Like a lot of people, I started drinking as a teenager and loved it, mainly because it made me more confident in social situations and I considered myself to be shy without it.

I continued with this attitude throughout my life (now I am 36), believing alcohol made me likeable and funny on work and girly nights out, but over the years, the reality became quite different.  Blackouts became more frequent. I would wake up in extreme states of shame and anxiety at what I could remember, having made decisions I would never have made when sober.  Alcohol was beginning to ruin my life. Gradually it was taking control of social situations and I hadn’t really noticed it creeping into my normal routine.

The Christmas before I got sober, I spent most nights alone, drinking up to two bottles of wine, watching chick flicks on my sofa in a boozy haze.  I would desperately text and email ex-boyfriends looking for attention and was constantly on social media feeling jealous of everyone. On the nights I did go out, I would often end up in black out, not even knowing how I had made it home.

I regularly put myself in dangerous situations with no regard for my safety or well-being. The horrible and dark times were vastly overtaking the lessening amount of ‘good times’ and I felt a strong and growing feeling of dread getting greater by the day. I was sick most mornings and became worried that drinking was damaging my health as my drinking had increased every day.

My doctor then diagnosed me as suffering from severe depression and anxiety and prescribed Citalopram.  In a way, this is what I wanted to hear as I could then blame my condition on mental illness and not alcohol, which would allow me to continue drinking.

The drugs, combined with alcohol, actually caused my anxiety to worsen and I ended up hiding in my house.  I couldn’t give up drinking, lost my job, built up terrible debt and believed my mental health to be beyond repair. I lost interest in everything, except drinking alcohol, and believed myself to be worthless. I tried to take my own life by taking an overdose and drinking to excess. Still I continued to convince myself that alcohol wasn’t the problem, believing that I needed alcohol to help me relax and to escape my problems and mental illness.

I believed alcohol was the only thing that worked except it had stopped working long ago.  I was discharged straight from the hospital to rehab, where I stayed for 6 weeks.

I got sober in rehab on 14 May 2017.  These past 17 months have been the best of my life. I actually consider each day to be a miracle and a gift.

In rehab, I was warned that my depression and anxiety would still affect me without the alcohol and that I was probably suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I was told to continue taking antidepressants and to increase them up to the maximum dose for at least a year.  I was surprised at this, as was starting to feel happier and more stable after just a few weeks of sobriety.

I started to exercise, to eat well and to read up on alcohol abuse and read sober blogs and literature.  I went to AA and socialised sober, having told old friends I was no longer drinking.  I gradually found a supportive network.  I started work again and was able to be reliable.  Old relationships took on a new meaning, as I was able to share with people and not hide my drinking.  I sorted out my debt problems.

I had been so bitter when I was drinking, often looking down on people and looking for the worst in them.  Sober, I found I was able to accept and give love and that was a simple and wonderful thing. Friendships took on more value, laughter became more real, but the main change was that I started to like myself.  I discovered that I was not shy after all and that I quite like my own company.  What a revelation!

I decided not to increase my antidepressants to the maximum dose, even in the early days.  As I was feeling so much better, I did not see the point.  With every sober day my confidence grew and my anxiety lessened.  Was it possible that sobriety was causing all of this?  What about my severe mental illness? As I got healthier, with a clear head, life seemed quite fun.  I was happy with how I looked, as my skin had cleared up and my eyes and hair were shiny.  People told me how well I looked.  I was taking up new hobbies, reading more and talking to people, having interesting debates where I was confident of my opinion.  When I was drinking, I was either drunk and shouting, or hungover and terrified.  I found that I was enjoying life.  In fact, I had never felt better. I asked myself again, astounded at the change – was it possible that sobriety was causing all of this?

I recently met someone who had just given up drinking.  She also ended up in hospital and ended up at my local AA group.  She was physically shaking and crying, her confidence damaged and her health too.  She said she was depressed and anxious.  She had contemplated taking her own life. Her doctor had put her on antidepressants and told her she was mentally ill.  Just two weeks later, sober, she was beginning to experience the same positive life transformation that I did.

I see it all the time, in life, in blogs, in literature.  I can’t ignore it now.  I believe that alcohol caused my depression and anxiety, or, at the very least, exacerbated them to a dangerous and life-threatening extent.  Now, I don’t drown my sorrows in bottles of wine or end up in situations I regret (and, oh, there were many of those).  I enjoy my life with a clear, sober head and when problems do arise, because life will never be perfect, I have the logic and clarity to deal with them to the best of my ability.

I believe mental health is a huge and genuine problem in today’s society and worry that we underestimate the effect that alcohol has on these conditions. Everyone has their own journey and I believe that if I drank again, this would put every positive change that has happened over the past 17 months in jeopardy.

And really, it just isn’t worth it.

Written by Claire, edited by Sober Fish

Instagram: @claire_m_mccartan

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