Thursday, May 3, 2018

Why I quit drinking at 25.

I promised in the first blog post that we would meet. So now I'd like to introduce myself, and tell you far more things about me than any normal person would tell you when you first meet. Hey, who doesn't love a good over-share? So go make yourself a nice cup of tea, because I hate to drink alone. Which was not always the case, as you will soon find out. 

I'm Ems by the way. I'm from the UK, I've got a fairly unhealthy obsession with cats and tea and I live in a Ford Transit called Bob. Nine years ago, just after I turned 25, I quit drinking alcohol. 

It turns out this isn't a short story, so in future posts I’ll talk about the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ of it, but for now, I'd just like to tell you why.

When I think about why it is that I drank the way that I did, with such desperation and desire for oblivion, I realise that there is no traumatic event, nothing in my past that I can point at and say “a-ha! That's it, that's the thing I'm trying to blot out.” But looking back, I see lots of little things that all contributed to a feeling of not being good enough, of worrying that people don't like me, and a fear of being alone. Like going to boarding school at 7 years old. Being teased by boys who said I had Mad Cows' Disease until no one would come near me (it was the 90s after all, and kids are really really stupid!). Being expected to always be top of the class. Changing schools and losing my friends. By the time I hit my teens I felt awkward, out of place wherever I was, and uncomfortable in my own skin. 

And then alcohol. In Britain drinking is so ingrained in our culture that it's not unusual to start drinking at 12 or 13. But not in a sophisticated Mediterranean kind of way, where you drink watered-down wine with adults and everyone's very mature about it. We know we’re not supposed to be doing it, so we hide it. We binge, we steal, and we overindulge like, well, kids in a sweet shop. Drinking took me outside of my head, made me forget I was awkward and gave me confidence. And because I was desperate to fit in and for people to like me, I did it more and more and more.

By the time I left university (where I managed to get a decent degree despite the bi-weekly drink-til-you-throw-up sessions) I had got myself a job, a flat and a boyfriend and I was pretty damn miserable. I had everything I was supposed to want in life, but nothing that I really wanted. I wanted to escape the ‘real world’, travel, and teach SCUBA diving. Instead I was a receptionist in London, I straightened my hair every day and lived for Friday night work drinks, when I would try and drown out my disappointment with buckets of Pinot Grigio. Amazingly, my life stayed the same, so gradually Friday nights became every night. 

Living like that wasn't sustainable, and eventually I was forced into making some changes. Since I treated that boyfriend pretty shabbily and we lived together, when we broke up I also had to move out, losing two of the three things that tied me to London in one fail swoop. Since I hated my job, the third quickly followed, and within six months I was in Australia, working on my first dive boat. Dreams realised. Success, surely.

But the drinking didn't stop. In fact, I cranked it up a notch or two. Or even three.

Australia’s drinking culture is as ingrained as Britain’s, if not more so because the weather is so good and drinking in the sunshine is awesome, right? And the dive industry is a work-hard-play-hard kind of gig. So when my newly-reinforced fears of being unloved and alone came to that environment, it was a recipe for disaster. By the end of a year in Australia I was drinking almost two cartons of beer (a carton is 24 bottles) and a whole bottle of gin in a week, although most of it would be just at the weekend, and often alone. I'd put on over a stone in weight, I'd done a lot of things I wasn't proud of, but it didn't really matter because by this point I was blacking out so early in the night I couldn't remember anything that happened. 

I hit rock bottom on December 31st, 2008. I drank an entire litre of gin by myself, and by 10pm I was unconscious on the bathroom floor. I had locked the door before I passed out, so my best friend had to climb in through the window to get me out. I was naked (I have no idea why but I'd probably thrown up on myself)and she had to carry me to bed. When I woke up the next day I thought I was dying. 

I didn't get out of bed for two days, and I wouldn't leave the house for nearly a week because of the shame. During that time I  did some pretty serious thinking, and tried to remember the last day I had gone without an alcoholic drink. I couldn't remember, but it was at least two years. I tried to remember the last time drinking had been fun, and it was definitely longer than two years. Those were some pretty sobering realisations. I was unhappy, overweight and had lost all self-respect. 

Last photo of me drinking ever taken, on my 25th birthday.

So I made a decision to take a break. It didn't seem like a big deal at the time - I was feeling so sick that for the first time ever, I would have turned down a drink if you had offered it to me. I didn't do anything rash like say I would never drink again. I just said that maybe having some time away from drinking would be good for me. Nine years later, and it's still the best decision I ever made.

Does any of this sound familiar? Have you been through something similar? If any of this resonates with you, for whatever reason, it would be great to hear from you. Sharing stories is one of the most powerful ways we have to help each other. Thanks for sharing in mine.


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