Today I celebrate 12 weeks sober, in addition to the fabulous celebrations all around the city for Pride weekend.
I’ve attended a few Prides now, each one just as messy as the others. Traditionally, we started drinking around 11am when the parade first makes its way through the rainbow donned streets. Pride 2019, I was so drunk by the end of the parade that I’d made “friends” with a random man in the street, used his bathroom for a wee and couldn’t tell you any of the floats that had been past in the last few hours. By 3pm I was passed out on the beach. I woke up around 5pm, surrounded by the drunkest, druggiest group of glittery people. Someone offered me a bump of coke before I’d even really opened my eyes, still woozy from the mornings’ boozing. I took it. I didn’t know that person and it could have been anything on the end of that key. But I didn’t care. I was drunk and this was what city life was. Fortunately, my slightly more sensible friend stuck by me all the day so I didn’t get into too much trouble. I was lucky, once again, nothing bad happened but I was in yet another vulnerable state, in a massive city, where more than 400,000 tourists turned up to for that one weekend. The following Pride, allow I stayed awake for the daylight hours, I didn’t end up asleep until the daylight hours of the next morning, wired awake by coke, which I only really took so I could carry on drinking.
Fast forward to Pride 2022 and I am 12 weeks sober. I woke up fresh and happy. Proud of myself, and proud of my beautiful city for its ever amazing celebration of all things Pride. 🏳️🌈
It was obvious from the first day I drank that I would have a problematic relationship with alcohol in later life. I remember clearly, age 13 or 14, finding a bottle of Tesco own vodka hidden in the kitchen. I was fascinated with this bottle, the secrecy of it and the rebelliousness of knowing I wasn’t allowed to have it. The first swigs flushed my face red, and burned satisfyingly down my throat. It tasted terrible but I loved it.
I loved what alcohol afforded me. That is made me feel confident, that it made me feel free. Alcohol made me feel popular, it provided me a social network of fellow drinkers throughout college. I loved alcohol so much that I would drink it despite the hangovers, or the messy trails that lay behind me after a night out. I loved it despite the fiery arguments I’d have with boyfriends, the times I’d wake up and not know where I was. I kept drinking despite it causing me to pass out, wet the bed or lose my memory. I thought alcohol made me funny, made me come up with intelligent comments, be the life of the party, make people laugh, make people like me. I thought alcohol made me like me. Because, honestly, I didn’t really like me for a long time. And that was because of the alcohol.
What I have discovered since quitting alcohol, is that I like myself. I like me for the first time. I am funny, I am intelligent, I can be the life of the party, I can make people laugh and people do like me. Alcohol was the hindrance not the solution. Alcohol destroys, it does not fix. Alcohol was breaking me, even though I thought it was making me better. And now I am free, I am happy. Sober, and happy. Happy because I am sober. Happy because I am me.
Last night it came home! England won their first major trophy since 1966. Serena’s Women’s team sold out Wembley Stadium, in a record for the Euros. This is a major achievement, in football, but larger than that, for women and girls around the world.
I also observed something different in the drinking culture. I watched the game from the local pub. As I sipped on my 0% Peroni, I noticed how the atmosphere was different to previous big football games I’d watched from the comfort of a boozer.
Seemingly, everything was the same. The crowd were getting through pints, chanting it’s coming home, buzzing with excitement and disappointment and then excitement again. But there was a serenity. There wasn’t any aggression, it was rowdy in a composed way, no one threw up or started a fight. The pub was packed out, standing room only by the start of the match, so it wasn’t lack of people fuelling the lack of laddy football culture.
I have no analysis of this, no evaluation or explanation. It’s just an observation. The match last night was about football, something bigger than football in terms of the implications for women, but largely it was about football. It wasn’t about getting as drunk as possible. It wasn’t about having to be carried home by your mates, or refused a taxi because you’re too rowdy. It was respectful. I’m not saying all men’s football matches are disrespectful, but there was a marked difference.
On a personal level, I didn’t feel the need to celebrate with shots or keep up with necking as many pints as everyone else. I felt high from the buzz in the air, rather than a substance I was ingesting. And, I woke up feeling fresh, happy and proud. Proud of the women who bought us to victory, and proud of myself for waking up hangover free for the seventh somethingth day in a row. 🦁⚽
Today I am celebrating one year antidepressant free. This is a celebration for lots of reasons, but these are the most significant.
1. This isn’t the first time I quit antidepressants, but it is the last. I was first put on antidepressants when I was 17 years old. I told the GP I had been feeling depressed for a number of years. This was her solution. I was only a few months away from turning 18 so Camhs (the UK’s child mental health service) wouldn’t take me on, and I was too early for adult services. She didn’t ask me very much else, and therefore didn’t know that at the age of 17 I was drinking almost every day. I was in a social group at college where alcohol, and drugs, were the connection that kept us together. Taking alcohol and antidepressants is a problematic mix. Alcohol can make depression worse, and also increase the severity of antidepressant side effects. For me, this meant hallucinations, passing out, anxiety, panic attacks and generally feeling like complete shit. So I stopped taking them. This was the first time I quit antidepressants.
2. It proves I am a quitter. When stopping alcohol gets hard, I know that I have a success story of quitting already to remind me of my strength. I have quit antidepressants, cigarettes, social media and now alcohol (not all at once thank god!) I can do this!
3. I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. About 6 months into stopping antidepressants, I reached such a low point that I went to the GP ready to go back on them, to quit quitting. Thankfully, she could see how desperate I was. Desperate not to return to the psychiatric chains, but desperate to not feel how I was feeling anymore. She suggested we try one more thing, propranolol. Propranolol is a beta blocker, prescribed for anxiety attacks. You take it as and when. That prescription stopped me from going on antidepressants, and I have hardly ever needed to take it. Just knowing it is there if things get bad is enough. It also helped me drink less because I knew I couldn’t drink on it.
4. I’ve finally lost weight. Since starting antidepressants, I gained kilos and kilos and was really unhappy. No matter what I ate, or didn’t eat, and how much I exercised, I just couldn’t shift it. Since stopping antidepressants, that weight has just fallen off (also quitting alcohol has helped massively!). I am a huge advocate for body positivity and respecting and loving our bodies, but mine was making me unhappy. And I feel so much healthier now. I also have much better digestion, less stomach cramps and bloating.
5. I can feel again. I feel sadness. I feel fear, anger, shame, worry. I also feel excitement, optimism, happiness and joy. All of these emotions were muted when I was on antidepressants. The trade off for not feeling depressed and anxious, was that I didn’t really feel anything else. This meant it took 6 months of feeling like a tap off emotions had sprayed on with no plug, and I almost couldn’t go through with quitting, but it was worth it. I will tell anyone thinking about antidepressants that it is not a quick fix. I tapered for longer than recommended, I reduced my dose gradually and carefully. And it still took 6 months of feeling like I was getting worse and worse until I got better.
So there was have it, the joys of being antidepressant free. Now coupled with the joys of being alcohol free. I’m looking forward to the next anniversary already!
Disclaimer: I do not have any medical qualification. Always seek advice when considering coming off antidepressants. I also realise that antidepressants can be a real life saver for some people. In my case, I wish I was given the chance to try something else first and not left on them for so many years, but they did help for a short time and I respect how hard it is for some people to even think about living life without them.
Admitting I have a problem with drinking was the catalyst I needed to stop. At New Year, I made my annual resolution to cut down alcohol (I’ve been making the same new year’s resolution for ten years). This year, it appeared successful. I only drank on weekends, and mostly only once a week. This was a huge shift to previous years where cutting down to only drinking 3 days a week was an enormous achievement and rarely lasted long. Despite this reduction to once day a week, I was feeling the hangover guilt and the black out anxiety more than ever. The less I was drinking, the more I was self loathing when I drank.
My last alcohol session was nothing spectacular. I didn’t end my reign of boozing in a waterfall of debauchery and embarrassment. My final drink wasn’t that rock bottom from the bottom of a bottle of special brew on a park bench at 8am, like the stereotype would have you believe. It was actually a pretty tame evening. I had had a nice afternoon at the pub with friends. But on my last drink I was looking at it and thinking “I don’t actually want this.” The whole evening I had been counting units in my head and taking regular water breaks, almost on the verge of obsession. Despite the precautions, I woke up with paranoia and anxiety. I worried about what I said, if I had offended anyone, how many units I’d consumed, did my friend have a good time or not. Picking apart the whole occasion and obsessively counting units on my hands over and over. This exercise was a repeat every day after drinking and it was exhausting. I’d had enough.
I didn’t plan to stop drinking at that point. I didn’t know that would be my last drink. I think it took 10 days of not drinking to realise that I wasn’t drinking and that I was enjoying the peace and freedom afforded to me from accidental sobriety. And so it started, and here I am 73 days later.
It isn’t that I can’t drink. It’s that I don’t want to drink. I am the healthiest and fittest I’ve been in my adult life and I’m loving it. I’m enjoying going to the pub, holiday and parties without drinking. I know there will be highs and lows. I know this safe bubble I’m in at the moment might burst. But for now, I’m feeling bloody proud and the only question I’m asking myself at the moment is “why didn’t I start this sooner?”
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