New Year, No Fear

Tomorrow morning, New Year’s Day 2017, I will most likely wake up fairly fuzzy-headed and tired from lack of sleep and the general madness that is my life at the minute. The cause of this madness is my gorgeous, but very hungry 2-month old baby girl. Last year I had a similar New Year’s awakening caused by her then 1-year old brother. As crazy as it sounds I would take these New Year’s mornings 100 times over rather than face the type that I used to have prior to 2016. Because back then the fuzzy head and tiredness were also accompanied by a pounding headache, sick stomach, major loss of memory and The Fear. Dear God The Fear. New Year’s morning back in the days of drink was never pretty for me and while I’d love to say that these type of mornings were a rare occurrence due to it being a special night of the year they were not. Mornings like this were an all-too-common occurrence for me from pretty much the start of my drinking days and it was a particularly horrible morning like this in May 2015 that led me to face the fact that I would have to quit for good.

If it had only been these type of nights that had made my drinking feel wrong for me I might not have made such a big decision as I did but the truth is that there had been a lot of other signs that drink and I were not meant to be for a long time. Binge drinking at the weekend is one thing but over the course of my 20’s I had also built up a fairly strong dependence on wine for just about every emotion and it had become part of my everyday life. Happy? Wine. Sad? Wine. Stressed? Wine. Chilling out? Wine Wine Wine!! No matter what the emotion it was always dealt with by drinking enough to take the edge off. I’ve always been someone who likes to be on the go a lot and wine helped me to shut down quickly at the end of each day but it came at a cost to my mind and body and that cost started to get too high. A night out could leave me in bits for half the week after it and my evening wine drinking meant I was regularly semi-hungover and always tired.

It seems ridiculous to me now that I allowed myself to go on trying to make alcohol work for me for so long. Those who understand that it was a problem for me have said how great it is that I realised I needed to quit at such a young age but the truth is that I knew by the time I was 21 that I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. However, I kept on believing that I would learn how to handle it and that someday I would drink moderately instead of the way I did. I put so much mental energy into trying to control my drinking. I would set rules about the days I could and couldn’t drink. I’d stop drinking this drink and try a lighter version of that drink. I’d eat first, drink water in between, leave water beside my bed for afterwards (which is, by the way, the most ridiculous thing every because if you’re sober enough to remember the water – or make it home to the water – you most likely don’t need the water all that much), I’d only buy one bottle of wine when doing the weekly shop and on and on the planning and organising went in search of some way that I could manage to continue to drink and not face facts. Not surprisingly I’d almost always break my rules. When I look back now it was such a miserable way to live and took up so much of my energy but at the time I really believed that someday I would make it work for me.

I consider myself very lucky that I was able to quit drinking before it started to have a bigger impact on my life. I’m not sure why it finally clicked for me that May bank holiday weekend but I’m so glad that it did. My close friends knew a little about how much the aftermath of a bad night affected me but for the most part nobody other than my husband knew how much I wanted to stop drinking. I kept the rest of my life ticking over fairly smoothly. It’s possible that I might have gone on drinking the way I did forever and might never have had any serious repercussions but with hindsight I can see that things were getting worse for me. The issue of whether alcohol dependency is genetic or not is hotly debated and researched but as someone who has seen it play out in my family I have no desire to test the waters.

In the first few months of sobriety I felt very sorry for myself that I couldn’t drink anymore and it was only around the time of my 1st year anniversary earlier this year that I had a major shift in mindset and am now very grateful that I don’t have to drink anymore. That doesn’t mean it’s all plain sailing though. Life, not to mention motherhood, without the anaesthetic of alcohol can be hard sometimes. While being a mother brings me so much happiness I also find it very challenging at times and not having an off-switch in the form of wine at the end of the day means I have to work hard at making sure that I don’t get overwhelmed. I used to think that people who didn’t drink were boring but since quitting I now have huge respect for them as they live their lives feeling all of the feelings and dealing with everything life throws at them without the crutch that alcohol can be. When you don’t drink you have no quick escape from life, no easy way to dodge hard feelings. Because alcohol is no longer part of my life I’ve had to learn to live it differently. The way I was living when I was drinking wasn’t sustainable. I was so busy “doing life” that I never really stopped to consider whether I was enjoying it. When I quit drinking I began to take a proper look at it and I realised that there were lots of things that I wanted and needed to change. I’ve spent the past 18 months doing my best to change them and while my life is much more simple now I love it so much more than I did when I was drinking.

I’ve wanted to write this post for a few months now but it’s been a bit of a scary thing to do. I really want to help others who may be in the same situation though and that’s why I finally decided to do it. While changing the pace of my life has played a big part in me not drinking for the past 18 months I’ve also done, and continue to do, a lot of other things too. I read a lot of blogs and books and I’m a big fan of listening to podcasts too. I’m very lucky to be part of a really supportive online community of people who have also quit or continue to try and quit drinking and improve their lives. I don’t feel that the way I was drinking when I quit needs a label other than to say that it was a problem for me. The fear of having to live my life with a label and the stigma that we attach to that label kept me from facing the truth for a long time. If drinking is causing a problem for you then it’s a problem. You don’t have to wait until it gets “that bad”. Ireland has come a long way in terms of our attitude to mental health but we still have an awful lot of work to do when it comes to our attitude to alcohol and it’s my hope that 2017 is going to be the year that we open up the conversation about what’s really going on. If anyone reading this can relate and wants to ask me anything about my own journey or any of the resources I use please message me as I’d be more than happy to try and help in any way that I can.

Wishing everyone a healthy and happy 2017,

Bríd

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