Hey all, this is Sam typing! Today is definitely a ‘grab a cup of tea and settle in kind of email as I wanted to share the story of my last ever hangover….
Monday 19th March marks the date where I have been sober for 9 years… 9 YEARS!! I have not touched a drop of alcohol! I am so proud of myself and although I do not label myself as an ‘alcoholic’ or that I ‘have a problem’ I do tell people that I ‘HAD a problem’ and know that if I allowed alcohol back into my life that problem could come back, so being tee-total is the safest option for me.
The first time I was drunk I was around 15 and I’d stolen some of my mums rum. I remember running down the road to my friends feeling free and confident. They found it hilarious... I was so funny and entertaining, something that soon became my role in the group as alcohol was introduced as a more regular occurrence. We would hang around 'down the road' as you do as a teenager, getting one of the older kids to buy cider, beer or alcopops. The leftovers were usually given to me so that I could be the drunk one entertaining the crowd.
The same ‘friends’ were the ones that, as we got older, pretty much controlled my life. I was a very self-conscious, depressed teenager, I’d been made to believe that I was the fat, ugly one of the group and would be nothing without them. I would do anything for them and it almost drove me to suicide. Nights out were easier to cope with if I got pre-drunk as they would always end in some sort of drama - fights, boyfriends of friends getting beaten up, arrested or hospitalised and usually included many tears.
My life was already unbearable. I had dropped out of college and was told by my 'amazing' pals that I was a failure - they once had dropped me off at the Samaritans in Manchester while they went to the cinema as they were fed up of me being miserable all the time. When I wasn't drinking I was incredibly self loathing and shy. When I was drinking I would feel confident and 'happy' for a short while but then it would be pushed to extremes, until I threw up or passed out. My so called friends ruled my life and I didn't see any way out.
Finally I qualified as a holistic therapist and at 18 I moved away, escaping the clutches of the people I thought were responsible for my misery. But I couldn't run away from who I'd become - I was already a heavy drinker and it continued for years, wherever I moved to and whatever friends I met. I still dreaded nights out and so still adopted the 'get as drunk as possible' technique often ending the night in tears, in arguments with genuine friends, or in one potentially dangerous incident, wading in a lake (don't ask!).
I met and moved in with my now ex-boyfriend Jonny when I was 20 and although he made me feel better about myself, the drinking was still a habit that continued. The amount I was drinking was still ‘normal’ in my head but I’d always find an excuse to have a drink and pretty soon it also became normal to buy mini bottles of wine to drink on my lunch breaks. Jonny had noticed that maybe there was a ‘problem’ at this point but I had started to be come a good actor… lesson 1, how to look sober when I’m already 2 bottles of wine down!
We moved to Swindon and my secret drinking took on a new level. I drank before job interviews, I drank before Jonny got home and continued when he was in a different room. I would hide the evidence but sometimes not so well... now and again he would find my empty bottle stash. I'd be so ashamed when he caught me but it pushed me to secretly drink more, lie better and learn better hiding places. I gained 3 stone in about 4 months. I hated myself and I was drinking to such extremes that I was having too throw up after a couple of bottles or so.
After one particular heavy night I was partly forced to visit the AA... A service that helps so many but I just didn't feel comfortable with once I was there. I'd gone to the doctors suggested a more local service, SWADS, who offered counselling as well as group therapy and if needed, rehabilitation. My counsellor told me I shouldn't ever drink again... I didn't believe him... A life without alcohol? No thanks! So I set about trying to prove him wrong. Of course that didn’t go so well!
I stepped up my secret drinking up to 3 bottles of wine a night, most of the time 'appearing' to be on my first and only bottle. I never planned to have three bottles but once you have one, you may as well have another right? Of course there would be mornings where I woke up alone, where I knew I'd gone too far the previous night. That feeling of fear in the morning trying to remember how the night had ended is awful, and the resulting promises to try and make up for it were usually empty.
We bought a house after 5 years together and I had a “3 month sober” trial before move-in day. I did ok at the beginning, but Christmas came up in the middle of it and you have to have a drink at Christmas right? Knowing that after the 3 month ‘ban’ I would be able to drink again made me decide that one or two drinks wouldn’t hurt and so of course the secret drinking fired up again and the ban was lifted in the February.
So, by now I should have been super happy right? I was with my boyfriend of 5 years, in our own house in the country and a stable job. But I was also putting a lot of pressure on myself, feeling fat, ugly, unintelligent because I was attempting to study chemistry and not understanding it (of course!). More and more frequently I would wake up alone, Jonny threatening to kick me out until one day the following March I took it too far.
I had an assignment due, I was at work but already planning my first drink of the day... I had a 'rule' not to drink before midday so already had decanted my first bottle of wine spread between two empty ribena bottles to have on my lunch break. I left the office early to get more "studying" done, stopping on the way to stock up... For some reason I bought 4 more bottles... A dangerous move knowing that if it's there, I'm likely to drink it....
And of course I don't remember quite what happened next. I woke up and Jonny told me I needed to move out. I saw the 4 empty bottles that he'd discovered from my not-so-genius hiding place. I felt awful! Of course! I had the hangover from hell! I drove towards work trying to plan what to do and pulled up at my local park sending a message to a friend to ask if I could stay that evening. In my glove compartment I found that in my drunken haze I'd decanted half a bottle of wine into a plastic container and without even thinking I downed it... It was 8 o'clock in the morning... I'd finally hit my rock bottom and I knew I had to do something about it.
I somehow got to SWADS and asked them for help. I spoke to one of the guys for a while and we made a plan for me to come to the group sessions. I stayed with my friend that night and the following day I called my line manager to come in to see her. I confessed what had been going on and actually found that talking to her about it really helped me.
Jonny allowed me back home and it took a while to build the trust back, understandably! The group sessions showed me how alcohol and drugs affect people in different ways and how we are all struggling in different ways.
I feel like I should be saying that the struggle was really hard for me at this point, but after making the decision to ‘never drink again’ there was a weight lifted from my shoulders. I started telling work colleagues about my situation and found that by sharing what was going on it solidified my commitment more and more. After a few weeks I stopped going to the group sessions and slowly I started to see that I had gained control of my life again. I could finally start to see more clearly and appreciate what I actually had. Four months later I took a trip to climb Snowdon. The friends that I should have been going with had dropped out so I was with a group of work colleagues I didn't know very well... They are now some of my closest friends. Climbing that mountain represented a lot for me in my head... If I can climb the tallest mountain in Wales I can do ANYTHING!
Just a few months after I gave up the booze my dad had a major stroke. It was touch and go as to whether he would pull through or not but after 10 months in hospital he was released to a nursing home. The stroke has affected his speech and his ability to use his legs and one arm. His lifestyle was one which I feel I would have been heading towards, which cemented in my need to stay sober and not have my life cut short.
The next few months I became a ‘Do-er’ organising events and going through with them… climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell pike, walking the length of Hadirans Wall. My confidence was on the up and for the first time maybe ever I started to feel good about myself.
After being sober for a year and a half I joined the Swindon Samaritans as a listening volunteer. It is such an amazing organisation helping so many people talk through how they are feeling when there is nobody else they can talk to.
The last 9 years I’ve achieved and experienced so much; dropping 5 dress sizes, taking up running, saying YES to new experiences such as Glastonbury festival. Life has become about fun, friends, challenges and helping others find the best version of themselves. Within this period of growth it became apparent that me and Jonny were no longer right for each other and so after 10 years together we split amicably and I moved in with some of my awesome friends. The same year I ran my first ever marathon, channelling my energy into a positive challenge.
Post marathon I needed something new to aim for and so ended up leaving Swindon, leaving my stable job, packing my bags and jetting off to India and South East Asia for a year! Within this time I made a decision to become a personal trainer and try out London for a few months.
Three years later and I’m loving London! Yet again life has been so full of surprises and I’m co-creator of SMASH, have the most amazing clients that inspire me every day and have incredible friends that are the backbone to my life!
People ask me if I'd ever drink again - obviously you can't predict the future but when I see how much happier my life is now without any alcohol I think... Why would I ever need to drink again?
I love life and having got to my ‘rock bottom’ has helped me appreciate the little things. This is why every year I like to share my story and to thank all of the people that were there for me during the hard times and that have been there for me since. It is so true that the smallest ripple can create the biggest waves.
Thank you guys for being part of my journey and I am so honoured to have any tiny part in yours.
Hope your tea hasn’t gone cold…. Enjoy your weekend and see you all at SMASH next week.
Sam & Ashley