sobriety tracker
The Preventive Health Issue

How Getting Sober Enabled Me to Confront My Mental Health Issues

Rachel Charlton-Dailey shares her experience with alcoholism

Meet the Author

Rachel Charlton-Dailey is an award-winning journalist specializing in health and disability. Charlton-Dailey also is the founder and editor-in-chief of the disability-focused online publication The Unwritten.

My wedding day was the day that changed my life, but not for the reason many people would think. While it was undoubtedly the happiest day of my life, and I got to marry the love of my life, it was also the day that brought everything into sharp focus and I finally had to own up to something I’d been refusing to acknowledge for a long time: I was an alcoholic, and I had to get sober.

Rachel Charlton-Dailey

Photo Courtesy of Rachel Charlton-Dailey / Designed by Don Eschenauer and Jaime Yong

What Made Me Get Sober

September 14th, 2019, started like so many [days] did back then: hungover, with a pounding headache and a knot of anxiety in my stomach. However, that day the anxiety wasn’t from fear that I couldn’t remember if I’d said something awful to someone whilst under the influence the night before. No, today I was getting married.

Of course, I hadn’t intended to be hungover, but when did I ever? I’d invited friends over and drank a bottle and a half of prosecco by myself, but, hey, I was getting married! No matter how many times I tried to cut down, drink moderately, or only drink on weekends, an excuse always meant I drank more than I was supposed to.

On the morning of the wedding, my cousin came to do my makeup and, of course, prosecco was produced. It was 9 a.m. I kept drinking slowly but steadily all day, my hand barely without a drink, despite promising myself and my new husband that I would take it slow. We didn’t have a big wedding, ending [it] at 5 p.m, so we invited a few friends back to our house.

Now, this is the part where it gets extremely hazy, and some things I don’t want to remember.

My husband and the best man went to the supermarket, and the rest of us walked the short distance home, but once the air outside hit me, I began to feel dizzy and fell over. My friends dragged me home, where I was sick, and ended up screaming at my husband in front of all of our friends. I don’t remember why, but I know I was awful. He still, to this day, won’t tell me what I said. One of our friends calmed us down, and they left. He made me go to bed.

Confronting the Pain in Sobriety

The next morning my now-husband gave me an ultimatum—if I didn’t quit drinking for good, this would be the shortest marriage ever. What he didn’t know was that I’d already downloaded a sobriety tracker. Seeing how I could ruin what was supposed to be the happiest day of our lives made me realize how much I needed to get sober.

Rachel Charlton-Dailey

While I thought I needed alcohol to numb the pain, I didn’t realize just how much it had been stopping me from feeling everything.

— Rachel Charlton-Dailey

However, now that I was sober I had to confront the reasons behind why I drank excessively.

I’d been living with undiagnosed endometriosis for over a decade, and the pain was wearing me down physically and mentally. I also battled PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety, and depression. I had been using alcohol to drown out the voice in my head and stop the pain.

When I no longer had alcohol, I was astounded by how hard and fully I felt all of my emotions. While I thought I needed alcohol to numb the pain, I didn’t realize just how much it had been stopping me from feeling everything.

Suddenly feeling everything at once, after years of suppressing it, is terrifying, but I knew it was what I needed in order to heal.

So I let myself feel [everything]. I cried about everything, I got mad, but also I allowed myself to really feel passionate about things I believed in for the first time in years, as opposed to watching life pass me by.

I began opening up and talking to my friends and family about my mental health and was able to set boundaries about what I did and didn’t want from relationships anymore.

Staying Sober During the Pandemic

Six months into my recovery the COVID-19 pandemic came along. I started cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in April to help with my anxiety, it was over the phone, which was lucky because I had COVID symptoms during our first appointment. However, at that point, there was so much else going on in the world that I couldn’t focus on myself.

Getting sober during a time when everyone was retreating to their houses should have been easier, but I found being invited to endless Zoom drink parties really triggering.

I had to be stricter with socializing and set boundaries about alcohol talk. Thankfully, I managed to stay sober. I don’t know how I would’ve managed the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic as a vulnerable person if I was drunk. It has been tough—and I have had a couple of near misses, where I have almost drunk. I’m just lucky I have a really good support system.

Reflecting on Where I Am Now

As my three-year sobriety mark draws closer, I look back and see a massive change in myself. I no longer think the world is against me and that I can’t do good things. I now work hard every day to create opportunities for myself and the disabled community. Most importantly, though, I see how content I am in a way that I never was when alcohol controlled my life.

My one piece of advice to anyone who thinks they need alcohol is that you really don’t. You can achieve so much when you let yourself feel.

By Rachel Charlton-Dailey
Rachel Charlton-Dailey (she/they) is a health and disability journalist. They serve as editor-in-chief of The Unwritten, a platform for the stories of disabled people. Their work features in publications such as Healthline, Huffpost, Metro UK, The Guardian, and Business Insider.