My eyes flickered open and as I turned my head towards the windows, the shaft of light that broke through the curtains, blinded me. I closed my eyes, felt the heaviness of my head as I tried to lift it off the pillow, groaned and fell back against the bed as I wondered what the hell had happened. My mouth tasted of sawdust; I was thirsty but terrified to drink water in case my churning stomach rejected it and as I turned my head towards where my boyfriend would have been lying I realised I was alone. A sense of innate panic set in and I tried to remember what had led to this moment. As I walked through the memories in my brain, there was a gaping black hole from about 10:30pm the previous night. I remember standing at the bar, feeling very angry and upset and downing a shot of tequila. I turned on my heel walked up to my boyfriend and that was it. I remembered nothing after that moment.
I was 25 and I had more of a relationship with alcohol than with the man in my life. Alcohol and I got on like a house on fire. We started the night feeling great together. I would put on my finest clothes, cake my face in make-up, totter around in five inch heels I could barely stand in and consume a few glasses of wine as we got ready for a night out. We would head out feeling tipsy and as the night went on my confidence levels grew, the heels became as easy to walk in as flats and alcohol gave me the assurance that I was invincible. I am sure the actual image was a lot more unstable, messy and not so pretty.
I went through various “favourite" drinks during those years. In college it was vodka, until I was so sick the following day, I couldn’t function for about 48 hours. So I switched to rum. That did well for a year or so and then the same thing happened. And all the while I was working through an illness, which meant I was technically not supposed to be consuming copious amounts of white wine or spirits. Growing up in a country where alcohol has been the national pastime for years meant that it felt like it was expected of you to drink. If you didn’t you were weird, at least this was how it felt for me as a girl in my twenties. There was strong social pressure and the challenge I had was that I didn’t know when or how to stop once I started. And honestly I liked it. I liked being able to feel free and blame the drink if I did something stupid. But when I was 28 I stopped drinking completely. It was after I had given myself a nasty shock and experienced yet another blackout and really woke up in disbelief of my behaviour. I suddenly acknowledged that there were feelings I had to deal with, and I realised that in order to get a grip on what my reality was, I needed to let go of the crutch that had numbed me for so long.
"Breathe deeply. Tune into your inner conflicts. And stop the war there. Let’s stop the destruction and the numbing out and the abuse that goes on inside. Ally the different forces within. Teach them to negotiate for a healing outcome. That to me is crucial!"
Ana T. Forrest
I stayed away from alcohol completely for about three years and I still go through phases now of not drinking. I haven’t felt the need to go crazy, although there are times I still feel uncomfortable saying I’m not drinking, and there are the nights that I have a few and yet I know now when I have had enough. Last year I didn't really go out so alcohol didn't come into the equation, but on the rare occasion I did, I was aware that I felt conflicted about saying yes or no to a drink. Sitting with it, it came up about three weeks ago when I was out to dinner with my best friend and I had my lightbulb moment; “Do you actually like the taste of alcohol Aoife?” she asked me. I looked at her in surprise and as I thought about it, it was never something that I had even considered. So over the last few weeks I’ve thought about it more. I do enjoy a drink now and again, but more often than not it’s not something that gives me pleasure or nourishes my soul. I would much rather the sticky toffee pudding as a dessert than a glass of red wine at dinner.
Looking back over my early days when I was drinking heavily, I recognise now that I drank to numb the pain I felt inside. I drank to kill the emotions, the fear and the hurt I felt. I drank to be confident and outgoing and I drank so I could be the fun girl to hang out with. I remember an ex-boyfriend telling me he wanted to see "drunk Aoife" just to see what I was like with alcohol in my system. I laughed it off at the time but it hurt and I was thrown into my story of not being enough just as I am without my crutch.
I recently read Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton and she inspired me to share this part of my healing journey. It felt vulnerable and initially there was a lot of shame when I reflected back on my early years. There are nights I don’t remember, situations I would rather forget and yet they have all brought me to this place, to this exact spot today and for that I wouldn’t change any of it. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without those experiences. They taught me a lot. I am not my relationship with alcohol and I am not what I did in those days.
I was out recently and as I walked towards home I passed the bars along Dawson St. A Saturday night, there were people falling out of the clubs, some could stand and some couldn’t without support. I was transported back to the days when that was me. For some of us alcohol is an escape. It’s a release at the end of a long day or week and it was mine for a long time. It didn’t serve me. The way I felt the next day just intensified my low self esteem and the not so great opinions I had of myself. It gave me nothing but a sick stomach and a fear of what people would think of me the morning after. The fear is intense and I used to try and shake it off with humour once the hangover wore off. I would laugh and joke about the night and yet underneath it all there was a little girl just wanting to be hugged and told that this too would pass, the spiral would come to a stop and it would be okay... we would be okay. After one too many mornings of feeling that fear I chose to walk into a yoga studio, to see a counsellor and to go for healing to help with what was underneath the surface.
The healing path requires courage. It requires acknowledgement of our self and the hurt we feel inside. It requires us to bleed to release and it asks us to feel all this and be open to what follows. The hardest part is allowing the wound to open and feel it hurt and bleed. When we can move into this and allow it to be, this is when the healing begins. The bleeding stops, the wound begins to knit together, and then there is the time where there is the residue that sits inside; the scar. We feel it’s healed but something triggers us and there it is right in front of us, looking at us, asking us to face the final hurdle. Are we willing to climb over and walk through to the other side, to truly let go and no longer allow it to be our story or to control us? This is when, I believe, we move to a place of deep healing.
“Healing doesn't mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls your life…”
I am who I am because of what I learned through my healing process and that especially includes the lessons within my relationship to alcohol. Being able to speak our truth, acknowledge the experience for what it was and come to a place of peace within ourselves, is ultimately where we land when we are ready to move on, to let go and to value all experiences rather than live in shame about them.
"When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending."
Is there a story you are denying right now, one that you are allowing define who you are as an individual? Own it, get help, speak it to someone you feel will be supportive and empathetic and let it go. It is not who you are.