Why I quit drinking – the alcohol part of it all

I started drinking at 14 years old. Something that boarding school does to a lot of people I believe! It was just what you did, vodka behind the squash courts while we lit up those Marlborough lights. At university, I drank to cover my raging social anxiety and because I felt bubbly and fun and stopped worrying about whether people liked me or not. Inevitably I had very few friends at university and gained my self-worth through a stream of dodgy relationships. When I no longer had friends to go out with, I drank at home, drank after work, drank until it was a reasonable time to go to bed so that I could forget about the day and see if tomorrow was any different. It wasn’t. At this point I couldn’t see that alcohol as the problem.

In my first job Friday night drinking was de rigueur. Drinking was now an acceptable part of the week. Everything led to Friday, it was all about Friday. Finish work, head out with all the other smart officey people, down the first 250mls of Pinot Grigio with my Marlborough lights. Stumble home at about midnight and spend the whole of Saturday feeling dreadful, Sunday feeling miserable and then starting again Monday morning. Everyone else was doing it so it must be ok. I realised later that they were on the same merry go round – and also far worse than I was. I came to see at this stage that alcohol and I were not a good combination, not that that stopped me drinking at every possible occasion.

Even after moving to Edinburgh I didn’t stop. My new work friends also liked the Friday night drinking circuit and for a while I joined in to the full! In my worse moments I looked at AA but didn’t go in case the people didn’t like me. I was also unwilling to give up my friend. I mean, the first glass of wine made me feel better didn’t it? Lighter, less worried, more full of potential. This didn’t mean I didn’t know there was a problem. One night I opened up, drunkenly, to my sister who said ‘don’t be silly you’re fine’.  ‘Don’t be silly your fine’, ‘you’re not an alcoholic’, ‘you’re just drunk and overacting’, ‘you’ve not got a problem’, ‘you’re just coping’ were the phrases that would follow my constantly in the next 12 years as I tried to defeat this alcohol demon. My first husband, my GP, my family – I did not drink enough to have a problem.  

I knew I did though and I couldn’t understand why everyone was fighting me, almost willing me to keep drinking. I tried to stop, over and over again. Sometimes it even lasted a few months. But eventually I started again – something too stressful, some party that I ‘needed’ to go to and couldn’t do without a glass in hand. By this stage I was counting units so my weekly intake had decreased from the 50, give or take, units a week. Now I was at a mere 27 – 36 units a week (a few more than that 14 though eh?!). A lovely hypnotherapist I went to see to help me with anxiety and drinking almost turned me away when I said I drank 3 – 4 bottles of wine a week rather than a night.  In this world of fixatedly counting alcohol units – forget calorie counting, I knew the unit value for everything – I got pregnant. Every day of pregnancy was a painful battle not to have a drink. Even googling to see if drinking really would damage the baby, or how much I could have to not cause foetal alcohol syndrome. I got through 3 pregnancies without a drink and hated every single painful dragging minute of them all. No wonder I didn’t want to stop drinking if that is what every day would feel like.

After babies, I was supposed to be in mummy heaven right? To an extent I was. I adored The Bot, he was cute and funny and giggly. But I was insanely anxious and left alone with a small defenceless baby all day. It didn’t help that he got sepsis at 2 weeks old and was in hospital for 3 weeks. I started worrying constantly that he would die or I would die, it all eventually focused around carbon monoxide, the silent killer that would get us as we slept. Looking back now I think it was a form of post natal depression, but I didn’t see that. I dealt with the problem by drinking it away. Drinking it away became very easy. Every time something seemed too much, it was OK because I knew that in the evening I could have some wine and it would all go away, I was self-soothing with alcohol. I never drank during the day after I had children, only at wine o’clock (about 5pm in my household) and then I stopped by 8pm.

Moving to Egypt, where alcohol is not such a social thing, I thought it might break the cycle. But the expat circuit is all about the booze! The alcohol in Egypt it so bad that you actually develop a hangover while drinking it, but I didn’t let that small fact get in the way. Nor the fact that you had order it in advance from a special shop because you couldn’t buy it locally. You can be sure I always knew when we were running low and if I didn’t have a corkscrew, I knew how to get into the bottle with a biro casing! My loneliness and social anxiety were all soothed away by very bad booze.

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I was so confused and so desperate to be OK and be happy. Life seemed to be getting harder and harder to manage. My husband and I were very unhappy. He had never been a drinker but he’d started. We knew we’d had fun while drinking in the past so the answer was clearly to start drinking at home. We could recreate those happy time. But while it didn’t seem to affect him too badly, I was becoming consumed with guilt and shame. Every drink I had was counted and measured and I knew obsessively how many units of what to drink and when to stop each evening. My head was full and going round and round in circles of thinking about drinking. I was anxious, crying and exhausted. Even though I started to feel better after reading You can heal your life by Louise Hays, it was not enough to finally stop drinking. I knew I want to be happy, but I honestly didn’t believe I could be happy without it. How would I celebrate? How would I commiserate? How would I manage the ups and downs? How would I cope with all my feelings? But I also worried that my children might think drinking every day was normal. I worried that The Bear might think that it was OK to drink every day when you have diabetes. I was worried that I wasn’t ever fully present with them in the crucial after school up to bed time. The guilt was huge. Every day around lunch time the battle in my head started. Should I drink tonight/shouldn’t I drink tonight. This thought pattern consumed my head until 5pm when I inevitably gave in to manage the stress and guilt I had inflicted on myself. By 8pm? The guilt was back. Nothing was better.

I was in this cycle for years but I couldn’t seem to stop. When I remarried, my husband rarely drank. I couldn’t understand how he got through every day without it. He seemed to be OK at parties with nothing! He celebrated quietly or had a cup of tea – how was that exciting? How boring I thought. But he was the first person who said to me that it didn’t matter what anyone else said. If I thought my drinking was a problem then it was a problem. He supported every one of my attempts to stop and he never judged me when I started again – although I was judging myself like crazy! It took a while. I kept going and eventually in January 2018 things finally changed. Read my next post How I quit drinking to find out more

This was me – My back story

This is my story without including the alcohol part. When I tried writing it all together it became way to confusing and LOOONG! It does seem quite bleak and my future posts can all be read without understanding the back story but it’s here in case anyone needs to see that no matter how crap, unbalanced and unstable you may feel (or indeed be!), there is always a way out, you just have to start small and keep going. If it’s too much you can skip forward to my posts Why I quit drinking, How I quit drinking or How to quit drinking.

It is difficult to condense 20 years and I hope that, in some way, it shows anyone feeling the same way that you’re not alone, that no matter how bad things may seem, you can do it, and as you’ll see from my subsequent posts, things can be really really good and you really can be victorious in this battle.

University

Like many people I had a gap year at 18 and went to university at 19. I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do and no desire to be at university. I was there because my parents/school/friends – pretty much everyone – said I should just go. I had been thoroughly institutionalised in boarding school and when I left had absolutely no clue how to manage all the time I had. I also realised I was terrified of people! I was convinced that I wasn’t intelligent enough, that people would find me boring or that they would flat out not like me. I felt that if I had got on with someone once then I couldn’t possibly meet them again in case they realised, on second meeting, that I was actually a fraud and had NOTHING interesting to say. To overcome this fear I partied HARD and worked hard. I had multiple bar jobs and waitressing jobs during my time at uni, which gave me some structure, but studying did not come into it. The fact that I graduated with a 2:1, having read very few of the books in my English Literature degree, has to say something is slightly off with our university system.

Relationships

The partying and lack self-confidence inevitably led to some interesting relationship choices. I had a relationship with my supervisor, whom I had known from my gap year, and who turned out to be a prize idiot and dodgy stalker to boot. When I came to my senses and ended the relationship, the stalking really kicked in and I fell into what I didn’t realise was depression. All I knew was that I was blank every day. I got out of bed, just, and carried on but I had a permanent lump in my throat that stopped me eating or drinking. I walked around in a daze. I knew the theory of how to make myself feel better and what should work, so when two girls from work invited me to aqua aerobics, I went, carried out the movements, and cried all the way home. I forced myself to jog because exercise releases those lovely endorphins right?  I will always wonder what people walking past thought of the girl jogging with tears streaming uncontrollably down her face. I was alone in a city with no friends, no family, unable to see any escape from where I was. At this point, in my final year at university, I met the man who was to become my first husband. He was an undergraduate and very kind. He had a lot of friends and was very funny and sociable. For the first time I started be OK with people. The pressure was off because they already liked him so they didn’t have to like me. They would come back because they liked him; I could just be there. I also went to see my doctor who was an absolute life saver, and even when I said I wouldn’t take medicine, she told me not to be an idiot and to take antidepressants for long enough to give me the boost I needed to make positive changes. I took the pills, all the time convinced that I would have all the horrendous side effects listed in the information (seriously people- never read these!), and after a few weeks I began to feel better. I’d always loved reading (not university material though obviously!) and went to see if there were any books on the subject of depression. I was a complete innocent at this point, and I had no idea that there were other people experiencing what I was experiencing let alone and entire world of self-help! At this point I was 22 years old. I believe that often things come to you when you need them most, and The Road Less Travelled by M.Scott Peck found its way to me. My happiest memory, in those times, was finding a beautiful spot in a park or by a pond and immersing myself in the book’s lessons, about self-love and choosing your life, while watching the sunlight dancing through the greenness of the trees or glinting off the water’s dark surface. I began to feel some peace. This tranquillity was clearly not going to last.

Work

However, I was no longer a student and couldn’t spend my whole time reading, I needed to work. I took a job working 60 hours a week getting paid £14,000 and taxed at basic rate so my pay came in at £800 a month when my rent was £500. Why did I take the job? Because I was young, silly, unconfident and had no idea that I deserved any better. It was hard core cold calling sales and I loathed it. I battled on for a year, as my soon to be husband said that if I quit I’d always be a quitter. And what did everyone in my office to best? Friday night drinking!!! Despite how much I hated it and how unhappy I was, I felt it had to be OK because I was in the real world now with a real job and real friends. These friends accepted me. I thought the belittling, micromanaging and sexual harassment that happened in this job was just how it was. I was Bridget Jones! Or so I justified to myself. After about 10 months of this my mood was beginning to go downhill again fast. I was sobbing uncontrollably every day and no amount of journaling as helping. Thankfully I’ve always had enough of a self-preservation instinct to say whoa! Need to stop now. So I came up with new plan. I was fed up with my university city, which I’d never particularly liked, and I needed to go back to Edinburgh, where I had spent my gap year (working on the clubbing circuit). My sister lived in Edinburgh so I could stay with her, get a proper job and sort my life out. My soon to be husband decided not to leave, so it would be long distance relationship for us. In Edinburgh things looked up. I worked 3 jobs to be able to afford to live initially but it kept me busy and Edinburgh was an exciting place to be! I couldn’t afford to do anything exciting but at least I felt it was there, there was so much potential. Eventually I got a ‘proper’ job with some decent(ish) money and my soon to be husband moved up to Edinburgh after a year apart. We lived there for 18 months and it was wonderful. Fun job, fun times, fun people. We got married after 4 years together, when I was one month pregnant.

Children

I left my wonderful city of Edinburgh to move back near my mother and oldest sister because I didn’t feel that I could manage having a baby with no support network and my sister already had 4 children so would know all about it. I have been pregnant three times and suffered badly with ALL DAY sickness throughout all of them. I hated every step of being pregnant.

Being a mummy was lovely, the cute baby cuddles and giggles and smells. I had a little routine going that worked for us. We watched the West Wing Box set on repeat while feeding for HOURS! But that happy baby stage is fleeting and just as we were getting into toddler stage I had baby number 2. Two under twos, yes, there are many parents who will know what I mean! The first year of The Bear’s life I actually cannot remember. I remember the first two weeks, and then try as I might it’s a blank until his first birthday. I think with the exhaustion and the constant cycle of daily living, I just went into autopilot. When The Bot was just 3 and The Bear was 18 months, my husband got a teaching job in Egypt. It seemed like such an adventure but in reality was incredibly lonely. I was not very good at the mummy coffee circuit, due to my people fear, and I although I tried to work, I had the boys.  We basically lived in a compound in the desert with no public transport and no means of getting anywhere. It felt like prison. 6 months in, and thoroughly miserable I came home to visit my mother. 2 days later I was in hospital being told my son had Type 1 Diabetes. It was a shock but it would be OK, I would look after him and at least it wasn’t cancer. We went home and carried on, but this time with a health condition to manage. My husband came home and was miserable. I started working shifts as well as managing home life. It’s well known apparently to have a delayed reaction to drastic changes and man, we had had a few. A year after my son’s diagnosis I had my first panic attack. I literally thought I was going to die. I woke up, gripped by this sense of impending doom, knowing that I was about to die. I tried to wake my husband up who told me I was fine and to go back to sleep. I crept into the sitting room and phoned my mother. I cried in pure fear at was happening and she came over to sit with me. The next day I couldn’t leave the house. I wanted to, I knew that I was being ridiculous, but every time I got my shoes on and headed to the door my heart started beating so fast I was sure it couldn’t sustain it. I also experienced my hearts slowing down until it felt like it has stopped and then starting again with a bang and going super-fast. I’m pretty sure there is a medical term for this but I’ve forgotten what it is! What was happening was that I had been putting huge amounts of pressure on myself for a long time and I was doing a marvellous job of pretending manage the stress until my body took over and said enough is enough. I knew things had to change though. This hyper-stressed hyper-anxious person was not good for me and it was not good for my children. As before, I stood in Waterstones and was drawn to a book called You can heal you life by Louise Hays. Reading this book with renewed energy, I started to learn to love myself, I started to choose my thoughts and I started to question the negative reel in my head. I realised that to love properly had to start with self-love and self-care. I also started to realise that my marriage was a problem.

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Divorce

After 10 years together our relationship had completely broken down. Divorce is awful, and even more awful with children. But I had been learning to love myself and accept that the universe would look after me if I believed that I deserved it. I genuinely feel that the universe gave me my now husband. I started to get my life back and began dancing classes. It was love at first sight in way that I never believed possible. We knew each other completely without really knowing each other at all. I would love to say that it was happy ever after from this point but the real world is not quite so easy!

Re-marriage and children again

When things started to settle down on the divorce, children, new relationship front I became pregnant again. I was not expecting to have more children, I thought I’d done with that. It was one month before I got married. I felt like history was repeating itself but with a new partner. I felt it was my punishment and I would inevitably suffer an awful pregnancy, repeat all the things that had gone wrong, and end up divorced again. Not a good mind-set to go into pregnancy/marriage with. I completely freaked out. Anxiety and panic reared its head again. Instead of sensibly postponing the wedding until things had settled, I changed the date of the actual wedding, just had a few people there to watch and had the party on the original date. Everyone was pissed off and it was absolutely awful. I got through it in a daze of not wanting to be there and going through the motions until I could say it was over and never talk about it again. Talking to my husband now, he said he went through with it because he was convinced he would lose me if he didn’t. I was disappearing fast and he was trying to keep hold of me. With this auspicious start, pregnancy was not fun. I was retraining and doing shift work while vomiting and being terrified and angry in equal measure. 6 weeks after birth I hit full post-natal depression. I spent hours researching how to run away or how to get a passport for the baby to take him with me. I had a recurrent dream that the baby was actually adopted and I hadn’t given birth to him and the birth mother wanted him back. My husband took me to the GP and said we needed to sort this. I refused to take pills, it’s seemed too much of a step backwards, so he booked me onto a mindfulness course with other mothers. These mothers, and this course, did start me back on the path away from depression. That was the second truly depressed period of my life and I knew that I never wanted to come near it again. 

Happiness

In my life all I’ve really wanted to be is to be happy. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve just condensed the bad stuff here. There were happy times in all of this but everything got so confused and muddled. I was in a vicious cycle because of the pressures of life and because of my relationship with alcohol.  I knew that I could never be happy until I quit drinking, so why couldn’t I just do it?