everyone gets drunk and makes mistakes, right?
I was 16 the first time I drank alcohol. I had always thought I’d be strong enough to wait until the legal age (18 in Australia) – but being a teenager with boundless curiosity combined with a need to fit in, I was naive in thinking I would wait.
I had arrived at a friends place, missing their pre-game (because I was uninvited) and found that everyone of them were stumbling around, being loud, laughing and generally looking like they were having a blast.
I wanted in.
The girls handed me some of their cups as we walked to the train station. A sip here, and a sip there, I didn’t particularly feel too much except the buzz of sugar on my tongue. However, events gradually escalated once we reached the birthday girl’s house. Things started to feel a bit more blurry and I felt more relaxed. Is this what feeling drunk feels like? Is this the experience of being tipsy? Whatever it was, it made it a whole of a lot more fun to dance.
Probably only a few hours later, a close friend of mine had passed out on the lawn in between some pools of vomit. People were gathering round; this wasn’t a regular occurrence yet at the ages of 15 or 16. I was scared. Scared enough to call my mum and tell her to pick me up.
The night ended with my friend in an ambulance and the cops showing up to dismantle the party. Mum drove me to the hospital where a few other girls were there to check on my passed out friend. Luckily she was fine – had slept it off in the hospital bed, with an angry father and disappointed (yet strangely bemused and lighthearted) mother in the waiting room. I wish I could say that was the only time I was in a hospital from alcohol related incidents.
But this was the beginning of a slippery slope.
I want to start off by saying that the binge drinking culture that runs rampant in Australia is absolutely terrifying. The glorification of alcohol, being drunk and bonding over shared blackouts or the recounting of embarrassing drunken antics is something I’m constantly surrounded by. It’s something I’ve engaged in over the last 5 years since those first sips of alcohol. It’s so prevalent that I never even considered that I had a problem, because well, this is just what everyone is doing, right? Everyone gets drunk and make mistakes, right? Isn’t this just everyone’s experience of drinking in their youth?
Whilst there were a few drunk stints underage coupled with the sparing hangovers (it was quite the rarity to experience back then), it wasn’t until I was 18 that I really started to befriend the ‘party lifestyle’ with the infamous sidekick of alcohol. Heck, my first night out on my 18th birthday I got kicked out of the club and mum nursed me with a bucket when I got home. ‘But it’s okay’, I thought, this is a one-off occurrence and I’ll know my limits next time.
**Correction: after countless of other times.
Anyone who knows of Contiki is well versed in their drinking culture and travel lifestyle. At the end of my senior year at high school, two friends and myself (ironically the friend who was hospitalized a few years back) decided to celebrate by doing a Contiki through South-East Asia. To this day, it is still one of the fondest trips I’ve had, and I met one of my current best friends from that trip. Yet one unfortunate takeaway I got is that alcohol makes everything more fun, and drinking others under the table makes you a champion.
Vietnam was the first country I was hospitalized in.
I woke up with a drip in my arm, with complete amnesia of the events the night before, in a place where no one could speak English and I couldn’t remember how to get back to the hotel. I have always told the story with confidence in me being spiked that night, after blacking out completely after 4 drinks. Years later now, I have some doubts about that. It could well be I just drank myself into oblivion and caused that self-induced state.
In a hilarious sequel of events for my friends, I got hospitalized less than 2 weeks later in Thailand. There was no doubt about this occurrence that it was my own choosing. Being slightly emotional about a boy + drinking + winning a dance competition in a club + a near entire bottle of vodka = a trip to the hospital.
Quite embarrassed but laughing it off with all my mates, I kept these stories secret from my parents for obvious reasons for years to come. I wish I could say that I had truly learnt my lesson by then, I was committed to being responsible in my drinking, hospital trips stopped and I didn’t blackout anymore. But yet - there were more hospital trips, numerous blackouts, problems with breathing and some embarrassing bodily function scenarios. I’m still working through a lot of shame surrounding all these events.
Something I have always contemplated and thought deeply about is the self-pitying ‘why me’? Why is it that my friends can drink the same amount or more and be totally fine, whilst I’m passed out in the gutter? Why is it that I keep ending up in hospital? Why is it that each time I think I’ve finally learnt how to control my drinking that I mess up again in a big way?
It’s taken me 3 years to understand that I have a drinking problem. When I used to think of an alcoholic, I’d think of a middle-aged man in his 40s drinking consistently high amounts everyday. I’m not like that and it’s important to understand that alcohol abuse doesn’t have one clear image. I don’t drink everyday, sometimes I don’t drink for weeks. But when I drink on nights out in the city, or at festivals or events, I binge and completely lose control. And this is a problem for me.
This isn’t something that’s talked about with 20-something-year-olds like me, and I’ve never even heard someone my age admit to having a problem with drinking. Declining alcohol at a social event is practically social-suicide at the tender age of 21. Being immersed in such an ingrained drinking culture has helped to mask my issues for so long.
After another embarrassing binge drinking episode the other week, I have finally reached breaking point. I can no longer do this anymore; I can no longer neglect my body and my emotional needs. I can no longer engage in a lifestyle which is centered around ‘getting fucked up’ through alcohol (and drugs).
I’m finally ready to admit to myself and others that I have a drinking problem.
And I’m finally ready to change that (with the help of a therapist, my parents and close friends).
I want to let you know it’s okay to not drink and engage with partying culture if you don’t want to. It’s also okay if you want to do that. Knowing whether something is right or wrong for you is only something you can decide for yourself. And - well - maybe it’ll take a few hard-earned lessons to learn that.
If you need help, don’t be afraid to reach out.