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Islander celebrates sobriety after hitting ‘darkest hour’

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IT was the morning after a heavy summer night out with friends when Islander Jen Browne decided she wanted to take her own life.

Jen Browne at Queen's Valley.. Picture: DAVID FERGUSON. (26298501)

Hungover, vomit covering her bathroom and with no idea how she had got back to her St Clement flat the night before, the alcohol in her system – a depressant drug – was fuelling the 30-year-old’s depression and anxiety.

Despite penning a scribbled will and testament in her trusted journal and, in her words, being in her darkest hour, Jen spoke out. ‘I cannot do this anymore,’ she told her sister, Adele, instead of acting on the urge to end her life.

And after some blips, and ups and downs following that day in July, she is now more than 50 days sober, having not touched a drink since mid-September.

Jen has self-harmed – burning herself and forcing herself to be sick after binge-eating – throughout her life and especially during her 30th year when alcohol, and the impact it had on her depression, reached its worst point. But since she stopped drinking, the harming has stopped too.

But Jen doesn’t describe herself as an alcoholic, just someone for whom alcohol was a negative factor in her life. She felt the ‘hangxiety’ after heavy nights out, probably in the same way that many of her peers did she says, but that feeling snowballed into something more sinister.

‘AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] is a great service but it is not for me and other services just didn’t seem to be for me. I’m not an alcoholic, I wanted something that celebrated sobriety,’ she says from a café in St Helier. ‘I felt like there was nothing for me.’

But now the Islander, a peer support worker for Mind Jersey, has come up her with her own way of supporting those in a similar position. Through her modest Instagram account @SoberGirlJersey, Jen is organising ‘sober Sunday strolls’. Two have been held so far, one at Queen’s Valley and one at Val de la Mare and she has plans to expand the initiative to develop a social group dedicated to doing things without alcohol at any time. A third walk is due to take place tomorrow at noon at Queen’s Valley. Everyone is welcome.

‘I’m single and I found Sundays quite hard. Lots of people are with their families. Mornings are fine because I’d have yoga or go to the gym the but then the time between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning can feel very long. In the past I might drink,’ she said, adding: ‘Jersey has a drinking issue. How many things can you do that do not involve alcohol? It’s hard to do things where alcohol is not thrust upon you.’

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According to the most recent Jersey Alcohol Survey in 2017, the average alcohol consumption per adult was 20% higher (11.6 litres per year) than in the UK (9.7 litres per year). The rate of hospital-related alcohol admissions was also higher in the Island compared with the UK.

This year – Jen’s 30th – was filled with friends’ weddings and birthdays and she says she felt a need to ‘keep up appearances’. However, drinking socially was amplifying the depression she has managed since she was diagnosed as a teenager, culminating in her darkest hour on that ‘morning after’ when she woke up and decided she did not want to live anymore.

From then Jen says she became ‘sober curious’ but, during a friend’s hen do in Ibiza, she hit a low again and, for the first time, self-harmed in front of her friends.

They stood by her, as her family have done throughout. She says they have been fantastic.

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‘People with alcohol issues are not just those who drink on a park bench holding a brown paper bag. I am not the sobriety police but I would urge people to notice how much they are drinking and be more mindful of themselves,’ she said. ‘Since I went sober my energy levels are up, my mental health is the best it has been, my skin is clear and I feel better for it.’

Support

Islanders worried about their alcohol consumption are being urged to get help – whether they think they are alcoholics or are simply just drinking too much.

The government’s Alcohol Pathway Team provides free confidential support to people with ‘moderate or severe’ issues with alcohol and those who are alcohol-dependent.

Laura Hunter, Alcohol Pathway team leader, said counselling service Jersey Talking Therapies could also provide education sessions, known as ‘extended alcohol brief interventions’, which enable a person ‘to look at their relationship with alcohol and why they drink and feel the way they do’.

She added: ‘If people do not want to engage with Jersey’s alcohol services they can also access online materials such as Alcohol Concern, Drink Aware and Club Soda.’

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire
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