I have faced negativity from many, and praise from others while avoiding what is so much part of the Aussie culture.
I lost count of the times I’ve heard: “Just one drink won’t hurt,” or “what’s wrong with you?” as people grappled with their own insecurities of why they drink.
At 24 years old, I was on a path of self-destruction.
Keen to climb the corporate ladder, I worked 60 hour weeks, fuelled by a diet of carbs and sugar. I got drunk every Saturday night, which was soon also Friday, then became knock off drinks on Thursdays, Wednesdays, and eventually Tuesdays as well.
I justified this by telling myself I worked hard, and drinking was my reward and release. But I was really burning the candle at both ends and my health was suffering the consequences.
The alcohol mixed with my work stress fuelled my anxiousness, which plagued my irritable bowel. The energy drinks to keep me going at the office, sometimes until 10pm, didn’t help either.
I put on weight with all the booze and hangover takeaway food, which caused cysts to develop in my ovaries (PCOS) that became so inflamed they caused constant cramps.
I was always on edge and started getting panic attacks when things went pear shaped at work. I lost touch with what was happening in the outside world. I would constantly fight with my mother. I never had time for my boyfriend, and he left me.
One afternoon, hungover and slumped on a bean bag in the lounge room, I heard my three-year-old niece ask my mother: “Nanna, why is Aunty Mel sleeping in the daytime?”
I realised then I had become the “drunk aunty”. Even a toddler could see my lifestyle was not constructive, so I knew had to do something to change it.
I decided to go out with a bang, so I quit my job and spent the next six weeks in Europe – eating and drinking as much as my body would allow.
I raised beer steins with foreigners at Munich’s Oktoberfest. I cured a hangover by getting drunk before noon at the Heinekin Experience at Stadhouderskade, Amsterdam. I sipped on actual Champagne at the Moulin Rouge in Paris. I knocked back peach schnapps at Austria. And I have foggy memories of bar-hopping in London, but I know I had a great time.
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As soon as I arrived home I began a health kick, which would inevitably become a “lifestyle choice” and started exercising and eating better. I limited my drinking to special occasions – usually one night a month - then gave up all together.
In 12 months, I went from weighing 90 kilos to just 65. Dropping from a large size 16 to a 12 meant I didn’t have to dress like a dag any longer!
I also had so much energy I would run 5km most days, and had more time for friends, family, and myself.
Not paying bar prices for booze, or expensive taxi trips home, meant I also saved a lot of money. Within less than three years of sobriety I saved enough money for a deposit to buy my first home on my own.
The only downfall of shedding 25 kilos meant I also lost what little muscle strength I had, and couldn’t even manage a single stomach crunch.
I worked really hard over the past few years to lift weights and build muscle, and also improve my fitness, endurance and nutrition.
I have since taken up a team sport and train up to three times a week, including Sunday afternoons, which I never would have been able to do hungover. I have even been competing in weightlifting competitions and my PCOS has gone.
While I’ve shifted my focus from weight loss to muscle building I will enter my tenth sober year sporting a larger frame than when I was at my lightest, but I’m fitter and stronger both mentally and physically than I have ever been, and the happiest and most body-confident ever.
So tonight, I will bring in 2017 with a glass of sparkling apple juice and avoid the hangover tomorrow.
2016: Year in Review