8

What it’s like to be a 22 year old alcoholic

so-sober

Me at my 20th Birthday party…before I passed out on the sofa

“My name’s Kathy and I’m an alcoholic.”

Those were the words I thought I’d never be able to admit to myself.

But sitting in a dank and dreary church hall I found myself saying them to a dozen complete strangers.

This was the first step in my recovery.

I have now been sober for 17 days and feel happier than I have in months.

That’s 17 hangover free days, 17 days of not feeling sick or embarrassed or ashamed, 17 days of mental clarity, 17 days of thinking positively, 17 days of the rest of my life.

I’m not going to pretend that it’s been easy though.

It’s been so tempting just to have a sip of someone’s drink when it’s been offered to me, so tempting just to have one or two when I’ve been out with friends and everyone around me is getting loose and merry.

But my problem is that I could never just stop at one or two drinks.

I could never be content with feeling tipsy and most nights out would always descend into the oblivion of a blackout.

That’s what makes me an alcoholic.

When I went to my first Alcoholics’ Anonymous meeting I wasn’t yet sure if I was an alcoholic, or rather I didn’t want to admit it.

In my view giving myself the label of “alcoholic” would be hitting rock bottom.

But the truth was I’d already hit rock bottom long ago and then proceeded to plateau on the lower slopes for a while.

In the end admitting that I was an alcoholic wasn’t any scarier than anything I’d already been through due to alcohol and it was what has enabled me to take that first step on the ladder to spiritual recovery.

When you’re in your twenties most people turn a blind eye to your alcohol abuse since they think you’re just going through that “party phase” and are exercising a right to be young, wild and free.

But behind the laughter and the slurring of words there is often a deeper, darker expression of pain which no amount of wine or beer can hide.

It was when I woke up in hospital after falling over and suffering a concussion that I decided enough was enough.

I’d had enough of not remembering , enough of hearing second-hand about my drunken exploits, of being overcome with regret and shame, of putting myself in a position where I was vulnerable enough to be manipulated and abused, of having too many close calls and too many near misses.

It was time for a change.

I’m not going to be that crazy party girl anymore but that’s not really who I am anyway.

I’m a fun-loving extrovert, a journalist and writer, a dreamer, traveller, artist and musician and I don’t need alcohol to be any of these things.

Having suffered from depression and anxiety I have now had the epiphany that I also suffer from alcoholism – possibly the most deadly mental illness of all.

I say this because alcohol itself is a depressant so using it to cope with your problems is just a vicious cycle which will only ever make things worse.

It’s also too easy to hide.

Most girls my age go out and binge drink on the weekends, they fall over, they swear, they maybe have one or two more than they should but few people would consider that they could be alcoholics.

But that’s the thing about alcoholism.

It isn’t ageist or sexist, it doesn’t matter if you drink alone or with friends, if you get drunk every day or just binge on the weekends, if you do it at home or in a club.

There’s more than one way to be an alcoholic.

As someone who’s never been able to say no to a drink I’m looking forward to saying yes to a life of abstinence.

It doesn’t make me boring or dull but rather allows me to be me without the oppressive chains of an illness over which I have no control.

So the next time you’re egging your friend on to do a shot or drink up, or get another round in, just pause to consider if it’s really the best thing for them.

Alcohol is fine in moderation.

But for people like me it’s a curse.