A view of the Ngong Hills

By SS in Nairobi, Kenya

I know I drank a lot and considered myself a heavy drinker but not out-of-control. I thought because my drink of choice towards the end of my drinking career was just beer, there was not much to worry about as it’s the softest  (alcohol content wise) of alcoholic drinks. The fact that I consumed copious amounts in one seating and definitely drank to feel drunk struck me as a “normal” way to unwind. Any occasion was a time to clink “Cheers!” – to celebrate, commiserate, relax after work, gossip or just because it was another day. It became a habit and a crutch to socializing. I couldn’t imagine hanging out without beer and fags.

I started to drink when I was 17, down at the pub or the student union bar.  Along with a beer in one hand, I’d have a fag in the other. England has such a pub culture and Kenya, where I live now, has a bar culture. Drinking a lot regularly is normalized in these two countries and it is how I spent over 25 years socializing.

The slippery slope started when I noticed I was skiving off work due to hangovers from hell as opposed to being actually sick from a cold or flu. Most of my days off in a year were due to this self-inflicted illness and luckily as I was relatively healthy otherwise, I justified it to myself as days other people take off due to the lurgy in a year. There were mornings I woke up and regretted what happened the night before, or not remembering how I got home, or worst still – in a stranger’s bed. I noticed I never had one night stands sober, always under the influence. The arguments I had with (ex) boyfriends often happened after a night out on the razz. More than one partner had told me that after drinking white wine in particular, I get argumentative. That pointing led me to switch to pints of lager or beer only.

My brother had worst problems than I with alcohol. My grandfather was an alcoholic and died relatively young due to it. Watching my brother’s descent was a wake up call for me. Something he said “we’re cut from the same cloth” hit a chord with me. I knew it was true. I wanted to show him that there is another way and how we are in control of our lives and can change our trajectory. I started off wanting to inspire my brother to take little steps to change but realized that cutting down is not as simple as it sounds. Also I discovered how deep I was and how good it felt to be digging myself out of the hole I had dug for myself. I was heavily reliant on beers and fags to socialize and couldn’t imagine doing so without them. I am not a two beers kind of girl and feel that it is a teaser and just whets my appetite. My average was six or seven on an evening.

At around the same time, my journey into spirituality was growing and I had been seeing a psychotherapist for about two years. As I started to heal, I was drawn to taking the Five Precepts of Buddhism in May of 2018. One of the vows is to “refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind”. After three beers my mind is clouded for sure and as stated, I exceeded to six or eight beers regularly. I would probably go out three or four nights a week. This habit had to drop.

Fast forward to January 2021 and I realise that for me, cold turkey never again drinking a sip of alcohol didn’t work. From May 2018 I refrained from drinking for about 8 months. My trigger to drink again was the Dusit terrorist attack in January 2019, as we live along Riverside Drive which is in the neighbourhood. Looking back on it, my fear response in my reptilian brain kicked in and I reverted back to what I had always done in times of high stress to cope – drink to numb out the emotional pain. Escape reality and forget about things for a while with several cold ones. Once I opened the tap, I continued drinking as a means to socialize for weeks and months after, but at a reduced level to before.

In the past two years I’ve played a game of snakes and ladders with booze, stopping and starting until I have come to peace with my own arrangement. What works for me is to allow myself and give in to the urge when I feel like drinking and try not to berate myself for it. I have not been able to cut off completely, but I have cut down my consumption levels immensely. It has been a gradual process, in 2020 with the pandemic and hardly anyone socializing (as before anyway) there was no FOMO. I took the opportunity to really knock it on the head and probably drank on only 30 days of the whole year. I decided it would be on special occasions and also at that only if I wanted to, not out of peer pressure. I have managed to celebrate people’s 50th birthdays and new year’s without clinking an alcoholic drink. I discovered  non-alcoholic beer, which has a placebo effect of making me feel like I’m joining in and I get a fake buzz too!

I have learned to be kind to myself and accept my relationship with booze to be the way it is. I am a very occasional drinker but mostly I abstain and feel so good about it. I am more clear headed and I feel more in touch with my heart and emotions. I have much more time to do other things as I used to spend hours on end at the bar that I now spend reading, painting etc. Most of all, I actually like myself better when not drinking than when drinking.

SS

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