How did she not realise her drinking was toxic?   Was it because drinking wine seems like such a normal social activity? But, how can a substance that nearly killed her be marketed as part of a glamorous exciting lifestyle?

 

What will she say in work?

Her partner is upset but supportive. But what will she say to her Mother and friends?  Her Mother has only just got over the death of her Father.  And what is she going to say in work about not drinking anymore? She can’t say she has liver damage from alcohol, the stigma would ruin her career. She feels guilty and ashamed she has done this to herself.

 

Frequently there’s no warning

Professor Murray was interviewed this week about liver failure. He states :

Unfortunately many people with advanced liver disease will have relatively normal blood tests of the liver.

The awful thing is that people frequently have no premonition or warning that they’re going to develop liver failure, and to die as a result of alcohol because the vast majority of people who develop cirrhosis, develop liver failure, haven’t got symptoms before the crisis, and the life threatening component develops.”

Professor Aiden Mc Cormick said in this TV interview, his patients are getting younger all the time. His youngest patient was a young girl aged just 18.

 

Make sure it’s not too late for you

Kate is very lucky. It’s not too late for her.

Make sure it’s not too late for you. Take just  15 minutes to find out

Are you a social drinker?

It’s totally free and totally anonymous.  15  minutes of your life  to confirm your drinking is not silently and  slowly killing you.

What are you waiting for?

PS

You only have to login with your email if you want to do the quiz and get instant feedback. Otherwise start learning straight away.

 

I dreaded the thoughts of not drinking

During the years when booze was a constant in my life, I very rarely considered not drinking. Yes, it was always at the root of all the disasters that kept on springing up, hitting me repeatedly, trying to drive the message home.

Coming back for more…? OK, here’s another drunken, messed up relationship with someone who does nothing for you.

Here’s an entire weekend spent lying in bed crying, not daring to face the world.

Take this massive blast of shame, can you believe you REALLY did that??”

 

I did n’t care, drinking would not harm me

And yes, I was fully aware of all the health harms I was subjecting myself to, but really, I didn’t care all that much. I wasn’t in a place where I held myself in especially high esteem and so it was easy to keep on knocking back the wine. Plus, in the name of denial, I think I had a fairly strong hold on the notion that I was somehow not like everyone else.  My liver would be able to withstand the regular battering, and maybe, just maybe, I’d be able to outrun the immense self-abuse and live well into my eighties.

 

When I started not drinking

I stopped drinking because I was scared to death that if I picked up one more glass of the stuff, it could kill me. I wasn’t being melodramatic.  As soon as I had managed to gain some clarity on the situation I found it utterly remarkable that I hadn’t lost my life in and amongst all of my boozing adventures. The nights I had walked home in the early hours – staggered would be more apt   in ill-boding areas of town and as vulnerable as they come. Like a baby bird fallen from the nest; the many, many dramatic falls down staircases and steep driveways, on the ice and in the middle of roads. Countless nights in seedy pubs with seedy people who were capable of dangerous things.

 

I dreaded a future without drink

So when I first quit, it was with the hope that in doing so I would save my life. I didn’t expect a lot else. Maybe gritting my teeth, gazing lustfully towards drinkers who appeared so happy and carefree with their alcoholic beverages to hand. Maybe I suppose a feeling of ‘doing the right thing’ – like I was being a good girl now that I was all grown-up and dealing with my little problem.

Beneath all of that, however, I was dreading this new life I’d committed myself to. It stretched out before me like an endless parched landscape of drabness. I expected at that point to be left wanting for the rest of my days.

 

Five years on

Five years on, I’m really quite shocked at all of the goodness that’s emerged from the single act of stopping drinking. I never imagined any of it, couldn’t have seen it coming. I frequently sit back to take stock and ask myself,

“Really? Is this my life? When did it change so massively?”

It’s as though aliens whipped me away one night, did a major overhaul with what I was and then dumped me back down, all new and fixed.

 

I got my confidence and self esteem back

The things that have happened are direct consequences of me no longer drinking. Mostly they’ve arisen because I got my confidence and self-esteem back, which led me to making better choices. I found the nerve to say no sometimes, without being terrified that the person I was saying it to would hate me for it. I challenged myself with new experiences. Things that resulted in me meeting new people and making friends, because instead of only ever wanting to drink, and drink and drink, I needed – and chose – to seek out more from life.

 

I got to know who I am

I found the courage required to take risks. Calculated ones that didn’t wind up in disaster as they always had in the past. I began to believe that people might actually like me. So I stopped being so defensive and paranoid, and I opened up to the world in return. I got to know who I am deep down.  What I need in order to be happy, and then I had the self-belief to go out and get it.

 

I was wrong, not drinking made me happy

I never foresaw any of this when I decided to stop drinking.  All I thought I was doing in making that choice was reducing the risk of dying before my time. It was a knee-jerk reaction. Born entirely out of fear and one that I felt was going to be a hardship. Something that would drag me down and make me miserable forever.

How wrong I was, how unbelievably naïve. I’m so  grateful  that I did it anyway. Not drinking has made me happy.

 

Editor’s Note

Sometimes it can take professional support to get these lovely benefits Lucy describes. Lucy herself got professional help.  If this is you, you might find these posts below helpful

Can an alcohol counsellor help you ?

Key questions to ask on alcohol treatment,

My alcohol drinking was bad for my daughter

There are many parents out there drinking alcohol and  managing their alcohol drinking sufficiently well that it has no detrimental impact upon their children. But I wasn’t one of them.

Although I was never knocking the vodka back at 7am or staggering up to the school gates at home time with bottles clanking in a plastic bag, I certainly prioritised alcohol fairly highly in my life, and it frequently affected my older daughter in a number of ways.

 

I rushed through her bedtime stories

For a start, I used to rush through her bedtime stories in order to speedily tie up the day’s parenting duties. My desire to do so was, of course, due to the bottle of cold, white wine that would inevitably be resting in the fridge downstairs, the beads of condensation that coated the glass inviting me to dive in.

 

I drank where kids could play in the pub beer garden

Secondly, I would frequently plan my spare time around alcohol drinking. This might have meant organising a little dinner party for friends (read, major drinking session), or a get-together in the local pub beer garden – somewhere where the kids could play, obviously, while the adults grew steadily more inebriated and less responsible. Sometimes it meant calling on the help of a babysitter so that I could indulge in my wish to achieve mental obliteration via alcohol consumption.

I snapped at her for no good reason

Thirdly, the after effects of my alcohol drinking were apparent to anyone in my company, including my child. The lethargy and bad moods were almost certainly picked up on regularly by my daughter, although she probably had no idea why I was snapping at her for no good reason or why I had no energy to do anything other than lie around watching TV.

 

Social services were never involved

There were no major catastrophes, thank God. No medical emergencies where I was too out of it to respond quickly and appropriately. No occasions where I didn’t manage to drag myself out of bed to take her to school or collect her in the afternoons. I never lost my job or was threatened with losing my child to the care of the Social Services because I was deemed incapable of looking after her.

 

My alcohol drinking was bad for my daughter

But there was a catalogue of alcohol-induced depressive episodes, unpredictable moods, of silly and irresponsible life choices that affected my daughter’s upbringing, of money spent on fags and booze that could have gone towards things of benefit to the two of us. And there was the relentless display of how a grown woman acts – an example that I set, week in and week out, that revolved around escaping my reality and living recklessly.

 

I no longer embarrass my daughter

Five years ago, I gave my daughter the best gift I could have given her: a mum who is present and engaged with her children; a mum who is fit, healthy and cooks nutritious meals, encouraging an interest in a healthy lifestyle in both her children; a mum who displays a level mood, who doesn’t bite her children’s heads off for no reason; a mum who is up at 6am most days taking care of running the house and providing a secure upbringing for her family; a mum who can be relied upon not to embarrass her children by being out of it; a mum who doesn’t drink alcohol.

 

Editor’s Note

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I thought I was a social drinker

I was never a bottle-of-vodka-at-7am type of boozer but I loved alcohol.  As I transformed from a child to a teenager, I never imagined I wouldn’t become a social drinker. And I got started early, aged just thirteen.

 

I was a fun drinker

But I (almost) always managed to restrict my consumption to within the realms of social drinking, regular UK-style binge drinking – ‘fun’ drinking.  Of course, there were always the exceptions.  Particularly during the last five years of my boozing life.  I occasionally veered into the dark world of lone, secret drinking. I began seeking a certain level of self-medication via the wine I was buying increasingly more of.

 

The wheels never fell off

But the metaphorical wheels never fell off spectacularly.  I didn’t lose my job, or invite the attention of the social services due to alcohol-related child neglect. I didn’t even look especially booze ravaged, other than on the odd mornings after very heavy, late night drinking sessions.

 

I convinced myself I was a social drinker

In fact, right up until I ended up in A&E one morning as a result of passing out after consuming three bottles of wine, I mostly managed to convince myself that the odd negative consequence of my wine habit was just part and parcel of life as a social drinker.

  • Blackouts? Didn’t everyone suffer alcohol-induced amnesia once in a while?
  • Snogging someone who I didn’t really like (never mind be attracted to)? It was merely evidence of my rock n roll approach to life.
  • Wiping out yet another weekend due to a debilitating hangover?

Ditto the rock n roll lifestyle – I was living life in the fast lane and enjoying myself. Wasn’t I?

 

I failed to recognise the bad consequences

The truth was that there were many bad consequences of my habit but I was so accustomed to them because of the longevity of my alcohol dependency that I failed to recognise them as being the direct outcome of drinking:

  • My snappy, uneven mood that manifested itself in me being an inpatient and unpredictable Mum.
  • The deeply entrenched feelings of self-loathing that arose each and every time I engaged in regrettable behaviour when under the influence, and lingered beyond.
  • The fact that I struggled just to make it through the morning at work without my hangovers being noticed, ultimately meaning I never strived to excel in the workplace.
  • The endless small change that dripped into the tills at Tesco in exchange for the odd bottle of wine and the accompanying packet of fags. This  amounting to roughly £300-£400 per month.
  • The frequent panic attacks that  left  me struggling to breathe and terrified that I was having a heart attack.

I accepted all of these as life just being the way it was, the hand I’d been dealt.

 

I could n’t see the wood for the trees

The thing is that as soon as a few months of sobriety had passed, all of the above were relegated to my history.   I quickly realised  that life wasn’t like that for a person who doesn’t touch alcohol. But as a drinker, I was so immersed in the world of hangovers and boozing and planning to drink, that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Or, more accurately, I couldn’t see the clear downsides of excessive drinking from within the alcoholic fog I lived in.

 

You don’t have to reach rock bottom  to improve your life

If the outcomes of alcohol misuse are not catastrophic, this does not mean that life cannot be immeasurably improved upon by becoming a non-drinker. I will be eternally grateful that I tried my hand at not drinking. It turned out to be the best decision I have ever made.