"Alcohol and mental health?"

Last night I sat and had a couple of glasses of wine, raising one of them for a friend on the mainland whose birthday it was. Now, I've said several times I don't drink much, and that remains as true today as the last time I said it. I haven't had an alcoholic drink since Belfast Pride, and before that, I had two drinks on a night out with friends.

I drink on special occasions. For me, special occasions include concerts, birthdays, and nights out (or in) with friends - none of those are normally frequent occurrences for me. When I do drink, I have one, maybe two drinks at most. The last time I had a third drink, my body rejected the alcohol and I had a very long, painful night followed by two days filled with nausea and cramping. My alcohol tolerance has dropped through the floor.

Now, I realise you probably have nothing to compare this to. For some of you, the amount I drink may seem like a lot. For others, it'll seem like nothing at all. Here's the thing: this time last year I was regularly drinking an entire bottle of wine in a couple of hours. This time last year, I made myself pretty ill by drinking three ill-measured, homemade cocktails in the space of an hour. This time last year I was a binge drinker with a generally high tolerance for alcohol.

Then I got a job interview, which I amazingly aced. I celebrated with a bottle of wine on a live stream with friends. A week or so later, I had a trial shift. The night before my trial shift I had a glass of wine, and suddenly my mood dropped into a very dark hole. The next day, I walked into the busiest shop I'd ever seen. I could barely reach a member of staff to say I was there for my trial shift. My anxiety spiked. A week later I got an email to tell me I didn't get the job - I hadn't created a "vibrant shop floor atmosphere".

I went to New York and continued to drink a bottle of wine in a night on at least two occasions (and I wasn't all that great at sharing!). When I got home I kept drinking to forget trauma. I drunkenly contacted someone I shouldn't ever have spoken to again.

Then I learned what gaslighting was. I realised that I wasn't "crazy". I looked at everything that had happened that year, quitting a job, losing another, and losing out on the first job that I'd actually wanted and had a chance at getting. I looked at what alcohol had done to my mental health, and I stopped. I stopped drinking for a few months. I had a drink when I went to meet friends. I had a drink at a concert. I then had three drinks in one night and regretted it. Now I keep it to a minimum because it has a negative impact on my mental and physical health.

I'm happier, I don't generally have weeks of constant weight gain (you'd be amazed at what alcohol did to my waistline), and I rarely get sick. They say everything in moderation, and I've started to come around to that way of thinking. I still appreciate the slight haze that alcohol causes for me, I enjoy the laughter that comes when I drink with friends, and I enjoy the way my shoulders feel lighter after a glass of wine. What I didn't enjoy was feeling the need to curl up in a corner and sob after a bottle.