From early on Belinda knew she was able to handle alcohol. That continued until life threw so much pain at her that the only way she could cope was by drinking. This Naked Mind brought her the peace and freedom that she’d been searching for.
I grew up in a beachside suburb of Sydney, Australia, where drinking, and more importantly, getting drunk, was a rite of passage. My friends and I started binge drinking at the age of 14. We would steal small amounts of spirits from various bottles in our parents’ liquor cabinets, just enough so they wouldn’t notice. We’d mix up a concoction in our school drink bottles called “rocket fuel” and drink it straight. It was horrendous, but certainly achieved the main aim of getting drunk, or “Parra,” short for paralytic, as we fondly called it.
I was a confident, smart, and happy kid, but when the teenage years hit, my self-esteem took a dive. I had red hair, freckles and was a little bit chubby. The boys weren’t interested in me one bit, which was painfully obvious to me. So when alcohol entered our lives, I jumped on board with great enthusiasm. Alcohol gave me the confidence I needed and getting drunk became a pastime that we all obsessed over. Stealing money from our parents’ change jars, enlisting older siblings to buy alcohol for us. Making dodgy fake ID’s, arranging parties at friends’ houses when parents would go away. Devising elaborate lies about our whereabouts when we were actually just down at the local park, getting pissed. Alcohol has been present in my social life for as long as I can remember.
Able to Handle Alcohol
We had a lot of fun in those teenage years, I can’t deny this. We were bonding and taking risks, as teenagers need to do. There was also a lot of messiness and dysfunction. I now realize I started to become accustomed to it from a young age, despite growing up in a very stable, supportive, and conservative home. I was witness to accidents, injuries, violence, suicide, and sexual assault, all of which alcohol played a part.
So I learnt to “handle” alcohol, if you can call it that, at a young age. We soon moved on to other drinks. Drinks more appealing to our adolescent palettes, like cider and sparkling wine and spirits mixed with coke and lemonade. By the end of high school, I was drinking beer, which I stuck with for the next 25 years. I’ve often thought if I could pile up all the beer bottles I’ve consumed in my life I could make a mountain. Not to mention the mountain of cash.
Drinking Wherever and Whenever
After school, I was lacking in direction and keen to escape my suburban life. So I took to the road and joined backpackers and misfits, on a fruit picking adventure around Australia. This time in my life will always be magical in my memory, it was also a time of heavy drinking. Being away from the family home for the first time in my life, I had the freedom to drink whenever and wherever I liked. Which is pretty much what I did. It didn’t feel like I was on the path to becoming an alcoholic. It was fun! Everyone else around me was doing the same.
My boyfriend at the time, Paul, carried around a “goon bag” as we call them in Australia – a 4-liter cask of cheap wine. This relationship ended in a dramatic display of drunkenness. One night when he accidentally set himself on fire after attempting to breathe fire around a campsite we were sharing with other backpackers. He suffered 3rd-degree burns to his face. Instead of calling an ambulance and going to the hospital, he decided to drink himself through the pain. Thankfully I had enough good sense to end this relationship the very next day. I could see Paul was a problematic drinker, and I didn’t want to go down that path.
Still Able to Handle Alcohol
So back to Sydney where I studied, got myself a job, lived in shared accommodation, and continued to drink heavily throughout my 20s. Still, this was pretty normal in my social circles and I didn’t think much of it. Going to work with blistering hangovers. Having blackouts, sleeping with strangers, vomiting in gutters on the way home. All normal, right? I was still able to handle alcohol.
Fast forward a few years and I’m living in London after backpacking around the world for a year. My drinking was daily by this point. But I was fit, cycling every day and running. I had a great job and a thriving social life with weekend trips to Paris and Prague and Amsterdam. Life was good. I didn’t have a problem. Drinking and London went hand in hand. It was all about the pubs and the beers for the five years that I lived there. And the mulled wine at Christmas. The absinthe at parties. Shots at nightclubs and the breakfast beers and jelly vodka at music festivals. Alcohol was literally everywhere.
So when I fell pregnant at the age of 30, I sat on the toilet with my head in my hands, at once thrilled and petrified. I knew that I would have to give up drinking and that suddenly scared the shit out of me. But I did it, and I embraced being pregnant with so much joy and excitement. Buying baby clothes and telling my friends and family the news. I was excited for the new chapter in my life until it all came crashing down when there was no heartbeat at my first 12-week scan. This was the beginning of a long and treacherous journey with fertility problems and pregnancy losses. My mental health plummeted. My relationship ended, and I drank my way through the pain, eventually moving back to Australia alone, miserable and drunk.
Finally, at the age of 33, I realized I had a problem with alcohol and needed to do something about it. By this stage anxiety and depression had taken hold of my life and I was seeking professional help. It never crossed my mind to quit drinking completely; that seemed mad, impossible, and utterly boring. I just needed to moderate and everything would be ok. I was able to handle alcohol. Permanently anxious, doctors happily prescribed me anti-depressants, sleeping tablets, and beta-blockers, all of which had limited effect. I can’t remember a doctor or therapist ever advising me to give up alcohol altogether. Or even suggesting that perhaps it was the alcohol causing my mental health problems. Sure, they advised me not to drink heavily. So I continued to try and moderate, and that mental battle would continue for another decade.
Feeling lost and lonely back in Sydney, with another few failed relationships under my belt, I decided I needed a healthy change away from the pubs and city life. I moved down the coast to a quieter beachside town. Here I met the love of my life, also a big drinker. We lost another three babies to miscarriage, before finally carrying to term our beautiful little boy.
Becoming a mum at the age of 39, I realized this might be my only baby. I quit my job and embraced motherhood, thinking this was the change in life that I needed to get healthy and finally give up drinking. Little did I know how isolating and boring being a stay-at-home mum could be. I loved my little boy, watching him grow and witnessing his little personality and spirit emerge. I felt incredibly grateful that I didn’t have to work, but every day felt the same, like Groundhog Day.
I struggled to make friends and felt like I had lost my identity without my work. I had another three miscarriages, and once again, turned to alcohol for that numbing feeling. Even breastfeeding didn’t stop me. I downloaded an app that showed me how long I had to wait to breastfeed after having a drink. Gradually “beer o’clock” got earlier and earlier. 3 p.m. became acceptable on the weekends. Drinking by myself, with my little boy, while my partner was at work.
I tried desperately hard to have one alcohol-free night a week. The only way I could do this was by going to a yoga class so that I wasn’t at home surrounded by the temptation of beers in the fridge and open wine bottles on the kitchen bench. I knew I was in trouble when I got home from yoga one night and poured a red wine, just to extend that relaxed feeling from yoga.
No Longer Able to Handle Alcohol
I had started to despise alcohol, and the power it had over me. I despised myself for not having the will power to stick to moderating and having alcohol free days. Every week, I would make new lists and promises to myself about the amount of alcohol I was allowed to consume. The alcohol-free days were painful. Then when I allowed myself to drink again I would always drink too much, and then hate myself for it. I started realizing that alcohol was making me depressed.
My usual pattern of drinking would start at 5 p.m. and be over by about 8 p.m. That way I could read stories to my little boy before tucking him into bed. One or two nights a week I would allow myself a “party night.” My partner and I would get drunk. I’d wake up with a horrendous hangover. Hating myself for being a bad mum. The promises to myself not to drink would start again. I felt trapped and couldn’t see a way out.
This Naked Mind Changed Everything
Until six weeks ago when I picked up Annie’s book. Randomly, there it sat on the library shelf, right in front of me. I read it in 24 hours and something inside me lit up. Every word of Annie’s made complete and utter sense. I’ve been petrified of giving up drinking for so long. How on earth would I handle not drinking when everyone around me was? How would I take the “edge” off my days? The truth is, alcohol was the edge on my day, and it always had been. A sharp precipice of an edge. Without it, I could be free.
Over the last six weeks, I haven’t craved alcohol once. I’ve said to my partner that I feel like I’m on holidays, I have that relaxed and happy feeling….ALL…THE….TIME. I wake up excited for each new day. I have more fun playing with my little boy. I’m not as bored as I was.
Have you decided you’re no longer able to handle alcohol? Curious about the book that changed everything for Belinda? Start reading it now!
Able to Handle Life
My depression has disappeared and my anxiety greatly reduced. My mind feels liberated now that I’m not constantly preoccupied with when my next drink will be. I have more energy to do things at night, rather than being zonked out on the couch, falling asleep in front of Netflix. I’m reading, I’m writing, I’m getting on top of some physical pain that has been plaguing me for years. I’m allowing myself to feel the grief and the loss that I have repressed with all my miscarriages. Life feels like it is opening up to me and I’m so happy I could cry.
Share Your Story
Thank you Annie. You have truly changed my life. I hope sharing my story of how I finally learned to handle alcohol helps others.