I woke up this morning wanting to write. I have been getting more and more inspired lately by talented influencers and leaders around me so today is the day I want to start to share my journey and story around how I ended up giving up drinking.
I’m a bit nervous about posting this as there is still part of me that is worried about what other people may think of my past, but it’s all about moving forward right? I’m continuously improving.
Drinking is something I have always considered part of my identity. From my days of binging at parties in high school; working in hospitality in Melbourne; backpacking through South East Asia and then living in the UK where pub’s were frequented every other night of the week. If you have followed me for awhile you would’ve noticed I love food and eating out, and to me that would always involve drinking – it just went hand in hand.
I would also categorise myself as an introvert. Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying I’m shy at all, but I get my energy from having time on my own to read, reflect and recharge, rather than getting my energy from being around other people. In social situations, particularly in a pub or bar setting, I often felt like I had to overcompensate by having a few drinks to match the energy of those around me. The problem was that if I was in the wrong head space or around particularly outgoing friends, I would drink faster than normal and there was rarely an off switch with this. I’ve never had a great tolerance for alcohol as it is, so it would often lead to black outs which in turn would lead to what is commonly known as ‘beer fear’ or ‘hangxiety’.
At the time of writing I have been alcohol free for 9 months and I’ve recently been doing a lot of reflecting on where my habits came from. I thought that by writing about the different periods in my life it might help others with their journey, possibly recognise similar behaviours in themselves which could ultimately lead to living a more healthy, positive and empowering life without booze. Don’t get me wrong though, I know that for some people alcohol doesn’t give them the side effects that I have experienced so I am not suggesting that giving it up altogether is for everyone! It’s more that there is a lot of pressure in our society to drink, and more often than not the people who it doesn’t agree with keep drinking to fit in with the social norms or ‘cope’ with their problems, when really they’re doing a lot more damage in the long term. I just want to spread the word that there is an amazing sober world out here too and you don’t need booze to have fun!
Let’s rewind to high school when I first started drinking. I grew up in a loving family home with supportive parents who wanted the best of me and a huge extended family that we were reasonably close with. I was a bright kid throughout primary school and intermediate – I was doing year 12 maths in year 8! Drinking was always something that the cool kids did and something I knew was ‘naughty’, we were never allowed to drink either as it was always something that the adults did. For me and my friends this created a sense of curiousity, like what were we missing out on, why did we have to miss out on the fun too? We had initiatives like D.A.R.E come to school and give talks to us, but all I remember from those is thinking that they’re were being overdramatic and I would never end up as an addict or a junkie! I mean, the older kids and our parents were drinking and they were fine?? They were having fun!
The first time I remember being drunk was with one of my best friends in year 8. She had come round after school and my family were out, I just remember we were in our school uniforms and no one was home. My parents had an alcohol cabinet full of spirits so we decided to mix a few up and drink them, oh my goodness it was so gross!! We had also decided that while we were at it we would try to smoke – so we went out to our tree hut and rolled up a tea bag (yup an actual whole tea bag) in a piece of A4 paper and tried to smoke it. Needless to say as soon as the bag burned through the tea fell on the floor so we gave up on that pretty quickly. My friend then decided she wanted to go to the dairy to get lollies! She demanded that we opened my piggy bank and ran up the road to get some. I think we had a few more sips of the ‘rocket fuel’ then took turns at throwing up in the toilet before I went to bed and her Dad came to pick her up. My family got home and I was still in bed claiming I was ‘tired’.
Now you would think that after that experience I would be put off. Nope. I then continued at every opportunity to go to a party or find booze that we could get our hands on. There was no drinking then to enjoy it, I didn’t even really know that was a thing as I thought it tasted gross! I thought the only reason why you drank was to get drunk.
Moving onto high school I would go to parties with a 40 ounce (just over 1 litre) of bourbon, vodka, rum or Moonshine that used to cost $10 with a 2.25 litre of soft drink to mix (that would usally be mixed in the bottle). I was working a few hours a week earning about $26 at that time so I could afford to buy this and then I’d go halves with my mates in some rolled tobacco. They soon put the prices up on those bottles as they realised that the low prices were only encouraging binge drinking with the youth so we had to switch to other beverages. Still, I usually was able to get through a bottle in a night and it was the beginning of creating these bad habits.
By the way, drinking always fascinated me, I don’t know why that was. I would always watch movies and wonder did they actually have a glass of wine or is it grape juice? Like were they allowed to drink on set and what if they started to get drunk and do something stupid – did they actually enjoy it? What about that whiskey, they’re not screwing up their face when they sip? I just didn’t understand.
Fast forward to moving to Melbourne where I worked for a bistro style restaurant that was adjoining with a bar and a specialised wine bar. I also got a job working for a pub/brewery that specialise in craft ales which was quite new at that time and not as popular as they are now (we’re talking 2008 – 2010). I had studied Hospitality Management in NZ before I left where we did papers on wine and cocktail mixology, but I was still in the party mindset and still only associated booze with getting drunk rather than appreciating it. Tequila and redbull or shots of absinthe seemed to be my drink of choice in Wellington before I left. Working at these places in Melbourne gave me a better understanding and appreciation of what I was drinking, but I wasn’t actually changing how I drank which caused problems.
I started drinking wine (I loved a sauvignon blanc) and would drink it like I used to drink beer or spirits, which was far too quick. Cut to maybe 2 bottles later, I would black out and there were times I have no memory of hours at a time and then not show up for work in the morning as I hadn’t set my alarm. I remember my boss taking me aside for a walk to have a chat about how I was drinking and checking if everything was okay. It was then I realised that my drinking habits from when I was younger were not good – I guess I had never taken the time to learn how to drink properly, or just to enjoy it rather than using it as a way to get obliterated. At 20 years of age I wish I was as wise or smart as I thought I was, as I probably could’ve changed my habits and not continued in denial for the next 12 or so years.
Travelling around South East Asia for 5 months added another notch on my belt of drinking experience so to speak. Everywhere we went there was an excuse to have a beer – ‘it’s hot, let’s have a beer’, ‘it’s raining, let’s have a beer’, meet some new friends ‘let’s have a beer’. I don’t think we had one day in our travels that we didn’t drink. How crazy is that. This was also before everyone was obssessed with their phones – we used internet cafes to upload photos and email family, and we would get around and find accommmodation through our Lonely Planet guide. So we filled our time in the day exploring the sights and in the evenings we would drink. Usually in the day time we would grab a beer or two somewhere as well. So this I think created the real social habit of drinking for me. As we were constantly meeting people I found having a few beers would make me feel comfortable and confident around new people and gave me the energy to socialise too. I would say this was when my hangxiety started to get really bad, but I would mask it by having another drink.
After South East Asia we moved to the UK and things started to change for me. After 5 months of constant boozing I had damaged my gut, so my tolerance for beer and glutenous foods was minimal. I stopped drinking beer and gave up gluten, along with alcohol for awhile unless it was small amounts of red wine or soda and gin. I was pretty healthy and when I did start drinking more, I was a bit more in control to what I had been. There were definitely still black out times that happened but they were less frequent.
After a few years my association changed. I switched jobs to somewhere with a big after work drinking culture, particualrly on Fridays. I made new friends who partied pretty hard in the weekends and I would say for awhile there, the black outs would happen every week. My anxiety levels were the worst they have probably ever been, I wouldn’t even want to leave the house and I was cancelling plans all the time. I gave up drinking for a couple of months but then found myself getting back on it again as I felt like I was missing out on all the fun as no one seemed to be doing any other things. I tried lots of ways to stay in control, like limiting myself to three drinks, only drinking gin and soda (as I found wine or sugary ciders were more likely to make me black out), to drinking a pint of water with every drink – which did help but I wasn’t disciplined enough at the time to keep it up. I think about the money I used to spend and it makes me shudder!
One memory I have was on my 28th birthday, 2015. Daz, my partner had gone away to the Isle of Wight with his mates (as his birthday is a few days before mine) and I was meant to be going to London for a drum and bass festival with some friends who lived there. I’d been out the night before, (I think with colleagues) and I was extremely hungover. We had a hamster at the time who started to do strange things and it ended up dying in my hands that morning. I sat there sobbing for hours, alone, not wanting to call any of my friends I had the time as I didn’t feel worthy of their company. I hadn’t even arranged anything for my birthday as I thought they would all be too busy and not want to hang out with me. Deep down I know I thought this because of how I was drinking at the time but I still couldn’t admit it fully and do something about it. Plus, everything I did revolved around drinking and I didn’t know anyone who I was sober so I felt like my whole world would have to change and I would feel very alone.
I did a lot of travelling in the UK too and that to me would always mean drinking. From travelling on the train to London and buying two mini bottles of wine for the journey, to getting to the airport and going straight to Wetherspoons, it was just what we would do. The first thing we would do when we got somewhere was find a drink – it was normal.
After living for 7 years in the UK we decided to move to NZ. Originally we were only planning on staying there for 2 years but we enjoyed it so much it was hard to get away. The last 6 months were hard as we had a great group of friends and were having a lot of fun and we wondered if we were making the right decision. However, I knew I was needing a massive lifestyle change. I had put on nearly 30kg after being my healthiest to being at my heaviest, I wasn’t consistently exercising and I was just focusing on eating out all the time and drinking. Again, I knew that deep down this didn’t match my values but I thought that by changing I would lose everything, where as it probably would’ve been the other way around if I continued on.
Once we got back to NZ my love for the outdoors returned and I became more active again. A lot of what I did revolved around booze still but it wasn’t at the same level as we didn’t know as many people, plus it was less of a culture as it was in the UK. We worked at a winery which did two things – got me back into wine (not good) but also made me realise I was unfit and weak as it was extremely hard physical work for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week (good).
When we returned to Wellington I started working with a personal trainer to learn how to lift weights. This got me back on track health wise and naturally my drinking toned down a llittle. There were still times that it got out of hand and I would struggle to forgive myself for days. It would spin me off course and I would stop being consistent with my eatings habits and attending the gym so I was constantly letting myself down and not following through with things I said I would do. My anxiety levels started to rise again, but this time it wasn’t just around when I had been drinking, it was becoming more and more of a regular occurence. I was a bit lost in what I doing with my life and I think moving back home where a lot of people of a similar age had settled down and bought houses I felt that pressure as well and a bit out of place.
It was at the beginning of 2019 that I started working with a mentoring program where I really focused on growing myself and finding my purpose. I wasn’t perfect that year as I still was binge drinking and having big sessions, but for me those sessions were becoming worse as I knew I didn’t want to be that person anymore. But, they would still happen and I didn’t get it. It was like my control had completely gone and the more the black outs happened, the worse they would get. I would go from being so focused and positive to not giving a shit and drinking whatever I could as fast as I could.
In February this year, I had a few events that lead to me stopping – The Wellington Food and Wine Festival, Marlbrough Food and Wine Festival and my cousin’s wedding. I blacked out at 2 out of 3 of those events and the worst was when I snapped at my sister for absolutely no reason. After then I knew I needed a break. I had been working so hard at being a better version of myself, only to potentially throw that all away at one event? It was stupid.
Initially I decided to give myself a break and not drink until I was meant to be going to Hawaii at the end of May. I didn’t really tell anyone as I didn’t want the self created pressure if I didn’t make it. After a couple of weeks I started to notice I was feeling happier, I was starting to exercise consistently again and I was able to manage my emotions way better! I started thinking, why do I actually need to go back to drinking after May? Even one drink would spark up my anxiety these days and I couldn’t think of one positive reason for me to drink again.
So in my mind, I made my decison. After 3 weeks I told Daz, then told my sister and started slowly telling friends and my family. I was nervous to start with as I thought everyone would not want to hang out with me anymore, or pressure me into drinking. This wasn’t the case at all I found everyone was so supportive!
I know that I wouldn’t of been able to make this decision without the access to the personal development program, the support and belief from my mentors and then once making my decision, the support of my friends, Daz and my family.
I’m really glad I did stop when I did – as I mentioned earlier this year has been a tough time for everyone and I think if I was drinking my way through lockdown my mental health would’ve taken a very quick downward spiral and who knows where I would be today.
I’ve found that I’ve lost a lot of imflammation in my body, my skin is so much brighter, I have less tummy issues like IBS and the weight has slowly been coming off. I am 100% more confident in social settings (although I still need my recharge time!), I exercise daily, am so much more motivated and I have made amazing new friends who are on a similar journey. I still love going to bars and seeing live music, it’s just without the booze and it’s sooo much better being able to drive everywhere!
I want to try and share more here, particularly around my next focus and the amazing new sober friends I have met in Wellington – so do watch this space!
Thank you for reading if you got this far and if you have any questions or need to chat please don’t hesitate to reach out and get in touch x