Why I quit drinking for a year.
I was always a party girl, I still am. I loved a good Chardonnay or a glass of champers, or a cold beer on a summer’s day. I did, I really did. Until I starting experiencing anxiety and panic attacks it was the most wonderful way to celebrate my life and treat myself after working hard all week or achieving something great. To be honest, it was the only way I knew how to celebrate or commiserate anything in life. Being Scottish and living in New Zealand it’s almost a necessity to punctuate all the best bits along the way with a glass and a ‘cheers!’ How could you not? Unfortunately, hangovers started to take on a dark twist. As I was getting older it was taking longer and longer for me to recover, which is unavoidable as we age. However, I was starting to noticed that if I’d had a particularly big night out, the next day I’d feel all the normal symptoms, queasy, sore head, tiredness, thirst but with something extra. At some point throughout my pitiful day feeling sorry for myself, I’d start to feel hollow. It’s the only way I can describe it. I would start to feel like there was nothing left to look forward to in life and it started to cut deep. I knew it was the hangover but I shrugged it off because over the course of the next couple of days, I’d be back to my normal happy self again - Only to repeat the process by the next weekend.
What happened next scared me right to the core, the hollow feelings were starting to turn into panic. A hangover now went from queasy, sick, headache, to ‘the hollow’ and when it hit ‘the hollow’ I would start to panic. Once the panic set in, it was almost impossible to stop. My body already dehydrated and stripped of essential potassium, magnesium and vitamin B (and probably much more) would go into meltdown mode – my heart would thud faster and faster, I’d be sweating profusely, my OCD (checking my body) would be heightened and it was impossible for me to sleep through this.
I spoke openly about this to my psychiatrist about this and she suggested I cut back for 2 weeks. I agreed, with full enthusiasm. I knew it was going to be hard, given the culture I live in but I was done, I wanted to try anything and everything to get my anxiety under control. Being someone who likes to set BIG goals for myself rather than take it step by step I made a pact with myself that instead of 2 weeks, I was going to do it for 3 months. Yeah, you heard me, three months.
It was hard. Mostly because I wasn’t open about my struggles and people couldn’t understand what I was doing or why I was doing it. I got asked constantly ‘are you pregnant?’ which drove me crazy. When I said no and offered no other explanation, I felt like an alien, I felt like I had two heads and that I was offending people by not accepting a drink. Honestly, sometimes I felt like just taking one to stop the looks of bewilderment and sympathy coming my way. But, I’m stubborn. So, so, SO stubborn. While I’m not competitive against anyone else, I’m competitive with myself and I wasn’t about to break my promise to myself. Not for anyone.
I stopped drinking late 2015, so I was heading into silly season. How was I going to do this in a culture awash with booze? I did it through the sheer dedication I had to my mental health. I became more and more aware of the insidious nature of the beast, the constant marketing and the pressure put on everyone to have a drink because ‘you’ll have a better time!’ And, it sucked. But I did it. With gusto.
After about 2 weeks and picking up my exercise routine, getting the perfect combination of supplements, eating better and taking my sleeping pills to get back into a good sleeping routine, my anxiety started to diminish. Instead of two panic attacks in a week I was only getting slight murmurings and there was definitely no sign of ‘the hollow’.
I also had great support from the majority of people. My nearest and dearest had seen me at my worse and were supportive of anything I needed to do to get myself well again. I can’t say enough how grateful I am to have had these people in my life. They didn’t make me feel out of place, they would buy 0% beers for me and they never once grilled me over my decision. They were my cheerleaders and my saviours and I love every one of them for it.
So, after 3 months I was starting to feel like myself again. I’d had 6 weeks of intense therapy and my healthcare team were satisfied that I didn’t need medication, so everything was going well. I reached the end point and thought ‘I wonder what would happen if I did the full year without booze’. I had just read Jill Stark’s ‘High Sobriety’ and her story was so similar to mine I decided to go for it.
A year later and I have never felt better. I have saved money, made new friends, become a business owner, a fitness freak, a yoga lover and I built Sergeant Calm. I also haven’t had a panic attack since August the 29th 2015.
I overhauled my entire life to cope with anxiety and depression and I think that’s key. If your mind is sick, there isn’t any easy road or one-stop-shop cure. You have to look into every area, every dark corner. You have to take the pills, do the meditation, quit the booze, quit the drugs, exercise, do yoga, read, write, breathe, share, go to therapy, talk to someone, anything, everything, whatever you can. Eventually you’ll find the right combination. Maybe it’s 3 alcohol free nights a week and 2 yoga classes on the other nights. Maybe it’s therapy combined with medication. Maybe it’s all of the above. But, keep trying. Keep talking. Keep trying, never stop.
I’ve had a few light beers since; I’ll have a few more in the future and definitely a Whisky or two on a special occasion. But, after a year I know I never want to have a hangover ever, ever again. And that’s that. That’s my honest truth and I’m damn proud of it.