- Mental Health
I had a tumultuous upbringing, difficult childhood and teenage years, however I was a happy kid and teenager in spite of troubles in my home life. I was completely immersed in sports through school and clubs so I had a sense of family and involvement through my teammates and coaches. I was shy since birth, I think, but I was a natural at soccer and basketball so I found my element there and a way to make friends and be part of something.
I did well in high school, again in spite of family difficulties. My score was enough to get into Stanford, where I had aspired to study. But I had no confidence, so didn’t pursue further education and ended up floating between jobs between the ages of 17 and 22. I dropped out of local universities three times.
At age 20 I first noticed signs of depression and was hospitalized after a suicide attempt. I was treated as an inpatient and then on outpatient basis. It took a while to find a medication that gave me some stability.
Two years later, at 22, I enrolled again at university; this time in a small town far away where I knew nobody. In my head, this was my last chance. I was terrified of failing and again and dropping out, so I studied for hours and dedicated myself to getting my degree.
This time at university I found an amazing sense of community and a great network of friends. My professors were invested in my progress and my classmates were all in this with me. We partied and we studied. I drank at this point just socially. When I did, I did get the most drunk out of anyone because I felt I had to to overcome shyness. It wasn’t a problem in my mind or anyone’s at this point because that was student culture.
When I graduated, at first I thought things would be incredible and that I had made it. I had my degree and I had a profession. I had secured a great job in my hometown and I lived with one of my best friends. I played soccer for a new club where I absolutely loved the team and all the things we did on and off the field.
However, outside of all this I felt completely adrift without the structure I had had for the past three years studying. Suddenly there was no one really invested in my success. There was no one to check up on me, I was just staring down the barrel of nine to five until I die in my mind and it crippled me.
I started drinking every night. My life was great on paper. It was 2014, I played for an amazing team at a great soccer club and loved every minute, we socialised on and off the field. I worked the best job I’ve ever worked and felt valued there. I lived in a great household with one of my closest friends; but yet I descended quickly into alcoholism.
There was no trigger, no “reason.”
At soccer parties I always had to be the drunkest. I would quickly drink whatever I could and if I wasn’t the most trashed then I wasn’t doing enough. There were many moments I embarrassed myself yet I thought it was funny.
One such night, at a team party, I jumped down a flight of stairs in a drunken impulse and broke my foot. I didn’t realize until the next day and it echoed in my head what the captain had said to me: “Do you think you have a problem?” At the time I had laughed it off, she was someone who joked around constantly so surely she wasn’t serious? But I realized this time she wasn’t, and my drunken escapades in public weren’t funny to anyone else. I felt like I needed a fresh start.
I got headhunted for a job at a place that knew me as a student. It offered more money but it meant moving to a small town away from my house with friends, my team and my job that I loved. I took it and that was the beginning of a serious downward spiral.
I drank heavily every night and lived in squalor because I couldn’t be bothered looking after myself or anything, I just wanted to be drunk. My work suffered and my drinking was hard to conceal. The employers who had hired me thinking I was the person I was years before were sorely disappointed in the effort I now had — which was minimal — because I was such a hard drinker.
This was the worst I ever got with drinking and many times I slept through work, but I never drove drunk or got in trouble with the law from drinking. For that, I’m grateful at least. Six months of drinking enough to likely kill anyone my weight
“I decided once again I needed a change.”
I moved to another country, to a bustling city I had never been to before. My housemate was a functioning alcoholic. She worked a hectic schedule but smashed a bottle and half of wine every night despite being a tiny figure of a person. Her drinking helped me feel better about my own. I continued drinking until I passed out every night. I hated my job but consoled myself with the idea I could get trashed every night and forget about it. I was still involved in sports, but in a perfunctory sort of way, due to my drinking.
Another few years passed. I moved jobs and houses, but the same things persisted. I lived with another functioning alcoholic who more considered himself a “wine connoisseur.” I dated addicts who drank more than me. One broke my nose and gave me a black eye during a usual weeknight of drinking. People at work weren’t even shocked when I showed up with a black eye because they knew I lived on the edge. By this time, however, I had become an expert at concealing my problematic drinking. Although I no longer got publicly drunk and no longer slept through work, I drank so much every night I would pass out face-down on my floor. There was not a single day in years I hadn’t been drunk.
It was only on a whim at the end of a appointment for something unrelated that I said to my doctor in August 2017 “I drink too much and I think I need to stop.” Her reaction, or rather non-reaction floored me. She was sympathetic and non-judgemental. I had avoided professional help for almost a decade. She said to me simply, “don’t feel bad about it, it’s just a disease like anything else and we will treat it as such.” She referred me to a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction. I didn’t feel ready to be sober but a small part of me must have known it was now life or death for me. I had time off work which I spent in outpatient detox and rehab.
I decided to be completely open about it to friends and family, mainly as a way of accountability but also transparency and maybe to find any support available. I was overwhelmed with support from far and wide, from people I didn’t even expect to be so amazing about it. Many expressed shock and that they didn’t know I struggled.
I realized that by coming clean, so to speak, that there was a risk that some people wouldn’t be so supportive and would use it as ammunition. This happened, but only in such a small minority of people who I wasn’t close to anyway so I do not regret being open about being in recovery and my past.
Only a day into detox I broke my leg in an unrelated accident. I needed surgery to fix it and I was determined to give myself the best chance to heal and have the opportunity to play sport again, so I kept sober for the following six months. It wasn’t hard at first, I was on painkillers and off work for my leg.
When my fracture healed and I returned to work and decreased the painkillers I suffered a fair bit. I no longer had an identity as athlete or drunk, the two things that I would’ve defined myself with until then. I couldn’t play sports for the foreseeable future because of the injury, so I lost that community, and in addition, lost friends who were alcoholics and no longer knew how to relate to me.
I felt isolated and relapsed hard. I drank so much over a span of two weeks I wound up in hospital for a bleed in my esophagus from drinking and vomiting. Thankfully, the relapse was brief and when I left hospital I continued on the path to sobriety and recovery. I was no longer complacent with seeing my treating doctor and I no longer acted as if I were out of the woods with drinking. I don’t count that relapse when it comes to sobriety because it was so brief and because it had a clear trigger unlike before.
I was so far gone with drinking that I thought I was the worst drinker in the world and I would never be helped. I had also no belief that my life was worth saving anymore until the people around me had a vested interest in my sobriety. I felt I had a duty to them to at least give it my best go.
What I have learned is that, no matter how much I wanted to be self-reliant and an island, everyone needs other people, you will find support in the most unexpected places and your life is worth fighting for.