Over the past year and a half – I have confronted my drinking and mental health.
My focus has always been on external achievements. Pushing myself to be a high achiever was all that mattered, never mind that my mental wellbeing and self-esteem was being steadily eroded in the processes. Initially, I wanted to stop drinking because I was unable to handle the ‘hangxiety’.
I had a gnawing realisation my drinking was increasing and with it came poor sleep, anxiety and shame.
I thought if I cut out alcohol then the anxiety and self-doubt would stop. I thought alcohol was the cause rather than a symptom – but (for me) I’ve learned that it has always been the other way around.
My family are all big wine drinkers, so there was always a regular glass or two of wine with dinner. I’d go out drinking with friends as a weekly activity during uni. I’m introverted and shy, but after a few drinks I would let my guard down. I would become louder and more easy-going. I had fun drinking because I felt like alcohol made ‘me’ fun.
Alcohol stopped being associated with socialising when I was studying for my PhD. I lived alone and as my research steadily took over my life, a glass of wine with dinner became two, then three.
Alcohol helped take away the stress and the ever-present feeling of failure. In the back of my mind, I knew it was too much.
I knew my mental health was bad, but I didn’t want to face up to it, so I didn’t seek out support. Instead, I ploughed on and drank more. Sometimes, I would even have a beer before going to yoga in the evening. I convinced myself that yoga was healthy, so it cancelled it out, right? Never mind that I continued to drink when I got home.
Things improved for a while when I was working fulltime. In classic avoidance mode, I tried to rationalise and put my drinking down to the stress of research and being burnt out. But during the pandemic, it didn’t take long for the alcohol and anxiety to creep back up worse than before.
I started experiencing panic attacks more frequently. I did my best to hide my hangovers on those morning video calls.
In June last year I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I started educating myself about alcohol addiction during a 30-day challenge and joined Daybreak. It was much harder than I expected. But, after 30 days of being sober my anxiety eased. I felt motivated and positive. I made it to the 45-day mark! .
Only a few months later I was back to drinking as though that 45-days never happened. The anxiety was back with an extra sprinkling of self-loathing on top. Why was I struggling so much? I used the same excuses in my attempt to convince myself that I didn’t have a problem. I didn’t get drunk or even drink every day. Alcohol wasn’t causing issues with my partner or my ability at work.
As I welcomed in the new year and my stubborn streak kicked in, I started to moderate my drinking. I marked more alcohol-free days in a week than not, but I thought about drinking and not-drinking constantly (in a way I never had done before). I counted the days until I could have a drink again, and when I started, I often couldn’t stop.
Alcohol was taking up so much space in my brain. My mental health was shaky, and I was quickly realising how much I was reliant on drinking.
After one too many big weekends, I acknowledged that moderating wasn’t working for me, so I stopped drinking alcohol completely. However, I needed something to fill in the time, to deal with the restless energy drinking used to quash. With wine no longer an option, I started running. I ran most days a week. I bought a new smartwatch and obsessed over whether my times were improving. If I couldn’t run, the anxiety would bubble up and spill over.
It took a mental breakdown for me to finally face up to the real problem -'my mental health'.
Seeing a doctor about my mental health and a psychologist for the first time, I was diagnosed with anxiety and clinical depression. I’ve been hiding my mental health issues from myself by using alcohol. My focus has always been on external achievements. Pushing myself to get these things was all that mattered, never mind that my mental wellbeing and self-esteem were being steadily eroded in the process. I became increasingly reliant on alcohol to cope. I never saw my drinking for what it was: self-medication.
I have been alcohol free for over eight months now.
My attitude towards my mental health and caring for myself has entirely shifted. Yoga and running are entirely sober activities, as they should be. I have had a lot to work through, but one thing I’ve noticed already is my confidence has improved. For me, quitting alcohol has been a huge part of me regaining my mental wellbeing.