I wanted to have a chat about alcohol and the way it is perceived in our culture, more so the military culture.
So Australians have a really heavy drinking culture, and this is something we are known for throughout the world.
My first exposure to alcohol would have been in my high school years when I used to sneak out to parties on the weekends. I would get my mates older siblings to go and get the beer for me and we would be off running amuck. (Sorry Mum)
Fast forward to the beginning of my military career and I was exposed to some of the heaviest drinking I have ever seen in my life. It was completely normal to go out and get drunk and write yourself off…
This is something that continued for years and years.
When I was posted to Darwin, we would go out almost every night of the week and get on the cans. It was the socially normal thing to be doing. We would then rock up to first parade in the mornings and crack on with our PT session. Honestly we were the fittest alcoholics you would ever meet!
It’s amazing to think this was the norm. I am not going to lie, I loved my time in Darwin and all the nights out. However, little did I realise how much I was setting myself up to fail…
Lets have a quick look at what alcohol does to your mental health.
Alcohol can have a major impact on mental health because alcohol is a depressant, it slows your body down and changes the chemical makeup in your brain.
This has many effects. It can alter:
• Energy levels
• Sleeping patterns
• Memory and many other things.
Alcohol also reduces inhibitions and impacts decision making, which can lead to us making decisions whilst drinking that we would not normally make sober. These can be positive or negative.
It is also linked with:
• Increases in risky behaviour
• Increases in aggression
• Self-harm and suicide in people who may already be going through a tough time.
Frequent or heavy alcohol use can increase these effects, especially the impact on mood, and the ability to cope with tough times.
People who are experiencing a mental health difficulty may use alcohol to try and manage hard times, or lift their mood. This can be helpful in the short term but may make things much harder to handle in the long run.
[The above information is from the Headspace website, www.headspace.org.au]
Throughout my military career, I was constantly hanging out for the weekends and wanting to get on the cans with the boys. I was even going out more and more through the week. I would turn up to work extremely hungover and would get the lads to cover for me while I sobered up.
Looking back at all this now, it is extremely embarrassing and I was killing my body thinking this was the norm and everyone does it.
So this behaviour continued on even when I got out of the Army. I honestly think the alcohol was a way I coped with what was going on in my head. It would make me forget about my worries and I would just drown my thoughts with booze.
I think one of the biggest turning points for me when I was sitting in the Jack Daniels bar in Dubai on my way home. I had already put away god knows how many whiskeys on the plane to Dubai and I continued the heavy drinking waiting for my next flight. I honestly don’t even remember getting on my flight to get home. All I remember is one minute I’m in the bar and the next I am spewing in the toilet on the plane.
This was one of my lowest points and I knew something wasn’t right, however, I pushed it to the back of my mind and just cracked on with life for a little while longer.
Not too long after doing this was when I had my breakdown and lost my shit pretty badly.
I was becoming really reliant on alcohol and was hanging out for my next drink. I am not going to hide this and I figure if I am open about it maybe people it will realise they could potentially be in the same boat as I once was.
While I am on this topic lets talk about ANZAC day.
This day is huge in the community and even more so in the Veteran community. This is a day where we all come together and pay our respects to those that have paid the ultimate sacrifice.
It seems that this day has become a day where lads end up drinking way too much and often make complete idiots of themselves – I won’t lie, I have been there in the past.
On ANZAC day in 2018, I had gotten to a point where I was too drunk and I became extremely emotional and angry. I had a lot going on at this time and had recently lost a mate in November the previous year, so I was pretty emotional and I ended up punching the wall in the bathroom and as a result I broke a bone in my hand.
Now this was extremely stupid of me and I was embarrassed about my behaviour that day.
I have had countless other times where myself and alcohol did not work well together, this ranged from fights, engaging in risky behaviour, arguments, upsetting my partner and so on.
Reflecting back on all this now, I am embarrassed about it, however I am moving on from it and I continue to work on myself on a daily basis.
These days I do not drink very often and if and when I do I will have a light beer or I will just do without.
I have accepted the fact alcohol is not good for me and as a result I have pretty much cut it from my life.
Why am I sharing all of this with you? Well, I know I am not the only one that has been down this path with alcohol. There have been countless lads that have been out there with me on these nights out.
What I am hoping to do is to raise some awareness and let you know that alcohol is not good for you in excess, it can have some really adverse effects while you are going through mental health issues – as well as just your everyday health.
So before you crack open that next drink, maybe think… Should I?