On Sunday, psychotherapist Siobhan Murray celebrated 13 years sober. It's a huge achievement, as Oliver Callan – sitting in for Ryan Tubridy – highlighted on Tuesday morning. It’s particularly impressive when you consider that Siobhan originally only quit drinking for a month.
The recently-named 'Psychotherapist of the Year' told Oliver that, although a lot of people expect psychotherapists to have their own lives perfectly sorted, it’s important to show that that’s not always the case.
"I’ve always had the belief that if I show my scars, if I show the emotional journey I’ve been on, then I do it because, hopefully, it will help somebody else."
Siobhan’s career trajectory has been an unusual one. She started working in the music business in the 1990s, working with the likes of Elton John and Goldie. And it was while she was working in an industry that is famously fond of over-indulgence, Siobhan started drinking to try to be a part of it.
"Everyone else seemed to be having a great time, so I thought, 'Well, I’m really not, so I’ll have a drink.’"
Moving back to Ireland, Siobhan entered the corporate world and became, as she put it, an adult. But she was still drinking. In fact, her habit became a dependency and drinking became a daily preoccupation. In 2005, Siobhan’s first son, Seán, was born, followed by Charlie eighteen months later.
Having the boys didn’t mean Siobhan became more responsible, though – actually the opposite happened:
"I would say at that point my drinking escalated even more so, because I was a single mum and I had the boys, I didn’t have as much access to go out as I did before, so my drinking became something that I did at home on a daily basis."
Siobhan told Oliver that she was masking a lot of insecurities, one of the biggest of which was the fact that she never finished secondary school and never sat her Leaving Cert. The drinking at home that Siobhan was doing at that stage is something that many people can identify with during pandemic-related lockdown. And it can be a slippery slope for some:
"You don't realise how easily it creeps in and becomes a staple of your life."
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By the time Siobhan gave up drinking, she was drinking two bottles of wine a night and still functioning – she would drop off and pick up the kids from creche, she would go into the office and get stuck into the work – but she wasn’t present, she was just waiting for 6 o’clock when she could start drinking.
There was no Damascene conversion for Siobhan that led to her permanently quitting drinking, but she had "way too much" to drink on Halloween 13 years ago and she woke up the next morning and thought, "I can’t do this. I can’t do this with the boys".
So, she decided to give up drink for the month of November, something a lot of people do in the run-up to Christmas. But she kept her 6 o’clock habit – sort of:
"At 6 o’clock every night I still poured a Diet 7-Up – the cure for everything – into a wine glass and I had that every single night for the month of November. And I remember getting to the end of November, going, ‘Oh, this was alright, I’ll do it for another month.’"
It wasn’t easy, but the months kept coming and the break from drinking kept being extended:
"There was never this grand master plan of ‘I’m never drinking again,’ because I think that puts too much pressure on people."
There was no overnight transformation, but things did slowly change, particularly in relation to Siobhan’s career – she went to college, put in a huge amount of work and became a psychotherapist.
You can hear Oliver’s full conversation with Siobhan Murray, including her appalling experience of domestic violence, and how alcohol and lockdown can combine to exasperate domestic violence, by going here. You can find Siobhan's website here.