This day nine months ago marked a huge change for me. Waking up hungover from a Christmas work party, little would I know that this could be the last hangover I ever had. I have received many questions as to why I don’t drink. Initially, I dodged the question, using every excuse under the sun, from new medication to feeling tired, to having something on the next day. But the harsh reality was laid out before me by my psychiatrist last December when they said that my depression would only ever be hindered by constantly pumping the depressant that is alcohol into my system.
I never considered how much I was drinking or how much drink affected my day-to-day life until I was faced with this question. Do I want to get better at the cost of cutting out what had become a huge part of college life for me? I panicked at the thought of facing my social anxiety head on, as not only would that be an issue, but in the midst of a room full of drunk people it seemed even more terrifying.
Truthfully, I suffered many panic attacks and difficult nights at the beginning. I walked home some nights in tears and frustrated that I couldn’t just have a drink and get over how awkward I was in its absence. This was all caused because I had not yet learnt to separate getting drunk from going out to have a good time.
It happens to all of us, we get to college and suddenly we have this new freedom and opportunities to hang out with friends. We start the week off with good intentions, promising ourselves that it will only be one night out to Coppers on Tuesday. But something needed celebrating on the Monday, and your friends were at the Pav on Wednesday, and you might as well go for pints on Friday to celebrate the week being over. Suddenly, it’s the weekend, and when you look back and actually break down how much alcohol you’re putting into your system, you can scare yourself.
I am not an advocate of going cold turkey or denying people the things that bring them enjoyment. If you can have two or three pints and leave it at that then that’s amazing, but I could not. Not to say you can’t have a pint, followed by water and so on throughout the night. There are so many alcohol-free alternatives available that you can sit among your mates having a few cans or pints and nobody will know the difference, only you have to know.
That said, I found disclosing this to those closest to me in the beginning really helped. Having to ward off questions from everyone you meet is tiring, let alone hiding it from those closest to me. Sometimes people will not understand or will put pressure on you to drink, but know that it is okay to stand up for yourself or take a break from somebody if they are negatively affecting what essentially is a recovery for you. Quitting or cutting back drinking is your business, and your business only. This is something to hold onto and to remind yourself whenever somebody tries to make it their business.
The greatest lesson I learnt from this though is to find what you love. Granted, some non-drinking events are all bookclubs, flower-arranging, and chess. But that is not me and I’m sure that is not everyone reading this article. I still want to go mental on a dancefloor and have nights that I will never forget, drink or no drink.
If you enjoy going to gigs, start looking up tickets. It doesn’t need to be the 3 Arena, it could be an event ran by a college society or a night in Whelan’s, but if that is what makes you happy, go do it. If it is movies, maybe start putting some of the money you would have used to buy drink on cinema membership and go to films you would not usually see.
No matter what you enjoy there is something for everyone in Dublin at a range of prices from free to those events that need a little bit of saving. Even if you cannot find something for you maybe bring it to the CSC, why not take something you are passionate about and create an opportunity for other students to experience something you get enjoyment from! Focus your evenings and nights that you would have spent necking a naggin on the Luas to creating opportunities that could bring you an alternative sense of fulfillment.
I struggled to allow myself to let loose when sober at first, but a pivotal moment for me was the Players Ball. I remember an act came on and all I wanted to do was dance the night away. Sweaty and wrecked I walked back to my apartment happier than I had been coming home from a night out in a long time. I realised that dancing did not need to be fueled by drinking just to numb the embarrassment, and I started spending money on nights that I got genuine fulfillment from.
There is also the wonderful bonus of not waking up, checking your bank balance and wondering whether you actually bought the entire club a round of shots the night before. We all mean well when the card gets brought along “for emergencies only”, but somehow those emergencies end up being the root cause of a raging headache.
Not only does sobriety benefit your wallet, but it also benefits your mind. Sometimes you will have to grace the sweatboxes of Harcourt Street, be it for a birthday or a friend finishing exams, and those nights can be tough. But finally remembering everything that happens, and tailoring your night around your own personal enjoyment, rather than drinking, will make you so much happier as a person.
While your friends are tackling a rager of a hangover you can actually get up and be productive the next day. Several nights out in a week no longer affect you in the same way. You will be tired and you should always get adequate sleep but there is something rewarding about being able to go about your business without being brutally punished for the night before.
This journey, or whatever it is has been, has truly helped me so much as a person. By taking out an overbearing negativity in my life, I have finally had the energy and time to focus on myself as a person, and I am doing the necessary things to help me get to where I need to be. I am far healthier mentally, but recovery is never linear and I have learned to accept my tumbles along the way.
It is easy to get caught up in a cycle of meaningless nights out where the same thing happens in a slightly different venue each time. College is meant for new experiences, meeting new people, going to new places, exploring a city you may never have lived in before, and as cliché as it sounds, discovering yourself.
I have truly learnt who I can rely on as people, those who will go with you to try new things and who tell people to shut up when they probe you as to why you are not holding a drink in your hand. These friends are precious and are equally as important to the process of cutting back or quitting. This is not a journey you have to do by yourself, I am so grateful to those that helped me and I am really happy to see so many people around me cutting back or seriously considering quitting because of how positively it has affected me.
There are so many support outlets available in Trinity from the College Health Service, Student Counselling Services, occupational therapists, the Students’ Union, and many more. I know it would have been a much more difficult journey for me if I did not have the help and support of these services on campus. I hope you gain something from reading this, I know I got so much from writing it.