When did it become a problem?
My family and friends raised their concerns with me while I was studying. I’d reluctantly agreed to see a doctor when I was 19 who told me my drinking was putting me at risk of some serious health issues if I carried on like I was. This didn’t deter me as I didn’t place much value on my health and wellbeing but I hated my family worrying so I reluctantly agreed to stop. I spent six months of my second year abstinent and life was undeniably better. My mental health improved, I was more productive and my relationships with friends and family flourished. After these six months, I had a couple of cocktails on my birthday and the obsession to drink was well and truly back. My attitude was one of complete defiance. I’d done six months without it so don’t tell me I’ve got a problem! What I didn’t appreciate at the time was that each time I had that first drink, I lost all control of when I could stop. I would routinely drink to blackout then unconsciousness, swearing off it the following morning before picking my next drink up hours later telling myself that tonight would be the night I’d win the battle and drink successfully (no blackouts, no dramas, no passing out under a table in the bar, no wandering off and getting lost with no phone battery or money to get a taxi home, no waking up with no idea where I was or how I got there).
I clung to the justification that excessive drinking was a requirement of uni life and it was just a rite of passage. I’d settle down when I graduated and the problem would go away. To some extent this was true. I graduated, returned to North Yorkshire and started a marketing job which I threw myself into. A new relationship, new home and a rescue dog completed the picture of what I believed adult life should look like. Despite having everything I thought I wanted on paper, there was something inside me that just never felt right; a void I couldn’t fill with work or my relationship or material things no matter how hard I tried. Alcohol remained a constant but it ran at a more ‘socially acceptable’ level for a few years. Nights out with friends, a bottle of wine on a Friday night after a busy week at work but again, this progressed to weekday nights and lunchtimes at the pub to eventually having to hide my alcohol consumption from my partner. In hindsight, this was a real turning point in my drinking as my behaviour changed to enable me to drink in secret. I’d lie about working late, hide bottles in my car and so on. Inevitably the relationship broke down after six years and I felt as though my world had turned upside down. Despite being deeply unhappy, I had a life I was familiar with, stability and routine. Without these, my drinking felt more exposed, like I was going to be found out and everyone would see that I was a fraud, just going through the motions and failing at life. It was a mentally dark and painful period that I wanted to run from and avoid at all costs. I was given the opportunity to do that when I was offered a marketing role in Sydney, Australia by an old colleague a couple of months later. It felt like divine intervention at the time; a ticket to a shiny new life on the other side of the world. Surely this was the answer to all my problems! The first year passed quickly and I recognised that rather than being the solution to all my problems, they became magnified as I had to work harder to keep up a pretence of succeeding in life when internally I felt like I was screaming. My drinking became more serious and I was hospitalised and detoxed several times as by now I was physically dependent on alcohol. It was no longer possible to brush the consequences under the carpet and forget about them. My employers were very supportive but I shunned any form of help, believing I should be able to ‘sort myself out’ and feeling increasingly desperate when I couldn’t. At the advice of my doctors during my fourth hospital admission in 2018, I tried AA. In hindsight, I went for all the wrong reasons and can now acknowledge that I wasn’t ready to stop. However, it sowed a seed that I would come to reach out for when I became desperate enough.
The unmanageability of my life led me to return home to the UK in early 2019 and I moved in with family in West Yorkshire. Despite their love and support, I still couldn’t stop and decided that I knew what was best for me. I got a job and rented a flat thinking all I needed was some responsibility to fix me. As it happened, that took me to my internal rock bottom that led me to finally accept I couldn’t do this alone and ask for help.