When Charlotte Coyle woke up the morning after her 33rd birthday this week, things felt very different.
She didn’t feel nauseous. She didn’t reach for her mobile phone to scroll through her messages to see if there was any evidence of embarrassing behaviour the night before.
I didn’t drink every day but when I did drink I was a greedy drinker
She didn’t spend the day lying in bed, feeling as if she were dying. In fact she got up bright and early and set about her day - free from the waves of horrific anxiety which used to cripple her the morning after the night before.
It was a far cry from the year before when she spent her birthday being so violently ill she felt as if her body was attacking itself.
The difference? 12 months ago Charlotte, who hit the headlines 12 years ago as a stunning plus size model, decided - as she was in the depths of one of the worst hangovers of her life - that she would stop drinking.
“I didn’t drink every day,” Charlotte said, “but when I did drink, I was a greedy drinker. I could cram in a lot of alcohol in a relatively small space of time. It was definitely binge drinking.”
It wasn’t unusual for Charlotte to down a couple of bottles of wine or Prosecco in an evening - and she also had a penchant for cocktails. “The drinks I liked were high in alcohol - and I didn’t have that internal off switch some people have where they would realise when they had enough.
“If I was out drinking, or even at a friend’s house, or at home with friends I would just keep going.”
It was behaviour that is typical of a lot of people, who live for letting off steam at the weekends - but for Charlotte, her drinking took a darker turn.
“I started to get sicker and sicker each time I had a drink. Alcohol had a toxic effect on my body - and I would wake up the next day totally dying - physically very, very sick.”
The wake up call for Charlotte came the day of her 32nd birthday. She had been planning to celebrate with friends and had bought a beautiful new dress and was ready for a night on the town.
“The day before my birthday I met some friends for lunch. Which quickly turned into a few drinks. The next day I was so violently ill from the after effects of drinking I had to cancel my birthday plans and I never got to wear that dress.
“I felt then that something had to change.”
As well as the physical side effects she experienced after a night on the tiles, Charlotte also felt deep anxiety which she said became hard to tolerate.
“At times I would wake at 5 in the morning, just crippled with anxiety. I would be an anxious person anyway, but with alcohol this was anxiety multiplied by a hundred.
“That ‘fear’ was a horrible feeling - it was debilitating.”
After her birthday disaster Charlotte decided that she would try a 90 day experiment, which she would blog about, to see if she could live without drink - and if it would make any difference to her life.
The first month, she said, was definitely the hardest,
“The early days were the toughest. I remember after a few days thinking ‘what have I done?’ I had put it out there on my blog that I was going off drink - so I couldn’t go back on it, but yes, initially it was very hard.
“My stomach was in shreds. I had headaches. It was like all the toxicity was leaving my body - and when it came to the weekends, when I would traditionally have had a good drink - it felt strange to not have that routine.”
Charlotte knew, however, that she had to stick to her goals. “I knew that all it would take would be a split second decision and I would be back on the drink. I think I know that even now - that all it takes is to slip and you would fall back into bad habits.”
As the initial three months passed, Charlotte decided to continue life without drink. It has not been easy - and the drink culture that surrounds us in Derry makes it extra challenging at times.
“Drinking in our society is such a big thing - and there are big problems surrounding drinking in our city. Some people can, of course, go out and enjoy themselves on a couple of drinks but many more - and I was included in this - needed to drink more to enjoy my night - and my body would react violently to it.”
Giving up drinking is a bold decision for many - and she has encountered resistance from some people. “People tend to be a wee bit suspicious of you when you say you don’t drink. Drunk people don’t like being around sober people and they will try to encourage you to take a drink or ask you what’s wrong with you that you aren’t drinking.
“As a sober person, walking into a room where most people are drunk can be quite intimidating. It can feel like quite an aggressive atmosphere - and I think you can only really relax in it if you are drunk yourself.”
But for Charlotte, her decision to stop drinking has become one of the best moves she has ever made in her life and when the 90 days were up, she decided to make the change a permanent one.
“From the inside out, I am a better person. I feel more at ease with myself now than I ever have done. I feel I am finally the person I am supposed to be - I am not eaten up by anxiety all the time. I don’t spend days sick. My body is not in physical danger.”
As a model, keeping a check on her appearance is a big deal for Charlotte - and knocking drink on the head has had its own benefits.
“Stopping drinking is like taking the elixir of youth,” she laughed. “My skin glows. I would have looked dehydrated, quite grey, my face puffy and red when I had been drinking. Now I feel and look completely different.”
Famed for her curvy good looks Charlotte has channelled her new found energy into further improving her health by taking on CrossFit.
“I am happy with how I look but I suppose I do want to be healthy, so taking on Cross Fit helps me tone, build my strength and my fitness - but for me it was also a healthy way to meet people. I couldn’t really go to bars any more and enjoy them in the same way and I didn’t want to feel isolated.”
Charlotte says she was made to feel immediately welcome when she went to her local CrossFit centre and her new regime has contributed to her feeling more in control of her than ever.
“For me, drink was a mask. I used it to feel comfortable in a situation. It wasn’t who I was and it didn’t do me any favours.
“Now I feel like I can put myself - who I really am - out there. I thought alcohol was my friend - but it was a friend who stabbed me in the back and I have to say I never felt so free.”
So this year when Charlotte attended the Jika Jika gig to celebrate her birthday she was able to dance all night.
“It was an amazing feeling - and it was even better not waking up in the horrors the next day.”