Changing My Relationship With Alcohol Helped My Mental Health
Ross Lacey developed an unhealthy relationship with alcohol in his teenage years
Though he drank to mask his depression, it only made it worse – here he shares his story of how he turned things around
If you are struggling with depression or substance abuse issues, find a therapist here
Alcohol is fun, right? A lot of us enjoy a drink every so often. Valuable time spent with family or friends, sometimes complete strangers! Others enjoy it alone. I once enjoyed both, a little too much. Eventually I realised I needed to change my relationship with alcohol as it started to consume me rather than me consuming it.
I started to drink at the age of 14. My parents went away twice a year. My friends and I had parties that would last the entire week or two. Alcohol was the main staple of our diet plus a few pizzas and some energy drinks wouldn’t go amiss too. It wasn’t only my parties we had to look forward to either. Most of my friends’ parents went away through the year too. It seemed as though the parties were continuous. Most Fridays we would go to a friend’s place and party through until Sunday night then go to school for the week. This was a regular thing during the school years.
When I was 16 most of my friends stayed on at sixth form. I didn’t. I hated school and wanted to be out of it as soon as possible. So I just sat at home, mostly alone.
After some late-night gaming sessions I would wake round 10 or 11am. I’d fire up the PC, and pour myself a pint of Tia Maria.
I’d head back upstairs and grab my guitar and amp. The first thing to hit my stomach was the alcohol, hard and fast. I liked that feeling it gave me. That sense of looseness, that confidence. I’d play guitar and games for hours. I’d try to sober up around two in the afternoon, readying for when my parents got home after work a few hours later and everyone else was home from school.
One of the main reasons I drank was because I was depressed. I hated myself. I wanted that confident feeling alcohol gave me. Yet after too many drinks the alcohol would make me feel more depressed.
For a long time I hid my depression from everyone. I had to pretend to be happy for everyone else’s sake. It was hard. In early adulthood, a couple of difficult break ups and the ability to now legally drink in my local didn't help. I have a memory of being on a work night out during these years. We were waiting to get into a club and all I could do was stare at a rooftop and imagine what it would be like to jump from the top.
Suicidal thoughts crept into my mind 24/7. My depression had got worse but I did nothing about it. I drank more to mask it. After I had a profound experience in my early 20s I decided to cut down my alcohol intake. I saw how much I was wasting my time and my money. Not to mention slowly killing myself.
I started to look at what I could spend my money on instead of alcohol. I enjoy the thought of bettering myself and am big on self-improvement and personal development. I like to learn and often take on new courses or educational endeavours. That being said, I’ll contemplate buying a course or subscribing to a website with a monthly fee but be quite reluctant to do so. In the same breath I’ll go to the shop and spend £10 on alcohol. Where is the sense in that?
Now that I've changed my relationship to alcohol, I don’t see the need to have it at every occasion. I’ll only have a few drinks or nothing at all. I can enjoy myself without it. I enjoy a good conversation more than anything. Yes, going out to a pub or a club is enjoyable but I like to talk about deep issues and catch up with people. If I go out to a restaurant I’ll even opt for a herbal tea or water!
My whole perception of alcohol has now changed. I hate the feeling of being hungover, for one. I hate the feeling I got when I’d had too much. Sometimes it puts me in a bad mood with myself and others round me. I don’t want that feeling at all.
I now see alcohol as something to do at a social occasion depending on where I am or who I’m with. I’d wager up what I can do with that money instead and if it is worth it at the time.
Things in moderation are okay, but what helped me was to be more mindful in my decision-making. How will it make you feel? What could you spend that money on instead? What are the implications of your actions if you drank or didn’t?
For me, alcohol was once a problem. I'm glad I’ve tamed the beast in me and have learnt to respect myself enough to not let it consume me like it used to.