From cider as a teen to blackouts and waking up in hospital… how my drinking spiralled out of control

WAKING up in hospital, my head throbbed with a piercing hangover. All I could remember was that I’d gone to a pub in Manchester by myself and drunk red wine with strangers until I blacked out. It wasn’t unusual, but this time I felt more ashamed than ever and I knew now that something had to give.

I was 18 when I got drunk for the first time at a house party with school mates back home in Northern Ireland. All it took was two cans of cider and I was the life and soul, making friends – and enemies – with anyone. I also had my first kiss, with a tall Spaniard I wasn’t even attracted to. Although I felt queasy and regretful the next morning, I simply chalked it up to experience.

Writer Kathy Giddins, 25, from Nottingham, tells why she went sober
Writer Kathy Giddins, 25, from Nottingham, tells why she went sober
Photography: Gemma Day/ Hair & make-up: Carol Maye

By the time I was studying modern languages at Exeter University in September 2012, my drinking had sky-rocketed. I downed pints of wine, passed out in the corridor of my halls and had my first one-night stand.

I grew familiar with waking up with a dry throat, thumping headache and the urge to vomit. Although I used to be studious, I became blasé about missing lectures and muddled through coursework.

Binge drinking seemed the norm for students so I never considered I might have a problem, but I drank more quickly than everyone else and didn’t know my limits. While friends would go home when they’d had one too many, I’d still be at the bar lining up drinks until I could barely stand.

I had my first blackout in November 2012 after being kicked out of a club for being drunk. I’d made my way home, but my friends spent hours looking for me. I didn’t have a clue about the chaos I’d caused until the next day when I saw how angry and disappointed they were. Even so, blacking out soon became a regular thing, and I never knew what I’d done or who I’d offended.

Kathy during a Christmas booze-up on her first year at Exeter University in 2012
Kathy during a Christmas booze-up on her first year at Exeter University in 2012

In October 2014, I was living in Bologna, Italy, doing an internship for a non-profit organisation as part of my degree. Being alone in a new city didn’t curb my drinking, and one night I went on a pub crawl with some Germans I’d met in the piazza, where my last memory was of eliciting free shots of whiskey from the barman. The next day I woke up in hospital attached to a drip. The nurses told me some strangers had found me passed out in the street and called an ambulance.

After being discharged a couple of hours later, I felt so embarrassed.

I woke up with my tights and knickers around my ankles

Not knowing what else to do, I went to work as though nothing was wrong. Following that incident, I tried to limit my drinking to a couple of nights a week, but because I was so busy at work I began to suffer from anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I’d had similar feelings during my A levels and had tried to take my life when I was 17, but starting uni had felt like a clean slate.

However, sitting alone in my flat in Bologna, it was clear that those feelings were still there and once again I felt like my life was spiralling out of control. I was too ashamed to confide in friends or family, though. After six months in Italy I moved to Paris for the rest of my year abroad, where I did another internship, this time with a law firm.

The writer dressed as a catwoman on a night out - these usually ended with blackouts, bruises and sex with strangers
The writer dressed as Catwoman on a night out – these usually ended with blackouts, bruises and sex with strangers

Moving to a new city on my own kick-started my boozing again and I began drinking the equivalent of a bottle of wine every night. I didn’t have any friends, so convinced myself going to bars was just being sociable.

In May 2015 I blacked out in an Irish-themed pub. When I woke up, I was in a doorway under a duvet with a gritty taste in my mouth and zero memory of how I’d got there. I couldn’t help but think what a great story it would make, but then I noticed that my tights and knickers were around my ankles.

I felt sick to my stomach. My worst fear was confirmed when I went to the police and they got access to CCTV footage of me the night before. I froze as I watched a blurry shape moving up and down on top of my lifeless body. When one of the policemen said: “I think he’s raping you now,” I thought I was going to throw up. I was offered counselling, but I couldn’t bear to think about that night, let alone talk about it. And telling my family what happened would have made it all too real.

I had to take a form of the morning after pill and was referred for a sexual health check-up, which thankfully was clear. About a week after the attack, the police found my rapist via DNA. He was a homeless heroin addict who’d previously been charged with molesting an under-age girl.

Kathy, of Northern Ireland, getting drunk at a birthday party
Kathy, of Northern Ireland, getting drunk at a birthday party

But instead of it being a wake-up call for me to kick the booze, it just meant I drank more to numb the pain.

In September 2015, I returned to Exeter for my final year at uni and fell into a pit of self-destruction. Every night ended in blackouts, bruises, tears and sex with strangers. It’s a miracle I didn’t end up with an STD or unwanted pregnancy. I did manage to have one relationship with a guy I met on Tinder, but it fizzled out after three months when I moved to Manchester to do a post-grad diploma in journalism the following May. I continued to drink myself into oblivion and even when a house mate asked if I thought I had a problem, I laughed. I was in denial.

It wasn’t until I ended up in hospital again in November 2017 that I realised I had to accept I wasn’t the party animal I thought I was. Filled with self-loathing and feeling broken, physically and emotionally, how could I say any of it was fun? I knew I needed help.

The morning after I was discharged, I rang a helpline for alcoholics and attended a 12-step support group twice a week. At my first meeting, I felt like my life was over and cried the whole time. But the people were kind and encouraged me to come back. I finally told my friends and family what I was going through, and they were shocked. They hadn’t realised the extent of my problem.

Kathy returned to Exeter in 2015 for her final year at uni - here dunk with pal Jess
Kathy returned to Exeter in 2015 for her final year at uni – here dunk with pal Jess

Giving up booze wasn’t hard because my illness hadn’t progressed to the point of being physically dependent on it, but I had to face the feelings and trauma I’d been repressing, such as that terrible night in Paris. I began having therapy to work through my feelings. I also realised I couldn’t go out to the same awful clubs with their sticky floors and bad music. Instead, I tried different nights out and discovered I’m more of a cosy pubs, karaoke and walks in the park kind of person.

After two years sober, my mental health took a nose-dive and in February I overdosed, washing it down with some wine. After a few hours I called an ambulance and ended up in hospital for three days.

I now live with my dad in Nottingham and I’m four months sober. Although life isn’t easy, drink isn’t my solution. I still attend support groups and therapy. I’ve also started dating someone, and it’s a relief not to have to worry about embarrassing myself in public or making him uncomfortable. Alcoholism took me to hell and back, but I’m one of the lucky ones. For years, I told so many lies, I began to believe them myself. My drinking wasn’t just a bit of fun – it could have killed me.



(Visited 12 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply