real life

'During COVID my drinking got out of control. 10 days in a mental health centre changed everything.'

This story discusses addiction and mental health issues, and could be triggering for some readers. 

I'm a Victorian. COVID and the excessive lockdowns took a serious toll on me. There was a saying circulating at the time; check on your extrovert friend, they are not ok. This certainly applied to me.

Alcohol has never been my friend but during the lockdowns I acquired a heavy daily alcoholic dependency which was a way to escape mentally. Three years later, I couldn't seem to kick it. And in fact, the amount I was tolerating kept increasing. 

This led to weight gain, lack of motivation to exercise, emotional dysregulation and issues with my marriage. We had high needs kids to home school and no 'village' to help.

Feelings of sadness and apathy were the norm. I became quite anti-social and was hiding my drinking from my family every night. 

Watch: How to talk to people with anxiety. Post continues after video.

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Work got extremely busy in 2022 and I oversaw two major events without administrative assistance. I drank heavily through those months to cope. I started a side business to pay off debt but the stress of working two jobs took its toll. Friendships I thought would be forever ended and there were issues within my family. It felt like the shit pile never stopped growing. 


By Christmas 2022, I was in a constant state of anxiety but I was an expert at putting on a happy face. I hid how I really felt and kept on going and going until I could no longer. I finally got to a point of complete exhaustion and burnout.

I was blacking out from drinking regularly in the evening, didn't matter what night. On New Year's Eve, I had a close friend over for a BBQ and out of habit I drank heavily and quickly. Within two hours, I was smashed. I got up, lost my balance and fell, hurting myself and was so disorientated I had to go to bed. My girlfriend was very upset by the incident and the next day she and my husband both spoke to me. They told me they loved me and expressed their concerns about how much I was drinking, suggesting I seek help. By then I was feeling powerless and deep down I knew it was time.

Along with my wonderful GP we found a treatment program, offered at a new women's only clinic in Melbourne (part of Cabrini Hospital) that was quickly generating a great reputation. She referred me; we had to sort out our health insurance cover, which was not an easy task, however within a week I was booked in. They specialise in the treatment of depression and anxiety, PTSD, addiction and offer targeted therapies for women.


The founders said in an interview with The Age in 2021, women's mental health issues are at all-time high and that women were experiencing "addiction by stealth" because of the lockdowns.

On the first day, as I walked through the doors, I felt anxious as I had no idea what I was in for. My nervous system was shot from the excessive drinking, I was agitated and had the shakes. The staff were welcoming, gave me a tour of the centre and showed me to my room. When I first walked into the kitchen full of women chatting, laughing and eating lunch I felt overwhelmed and out of place. Within a day or so I began to relax as I learnt the routines and started chatting to the ladies and doing therapies. I soon learnt it was a place where I could heal, rest and even understand myself better.

It is a holistic program, combining the right medication to suit the individual, exercise therapy, group therapy and mindfulness. We did all sorts of work on ourselves. We developed a list of what values are important to us and what a value driven life looks life. Emotional regulation, mindfulness, boundaries and interpersonal effectiveness.

Listen to Fill My Cup where Allira is joined by clinical psychologist Dr Rebecca Ray on how to set better boundaries and reminds us why we need to look out for our own needs. Post continues below. 

To paraphrase Oprah Winfrey, there were some "AH HA" moments for me. I broke down in a group a few times and sobbed my heart out. It was mortifying at first, but I felt comfortable among these women and it was a relief to let it out. I was away from triggers and temptation and it gave me space. I counted the alcohol-free days and each day I felt stronger.


A sisterhood formed as it often does between groups of women thrown together. Spending every day in each other's pockets and doing all that mental health work you become close quickly. We would sit around the kitchen table, eat all the delicious food, drink coffee and paint. I found myself having some of the most authentic conversations I'd had in a long time. I made memories I will take with me forever.

It was not all rainbows and Kumbaya moments. My bags were searched by the nurses for substances at admission. Long charger cords were confiscated and no hooks were allowed anywhere in the rooms. Any glass skin care bottles were taken and locked up. The mirrors were foggy and not made of real glass, so they could not be smashed by patients. While I detoxed I was not allowed to leave the facility and afterwards leave time was restricted.

I learnt a lot about mental health conditions. My heart broke for some of the young women struggling to get by in life. My maternal instinct kicked in and I wanted to mother them. Hearing them speak about their mums made me reflect on my relationship with my daughter.

I'm a firm believer that taking care of our mental health is just as important as taking care of our physical health. There is no shame in admitting you are struggling and need help. Not only that, but for us to regularly work on maintaining our mental health. For me personal growth and self-development is important.


I want to understand myself better, to look within, to improve our family dynamic still damaged by the lockdowns. To learn when it's simply time to walk away from toxic relationships.

At the end of 10 days, I was ready to move forward. Since then I've participated in outpatient group therapy. I feel stronger, calmer, more balanced and more content than I have in a long while.

It's still day by day for me but this circuit break was exactly what I needed. It was cathartic and transformative and I would recommend it to anyone struggling mentally in whatever form it may be.

The author of this story is known to Mamamia but has chosen to remain anonymous for privacy reasons.

If this post brought up any issues for you, you can 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 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: Getty.

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