How can sobriety save your mental health?

For as long as I can remember I have experienced unstable mental health. Periods of manic happiness, including excessive socialising and spending, followed by periods of intense depression, including staying in bed all day and cancelling plans with friends. As a teenager my dramatic mood swings manifested in hysterical tears, aggression and violence.

I started drinking alcohol at 13 years old. Imagine suburban house parties with no parental supervision and too much alcohol. Girls in very little clothing, stumbling around the ground floor of a complete strangers 5 bedroom Surrey mansion. I repeated this pattern every weekend until I left for University.

During the latter part of my teenage year I had suicidal thoughts, where I just didn’t want to be here anymore. I have self-harmed in the past to deal with emotions when I’ve been unable to articulate them to friends and family.

When I left for University I was a wreck. I had thought of deferring my place at university in order to “sort myself out”. However, in my mind, I thought running away to University and a fresh start, would be the answer to my heavy drinking, self-harm, depression and anxiety. I was wrong. Very wrong. I was painfully homesick at University. I continued drinking to excess, becoming the butt of everyone’s jokes. I didn’t stay in touch with friends or family. I shut myself off, placing myself in an emotionally vulnerable position.

In my early 20s I experienced a series of life changing events. My parents divorced unexpectedly which shook me to my core. That year I started my career as a teacher. During this time I was extremely depressed. The relationship I had with my parents was strained, at a time when I really needed them both. The following year my best friend died suddenly from a brain aneurism. I drank alcohol excessively to cope with my pain.

My teaching career went from strength to strength. I love my job! However, it is not a walk in the park. There is a big social culture in schools. After a long week of teaching, we all used to flock to the “library”, to enjoy a glass of wine, or in myself a few bottles. Soon Friday drinks turned into every night of the week drinks.

By the end of 2019 my mental health was at rock bottom. I regularly experienced what I would describe as depression and felt overwhelmed with anxiety and crippling stress. These feelings were particularly pronounced after drinking, but they were becoming routine. I was drinking three bottles of wine a night to deal with my feelings of isolation, depression, stress and anxiety.

I felt completely broken, and I couldn’t see a way out. I was often telling myself I wasn’t good enough or that I was failing in my professional life. I was telling myself that I’d never move out of my family home. I felt like my life had zero direction, and I just wanted to give up on life.

But instead I gave up on booze!!

The first six months were challenging. I was very lonely at times. I was frustrated by how much people’s lives seemed to revolve around alcohol. People didn’t necessarily understand why I had given up drinking saying things like “Just have one” or “Why can’t you just moderate?” People often describe alcoholism as a lonely disease, however, sobriety made me feel more alone than ever. No one could relate to what I was going through.

I preserved. And after about 9 months I could clearly see the benefits. I had more money, which meant I was less stressed. I slept better, which meant I was more efficient at work. My boss and colleagues have told me I am like a “different girl”. I’ve paid off all debts and credit cards, and have finally bought my first property. My mental health has vastly improved.

Since giving up drinking I have dealt with death, cancer and like everyone, the global pandemic. I didn’t turn to wine, as I would do usually. I have had a clear mind to tackle these raw emotions head on.

Sobriety isn’t a magic wand designed to solve all your mental health problems. However, sobriety has allowed me to tackle a lot of deep rooted issues, I was burying with alcohol. Sobriety, in conjunction with weekly counselling has restored my faith in myself. I trust myself now, which I never thought I would be able to say.

Sobriety saved my mental health. And it could do the same for you.

Words by: Pippa Head

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