wellness

'Alcohol completely destroyed my mental health. Here's what I've learned from six months sober.'

This post discusses suicidal thoughts and alcohol misuse. It could be triggering for some readers. 

I think my finest moment was when I actually googled 'alcohol allergy' (because surely a hangover couldn't feel THIS bad?).

Or perhaps it was the (multiple) times that I woke up in the morning to drive somewhere and needed to calculate how many hours had passed, since I’d polished off a bottle of wine. 

Or maybe it was the time when I was shaking and vomiting still, the next morning; that happened a few times over my toxic relationship with alcohol. 

These events were on rapid boil until after my 20s. But they didn’t disappear, they just evolved to a slow simmer. 

While you're here, watch Shanna Whan share her alcohol recovery. Post continues after video.

Without fail, for many years, at 5pm or 'on a bad day', earlier in the afternoon; a bottle of delicious, crisp, cool wine would be cracked open and poured. I had noticed the on-the-clock timing, the alarm that would ring in my brain at a certain time each day.

But I chose to ignore it - because I loved alcohol. 

The trouble was, alcohol didn't love me back. 

It makes me sad to type that, to admit that I loved alcohol so deeply that I allowed it to continually damage me. 

We live in an alcohol saturated culture though, where social events are based entirely around pre-drinks, main drinks, then recovery drinks. Alcohol is everyone’s therapist, cheaper than the real deal, tasty and available 24/7. Breaking up with alcohol is considered odd, questioned openly. Yet nobody ever says, “Why do you drink so much you end up sobbing then blacking out every weekend?”. Instead, friends and family laugh, roll their eyes then knock back another six-pack special. “That was a wild night”.

Every weekend, the romanticisation of alcohol begins on social media. The mimosas clutched in sun kissed hands with perfect manicures, the sake shots over iconic sashimi tacos. What is a delicious bowl of vodka rigatoni without a deep, glistening glass of red wine? 

This is the danger zone: How can I have fun and relax and live my best fantastical life without the ultimate sidekick, alcohol? What joy is there in the end of the week, if you aren’t on the precipice of tipsy? 

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Those little snapshots, if you watch closely, are followed up the next day with stories of nasty hangovers, exhaustion and desperate Maccas runs. I’ve been there, over and over again. I can’t judge but I can see the cycle. 

Alcohol consistently loved me for a few hours then hated me for the rest of the weekend. It broke me down, made me question everything, it dulled nothing and sparked demons to increase the negative chatter in my head. My mental health completely blasted out of balance. 

It was not unusual, towards the middle of bottle two, for suicidal thoughts to begin chipping away at me, and I’d be so sad, so down and so drunk. The only way through? Medicate with more alcohol and pass out. There is no thinking logically when you’re blowing your brains out with Chardonnay. 

Image: Supplied.

Passing out would be significantly short lived. Between needing to get up to use the bathroom, alcohol sweats and gulping down water to parch a mouth that was wooly-dry, solid sleep wasn’t achievable. Solid regret was though. Regret for feeling so physically unwell, regret for the thoughts running through my head then and on waking up in the morning, regret for that last drink of wine.

When I was in denial, it was always regret for the last drink; that’s how I would justify that all that alcohol consumed wasn’t the problem. Like, when you vomit mid getting-smashed-session and effectively make way for more shots, bottles, slammers, cocktails, booze. Justification for more alcohol, be it the next day or the next five minutes when it has had a negative physical or psychological effect on you is wild. When did we think this was normal behaviour?

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Normal behaviour is being able to cope with your mental health demons without using a tequila band-aid. Normal behaviour is a sleep where you wake up without a dry mouth, where you aren’t slamming water down to quench a full body thirst. Normal behaviour isn’t slipping a bottle of rose out of the fridge at the same time every day and drinking the whole thing in order to be able to wind down. Normal behaviour isn’t driving past the bottle shop, daily and debating if you need one or two bottles of something buttery or crisp. 

I’ve been there, I go there every weekend when I see everyone else drinking so elegantly; it looks so fun and effortless. Some days I catch myself looking at the clock at 5pm and noticing my wine glass crutch is missing. Then I remember it’s not normal to drink a drug that changes my spirit, that makes me think I should be dead. It’s not normal to actively think of ways to end things because alcohol has made me believe everything is dire and nothing can change.

Listen: On this episode of The Quicky, Mamamia's daily news podcast, we explore what life is like for a recovering alcoholic. Post continues below.

Since we broke up, I’ve gone through huge life challenges. There have been moments when I have screamed in my head: “I need a drink” to get through sadness, anger, disappointment that’s been upfront and painful. The funny thing is, despite my brain immediately switching to thinking I need alcohol, it turns out I don’t need it. 

I’ve never needed it. 

I can still celebrate and laugh. I can process my mental health issues with clarity. I can go to bed without the room spinning and wake up with clarity. When I get a headache, I know it’s a headache, not a hangover. I’m learning that my body and brain deeply appreciates not having liquid courage funneled into it, because the negative thoughts and feelings, the physical manifestations, aren’t constantly being enhanced by ethanol. 

Breaking up with lovely, lovely alcohol might not be for everyone. Not everyone has a problem with the drink, not everyone has mental health or addiction issues, not everyone will relate to this story. To the one person that does though, take a beat before you open the bottle at 5pm tonight and reflect. Your change might not happen today or tomorrow, but keep questioning. Keep searching for your path because I promise you, it’s life changing. 

If this post brought up any issues for you, you can also contact Drug Aware, Australia's 24hr alcohol and drug support line. You can reach them on (08) 9442 5000 or 1800 198 024.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health issue, please seek professional help and contact your GP. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636. If you are in immediate danger, call 000. 

Feature Image: Supplied.