When I was 17 years old, I started my first dream job as a trainee Zoo Keeper. I was shy and uncomfortable around people and had always said I would never drink or smoke because I’d seen how alcohol affected people and didn’t like it.

I’d been invited out by my work mates who all liked a drink and was introduced to cider and baby sham, the ‘in drink’ back then. I liked the taste of it and it went down a treat. Then I had another, then another. It was great, I felt great and I could talk to people now! What a night! I felt amazing!

The next morning however, was a totally different story. I felt strange and confused, like I was hallucinating. I didn’t like the feeling and deep down, I knew this was something I didn’t want to do again; it really wasn’t for me.

On the next night out though, I felt shy and awkward and thought ‘I’ll just have the one to give me a little confidence’. And then had another and then another, and so it went on.

I soon realised I couldn’t have ‘just the one’ but I was young and your younger years were supposed to be spent like that right?

My nights out were amazing. I met so many people and had the best social life. Before long, I was out most nights of the week.

Sometimes, grabbing a quick drink after work turned into being kicked out at closing time, still in my work clothes. In the morning, I would head to work red-eyed and stinking of booze from the night before. My boss would shout ‘Were you out drinking last night again? Look at the state of you’ but I’d just laugh and get on with my work.

During those years, I tried all the drinks; different spirits, beers, wine, etc. I loved vodka but it made me violent. I tried whisky but didn’t like the taste and it gave me severe hangovers.

All of my relationships centred around alcohol and none of them ever lasted very long. I’d attract people who liked a drink as much as I did and gradually saw less of my sensible drinking friends.

When I reached my late 20’s and had another failed relationship, I realised that alcohol had played a big part in this relationship from start to finish. I’d become quite violent to my partner at the time and would feel terrible the following day, staying in bed for as long as possible so that I didn’t have to face the shame of what I’d said or done the night before.

After this realisation, I decided to monitor my drinking habits a bit more. I’d choose drinks that were a bit lower in alcohol content and try to have a glass of water in between drinks. I even decided to work in a bar at weekends so I’d still be socialising but not drinking, but none of it worked. Hell, I just drank more working in the bar spending all my tips on alcohol when I finished!

Every time I tried to moderate my alcohol intake and failed, my drinking would then get worse. It felt like going to a weight management class to lose lots of weight only to then put it all back on again and then some.

In my early 30’s, I knew my drinking was unhealthy but thought ‘I’m not an alcoholic’ as I don’t drink in the mornings, can keep a job and a roof over my head and don’t need to drink every day.

I knew I was a binge drinker but that was ok right? Yeah, I blacked out nearly every time I drank, yeah I’d wake up in strange houses and yeah, I’d been in hospital twice this year due to drink related accidents.

I then decided that what I’d do was just drink at home so I wouldn’t embarrass myself any further. I’d buy a box of red wine (because that’s good for you right?) and I’d have just 1 glass of wine per night, no bingeing and therefore consume less than 14 units a week.

This way, if I did drink more than a glass of wine, nobody will see me making a fool of myself. I wouldn’t dread answering the phone or the door the next day. It was sorted.

So on a Thursday night, I’d buy a box of red wine and sit it in the kitchen. I’d have a glass then convince myself it wasn’t quite a full glass so I’d just have a little more. Then I’d think ‘it’s still early and I feel fine’ and have another .. and then wake up at 5am the next day with a hangover and … you guessed it .. an empty box of wine!

So what do I do now? People keep telling me I’m not an alcoholic as I don’t drink every day but something is clearly not right.

On New Year’s Eve in 2001, I had a fabulous night celebrating in Edinburgh and ended up going to a party afterwards.

In the morning, I woke up half dressed with no idea what happened as I had no memory. Still drunk, I went to my parents for New Year’s Day dinner. As the alcohol started to wear off, the hangover and depression started to kick in with the realisation that something had happened, something I had let happen. I was riddled with guilt and fear and broke down to my mother. I was desperate now and knew I can’t go on like this. I knew that after this event, I could never drink again. Never.

I didn’t drink for the next 2 weeks but I missed it. I convinced myself that I’d had a huge fright and that I’d be ok but would stop drinking when I felt like I was getting drunk.

So, once again, I decided that I’d just drink in the house and bought a small bottle of rum. Oh boy I’d missed this; the taste, the feeling. I felt great, amazing, so happy. After a couple of hours, the bottle was empty and I was in a party mood. I called a taxi to take me to the local pub and decided to meet up with some old drinking buddies then go onto a party. It’d be fine, I convinced myself. I was working in the morning so I wouldn’t stay late.

When I woke up, my head hurt like hell. I couldn’t remember but concluded I must’ve drunk whisky. Then I realised I wasn’t at home. Oh no, I’d blacked out again and I needed to get to work. I quickly went home, got changed and somehow, drove to work. I was so ill, I just couldn’t be there and luckily managed to get away early where I climbed into bed, and stayed for 2 whole days.

I couldn’t go on like this. I couldn’t live with alcohol but I didn’t think I could live without it either. I needed someone or something to help me.

On 28 January 2002, my dad was having a retirement party. I didn’t want to embarrass him or make a fool of myself and knew I needed help.

I decided to go to the doctor but he wasn’t much help, telling me I wasn’t an alcoholic. He prescribed me some pills to help with the side effects of not drinking alcohol and refers me to a community psychiatric nurse, advising I will wait sometime for an appointment.

In the meantime, I tried Alcoholics Anonymous but decided it wasn’t for me. I then found a womens group through the NHS that I attended once a week. I found that talking to other women and being re-educated about alcohol helped me so much. My employer was a great help too by giving me the time off.

My parents were so supportive. I thought nobody understood but if it wasn’t for them, I’m sure I would’ve have failed. I cried and cried when I realised this was it. It felt like the end of a relationship I thought I could never leave, I was bereft.

15 years on, I now own my home, have my own business, have travelled all over the world; New Zealand twice, Australia, Kenya twice. I have volunteered for an HIV orphanage for 3 months, went to Namibia to volunteer with the Endangered Species Trust, visited Singapore and Hong Kong, all on my own. I have discovered a love of cooking and found out how magical and amazing life is. I have 2 dogs and a cat who are my life.

I am 48 and still single and that’s fine because my life is so full. I’d like to meet someone eventually but it’s not the ‘be all and end all’; I’m in no hurry.

Being sober is definitely the best thing I have ever done. It’s been an amazing journey of self discovery.

In a weird way, I’m actually grateful for my experience with alcohol, I reached rock bottom, my rock bottom and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have experienced just how wonderful life can be.

I know if I hadn’t stopped drinking when I did, I’d be dead now.

If I had listened to the people that told me I wasn’t an alcoholic, I’d be dead right now.

Instead, I listened to the inner voice inside me, the one I ignored as a 17 year old. The one I will never ignore again, for that inner voice, is my guide.

Written by Jackie, edited by Sober Fish

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