To this day, I still tell people that I was never an alcoholic. Yes, I loved to drink; yes, I would have experienced "blackout" nights more times than I could count, but I still stopped, without the help of AA, so therefore, I'm not an alcoholic.
I am only now starting to understand that at the age of 27 I had been drinking heavily for seven years and that drinking was causing me to have panic attacks and lose friends. Worst of all it was jeopardising my relationship with my boyfriend - the most important person in my life.
I will never forget the feeling I experienced on February 9, 2014, the day I took my last drink. I was on my third day of a three-day bender and I was feeling utterly exhausted and powerless. I was sick and tired of being "that girl" who drank too much at work functions, sick and tired of waking up without my phone and having no idea what happened the night before, sick and tired of embarrassing my friends, family and loved ones. Most of all, I was sick and tired of my attempts at drinking in moderation, which usually resulted in my biggest nights out. Enough was enough. I made the decision, not one drop of alcohol was ever going to pass my lips again.
Within a couple of days I realised I had to tell anyone who would listen what I was doing. Then if I was tempted to cheat or go back to my old ways, I would have people there to stop me. So I sent a message out to my friends and family, announcing my decision to quit alcohol once and for all and threatening to cut anyone who didn't support me. The response I received was definitely a mixed bag - some loved ones were rooting and cheering for me, some were confused and some, probably the majority, were silent.
There's no nice way to describe the first few months. There were shakes, sugar cravings, nausea, anger, tears, hysterical behaviour - you name it, I experienced it. Oh and there were sober Sundays - long, never-ending sober Sundays.
Luckily for me I had an amazingly supportive network that helped me through those first few horrible months and slowly but surely I started to see the positives. A huge help for me was writing to people; I found it hard to talk about what I was experiencing, so instead I emailed and Facebook messaged my friends. The support they provided via those messages was invaluable.
After I hit the three-month mark, things started to look up. My anxiety problems had reduced, the constant guilt I had learned to live with was starting to lift. I had a very healthy looking bank account. I was starting to love sober Sundays.
I was feeling so good that I started to tell myself - maybe you don't need to quit alcohol forever, six months would surely be enough. Fortunately, by then the news had spread that "Anna was going sober" so there was no way any of my friends would let me get away with having that fateful "just one sip".
Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all sunflowers and rainbows. I lost contact with a lot of my so-called friends in those first few months. I still tell myself it was me who cut the ties, but deep down I know I lost them when I gave up being Anna the party girl. They no longer had Anna the drunken fool to laugh at or Anna who drinks too much to make them feel better about themselves.
I now realise that those people weren't ever really my friends. They were toxic waste, harming who I was and they had to be washed away.
After six months things took a slight turn for the worse. I started to feel everything with extreme sensitivity. Whether it was taste, sense of smell or even emotions, I could suddenly feel everything multiplied by 1000. With heightened feeling, came tears. Lots and lots of tears. It was as if my body was trying to release all the hurt I had caused it over the past eight years.
It wasn't until the nine-month mark passed that the positives started to outweigh the negatives. I was basically anxiety free, I had more money than I had ever had in my entire life, I had lost kilos of weight and, as my friends constantly told me, I was practically glowing.
Suddenly I was telling myself - you've won the battle with alcohol. Just get to that one year mark and then you can go back to enjoying a glass of bubbles with the girls, having a wine with family or having a crisp apple cider on a hot day. Just three more months and you've done it.
As the days started to creep closer, a few of my dearest friends started to question my decision. I had got this far without a drop of alcohol, so what was the point of going back and having just that one glass?
It was at a pool party as I gulped back soda water, while the rest of the group downed Slippery Nipple shooters, that I came to my own decision. I would remain alcohol-free for the rest of my life.
I am still questioning that decision, but deep down I know, that come Tuesday, February 10 there will be no celebratory glass of Dom Perignon.
Instead I'm writing this letter, which I hope might change the decisions of other people facing the same issues that I once faced. I want to tell you that there is a better option.
And to those of you reading this who do not have a problem with alcohol - lucky you. Go and enjoy that glass of delicious goodness, knowing that you are one of the lucky ones who are able to stop it from controlling your life.
So this is where my story ends.
I raise my glass of soda water with a twist and say - cheers to many more years of being alcohol free.
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