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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.

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Ravenna Good Time

nice cafe ravenna

Classic Ravenna

My life has been pretty hectic lately between working and living the Dolce Vita in Bologna so this post has been a work in process for a while now. At last here is the latest update on my travels- I hope you like it 🙂 

A few weeks ago I went on an organised trip to Ravenna with a group called ESN (Erasmus Student Network) which is one of the three Erasmus organisations in Bologna. All of these groups offer trips, parties and discounts on drinks if you buy their card and this means you can mingle with the Erasmus community and make some international friends in the process!

friends. rosa, ghuna, alessandro, alixAfter only an hour long bus journey from Bologna, we arrived in Ravenna around lunchtime and straight away I met some really interesting and friendly people. Ghuna (Indian), Rosita (Spanish), Alix (Scottish), Alessandro (Italian) and I formed the perfect group of multicultural misfits and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city together whilst having a bit of craic (“fun” in Irish slang)

Our guided tour started off in front of a normal looking secondary school called the Liceo Classico Dante Alghieri but it was fascinating to discover that it was actually founded by Benito Mussolini. An aerial view of the building also shows that the building forms the letters B and M which meant that when planes passed by they knew Ravenna was a fascist city. (either that or it was somewhere to get a great bargain)

Just a normal school...

Just a normal school…

After this we went to the church of San Giovanni Evangelista which is one of the oldest churches in Europe, having been commissioned by the Empress Galla Placida in 424 AD. Much of the basilica was destroyed by the Americans in 1944 during WW2 when it was struck by a bomb originally intended for the train station. However, many original elements still remain such as the lovely mosaics with simple olive tree and bird designs.

old church in ravenna

tree mosaic ravenna

The next church we visited was the basilica of Sant Apollinare Nuovo. Like most of the churches and basilicas in Ravenna it wasn’t much to look at from the outside but the interior was beautiful with lots more colourful mosaics and roman style columns. It was outside this church that I randomly bumped into two friends from Exeter uni who are studying at Forli and had decided to do a bit of sightseeing. We briefly discussed meeting up but I forget to give them my mobile number or anything so it was indeed a freak encounter and a lovely surprise.

After having been reminded of the chance and fleeting nature of life, I was brought face to face with death, or more specifically Dante’s tomb. The master himself was exiled from Florence in 1302 and later died of Malaria in Ravenna in 1321.  Florence later came to regret exiling Dante and subsequently built a  grander tomb than the one in Ravenna (santa croce) for Dante in 1829 but it remains empty as the citizens of Ravenna took great pains to keep Dante’s bones and once even hid them inside the walls of the monastery. Nevertheless the little oil lamp in the tomb burns with oil from Tuscany which is provided by the Municipality of Florence each year on the 2nd Sunday of September in order to celebrate the anniversary of the poet’s death.

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A mighty flame followeth a tiny spark

By this time an inferno of hunger was gripping us and we had some free time to get lunch so I opted for a piadina which is a delicacy of the Emilia-Romagna region (however the piadine differ in both the Emilia and Romagna parts respectively). The best way to describe it would be to say that it is a doughier pitta bread which is then toasted and stuffed with a filling of your choice. I was reccommended a spinach and gorgonzola one as the best vegetarian option and it was absolutely delicious. At this point our little group also had the opportunity to chat a bit more and revel in contagious laughter whilst we ate our lunch on the steps of Piazza San Francesco.

piadini!!!

After lunch we headed straight to the church in front of us (Basilica di San Francesco) but we had to look round it quickly because a wedding was about to start and the well suited members of the congregation were eyeing us suspiciously. We had just enough time however to see the crypt which dates back to the 10th century and looks like a little swimming pool since it is below sea level thus a bit of water always seeps in (accompanied also by a few fish).

indoor river ravenna

Returning to Piazza San Francesco we were shown the house were Lord Byron lived and were told an interesting story about a romance he had with Countess Teresa of Ravenna. My favourite part of this tale was that in order to express their love for each other they exchanged letters and locks of hair (including pubic hair) and these momentos are all archived in the Classense library opposite Byron’s former residence. Love never dies…even if things do get a bit hairy.

lord byron's house ravenna

Moving on we visited the Basilica of San Vitale which was absolutely breathtaking. From the outside it looks so plain but as soon as we stepped inside there was an intake of breath en masse. For me the feeling of being in the cathedral was reminiscent of how I felt when I visited The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The frescoes, the ethereal atmosphere, the architecture, the artwork, everything contributed to a complete sensory overload. The only downside of being on an organised trip was that we had to move on quite quickly but if I had been there by myself I definitely would have stayed at least an hour.

church fresco ravenna amazing ceiling ravenna

The last element of our guided tour was the Mausoleum of Galla Placida (just opposite the cathedral) and here we saw the most beautiful mosaics yet. They were all so vibrant and colourful with really unusual designs (ducks with dog faces for example). Galla Placida (sister of the Roman emperor Honorius) built this mausoleum to serve as her final resting place and it was originally attached to the church of Santa Croce. In end however she was buried in Rome in 450 AD so the tomb always just served as a pretty monument and a source of  inspiration – For example the jazz artist Cole Porter wrote the song Night and day after his visit to here, having been captivated by the starry sky of the tomb.

mausoleum galla placida

Now…after having had our fill of culture and history it was time to party; Erasmus style. So we got back on the bus and made our way to the beach where it still wasn’t too cold, the sea was clam and the beach bar was at our disposal. We had a really fun night with beers, dancing, and I even had a midnight swim in the sea with some of the others. I was reminded how hard Spanish people like to party and the same Enrique Iglesias songs which I have heard a million times since my arrival in Bologna, fuelled the fiesta. As the evening progressed our little group of multicultural misfits also grew closer and sort of created an unspoken pact that we would stay in touch and meet up again to have more craic in Bologna. (which we have done)

alix taking a photo ravenna ravenna beach times alix at ravenna party at ravenna nightime at ravennaSo there you have it; an extremely comprehensive account of my trip to Ravenna (I’ve never been good at summarising and I salute you if you are still reading this!). I am sure I will do a lot more traveling while I’m here in Bologna so you can look forward to more posts and more accounts of my weird and wonderful experiences.