Here three women explain why…
The recovering alcoholic: ‘All the parties legitimised my drinking habit’
LIZ Badcock, 42, is a stay-at-home mum who lives in Corsham, Wiltshire, with her husband and son Harry, seven.
“Standing at the bar, my friend sidled up with two shots of vodka. Laughing, I pushed it back at her, but then she nudged it towards me. While most people would have downed it, I didn’t.
Instead, I bit back my anger, made my excuses and went home.
As a recovering alcoholic I couldn’t believe that one of my closest friends – who knew everything I had been through – assumed that because it was party season I’d be up for a drink, despite being five years sober. Needless to say she’s not in my life any more.
I get that this time of the year means fun for most people. For the next six weeks, everyone’s given free rein, with parties every other night and the TV playing a showreel of alcohol ads. For me, though, it just legitimised a very heavy drinking habit.
As my calendar got packed with work dos and nights out, I’d always be first at the bar, dragging colleagues up to dance with me, and I’d always be the last to leave.
I was probably a huge embarrassment, but most of the time I was too drunk to realise.
I came from a loving family and on paper there was no reason I became an alcoholic. I’d occasionally have wine at family meals from the age of 11, and as I got older I became addicted to the buzz booze gave me.
By 17 I was secretly downing a bottle of vodka a day while studying for my A levels at college in Bath.
But soon it became more than a bit of fun, and as I hit my early 20s my family would spend every New Year’s Day calling round hospitals looking for me because I hadn’t turned up when I’d said I would, and they couldn’t contact me.
I’d always give some sort of excuse, when the truth was I’d woken up in my own vomit or blacked out for 12 hours. Despite this, they didn’t have a clue how bad my drinking was.
I met my husband in 2000, through mutual friends on a night out. I was 26 and managing to hold down my job as a recruitment consultant by swigging vodka in the toilets, but he soon realised I drank more than the average person and suggested I got help.
Dutifully I went to my GP, but it didn’t make a difference – even when he told me I could be dead within six months if I didn’t stop.
I just got better at hiding my drinking, dropping my empties in the bottle bank when my husband wasn’t around. We married in 2003, and in October 2011 I discovered I was pregnant, which was a huge surprise.
My GP starkly told me that if I didn’t give up drinking it would harm the baby’s brain and development. After carrying out tests, he added I was on the brink of causing such irreversible damage to my liver that I would need a transplant, and there was a chance I could die.
That day I decided to stop drinking for good, and with the help of my husband and the Action on Addiction charity we found a nearby rehab centre where I could stay for a month.
It meant I lost my job as my bosses wouldn’t authorise so much time off, but I had to get sober.
Detoxing was terrible, and I experienced convulsions from going cold turkey.
Luckily it didn’t affect my pregnancy, and after four weeks I felt ready to face the world again, although I was terrified of what life without alcohol would be like.
For the rest of my pregnancy I avoided parties and pubs, and our son Harry was born on June 26, 2012. That winter, however, I realised just how hard party season was for a former alcoholic.
Staying in left me feeling lonely and isolated. Even with my family’s support, it felt like the rest of the world was out celebrating and having fun.
Inevitably, it made me want a drink to cope, but whenever I felt too stressed by everything, I’d call my sponsor to help me through it.
Slowly, I learned to appreciate life without alcohol, but it took six years before I finally felt comfortable enough to go to a Christmas party with friends.
That’s when one offered me a shot. Thankfully, I removed myself from the situation, but I could never forgive her.
These days, I’m a sponsor to recovering addicts, and the festive period is always the toughest time of the year with the most relapses.
But this year, I’m really looking forward to party season. I feel stronger than ever and can’t wait to see friends and revel in the festive spirit – I’ve learned you don’t need a drink for that.
After all I’ve been through, I’m lucky to be here.”
The air ambulance doctor: ‘A special time can turn into tragedy in an instant’
CHRISSIE Hymer, 33, from Suffolk, works for London’s Air Ambulance and is a consultant in trauma and an emergency medicine consultant at King’s College Hospital, London.
“Examining the X-ray of the patient’s swollen ankle, we solemnly told him that it was broken in three places. It was serious news, but it was hard to keep a straight face when the man sitting in front of me was dressed as Rudolph the reindeer.
He’d fallen down an escalator in fancy dress after a work bash, and was a classic example of when party season goes wrong.
I began working as an emergency doctor in 2002. Since then, I’ve spent 12 years working on either Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or Boxing Day for London’s Air Ambulance or as a doctor in NHS emergency departments.
Of course, as well as dealing with the more random cases, it can be absolutely heartbreaking. I once had to tell a family that a loved one had died in a road accident after a night out.
Delivering that sort of news at any time of year is tough, but knowing that an entire family would never see the festive period as anything other than a brutal reminder of their loss makes it all the more difficult.
What should be a special time of year can turn to tragedy in a heartbeat.
As well as a rise in alcohol-related accidents, there are also more penetrative wounds like stabbings, as well as increased incidents of domestic violence. Booze often plays a huge part in these scenarios, which is one of the reasons they spike at this time of year.
We also see more suicide attempts, so London’s Air Ambulance is often called to deal with these.
A few years ago I had a patient track me down through the Air Ambulance patient liaison nurse to say thank you for saving them from a suicide attempt during the festive period.
It was incredibly humbling, as I’m just doing my job, but to know I’ve somehow helped someone turn their life around is also hugely rewarding.
Friends often ask how I can do this job, especially when it can be so fraught and emotional during this time of year, but every one of the team has a different way of coping. I tend to go for a run or to the gym to help relieve stress, and we’ve got great support procedures in place if we need help.
I think some people assume that the stress and strain of constantly seeing people in a vulnerable or damaged state means that it might put me off wanting to let my hair down at a Christmas party, but it’s not the case at all, and I’d never consider lecturing anyone about the dangers of overdoing it during party season.
Like most people, I love a few drinks at this time of year.
I’ve seen how unpredictable life is, so while it’s important to try to be sensible on a night out, it’s also just as vital to enjoy it as much as you can. You never know what’s around the corner.”
The party planner: ‘It’s the busiest and most exhausting time of the year’
VANESSA Carter, 40, is an events director and lives in Lichfield, Staffordshire, with husband Andrew, 40, and children Caitlin, 17, and Harvey, 14.
“Flopping into bed at 4.30am after working for 22 hours straight, I’d just fallen asleep when the phone rang. It was the receptionist at the hotel where I’d organised a corporate Christmas party, saying one of the guests had gone missing.
In an instant, my groggy brain sprung into action. For a party organiser, an AWOL drunken guest is your worst nightmare, and nobody wants an event to end in tragedy.
As I raced to the hotel, I called the police and the company’s CEO, and together we checked hotel CCTV while scouring the employee’s room for clues of his whereabouts.
Then we realised his car was still in the car park, which was a real heart-in-mouth moment.
It wasn’t until 11am that we found out he was OK, when he sheepishly messaged a colleague to say he was worried he’d got too drunk on the free bar so he’d got a taxi home.
While it was a huge relief he was safe, I couldn’t help but feel sick. Those six and a half hours had been the scariest of my 20-year career.
As an events planner, party season is by far the busiest and most exhausting time of the year. There’s added pressure for things to be perfect – in the corporate world, Christmas parties say a lot about a company’s brand, so the bash has to be amazing.
But it doesn’t matter how organised you are – things can still get out of control.
One Christmas do I was putting together in Birmingham a couple of years ago was meant to have a Cirque du Soleil theme, but with a month to go the venue pulled out. I wanted to cry!
A cancelled event can ruin a reputation, so I knew I had to find a solution.
Over the next few days, I spent half my time calmly advising my client that everything was in hand, and the other half frantically searching for a new venue.
Then, with just a couple of weeks to go I found a circus big top, which was due to leave the area the week before the party. After lots of wrangling I was able to secure it and it made the party even better than expected.
The weather also has huge potential to cause headaches for a party planner, like last year’s sudden cold snap, which sent temperatures plummeting to -5°C.
With a marquee Christmas party event organised for mid-November in the Midlands, I could only watch aghast as the weather forecasters declared that the area was about to be hit with gales and the biggest freeze for decades.
I was told by my client that the event would go ahead whatever, so on the day, in the face of icy gale-force winds and blankets of snow, I was trudging around in wellies putting grit down, while my team dragged in heaters to try to warm up the tent.
Not knowing if anyone would turn up was a huge gamble, but as the guests began to arrive, my nerves calmed.
Over party season, I get invited to dos by friends and family, but I’m either too busy or too partied-out and would much rather have a quiet night at home with my husband and kids.
I know they get annoyed when I take calls from clients if I’m meant to be spending time with them, or if I haven’t got home before midnight for a whole week.
Admittedly, there are moments when I feel a bit left out as I walk past bars and see people socialising over drinks.
But if I do feel jealous, I remind myself that I’m the person who turns a get-together into an unforgettable festive party – and that’s a pretty good skill to have.”
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