From anxiety-riddled hangover days to mindful moderation and steady mental health. Read Club Soda member Rosie’s story below.
It’s safe to say that in my late teens and early 20s, I was full of anxiety. Like most people that age, I worried constantly about the future and struggled to make sense of adulthood. To escape the pressures that came with looming university deadlines, Tinder dating and job hunting, I drank and partied. A lot.
While it temporarily helped me to forget my troubles, I always felt 10 times worse the next day. Not least because I was also suffering from chronic anxiety which, as any medical professional will tell you, does not mix well with booze.
I remember clearly the first time I had a panic attack the day after drinking. I was away at university and on the phone to my mum when suddenly my heart rate rose through the roof, and I struggled to breathe. For a moment, I was convinced that I was going to die but thankfully my mum helped calm me down.
Perhaps even scarier than the panic attack was the all-encompassing anxiety that shrouded me for days afterward. I couldn’t shake the sense that something terrible was about to happen, and a permanent tightness gripped my chest. Somehow I struggled through lectures and society meetings, feeling only half present in whatever I was doing.
The experience had shaken me up, but not enough to stop me from drinking. Almost as soon as the anxiety had lifted, I texted a friend to arrange our next night out. From then on the anxiety that accompanied my hangovers became a near-weekly occurrence. I desperately wanted to do something about it but as my social life revolved around drinking, cutting down never felt like an option.
Flash forward a couple of years and I went the total opposite way, embarking on a ‘wellness’ drive. This was inspired partly by my desire for better mental health but mainly by the bodies of the impossibly perfect fitness bloggers I followed on Instagram. As part of this restrictive new lifestyle, I cut out alcohol on the basis that it made me feel anxious (although it was more to do with achieving my body ‘goals’).
For a while my mental health improved – I certainly didn’t miss the panic attacks and the heart palpitations that came with a hangover. But I also missed out on dinners with friends, nights out and socialising with work colleagues. I was so afraid to drink that I started to avoid any situation avoiding alcohol altogether. Over time I grew increasingly lonely, unhappy and, well, even more anxious.
With the help of a brilliant therapist, I started to let go of the restrictions in my life and find more balance overall. I realised I didn’t want to be the girl who always left the night out early but I also didn’t want to go back to the cycle of heavy drinking and crippling hangovers from my early 20s. I wondered if I could reach a happy medium instead.
The ‘lightbulb’ moment came when I discovered Club Soda and the concept of Mindful Drinking – it was the moderate approach I had been looking for all along. I loved that it involved no hard and fast rules or restriction, but would give me a solid grounding to avoid falling back into my old ways. For the first time, I felt hopeful that I could achieve a balanced relationship with alcohol.
Bit by bit I started rebuilding my social life, using the Mindful Drinking resources on Club Soda as a guide. It wasn’t easy to begin with – the first few times I drank, I worried that it would trigger my anxiety and wrestled with a nasty guilty feeling the next day. I still had to push myself to say ‘yes’ to nights out and stay longer than I would normally choose to.
Likewise, not everyone understood as moderate drinking was still a pretty new concept among 20-somethings. A few people tried to encourage me to drink, while interestingly others projected their own insecurities around alcohol onto me. In the early days, I often turned to other Club Soda members to help me make sense of what I was doing and for moral support.
After a while though, Mindful Drinking became the new normal for me. With practice, I learnt that assessing my mental health and motivation was key to deciding whether to drink. On days when my anxiety was low, I could enjoy a few drinks and feel fine. By contrast, I knew that if I’d been having a tough time, it was better not to drink at all. Nowadays, I swear by this approach – and Mindful Drinking has given me the words and confidence to say, “I’m not drinking tonight because I’m not feeling great”.
Thanks to Mindful Drinking I no longer feel left out in social situations or anxious beforehand, while the boozy highs of Saturday nights and hungover lows of Sunday mornings are a thing of the past. It doesn’t take much to ask myself, “How am I feeling about this?” before reaching for a drink, but it makes all the difference to my mental health.