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Using Alcohol as a Crutch

I love drinking. I needed to start with that statement because this isn’t some sanctimonious piece to shame you all into drinking less.

I hit rock bottom in April. I locked myself into my room and cut off all contact with the outside world. Nine months of drinking copious amounts of alcohol to avoid my problems had finally caught up with me.

I recently did an interview for an amazing mental health documentary my friends are making. They asked me to discuss government policy regarding mental health, they wanted the Katie who loses the head and ridicules the government for their lack of action. I was more than happy to cover this part of the documentary but towards the end of my rant I felt compelled to tell my own story.

I have anxiety. This isn’t new information. I also have an incessant need to be liked as well as a need to predict what people think of me. For the last year my anxiety has been off the charts – sleepless nights, panic attacks and constant negative thoughts. I spent the year in an office telling people how to work through their own anxiety, how to build resilience and encouraging them to seek professional help. All the while I was self-medicating, trying my utmost to forget how much I was struggling.

We all have a very distorted and sensationalised view of problem drinking. I wasn’t living on the streets, I wasn’t berating people in the middle of the day and I wasn’t always drunk.

Far from it.

I was leaving work after a stressful day, checking Yik Yak for my daily torrent of abuse and heading straight for a pint. This pint turned into pints which ultimately led to me being out 4 or 5 nights a week. Cancelling counselling appointments because of hangovers or fear. Working 60 hour weeks and allowing no time for meaningful sleep or relaxation. This all culminated in a week of hell in April.

For five days I felt that if I left my room I would die. That’s not an exaggeration. I was absolutely terrified of everything outside my bedroom door so I turned off my phone and took refuge in my bed.

I had become the girl who used alcohol to solve her problems; the girl who couldn’t handle the stuff going on in her head and needed to self-medicate. This terrified me.

It’s insanely scary to see how easy you can fall into this kind of behaviour. What started out as me enjoying my first few weeks out of education turned into a pattern of me running away from my problems to a session somewhere, can in hand.

This was the first time I could fully understand the shame associated with mental health. Something inside me made me feel like I couldn’t tell anyone this. I felt weak, worthless and incapable of dealing with my own problems.

I thought the only way to solve this problem was to eliminate alcohol from my life, cut out what I believed to be the problem; but that wasn’t the problem.

My anxiety was the problem; the alcohol was just a faulty plaster I was using to hold it all together. I needed to work on my anxiety, and in-turn my relationship with alcohol. This was my solution, if this is something you’re experiencing your solution may be entirely different. The point I’m trying to make is that there is a solution.

It’s been a tough four months. I kinda feel like I’ve rebuilt myself; I’m stronger, more self-aware and far from dependent on alcohol to fix my bad days. I still enjoy drinking regularly but on a much healthier, social level than before.

As students we’re perfectly placed to engage in problem drinking. It’s so easy for what should be a social activity to turn into something you rely on to get through your day.

My biggest problem was being afraid to tell anyone. I needed to get this out, it was eating away at me. That’s the best advice I can give here, tell someone. This isn’t something to be ashamed of. This might be something you can rectify yourself with the help of friends and family. It might be something you need professional help with, but it can be fixed, and you’re far from the only one who’s been through it.

By all means, enjoy alcohol and all that comes with it or enjoy sobriety and a hangover free life.

Just be conscious of how many of your bad days are rectified by grabbing a bag of cans over addressing what’s really going on.