'At 18, I was told I was "one drink away from a coma". It didn't stop me.'

This story mentions suicidal tendencies.

I was 18 when I woke up in a hospital emergency ward. I had an IV in my arm and my dad was at my bedside. My dad, with his hardened military stoicism and disdain for anything resembling sentimentality, was as close to tears as I'd ever seen him. Somewhere in the distance, a nurse was telling me that if I'd had one more drink, I would be in a coma.

I was wearing the crop top and shorts that, three hours ago, I had been dancing in at my friend's backyard birthday party. 

My dad began punishing me with questions: "Were you drinking before the party? How much alcohol did you bring? Were you drinking other people's alcohol?"

But I was still drunk, and there was a giant black space in the place where my memory should have been. I knew I had been drinking a lot – much more than my friends had been drinking. I didn't know why. It was like how Labrador owners need to watch their dog's weight because if there's food in front of them, they'll eat it. If there was a drink in front of me, I would drink it. I didn't have the off-switch in my brain to tell me I've had enough.

Watch: Here are just some of the effects after one year without drinking alcohol. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

My friends would later describe how I'd seemed perfectly fine one minute but had then collapsed on the bathroom floor, my body seizing, and foaming at the mouth. They watched me drive away in the back of an ambulance, wondering if they would ever see me alive again. I would learn much later that I had anxiety and was on the mild end of the autism spectrum. The blaring music and the social pressure to perform were probably just two reasons for my first alcohol poisoning.

You would think this incident would have turned me off alcohol. I had learned a Great Life Lesson and would now move forward with an embarrassing stain on my name but a wiser mind and experience. But that's not what happened. The next couple of years were a haze of boozy parties, regretful sex, and a brief stint as a stripper because what was better than a job where drinking was permitted while getting paid? Except one night I drank too much, hooked up with a customer, and got fired.

I was 19, and already showing symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder. I grew up with middle-class separated parents, was well-educated, and always had food on the table. While there were periods of my childhood that were stressful, there was no abuse or neglect. There was no moment I could point to and say: you made me like this.

Rehabs don't turn out rehabilitated people. 

I got my first 'real job' at 20 with an organisation that had a huge social drinking culture. I was young and smart, and I loved drinking, so I loved the job. It was several years before the alcohol began prominently impacting my life and career. 

At first, my drinking was limited to weekend binges. Like the frog in the boiling water metaphor, my drinking increased slowly. A few glasses of solitary wine some nights, then every night, then suddenly, a bottle, or two, or three. I was hungover all the time. I felt sweaty, and unhealthy and slovenly. But I couldn't stop. I somehow still had enough ambition to perform well in my career and was promoted quickly, but I knew I wasn't performing to my potential. I was slower, more careless, endlessly fatigued, and always craving the wine waiting for me at home. 


Which came first, the depression or the drinking? Many doctors would tell me that drinking was a symptom of depression, but I'd been drinking long before I experienced the emptiness, grief and suicidal ideation that arrived on my doorstep, with its bag full of adult traumas

I was drunk when I attempted suicide in 2022. 

This was the catalyst for my first rehab admission at age 26. I wanted to get better. I hated living the way I was, so I threw myself into the program and came out five weeks later convinced that I was cured. I was the happiest I'd been since I could remember. I could see colours again. I could hear the birds again. I was running. I was doing Pilates. I was engaged in reading and art. I was invincible. I was... in Dan Murphy's, buying a bottle of red wine, because it had been a particularly s**t day, and I goddamn deserved it, and one drink wouldn't hurt. 

You can guess what happened next.

Why hadn't rehab cured me of my alcoholism? Why was I back where I was six months ago, alone, depressed and drinking? Because rehabs don't turn out rehabilitated people. 


They educate you. They give direction. They take away your substance of choice and replace it with diazepam to stop you from having seizures, and then wean you off it. They give you anti-depressants, if you need them, as I did. 

What they don't do is make your choices for you afterwards. Because that's what it feels like to be an alcoholic. It's a hundred daily choices to walk by the bottle shop instead of into it. To turn left down your street home instead of right to the local pub. To say no instead of yes for a celebratory glass of champagne. To say no to social events if you're feeling vulnerable because, in Australia, they will almost inevitably involve alcohol. Sobriety, as much as alcoholism, can be isolating.

AA isn't the only way.  

In my first AA meeting, I stood up in front of forty people and said, "Rhiannon. Alcoholic. Five days."

"Hi Rhiannon," they chorused back at me, clapping at my five-day accomplishment. 

I was 27 and in my second rehab admission. Alcoholics Anonymous has been promoted widely by the hospital as one of the best communities to promote sobriety. I'd been granted leave for this very reason, but as I grazed my eyes over the famous '12 steps', I very quickly realised that this program was not going to work for me. 

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable. My life had certainly become unmanageable, but I wasn't powerless over alcohol. I made those choices on my own, every day, to drink, and to not stop. I'm not telling other alcoholics out there to "just stop", just like I'd never tell someone with depression to "stop being depressed". But admitting powerlessness over my drinking didn't align with my values. I did have power. I could choose to seek support from the many easily Google-able services, or from family and friends. I refused to say alcohol had made me powerless.


Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. This is when I knew for certain that I could never "work the steps." The organisation will tell you that this 'Power' can be anything – God, nature, the universe, or anything that spiritually connects you – but I have not one iota of spirituality in me. There was something wrong with my brain, not my spirit, and I would not admit that my alcoholism was anyone or anything else's fault, fate, or responsibility to fix.

AA also advocates for total sobriety. For some problem drinkers, this might not be the only path to improvement. For others, they can never drink "normally". I am one of those people. As someone now with a history of serial relapsing, sobriety is the only answer for me, but AA is not. AA is an excellent resource for many people. It has a high success rate, but it's not for everyone, and that's okay. You're not alone if the serenity prayer and the 12 steps don't speak to you.

Listen to Fill My Cup on how you can deal with drinking with your friends if you are trying to stay sober. Post continues after audio.

You will feel like a failure – but you aren't.

I was 28 on my third rehab admission.

I had been drinking again for a while and had a DUI under my belt. There were staff shortages at work and pressure had been building, so I started drinking at work, too. The tannic smell seething from my coffee mug seemingly went unnoticed by my colleagues. I did nothing with my free time except drink. 


I took out small loans to fuel my habit and put myself in debt. I detoxed multiple times, went to singular and group therapies, and learned about everything from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, to Schematherapy, to Brain Stimulation Therapy. 

I participated, I was called out, challenged and empowered – but I could never stay sober. My drinking was putting myself and others in danger. When parents talk to their children about "bad people" in the world, I feel like I am one of them. I was the biggest failure I knew.

I am now on my fourth rehab admission and have been sober for three months. It's not a lot, but it's something, and something is not nothing. Every time I've relapsed, I've dragged the weight of shame with me into the rehab doors, but at least I've brought myself there at all and accepted that I need help, structure and support. 

It's been 10 years since I woke up in that emergency hospital bed, confused and scared, and my father's eyes prickling with tears. But I am still trying, and I am starting to hope again. I am starting to see life as what it is again – something to be lived.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Supplied.