Getting through party season as a young, recovering alcoholic
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There’s nothing better at Christmas time than being snuggled up on the sofa, watching Elf with a bottle of red wine. But this isn’t a possibility for me anymore. I’m a recovering alcoholic.
My family told me my first drink was at 18 months old. As a toddler, I would drink from nearby glasses when my parents had parties. You’d think a child would be disgusted by the taste of alcohol, but my siblings say that my reaction was always, “give me more”.
I’m 23 now, and having a social life can be tricky. I don’t go on many nights out, as that was when my biggest drinking sessions would usually happen. When I do go out, I’m pretty open about why I don’t drink – if someone asks me, I’ll tell them. People are often fascinated by it, especially because I’m so young. Some are sceptical and try to argue that I’m not an alcoholic. They can believe what they like.
Drinking has always been a large part of family life for us. It’s very normal within our circle of friends to have a bottle of wine over lunch and another bottle or two with dinner.
At Christmas and other special occasions, my three siblings and I would be given an eggcup of champagne to toast with.
The first time I got properly drunk, I was 13. My older sister and I were playing drinking games. I remember getting the head spins and thinking the feeling was the best fun. I couldn’t stop laughing.
My drinking really kicked off when I started boarding school a year later. I’d buy alcohol from older students with my pocket money or steal it from the school kitchens, hiding the empty bottles in a ceiling panel above my bed.
At first I’d just drink to be rebellious. But, in 2007, I woke up one morning following a trip abroad overwhelmed with inexplicable sadness, and nothing was the same again. I lashed out at a teacher because she wouldn’t let me have a lie-in. I just flipped.
I developed depression. Then, drinking became necessary to get to sleep at night.
By 16, I was sleeping with a bottle of vodka under my pillow, and drinking tea laced with alcohol during the day. I was good at putting on a sober front. None of the teachers knew what was going on.
I’ve always had crippling social anxiety, and the drink made me appear fun and bubbly in social situations. I was seen as the clown of my friendship group and would do anything for a laugh while drunk. Once I climbed over razor wire and streaked around Hyde Park at night. I wanted people to think, “We have to go drinking with Clemmie, she’s so much fun.”
After I left school, I started working for a recruitment company in London. I would spend my whole salary on booze and couldn’t pay my rent. I would lie to my parents to get money, and my then-boyfriend would lend me money.
As my depression worsened, he moved in to look after me. I took sick leave and lay in bed all day with a bottle of wine. I developed a psychosomatic paralysis, only able to move my eyes, and swallow. It was terrifying. My boyfriend would have to carry me to the loo, bathe me and make sure I ate.
He saved my life on multiple occasions, stopping me from committing suicide and self-harming. I was selfish and only cared about when I was going to get my next fix, so I never thanked him for what he did for me.
I drank because I was in mental agony. I couldn’t think straight and I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t interact with people.
At 22, I had already written my will. But, after a failed suicide attempt, I decided to try to live.
I told my family about my drinking and depression, and they were totally in shock. At first there were arguments and shouting. They were angry with me for lying to them, and angry with themselves for not having spotted my problems earlier. But we were able to work together to get the help I desperately needed.
At one point, I was in group therapy, but my anxiety was horrendous; being around strangers made me not want to participate. Every week we had to fill in a form describing how we felt, and every week I would write, “suicidal”.
In January 2015 I started one-on-one therapy. The idea of recovery was scary at first but my therapist instantly understood what I needed, and I’ve been seeing him for almost two years now.
My family all came together to help me and it has made us stronger. We’re a very stiff-upper-lip family but we talk openly about feelings now and we’ve never done that before.
I can’t stop telling them how much I love them and how much I appreciate them.
When I’m particularly low I can be tempted to drink, so I make sure that I regularly check in with them by text or call, to let them know where I am and who I’m with.
I’ve always wanted to be a chef, so I went on a cooking course and found an outlet for my anger doing activities like making bread. I also started a blog – http://www.cookingthroughrecovery.com/- about my experiences with alcohol.
I’m now working as a private chef. Christmas is our busiest time of year. I go to bed with a clear head and wake at 6am to prep for the next job. There’s no chance I’d be doing that if I were still drinking.
Christmas used to be my favourite excuse to get drunk. The day would start with a hideous hangover and finish with me lying on the sofa in a red wine coma.
Now, I can laugh at my family on Boxing Day when they’re all hungover and I’m not. I feel quite smug about that.
I’m also the designated driver now, and I’m fine with that. At least I know that we’ll all get to where we’re going safely.
There’s nothing better at Christmas time than being snuggled up on the sofa, watching Elf with a bottle of red wine. But this isn’t a possibility for me anymore. I’m a recovering alcoholic. My family told me my first drink was at 18 months old. As a toddler, I […]