35 year old Fiona Cooney couldn’t get back home from Canada this Christmas, so she and her Irish housemates decided to make their celebrations in Vancouver “as Irish as possible”, as she told Ryan Tubridy today. Christmas Eve ended early with Fiona blacking out and being rushed to hospital with her friends worrying she had died. The experience has been a wake-up call that has changed Fiona’s relationship with alcohol forever.
Fiona grew up in Australia, having moved from Tipperary at the age of 2. Then it was back to Nenagh and on to Dublin to study journalism and media. She says the move to Vancouver came at a crunch point:
“I felt a sense of being the odd one out a little bit. A lot of my friends were moving on, and moving in with their partners, or getting married, or setting up their careers. I just felt like I was a bit on the outside looking in.”
She found a job and great housemates in Vancouver, but looking back, Fiona says her drinking habits were changing:
“Initially I enjoyed a drink socially and then it became something very anti-social really. It was kind of altering my mood, altering what I said and did.”
Fiona says she went from using alcohol to ease social anxiety, to something more serious:
“I felt that I was in a bit of a hold, a stalemate; that I hadn’t really progressed. There were just a lot of feelings of inadequacy and disappointment. Yeah, I definitely think I was trying to self-medicate with alcohol.”
Christmas Eve was supposed to be a brilliant night for a group of Irish ex-pats getting together to make missing home that little bit easier. Fiona says the drinking started mid-afternoon and they left for the pub around 5pm:
“It started out like a typical night. I had my usual three vodkas, you know the pre-drink ritual. And then I think when we got there, for some reason I decided to switch to double vodkas, which is something I wouldn’t normally do, so I obviously wasn’t in a clear headspace.”
On Christmas Day, Fiona woke up in her own bed with hospital tag on. She had no idea what had happened. By 7.30 the previous night she had blacked out and been taken to hospital. Her friends were terrified:
“I effectively ruined Christmas Eve for them. Rachel my housemate had told me at one point, before the paramedics came she said, ‘I didn’t know if you were still alive. They had to check your pulse and assure us that you were. I thought you had died.’ ”
Since then, Fiona has been recovering from the enormous guilt and shame she feels over the incident. She says her housemates were upset, but have been very supportive. She is currently sober and plans to stay that way for now. Fiona hopes her wake-up call can help other people:
“I had to take a step back and examine my relationship with alcohol. What I would hope for is if someone reads my story, and is also encouraged to do that, that would be fantastic.”
On the basis of her experience, Fiona thinks people who are depressed or anxious should be careful of adding alcohol into the mix:
“You might not be loving or even liking yourself. You’re less inclined to be thinking about your personal safety. You just want, I suppose, an escape from your bad thoughts and feelings, even if that means compromising your own health.”
You can hear more about Fiona Cooney’s travels, her love of writing, that wake-up call and her hopes for the future in Ryan Tubridy’s full interview with her here.
You can get information and support on coping with social anxiety without alcohol and more at Spunout.ie.
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