health

'After 30 years of problematic drinking, I quit. Then life threw me a curve ball.'

55 days into my decision to give up alcohol, I was thrown the biggest curveball of my life – a shock diagnosis of an aggressive type of breast cancer at the age of 46. 

In the trauma of the first couple of weeks post diagnosis, I questioned how I was going to get through one of the biggest challenges in my life without using alcohol?

When I looked back at my life, there had never been an occasion when I was grieving or in pain when I hadn’t drunk alcohol to numb, soothe or escape.

Watch: Your body after one year without alcohol. Post continues after video. 


Video via Mamamia.

For many years, my relationship with alcohol felt unhealthy and problematic. I started binge drinking as a teenager in Australia in the 1980s and 30 years later; I was still struggling to control this destructive drinking behaviour. 

I felt confused a lot of the time as binge drinking was so normalised and accepted in Australian culture. I wasn’t a daily drinker or physically dependent on alcohol. I enjoyed taking part in FebFast and Dry July and didn’t find it difficult to abstain from drinking for periods of time. 

"I felt confused a lot of the time as binge drinking was so normalised and accepted in Australian culture." Image: Supplied. 

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I kept convincing myself that binge drinking was something a lot of people did and that all I needed to do was moderate and get it under control.

As the years went on, I started to worry more and more about the consequences of my drinking which included blackouts, bed wetting, injuries and out-of-control conversations and arguments with people that I didn’t remember and would have to piece together the next day.

I had so many mornings waking up with hazy memories of how I got home, forgetting huge chunks of the night and wondering if I still had my phone and wallet with me. 

I didn’t enjoy moderation or having just one drink. There was something appealing about the loss of control, the feeling of oblivion, and once I started, I found it difficult to stop.

Although moderation occasionally worked for me, it felt hard. Like a punishment. It meant I was always thinking about what I could and couldn’t drink and how far from the ‘tipping’ point I was. Often, I would end up in a binge at some point, waking up in the all too familiar pit of shame and embarrassment, wondering what I had to do to stop this unhealthy pattern of drinking?

"Although moderation occasionally worked for me, it felt hard." Image: Supplied. 

So, what was the circuit breaker? How did I eventually breakthrough the binge drinking cycle?

Simply – I let go of trying to moderate. I realised that my sweet spot did not exist within the paradigm of moderation and that I needed to start living without alcohol for an indefinite period. 

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Once I’d made this shift, I felt a huge sense of relief. A weight had lifted, and I felt positive, energised and excited about the future. 

But six weeks later, on an ordinary morning in August, I was showering and getting ready for work when I discovered a large lump in my right breast. Within a week, I had started an intensive program of chemotherapy for triple positive breast cancer.

"I let go of trying to moderate and continue to drink." Image: Supplied. 

As the shock of my breast cancer diagnosis started to settle, I found myself asking questions about my lifestyle and felt uneasy about the role that alcohol had played and whether this could have contributed to my diagnosis. I hadn’t seen or heard much about the links between alcohol and breast cancer, so I decided to investigate myself.  

I was shocked at what I discovered. There were over 100 studies that absolutely showed a direct link between alcohol consumption and increased breast cancer risk. I felt uneasy and frustrated that I had never come across this information and wondered why there wasn’t a more publicly visible health campaign about this issue given breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia and affects over 20,000 people every year. 

As I continued to work through my cancer treatment and recovery, I felt empowered by the choice to reduce my risk of the cancer returning by continuing an alcohol-free lifestyle.

"As the shock of my breast cancer diagnosis started to settle, I found myself asking questions about my lifestyle." Image: Supplied. 

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When your mortality is suddenly put under the spotlight, you want to savour each and every moment. Alcohol and drinking take you away from being present in these moments and it was here that I found freedom and a deep sense of gratitude for knowing that my choice to be alcohol free gifted me a greater presence in living. 

August 2022 will mark three years since my diagnosis and I have no doubt that the alcohol free life I am committed to has provided me with the freedom to rebuild confidence in my health and the opportunity to support others.

Listen to this episode of The Quicky, hosted by Claire Murphy. Post continues after audio. 

In 2021 I became a certified This Naked Mind alcohol coach and now support men and women who identify as high functioning binge drinkers to help breakthrough unhealthy and destructive patterns of drinking. 

I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate three years of alcohol-free living than coaching and supporting others.

Kathryn Elliott was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019 and is currently in remission. She is a Lady StartUp graduate and a certified This Naked Mind alcohol coach who specialises in supporting women and men who identify as high functioning or episodic binge drinkers – www.thealcoholmindsetcoach.com

You can follow her here.

If you're worried about your drinking habits and want to take a self-assessment, you can do that here.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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