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  • Ellie

That Time I Learnt Moderation is Okay

*This article has very brief reference to suicide which readers may find upsetting or distressing, please read with caution*

My relationship with alcohol has not always been the smoothest of partnerships. Due to my OCD, alcohol has worked as both a way to numb obsessions and fuel them. During the process of drinking it can help take the edge off but the day after, it can add fuel to the fire.

A little back story

Before I was given medication, I saw a glass of wine or two as my own personal medication against obsessing. Therefore, being told I need to stop drinking to allow my new Prozac dose to work triggered all sorts of fear. As expected, the combination of new medication and not drinking everyday worked incredibly well. In fact, it worked so well that I was able to not drink for almost a solid year. I felt like every health guru I had looked up to in my teenage years and the motivational drive pushed me to do so much within that year.

Then university arrived. Again. This was my second time at trying university and I was desperate for it to work. First time around, I was drinking everyday but alone in my room. It was not the first-year experience I had envisioned. I was determined to remedy that during my second time around. I was a new, fresh-faced student that had grown within her impromptu gap-year. However, all the progress I had made was about to unravel and my dependence on pinot and whiskey was about to resurface.

For Freshers week, I had convinced myself that it would be harmless to drink with my new housemates. After all, a little liquid courage always helps. I needed to do university right this time. I didn’t factor in that homesickness, fallouts with friends, and academic stress would trigger me to reach for my tried and tested vice.

People seem to underestimate how much time you spend alone in that first year of university. It may have just been my experience, but that moment you leave friends and find yourself alone in your tiny bedroom with breezeblock walls was the most humbling experience I have felt in almost 23 years. Even without the OCD creeping in at times, a drink felt like an easy way to distract myself from how lonely the experience was.

I made a fool of myself many times in that first year due to alcohol. Multiple nights are a blank to me and I made some incredibly dangerous choices due to my drinking habits. Each morning, I felt the self-hatred of who I had become grow stronger. Months before, I was working two jobs and volunteering. I had travelled over Europe and built a stronger sense of who I was. The pride I had made for myself crumbled within weeks of attending university. I felt so out of control and made attempts on my life without truly thinking it through.

Hello lockdowns

Fast forward to my second year and I’m officially off medication. I am ready to be serious about my university work. Then COVID-19 hits. Suddenly, my fear of not being distracted from my own mind constantly is compromised. We must stay inside. The easiest form of entertainment? Some wine as the sun is setting in the garden. Every night. For months. Days would blur. Essential trips to the shop comprised of toilet paper and two bottles of wine. It was accepted as the new norm for much of Britain. Memes on Facebook and Twitter would laugh at the fact we were now a generation of alcoholics, and the routine became so easy. Wake up, check the new figures on BBC, watch Boris address the nation, and then drown the reality away with a glass of pinot.

Eventually, life began to regain the normality we saw before. Third year of my university life commenced, and this was the final hurdle. I needed to get my head down. I somehow managed to. With half of my university experience being taught online, I managed to achieve a first class honours. Yet, the constant change of tier 2 and 3 and going back into lockdown brought me back to a drink every evening.

I knew my habit was getting back to reliance, but the loss of routine made me care very little about what I was becoming. I had no lectures to attend, I was not seeing my friends, I was simply at home. Being forced into the home would encourage obsessive thoughts, so a drink here and there just made sense to prevent myself from going back to how I was at my worst.

However, Britain has begun to open again. We're all waking up from a deep sleep and I have to admit to myself who I am again. I have a job. I have a Master’s degree to think about. I have friends to see. I can no longer excuse my reliance on ‘everyone else is drinking’. So, I tried to quit entirely. I bought an app to track my sober days, an e-book to motivate myself and cleared my house of alcohol. I was desperate to make a conscious effort to change.

However, I eventually slipped. I felt like a complete failure and was more hateful towards myself than I had been for a long time. I was pathetic. I was weak. I had no control over my life. I am going to be like this for the rest of my life.

Discovering moderation

That black and white thinking is so characteristic of OCD and can cause many of those who suffer to make drastic choices. After a very much needed session with a wellbeing advisor, I was reminded that grey can exist.

I am not a failure. I am struggling. I am not weak. I am trying. So, instead of making rules for myself, I decided to speak to myself with compassion. I may have a glass of wine with a friend, but I don’t drink alone anymore. I may want to buy a bottle at the supermarket, but I buy myself a new dress instead.

It does not have to be an all or nothing decision. For some, that choice saves them and is beneficial. For others, the all or nothing mindset can create a constant loop of self-hatred to surface time and time again. It is all about finding a solution that works for you. Forgive yourself for the times you obsess over. Learn from them. Do not let them control the present and future. The only person who can do that is you.

What I learnt from this experience:

  • It's okay to forgive yourself if you experience small relapses.

  • How to set reasonable goals, there is grey amongst the black and white.

  • I can control my own life.

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