A battle with breast cancer was the catalyst for Kath breaking free from her 30-year binge drinking habit.
On March, 31st, I clocked up 1,000 days of being alcohol-free. I haven’t been one to count or log my days during this experience but when I decided to do the numbers a couple of weeks ago and saw that this milestone wasn’t far away, I thought about what my life looked like 1,000 days ago compared with how it looks now and decided that it was definitely a time to reflect and make sense of how I’ve changed and what I’ve learned during this time.
Binge drinking habit
For many years my relationship with alcohol felt unhealthy and problematic. As a teenager in the 1980s, I started binge drinking and thirty years later I was still battling to control this destructive cycle of drinking despite my best intentions.
I felt confused a lot of the time as binge drinking was so normalised and accepted in Australian culture. I wasn’t a daily drinker. Nor was I physically dependent on alcohol. I enjoyed taking part in FebFast and Dry July and didn’t find it difficult to stop drinking. I kept convincing myself that binge drinking was normal and that all I needed to do was moderate and get it under control.
As the years went on, I started to worry more and more about the consequences of my drinking which included blackouts, bedwetting, injuries, and out-of-control conversations and arguments with people that I didn’t remember and would have to piece together the next day.
I had so many mornings waking up with hazy memories of how I got home. Forgetting huge chunks of the night and wondering if I’d managed to have my phone and wallet still with me.
I didn’t have an off switch. The tipping point came once I’d have the third drink. I didn’t enjoy moderation or having just.one.drink. There was something appealing about the loss of control, the feeling of oblivion and once I started, I found it difficult to stop.
This Changes Everything
So, what was the circuit breaker? How did I eventually break the binge drinking cycle?
Simply – I let go of moderation as the solution. I realised that my sweet spot did not exist within the paradigm of moderation and that I needed to start living without alcohol for an indefinite period.
In June 2019 I signed up for a 30-day online Live Alcohol Experiment program with This Naked Mind and nominated July 1 as my starting date. And then 55 days later I was thrown the biggest curveball of my life when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 46.
In the first two weeks after the diagnosis, the intensity of the trauma caused me to feel vulnerable and the thought of having a drink to numb the pain crossed my mind. I hadn’t dealt with any challenges or trauma in my adult life without using alcohol. How was I going to get through this without it?
‘When your mortality is suddenly put under the spotlight you want to savour each and every moment. It is the ordinary, simple moments in life that are magical’
One of my initial responses to the diagnosis was to research as much information about breast cancer as I could. This led me to question the role that alcohol had played in my life. Was there a link to increased breast cancer risk?
I was shocked at what I discovered. There were over 100 studies that absolutely showed a direct link between alcohol consumption and increased breast cancer risk. I felt uneasy and frustrated that I had never come across this information. Why was there not a more publicly visible health campaign about this issue? Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia and affects over 20,000 people every year.