was probably borderline at one point.
The first time I got drunk I was 18 and all it took was two cans of Magners at a house party. It was quite a night really. In a short space of time I managed to offend MP Gerry Kelly’s daughter by telling her that Sinn Fein were all just IRA terrorists in suits and also have my first kiss with an abnormally tall Spanish boy. Before that I’d never really seen getting drunk as a prerequisite to having a good time. For my school friends and I, sneaking into a club and having a couple of WKDs was as wild as life got.
Then I went to university and once free from the shackles of parental judgement, alcohol became a way of life. Like a vast majority of students, I fell into a routine of drink.party.sleep.study.repeat. A sober night out was unheard of and Freshers’ Week should have been called ‘a week where you get as drunk as possible without dying’. It was all ‘top bants’ though, or so I thought at first. From Lambrini and red wine to Baileys and whiskey, there wasn’t much I couldn’t or wouldn’t drink; and when someone told me to ‘see it off’ or ‘down it fresher’, I didn’t think twice.
My nationality worked against me in all of this. People would either say ‘go on you‘re Irish you can handle it’ or would chide me for letting down my country when I seemed to be fading – which I of course saw as a personal challenge to drink more and conform to the stereotype. This was all well and good when I was in the confines of halls, but when we were out and about in the streets and clubs of Exeter, things got a bit more dangerous. I have some hilarious stories though. Like the time I was kicked out of Vaults and ended up sitting with a homeless woman and playing her tin whistle, or the time I was kicked out of Arena whilst dressed as a Kit-Kat because I couldn’t stand. (I suppose I was melting.) But there are other stories which aren’t so hilarious. Like the alcohol-fueled one night stands which I always regretted the morning after, or the times I ended up outside a club crying for no apparent reason.
people would either say ‘go on you’re Irish you can handle it’ or would chide me for letting down my country
Since I was about 16 I’ve had an ongoing battle with depression and anxiety, and naively when I moved to Exeter I thought I’d be leaving all of my past troubles behind. At times I wasn’t just drinking to have a good time or because everyone else was. I was drinking to get drunk, because I was down and I hated myself and momentarily blocking out the darkness with wine or whiskey seemed like an easy form of escapism. I was on anti-depressants too, which I really shouldn’t have been mixing with alcohol in the first place, but I tended to act impulsively and think of the consequences later. At the time I usually wouldn’t realise that I was being self-destructive. It would only be later, when I’d had time to reflect that I could see I was using alcohol as a coping mechanism.
In second year I was a bit more calm. I still got drunk but my mental health had greatly improved, which meant I didn’t feel the need to use alcohol as a crutch. I still drank more than I should on occasion, but for the most part I was pretty adept at having a good time whilst sober and even managed to give up alcohol for Lent.
Then I went on my year abroad and things took a bit of a downward turn again. My first few months in Italy were like Fresher’s all over again. The only difference was this time I was doing a work placement. For a good few months I lived a crazy lifestyle of partying and drinking cheap beer and spritz till 4am, before getting up at 6.30am to get the train to work. After a while this took its toll and my problems with anxiety began to rear their ugly head once again. Panic attacks became increasingly common and in the end I had to leave Italy early because I just couldn’t cope anymore. I barely wanted to leave the apartment and I couldn’t face going to work. I spent a month at home and started on some anti-anxiety medication which helped a lot, but I reproached myself for having not kept tabs on my drinking or my mental health.
Then in March I started a work placement in Paris which I really enjoyed. After a while though I began to feel quite alone. I was in a big city where I didn’t know anyone and I longed for the close group of friends I’d made in Italy. I started to go out to bars on my own in the hope of meeting people and also because sitting alone in a room full of people seemed less depressing to me than just sitting alone in a room by myself. But even though getting totally trashed on my own wasn’t my aim it still happened, and with disastrous consequences.
A few times I blacked out and woke up in bed having not remembered how I got home. It was a bit scary but the more it happened, the more I became desensitised to it and I began to accept it as the norm. I didn’t pause to consider that I could get myself into some serious trouble if I carried on like this. At this time I was living with a kind elderly woman called Liliane whose only house rule was that I didn’t bring anyone back to the apartment. Fair enough I said. Then one night I was out till late drinking in the bar of a nearby youth hostel which I frequented in the hope of meeting people my same age. One of the last things I remember is chatting to an American boy and ordering a bottle of wine.
The next morning I stumbled into the kitchen and was met with a stoney faced Liliane. “You had someone in your room last night,” she said. “Um, non. I don’t think so,” I replied, because although plausible I actually couldn’t remember. Liliane attested that she’d seem him leave in the early hours of the morning and since I’d broken her trust she requested that I swiftly find alternate accomodation. I’d never been so mortified in my life. The worst part was that she’d invited her friends over for lunch that day too so as I dragged my suitcase towards the door, shamefaced and repentant I was met with the steely glare of four other Parisian pensioners. I checked straight into the same hostel I’d been drinking in the night before and just so happened to be placed in the bunk above the American boy I’d spent the night with. This could have been potentially awkward but when I told him my tale of woe his response was: “Jeeze I feel like a shmuck.” He then promptly offered to buy me dinner. This time though I decided to lay off the wine.
I’d broken her trust and she requested that I swiftly find alternate accommodation
You’d think this would have been my wake up call but since then, even now I’m back in Exeter and in the crucial final year of my degree, I’ve still had a couple of black-out drunk nights. Thankfully I‘m in familiar surroundings and I only go out with friends here so nothing bad has happened, but I shouldn’t be complacent. I do worry that I’m an alcoholic sometimes but it’s not like I’ve ever felt that I needed to drink, it’s just that I’ve always struggled with knowing when to stop once I’ve started. My grandpa is an alcoholic, and seeing how alcohol has ruled and ultimately destroyed his life is motivation enough for me to not want to fall into the same trap.
Like a lot of people, my New Year’s resolution is to drink less. I’ve downloaded the Change 4 Life drink tracker to keep tabs on my alcohol intake, and I’ve also embarked on a healthy vegan lifestyle which I don’t want to counteract with alcohol abuse. When I go out now I tend to leave my card at home and only take out a limited amount of cash so I’m not tempted to keep drinking.
At university it can be difficult not to yield to peer pressure, but alcohol isn’t necessary to having a good time. Everyone is different so it’s always best to make choices based on what is right for you, but no night out is worth putting yourself at risk.