Red, red, wiiine – you sang it in your head, didn’t you? No? Just me then. Right. This right here is the start; it’s the point where the hangover and anxiety is created (hangxiety), the fun partying part, with the music and the laughter, the part before the emotional crash.
Red wine has become my “go-to” choice of alcoholic beverage. When I was younger, I didn’t drink a lot. I went through the usual stage of sugary flavoured vodka drinks in my late teens/the early 20s, but not a lot in volume because I hated the feeling of being intoxicated and the anxiety that followed. My friends would make fun of me going to a party with 2 Raspberry Vodka Cruisers – which would easily last me all night – if I even got through them both.
I could drive home, had no hangovers, didn’t waste money on booze or do reckless things that everyone else was doing. In my mind, it was brilliant. But then, as it does for many, In my early 20’s I found myself in very stressful situations, and life started to wear me down with ongoing family issues. Surrounded by big drinkers, I entered a “beer phase” in my mid-20s and then I gave that up and found wine somewhere along the line.
Wine made me feel comfortably numb, quickly, and without the beer bloat. The wine felt like it was still a little fancy; it was OK for Mum to drink wine; it was almost expected. Novelty glasses saying things like “Mummy needs a wine”; or “I drink because I have kids” made it seem normalised. Every second meme on FB is some Mummy/wine joke.
The wine took away the worries; the wine took away the anxiety and gave me a false sense of confidence. All temporary fixes, of course. Wine helped to remove the sadness quickly I felt, and the weight of the huge responsibilities I felt was piled on top of me. I had a pretty important and busy job; I was a single Mum, I had a mortgage to pay for (on my own), as well as usual household responsibilities to take care of. The wine was the relief in the chaos.
Growing up, a lot of dysfunction surrounded me; therefore, it wasn’t totally unforeseen that I would overindulge in alcohol for a couple of years. I still managed all the usual tasks, but after dinner and bedtime routines were completed, I would pour a big glass of wine, and then another, you get the idea. I would usually chat with friends on the phone or sit and watch TV. Fleeting relationships never lasted because I wasn’t ready to be in one.
This was ultimately a really lonely time for me. Even though I thought the wine was relieving the loneliness, it was only exacerbating it and creating huge amounts of anxiety along the way. This all changed when I decided enough was enough; I started to get curious about what had triggered this slide, where my life was going and how to turn the ship around.
I had seen firsthand the carnage of many lives spiralling out of control, and I wasn’t interested in being sucked down that vortex. I did a lot of work on myself. I read many books, sought many different therapies and learned to notice my triggers and deal better with my emotions, rendering the need for numbing unnecessary.
I have written a lot about my experience with anxiety; you can read more about that here. For the past 4 years, I have taken an intentional break from consuming any alcohol at all, usually somewhere between 3-6 months at a time, 2019 I was more like 7-8 months, and I always feel amazing for it. Yet, somehow it creeps back into my life in some capacity. A few years back, in the height of my “numbing”, I could drink 1-2 bottles in a sitting, 3-4 nights a week; that amount would near on kill me now, the anxiety which accompanied it sure would anyway. 1-2 glasses per night is where I have landed recently, which still leaves me feeling not so perky the next day.
I have researched alcohol dependence and addiction pretty heavily. I learned a lot from Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind and Quit like a Woman by Holly Whittaker. For anyone who wishes to change their relationship with alcohol, I highly suggest giving these books a read. They explain why people develop alcohol dependence, how alcohol use trickles down through families and affects generation after generation and the role alcohol plays in mental health such as depression and anxiety.
There are many addiction issues in my immediate and extended family, so I am hyper-vigilant about maintaining control over the place that alcohol resides in my life. I have learned a lot about the biochemistry in our bodies and how alcohol affects every one of our cells. I understand that the addictive nature of this poison has been slowly but surely positioned into all of our lives via parental modelling, marketing by liquor companies (and those who stand to gain from their profits) as well as a culture at large in the western world which creates stressful lives, leaving people in search of some relief from it all.
I don’t drink nearly as much as I used to, but it started creeping up again during the lockdown of 2020. Whether this happened due to boredom, homeschooling, or the stress of the unknown during a global pandemic, I am not sure, probably a mix of all of these things and more. Based on what I saw online in different social media groups, particularly “Mum groups” on FB, I believe that I was not alone in this.
There must surely have been a surge in alcohol sales over this time. Funny how alcohol was deemed essential. You couldn’t get hold of toilet paper or flour, but a box of wine could turn up on your doorstep in 2 days flat. I think the stress of this whole situation has thrown many into at least a little overindulgence, if not brand new full-blown habits. I wonder if this is also contributing to the increase in mental health issues.
To move forward and change my own habits, I seem to need a fitness or health goal to keep me in line otherwise; it’s too easy to have a glass of wine or two with dinner most nights. The “right or wrong” amount is different for everyone; of course, I am not judging anyone else’s drinking levels. But for me, consistent (daily) alcohol intake does a lot of damage to my mental health and wellbeing, anxiety being right up there at the forefront.
The first thing I notice is that I start to put on weight, I feel grumpy in the mornings, have my sleep patterns interrupted, I am more argumentative, I feel dehydrated daily, and I end up looking forward to the 5 pm meal prep time so I can pour that glass of Pinot Noir and “feel great again”. Of course, it is a false and fleeting feeling of “great”. Alcohol is a depressant, and for someone like me, who already struggles with mental health day-to-day, it is not wise to be topping up on depressant inducing chemicals in my body.
Alcohol’s role in my anxiety now
New Years eve 2020 I was feeling particularly festive and I consumed 1.5 bottles of wine. FAR in excess of what I would usually drink. I had a great time to start with, sat in the spa pool, sang songs with my Mum, was home in bed by 11 (thanks to my wonderful partner and sober driver for the evening). There was no trouble at all. Until the next morning. Cue the Hangxiety. For those who aren’t sure what Hangxiety is, let me paint you a not so pretty picture.
First of all, I will wake up sometime in the night, probably needing to use the bathroom and experiencing a major sugar crash. I will then start to play over in my mind the events of that night. Cue anxiety on steroids. Who did I talk to, what did I say, did I upset anyone, did I make a fool of myself or anyone else. I will lay awake wondering what is wrong with me and why I would do this to myself, why I would act such a fool. My anxiety effectively chops down 2 gears at this point and hits the accelerator.
Finally, I will eventually get back to sleep only to wake up again in a few hours and repeat the process in my mind. Very rarely have I actually done anything problematic whilst drinking, but you can guarantee I will play by play every second of every minute or every hour that I can remember. My stomach will be physically churning, my head pounding, my brain just an empty room with someone equivalent in intellect to the cookie monster running the computer show for the majority of the day.
My sensitivity gets dialled up to 150/100. I would say I feel embarrassed but I think that is an understatement and mortified is a better description of the way I feel at this moment. I will feel like a terrible mother, partner, friend and ultimately a bad human, one that doesn’t deserve any sympathy or love. I will berate myself the entire time and vow never to do it again.
As I write this, NYE was only mere days ago, and I have been having this experience for years, but the “time in between drinks” – see what I did there? is definitely widening at a rapid rate, my inclination to be bothered conjuring up large helpings of hangovers and anxiety for myself and spending the day agonising in my own head is far less enticing than it once was. Instead of once a week, or once a month, I’m going to go for once a year.
I have a couple of friends who have told me that they have experienced similar feelings the morning after a boozy night. Usually, people who are already suffering anxiety or depression experience the Hangxiety symptoms to a high extent too. From what I can tell, I don’t think alcohol affects everyone this way, maybe not even most people, surely not. I hope not anyway because it is up there with one of the most horrible feelings in the world.
Obviously, the answer is not to consume alcohol in the first place but sometimes, just sometimes, it feels good to let your hair down and let loose. Sometimes you can get caught up in the festivity.