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When Dry July doesn't cut the drinking problem

*Jenny has always liked a drink. Like a lot of Kiwis, she loved a few beers and wines on a Friday and was partial to an espresso martini or Manhattan on a girls' night out. Her drinking never greatly impacted her life or health until she hit her 30s. As her her lifestyle changed – through parenting and greater responsibility in her career – she drank more at home.

Sometimes, she drank alone to relieve the pressure of a hard day at work, or when the kids were really pushing her limits. But though her hangovers were getting worse, she didn't think she had a problem.

"My drinking was mostly about being social and enjoying some time out with a special glass of beautiful wine and some lovely cheese and music. I liked being around friends and having a good time with alcohol. It was always something I looked forward to."

Things started to change during the long lockdown of 2020.

Jenny's drinking went from social to sneaky in a matter of months.

"Having to work full-time and trying to homeschool two kids who were acting up saw me reaching for a few wines every single night. Being a people person, I also found it really tough not having my social network around. The only thing I felt I had to look forward to was a few drinks every night. I bloody deserved it and me and my husband spent more than a few nights sinking a few bottles of wine to break up the monotony of being at home all the time."

Jenny found it a huge relief when lockdown was over and things could go back to normal. With the kids back at school and an easier work schedule due to being able to work mainly from home, Jenny thought her stress levels would go down and she could stop drinking so much.

That didn't happen. Like many people during the pandemic, Jenny's mental health was greatly affected by the lockdown and no matter what she did, she couldn't shake the anxiety that was constantly with her. "The only thing that would shift it for a little while was a few drinks at night , which in reality had become at least a bottle of wine or more, if I could get away with it."

Working from home allowed Jenny to hide her hangovers and escalating anxiety to a certain degree but soon, her performance began to suffer and her boss was noticing things weren't right.

"He asked if I wasn't well. No one every suspected alcohol was the problem but they knew something was amiss."

Time off work was arranged so she could rest. "I planned to get fit, go the gym and do some creative projects for a few weeks to reset myself and get on top of how bad I felt."

"I knew that alcohol was definitely making things worse for me."

A break away became a breakdown

Part of her holiday was spent at a bach she rented to take a break from her family – "a kind of a retreat". But instead of a break away, she ended up having a breakdown. "I was drinking through the day to try and calm myself but it only made things worse, much worse. I felt like I was losing my mind."

Jenny's husband took her to the doctor, who prescribed medication for anxiety. "I wasn't honest about my drinking, though, and the antidepressants never had a chance to work."

By this stage, her husband realised her drinking was out of control, and urged her to do Dry July to try and break the habit of her heavy and daily drinking. "By that stage I knew that alcohol was definitely making things worse for me, and I was keen to try and get it out of my life."

"Dry July wasn't going to stop me from drinking."

When Dry July doesn't cut it

Along with her husband and a couple of friends, Jenny launched into Dry July. Her best intentions were thwarted though, when she felt sick on the first day of being 'dry'. "I felt nauseous, sweaty and had a terrible headache. I even started to shake. I had a sneaky drink and instantly felt better. That's when I started to get scared and realise I needed professional help. Dry July wasn't going to stop me from drinking."

Her doctor informed her she was dependent on alcohol and that she needed a medical detox to safely stop drinking and avoid dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

"I couldn't believe that I had developed this problem in a relatively short time – just a few months really. But my doctor explained that alcohol addiction can happen quickly if you drink more heavily than usual on a regular basis, even just over a few weeks or months. I definitely drank more during lockdown due to my anxiety about the state of the world. I didn't know that alcohol can cause anxiety, too. All of this was like a bomb going off in my life and I ended up with a raging addiction."

From casual & fun to dependence & destruction

After a safely managed detox from alcohol in a rehab, Jenny was able to address her anxiety and examine her relationship with alcohol. "It had gone from being casual and fun to being dependent and destructive. After counselling and getting educated, I know that addiction is a progressive disease and the only way forward from me is to be completely sober."

A year into her sobriety, Jenny has reevaluated many aspects in her life and made changes that support her wellbeing. "Working full-time, parenting two children and managing a household was too much for me. I now work part-time and spend more time with my family. But most importantly, I get to spend time on staying healthy and growing as person. I wouldn't swap sobriety for anything and don't for a second regret putting down alcohol forever."

*Jenny is a pseudonym used to protect her privacy.

If you think you have a problem with alcohol and need help to stop, call Elaine on 027 573 7744 to see if Ocean Hills is right for you.

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