When does a healthy grá for a glass of red develop into a drinking problem? Journalist Catherine Gray recalls her cycle of binges and blackouts before resolving to go sober.
I was about 28 when my drinking start scaring me. I tried to slow down, buying miniature bottles of wine, cutting my drinking to three nights a week, going to the gym straight after work keeping a unit diary. I tried everything I could think of to moderate but it didn’t work.
At a work Christmas party, everyone was getting in the hot tub in their underwear. I had a backless dress on so I had no bra on so I got in topless, trying to cover my boobs. I worked at Glamour magazine at the time and the next day the editor found out and she was horrified. Another time I fell asleep on the table while talking to the editor of Cosmopolitan. I couldn’t seem to control it. It began to feel really scary, like being body snatched, handing myself over to someone else who was going to make crazy decisions and pull men she didn’t fancy and spend all her money on shots.
“I WAS DRINKING TO MEDICATE HANGOVERS, MY ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION WERE OFF THE SCALE"
When I was 30 I was dropped by my boyfriend of three years and that pushed me down a hill. I started drinking at home and stopped going out. I was really depressed but I still wanted to get drunk. For the next three years, my drinking became dark. I was drinking to medicate hangovers, my anxiety and depression were off the scale. Everything in my life was being negatively affected by it so I knew that it had to go but I didn’t really know how to do that.
When I was 32 my parents sent me letters saying that they were concerned about my drinking, we’re here to support you and we love you. And I ripped them up. I was furious.
I started getting the shakes. I found myself drinking half a glass of wine in the morning to stop my hand shaking. That’s the point when drinking stops feeling like a choice and starts feeling like a necessity. I began getting so depressed that I was researching suicide. I couldn’t see a way out. Drinking was the source of all my problems. That was the moment when I thought, this has got to stop.
I quit in 2013 when I was 33 and I’ve been sober for over four years. My dad was 20 years sober and he had done it through AA. I went to the meetings three times a week for six months but I carried on drinking for ve of those months. I learned a lot that I still use to this day but it wasn’t the path for me. I started researching other methods: I read loads of books – Kick the Drink by Jason Vale and Unwasted by Sacha Scoblic. I found an app - I’m Done Drinking - that showed me how much money and how many calories I’d save. I joined a gratitude group, I joined a secret Facebook group called The Booze Free Brigade.
Feeling the freedom
Alcohol works as a fix for anxiety in the short term but long term it exacerbates it. Other methods like meditation or going for a massage, yoga or essential oils like lavender take a bit longer to kick in but will make you more relaxed in the long term. My anxiety has gone and ve years ago I couldn’t imagine that.
Now, I’m a happy go-lucky person, my mood is much more even. I really like the predictability – I know I can go out to a party and not wake up in a strange bed next to a strange man, or have a text from a friend that says, ‘Do you remember what you said to me last night?’
I had cystic acne when I was drinking, I was seeing a dermatologist and now my skin is clear. I used to have a muffin top that never went away and that’s gone. When I was drinking I would wake up four or five times a night, now I put my head on the pillow and get the most luxurious, deep sleep.
You go through a few months where you have to change things and be a bit more careful but then you have the rest of your life to be free of it. Because it’s exhausting, the constant thinking about how can I not drink too much? When you take it off the table, it’s so lovely.
Drinking is so romanticised in our culture it’s easy to forget why you’ve quit, you’re assailed with messages from advertising to Instagram: drinking is fun, being sober is awful. You have to reverse this conditioning that society constantly throws at us that drinking is the root of all fun.
Sobriety is represented as a struggle, as joyless. It’s the other way around. Getting through life hungover is really difficult and it’s way easier to get off that treadmill.
The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober by Catherine Gray, published by Aster, €8.99, octopusbooks.co.uk