Personal Insights: A Christmas Eve celebration which almost cost me my life

Our latest Personal Insight submission is a cautionary tale for men and women alike. Fiona Cooney, a young Irish expatriate presently living in Vancouver, bravely recounts a Christmas Eve celebration which almost cost her her life and which served as a massive wake-up call as regards her relationship with alcohol.

Personal Insights: A Christmas Eve celebration which almost cost me my life

WHAT should have been a joyful Christmas Eve, quickly turned into the scariest night of my life.

My eyes open, I immediately recognise my pink duvet and the familiar dip in my mattress. I know I’m in my bedroom, the problem is I don’t remember how I got there. It’s Christmas day in Vancouver, I moved here from Ireland two years ago. I had spent the night before with my housemates at our local haunt, an Irish pub located downtown.

I stumble out of bed and approach the mirror with caution. I’m still in last night’s clothes, but that’s not uncommon. I notice that my hair is pulled back into a bun with a bobby pin placed on either side. I’m confused, my hair wasn’t up when I left the house that night. In fact I never wear it like this. I’m too self-conscious about my side profile to leave it so exposed.

My attention then shifts to my left wrist. I notice that a bright blue plastic band is tightly secured around it. On closer inspection I realise it’s a hospital bracelet with my name on it. My heart immediately sinks.

I desperately try to piece together the events of last night, but to no avail. I open the door and head for the living room, I can hear my housemates talking. The look on their faces as I approach says it all. I know that what I’m about to hear is not going to be pleasant.

I had hoped to spend this Christmas with my family in Ireland. However my bank balance failed to comply. For the second year in a row I would spend the holiday season away from the Emerald Isle. Luckily I share a house with three fellow Irish expats. Over time we’ve become our own kind of family.

It’s funny how you leave your homeland seeking something different, yet instinctively end up craving what you know. Case in point-our favourite Irish pub. In a city as vast as Vancouver, we somehow end up in the same bar, surrounded by the same people week after week.

This Christmas Eve was no exception, we piled into a taxi and made our way downtown. I can vividly remember my first two hours in the pub that night. I greeted familiar faces with sheer excitement. I could feel my homesickness dissipating with every hug. The foundations for a fantastic night had been laid. But that’s as far as my memory takes me. The rest is a big, bleak, blank.

I should probably mention that in-between all the hugs, and catch ups I had somehow managed to down 5 double vodkas. This was on top of the three I had already consumed at home as part of my pre-game ritual. Any experienced drinker knows the importance of soakage. You never embark on a session with an empty stomach. I made the unfortunate mistake of skipping dinner that night, leaving my body defenceless against the onslaught of vodka.

I was discovered at approximately 7.35 p.m. unconscious in an upstairs corner of the pub. My friends had made several frantic attempts to wake me. The bar staff had also intervened, yet still I remained unresponsive. They were left with no other option than to ring an ambulance. So there, in front of the entire Irish community I was carried out of the pub on a stretcher.

Personal Insights: A Christmas Eve celebration which almost cost me my life

I was 19 when I had my first drink. Some might say I was a late bloomer considering my Irish status. My early experiences with alcohol were mostly positive. Of course it took a few years, and a few killer hangovers to learn my limits. But I loved what it did for my confidence. Vodka somehow managed to silence my crippling insecurities.

When I was drunk I didn’t care so much about the way I looked or if my dance moves were up to scratch. It gave me a sense of freedom, revealing a side of my personality that had previously lay dormant.

The novelty of being drunk eventually wore off. Somewhere along the line my relationship with alcohol shifted. Initially, I used it to provide a much needed confidence boost. But in recent years it has become an anesthetic of sorts, a way for me to numb the reality of my existence.

In most respects I live a pretty charmed life. I’m in good health. I’ve travelled, met some amazing people and made incredible memories. All this aside, I’m still plagued by a feeling of emptiness. I used to be the ultimate optimist. I had big dreams, and I was confident that I would fulfill them by the time I reached my 30’s.

But here I am at 35-yet to achieve any substantial success both professionally and personally. This self-perceived failure has taken its toll on my confidence. It’s caused me to question everything. Perhaps I was delusional to think I had any legitimate potential.

The events of Christmas Eve prompted a massive wake-up call. It turns out that drinking on an empty soul is just as dangerous as drinking on an empty stomach. Your state of mind prior to taking that first sip can ultimately dictate the kind of experience you have.

Personal Insights: A Christmas Eve celebration which almost cost me my life

As traumatic as that night was, I’ve come away with a renewed sense of optimism. I have so many regrets from the last few years, most of which are the direct result of intoxication. I look forward to reclaiming control. Control over what I say and what I do. I want to wake up every morning with a clear head, and a clear conscience.

My attitude towards life in general has changed. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I’m so lucky to still be here. I could have easily slipped into a coma, or chocked on my own vomit. My housemates have told me that while I was unconscious, they were left to contemplate who would ring my mum if I didn’t wake up.

The guilt and shame I feel about what happened has yet to subside, and I'm not sure it ever will. I recently came across a quote that said "the best apology is changed behaviour" (anonymous). With that in mind I vow to change. I vow to change for those who helped me that night.

I want them to know that their efforts were not in vain. I vow to change to for my family, so that they won't be on the receiving end of a devastating phone call. And finally, I vow to change for me.

I have so many things that I still want to achieve. My inner optimist has officially been resurrected. When you remove the burden of expectation, anything is possible.

The author, Fiona Cooney
The author, Fiona Cooney

- Fiona Cooney is a journalism graduate with a passion for writing human interest pieces.

This submission is part of an ongoing digital initiative on irishexaminer.com called Personal Insights.
As part of the Personal Insights initiative we are asking readers, creative writing groups and writing enthusiasts in general to share personal essays chronicling an experience which has impacted their lives and any learnings from that life experience they would like to share with a wider audience.
The essays should be sent directly to the executive editor for news and digital, Dolan O’Hagan, at dolan.ohagan@examiner.ie for consideration.
Please note all submissions should be given the subject line ‘Personal Insights submission’ to ensure they are picked up and should include any related imagery and a contact telephone number.
Only submissions which meet the Irish Examiner’s own strict journalistic, ethical and legal guidelines will be considered for publication.
The Irish Examiner reserves the right to edit submissions in line with those guidelines and before publication direct contact will be made with the person who has submitted the content.
No payment will be made for submissions and our decision as regards publication is final.
Our goal is to publish one submission per week and use all our powers to make sure it is seen by as wide an audience as possible.
We look forward to reading your stories.

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