Last week we entered ‘Sober October’ – a campaign aimed at encouraging people to cut out alcohol. Aimee Day is our MacMillan Cancer Information & Support Centre Manager, and has been part of #TeamGateshead since 2017. The Occupational Health and Wellbeing Team recently caught up with Aimee to discuss her experience with alcohol addiction – in the aim of helping other colleagues to make positive changes in their life.

After starting her Gateshead Health career on the front desk in A&E, Aimee progressed into a role as a Children’s Physiotherapy Administrator, before moving into a role in Bereavement the week before the pandemic kicked off. After an intense time in that role, Aimee switched into Cancer Services and recently earned a promotion to the role of Centre Manager after initially working as a Facilitator.

And although Aimee’s career progression at Gateshead is something to celebrate, difficult days at work are one of many factors that could prompt excess drinking at weekends, as she explains: “Drinking never really impacted my work, because work would still be a reason for me to limit my drinking. Even if I had a very hard day at work and used alcohol to calm my nerves, I could limit myself to a glass of prosecco or an alcopop while knowing I could still keep control.

“But really, that was only really because I knew come the weekend, I could have what I wanted. Really, it created a vicious cycle of counting down the days until the weekend, and that’s when you know there’s a problem there.”

How alcohol impacts our mental state

Expanding on the impact alcohol did have on her, Aimee continues: “I’m completely open that I wasn’t a nice drunk. You get those who are lovey and cuddly, but when I drink I am not like that – I become a totally different person.

“Because of that, while I was drinking I lost a lot of friends. It really placed strain on my relationships, and I became very short-tempered. It hasn’t ever been explicitly said, but I imagine it probably even had a strain on my relationship with my kids. But it’s not until you can take that step back and assess how your drinking is impacting you that you have the realisation it’s probably impacting them as well.

“And really, alcohol does that – it strips away your ability to be aware of the impact it is actually having on you. Even physically speaking, when I’d drink, my skin would break out, I’d put weight on, I’d get hangovers and so on, but you don’t acknowledge the signs.”

On the topic of hangovers and further highlighting how alcohol influences our state of mind, Aimee shares: “I’d will the week away so I could have a really good drink on a Friday.

“When I was younger, recovering from those binge-type sessions was a bit easier – but as I got older it wouldn’t matter if I had 1 or 10, I’d be guaranteed a hangover. Rather than avoiding alcohol altogether, come the weekend my attitude would be more along the lines of ‘well I’m guaranteed a hangover anyway, so I might as well go all out’.”

Making the decision to quit:

It’d be an excessive weekend that would eventually spark Aimee’s decision to quit drinking, as she explains: “When I decided enough was enough, I think it became a decision between alcohol or my sanity. A big driving force for me was feeling that my kids deserved better, that they needed me to step up to support them and that they needed a positive role model.

“We all need and deserve support, and our children need and deserve it at 100%. I always felt I could give that regardless of whether I was drinking or not, but when I found that the needs of my boys were a little more complex, I felt they deserved me at more than 100%, they needed me at a million percent. To be able to do that though, you have to make sure you’re looking after yourself.

“And honestly, I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that the norm is for parents and adults to just get drunk when they’ve had a hard day or week. Alcohol is everywhere as it is. My experience with it probably started at 15 or 16. I was a bit of a wild child and back then getting alcohol with no ID wasn’t exactly a challenge. Things are probably not much different now, and really alcohol is built into our lives from a young age – whether it’s birthdays, celebrations, holidays, funerals or otherwise.

“Binge-culture is definitely a thing too. Whether it’s taking advantage of offers, drinking for the sake of drinking, going all-inclusive on a holiday and taking full advantage or otherwise. The culture around drinking really focuses on

“I want to protect my kids from all that. I think that where mental health is concerned, and with the rise of social media, children have so many negative influences they can be sucked into. There’s a lot we can’t control, so it makes sense to do what we can to avoid negative experiences wherever we do have some.”

How stopping drinking has changed things

“When I did make that decision to stop drinking, I told people who were very close to me. I shared my decision with my closest friend, my older two daughters, my dad and my aunty Lynn.

“I just told them I needed some time and patience. Really, it hasn’t changed things with those all that drastically – we might now go to a nice restaurant where I can enjoy posh coffees more often, and we spend more time in Costa and Starbucks rather than visiting places that are centred around drink. But I think because of those changes, we actually do a lot more now, we’re more open to finding events or activities around and about and giving them a go.

“They also do so much non-alcohol stuff now. I still go out, I still see my friends, I still attend parties, go to weddings, visit the Club with my Dad. But now thanks to those products, I can function just fine the next day. With a little boy who doesn’t sleep very much, I know I can wake up with him at 4am or whenever it might be and be 100% cognizant, that I can be there for him and that I’m not just trying to tick time over until he settles back down.

Rounding off the chat, Aimee shares advice for anyone who feels they might have a problem.

“As soon as you think that thought is there, that there might be a problem, my advice is simply to talk to someone. It doesn’t even have to be anyone professional. What you need is someone to listen. It could be someone close to you and someone who cares, but it could even be someone you don’t know – someone who is impartial. What matters most is that there is someone to listen to you. The one thing I wouldn’t do is try to bury that thought with more drink.”

Alcohol Support:

All #TeamGateshead colleagues are able to access six free and confidential 1:1 coaching sessions with a qualified alcohol treatment specialist through our partnership with DrinkCoach. To access this service, simply complete the 2-minute test and click the relevant option on completion.

Of course, if you would like a chat, our health and wellbeing ambassadors may be a useful resource for you – of which Aimee is one! To find an ambassador, just check out our listings which are even bunched by business unit and include contact details.

Alternatively, you can get in touch with the health and wellbeing team on [email protected]. If you’d like Occupational Health support with alcohol, please refer to the Occupational Health Self-Referral form, available to download via StaffZone.

Finally, while chatting with Aimee, she mentioned how she’d used the free SoberBuddy app – a useful companion for those seeking to kick alcohol or drugs to the curb. As well as challenges for users and an interactive virtual buddy, the app also hosts live Zoom groups, motivational memes, peer support and more!

With thanks:

As a final note, we’d like to say a special thanks to Aimee for kindly giving us some of her time, being generous enough to share her experience with us and for her continued work as a health and wellbeing ambassador.

The health and wellbeing team find that sharing experiences of our colleagues is one of the most powerful and effective ways of raising awareness, helping others and promoting relevant support. If you feel like you have a story to share, we’d love to hear from you on [email protected].