'I Gave Up Alcohol at 24 After Becoming Addicted to Whiskey at 14'

I started drinking alcohol when I was 14 and I did so to get drunk. I was looking for oblivion and I was going to find it. The first time I ever drank I had quite a few beers at a friend's house and when we ran out of those, we raided their parents' liquor cabinet and drank gin and tequila.

My parents had recently separated and in very rapid succession, my mom was diagnosed with motor neurone disease and an uncle I was really close to died. Two weeks after that my father attempted suicide. The only coping mechanism I had was what I had learned from my dad. That was to drink to escape and then pretend that everything was fine. Pretty much immediately I was drinking hard liquor, and I drank a lot. If you're a teenage girl you can stand outside a store and ask a random guy to go in and get you a bottle of liquor. Which is dangerous, I do not recommend it, but it's what my friends and I were doing.

From the age of 15, I was sneaking out and drinking an entire bottle of liquor every night. Or, I'd sit in my room and drink a bottle of whatever I could get, usually whiskey or vodka, until I passed out. The sicker my mom got, the more focused everyone became on her. It was as if the spotlight was on her, and I was sitting over in the dark where I thought no one could see what I was doing. I was just in so much pain and I didn't know where to put it. I was watching my mom waste away; it was so awful.

I then got into a relationship with an older guy when I was 16 and he was 25. It made it a lot easier to get alcohol because he could just go and buy me whatever I wanted. I started experimenting with other drugs then too, because he was into that.

My family did stage an intervention when I was 17. My aunt picked me up from school and took me home, where my grandfather, mom and other friends were waiting. They had a box in the middle of the room full of empty bottles and they told me they'd made me an emergency therapy appointment. Therapy helped because I had someone to talk to, but I wasn't really ready to make any changes. I couldn't imagine containing all this emotion without drinking to drown it out. And after my mom died when I was 19, I didn't have health insurance, so I stopped going.

I had tried to hold it together, relatively speaking, when mom was alive because I would go to see her. But after she died, I didn't speak to anyone in my family for two years because they didn't like my boyfriend, so I was completely isolated. It's safe to say my drinking definitely got worse during that time. I was getting through a liter of whiskey a night by myself, then I would wake up in the morning and have a few shots of gin before work. I didn't drink at my desk but I would have to drink in the morning because the withdrawals would be so bad that I'd have the shakes. I guess I was always just a little bit drunk. A couple of times I drank in the morning and passed back out. So I wasn't very reliable and did lose one job as a result of drinking.

When I look back on that time now, it's like a black hole. I'd wake up every morning and throw up bile. I just felt so ashamed and hopeless and I had basically accepted the fact that I'd probably die before I was 25. I didn't know how to deal with life and I wasn't processing the loss of my mom or what was going on in my relationship. My boyfriend was really awful, but I was stuck. I didn't have family or parents to help me.

I finally decided I wanted to get sober in October 2014 once I got out of that relationship and got a restraining order against my ex. I was going to 12 Step meetings, but it took me around a year of being in and out of sobriety. Once, I completed 90 days alcohol free, and then my friend and I went out and got drunk to celebrate.

The last time I got drunk was New Year's Eve in 2015 at the age of 24. I crashed a party I wasn't invited to and got blackout drunk. I don't remember what happened or what I did but I woke up at my friends house without any of my belongings and no memory of how I had gotten there.

CiCi Reagan Quit Alcohol 6 Years Ago
After becoming addicted to alcohol as a teenager, CiCi Reagan quit at the age of 24. Now 30, she has been sober for six years. CiCi Reagan

On January 1, 2016, I was sitting on the front porch smoking a cigarette when my friend asked what I was going to do. I said, "I don't know, but I don't want to do this." I felt so grimy all the time. I was unreliable and untrustworthy. I had moved to North Carolina by that point and was living with my grandparents and making life so difficult for them. I manipulated people to get what I wanted and I hated myself.

At that point, I already had tickets to the U.K. booked, because I was planning to live there for six months with a guy I was seeing, with a view to moving there permanently. So, I went to meetings in the U.S. until I flew to Newcastle in England on January 18, 2016. I stayed holed up in his flat for two weeks and then I found a 12 Step meeting around the corner from his apartment.

I think the difference was that this time I had the gift of desperation. I knew one person in the whole country, so meetings were how I was going to meet people, stay sober and save my own life. So I did, and I actually connected with people and made friends from a very genuine and open place. My partner also didn't really drink and that helped because alcohol wasn't in the house.

For the first few years I wouldn't even drink kombucha because it was fermented. I would go out with my partner to the pub and his work colleagues would all be drinking. It was extremely difficult, because all I wanted to do was drink.

I class myself as an alcoholic in recovery now, but at the time, I didn't want people to know and I didn't want to be judged. When you tell someone you don't drink they often ask why, and I didn't want to tell people. So for the first few years I had to avoid lots of work events or I would have someone with me who knew I was sober, or call a friend before or after so I stayed accountable. Now, it looks a bit different. I tell people very readily that I'm an alcoholic and I'm in recovery.

My husband and I separated and I officially moved out in October 2021, but I had been unhappy for a while. When I started using dating apps, people would ask if I wanted to meet up for drinks. I would always say: "Absolutely. But just so you know, I don't drink. I'm a recovering alcoholic." If that's a problem, I want to know.

CiCi Reagan Quit Alcohol 6 Years Ago
CiCi Reagan has been sober for six years. CiCi Reagan

I also don't want to show up at a pub and then order my non-alcoholic beer and put my date on the spot. That's not very nice. And, I don't want the first conversation we have on the date to be about me being in recovery.

Sometimes people have asked how I knew I was an alcoholic and how long I've been in recovery. Usually if people start asking those questions it's because they think they have a problem, and they want you to tell them that they don't. I'm not interested in dating that person. I just let those people weed themselves out, to me it's a gift.

But dating without alcohol is scary. It's really nerve-wracking to meet new people and you don't have that social lubricant. You're just there, raw, out in the world. Then you begin to think about sleeping with someone new when you're sober. What if they're not sober? Do you want to do that? Probably not. It's new territory.

I'm seeing someone now who is really lovely. But when had been out a couple times and went to dinner, he drank a bit and I was a bit nervous. I wasn't sure if he was going to drink and turn into a monster. He was lovely and it was fine but I told him I was worried. I wanted him to know how I felt. A lot of people can drink normally and it's not an issue, but I think it's important to be really open, upfront and honest from the beginning.

I've now forgiven myself for so many things. There was so much shame I was carrying around for no reason, for things that weren't my fault. I've apologized to people I wronged and I've apologized to myself. I have real friendships, I can be a supportive friend and I've reconnected with a lot of family.

I feel like I have a purpose now; I have a reason to exist and I give back to the world that has given so much to me. Now, I'm fundamentally reliable, punctual, honest and friendly. Everything I wanted to be, but wasn't, in active addiction.

Quitting alcohol has given me the opportunity to become myself. I've been through this journey and I feel like the world has completely opened up to me. In addiction, I was the worst person and I felt awful about myself. Now, I just feel so much lighter.

CiCi Reagan lives in Newcastle, England and runs Write To Heal, a community to help survivors of addiction, trauma and abuse. You can find out more at writetoheal.me or follow Reagan on Instagram @cicireagan.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.