My toxic relationship by Steph Conroy

Image by Alfonso Scarpa on Unsplash

It’s the day after my best friend’s wedding. The alarm clock beside the bed reads 11:00am. I’ve woken up in the newlyweds’ bed, a friend of theirs passed out beside me stinking of beer and farts. I find my phone after pawing through a pile of clothes on the floor. A former student who was working the bar at the event has messaged me on Facebook to say ‘remember how you were drinking the empties? Classic!’ My mouth tastes of cigarettes and my head is pounding. I am confused, thirsty, aching. I don’t need to pee which tells me I’m really dehydrated. I hear voices and stumble downstairs; outside, there are people still awake from the previous night, sitting amongst the muck and empty bottles. Someone must have left at some point to get more mixers and a bag of ice, which is melting in the doorway. I throw myself into a chair, panting with the effort. It’s hot and I’m squinting into the haze that lingers from the fires. I feel like absolute shit.

6 months ago, I was in Indonesia, lying on a beach. My toned, bronze limbs taking in the sun. I had quit smoking and had dramatic realisations about the negative influence alcohol had in my life, which led me to curb my drinking drastically. I felt calm, at ease in my own company. I felt aware of myself and in harmony with everything around me. I could spend a day working through an event in my past or contemplating the things I saw in my future. And yet I felt present. I was listening to my body, I could hear what it wanted and needed.

How did I go from this wonderous calm to complete disarray in a few short months?

For one thing, I felt really well-positioned to make my own decisions overseas. I often wasn’t close enough to the people around me for them to care if I left a party or night out early. Back home, there are relationships to maintain that have well-established patterns of interaction. Social gatherings- particularly of an evening- are predicated on the consumption of booze. Housewarming? Drinks. New job! Drink. Christmas party? Drink. Friday night? Drink.

Soon, I remembered how much I enjoyed smoking while I drank and that began to creep in too; despite the fact that I’d been quit for over six months, and a small voice in my head was begging me not to let this happen.

Abiding, I began to take stock of the fallout from the Christmas break.

I was bloated. My body had expanded, filled out, poured itself into pockets of my clothes in ways that made me uncomfortable, the fabric cloying.

The age of body positivity is ironically still a challenging time for any woman who has struggled with disordered eating, body dysmorphia or generalised issues around their body image because suddenly we are supposed to accept and love our bodies for what they are. Right now! Just like this! But I can’t; because I know this body is the by-product of destructive, negligent behaviour.

Worse, my brain feels panicked, scattered. My thoughts are dark. It has taken me more than a decade to realise my anxiety and mental wellbeing are unquestionably linked to my drinking.

I need to break up with my toxic habits. I need to throw my body and mind into something valuable, worthwhile. The last time I really challenged myself was completing a 60km walk in a day back in 2018. I’ve signed up to complete it again, but just the half distance this time around. It’s not about growth, but about restoration. It takes place on the 22nd May. So, I’ve decided not to drink from wedding to walk.

That’s 131 days.

As I write this, it’s morning, two weeks since my last drink and my last cigarette. I am about to head out to the bay in my new hometown to swim in the ocean. I did my first practice walk yesterday: 13kms. My mind is clear, my body responsive; I am ready to break the cycle.