To put it bluntly, I’ve been slowly dying over the past few years. It’s hard to determine exactly when I started dying, but the cold hard facts of my life changed about three years ago. It was Father’s Day, a particularly difficult day for me because I had lost my Daddy seven years earlier, but I had planned something special for this day so I didn’t spend it crying. I was grilling steaks for a wonderful father of two with whom I expected to spend the rest of my life. As we clinked beer bottles in celebration of the day, he told me he was moving out of the country in six months. My heart shattered in a million pieces, we cried and drank all night, yet in the light of dawn his decision to leave was as firm as it had been the night before.
Grief. Pain. Shock. The rug had been pulled out from under me again, but having been here before I knew what to do. Suck it up and move on. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? My anxiety is through the roof and I all I want to do is hide from the world; a red flag that my depression is creeping back. So, I went on medication for anxiety and leaned heavily on my close friends. They were there to comfort me, tell me I was better than him, and reminded me that drinking too much would make my anxiety worse. Translation, I shouldn’t drink too much in front of them.
Looking back, this was the beginning of not eating, of often not being able to eat, or feeling nauseous when I did eat. Looking back, this was the beginning of drinking heavily with friends, of drinking heavily to numb the pain of life, of drinking heavily by myself to push away the feelings and to harden my shell. I am strong, I am powerful, and I’ll be just fine in the end. I’ll just watch my health and reduce my drinking when my liver becomes a problem.
The dying process accelerated 3 months ago. I stopped eating. I forced a few bites every few days, but the food felt like sawdust in my mouth. I depleted my body of the basic minerals and nutrients it needed to survive. Over 6 months my doctor identified Vitamin D deficiency, iron deficiency, and an increase in my anxiety symptoms. Each was treated and the deficiencies were gone by August. Reducing the anxiety symptoms was a work in progress, but new medication should help. I was cured.
No, I wasn’t cured. I was sick all the time, weak, tired, missing work or doing only the bare minimum when I showed up at all. I avoided cleaning my house and buying groceries. I couldn’t go downstairs to do laundry for fear that I wouldn’t make it back up the stairs. I was too sick to be involved with my kids and I was a single parent. I was just too weak and just too tired to do much of anything. I existed as best I could. I was sick, not lazy. You could see it.
I mean, this is no surprise, right? I know that I have been 5 days, 7 days, 3 days, etc. without eating a bite for the better part of three months. I just need to eat. I’ve been here before so I’ll just eat, get sick, repeat, then eventually be able to keep down food and I’ll be fine. Two weeks later…repeat (you know wash, rinse, repeat, etc.). Problem solved.
I’ve purposefully left out an important part of my diet, vodka. I’ve always been a moderate to heavy drinker with episodes of abstinence thrown in for babies, my health, etc. My liver function is within normal limits, which means that I am perfectly fine. My health is perfectly fine. In fact, as soon as I feel better, I can get back to exercising, cooking, and cut back on drinking (I’ve done this for years and been perfectly fine – remember my liver is healthy, no really it is). Problem solved.
You knew there was a “but” coming (foreshadowing in the first sentence, “slowly dying”). I don’t have hangovers, my liver was still within normal limits of function, my health was good for the most part, I was just getting sick a lot because of my suppressed immune system from anemia (now cured) and my depression, everyone knows that. I know that I should quit drinking or drastically reduce consumption, but where is the evidence that it is the drinking that is the root of all these recurring illnesses. Illness that is minor, yes, but illness that is affecting every aspect of my life. I am on the verge of losing everything I hold dear because I am just so sick all the time. Next year will be better, should be better. Okay, let’s make it until then. These are just colds, anemia, depression, each of which can be treated once you get the right dose of the right medicine. After all, I’m titrating up on my antidepressant, aren’t I? Problem averted.
I can’t stop throwing up this time. It’s been two days since my last drink. It was a maintenance fifth of vodka to keep down the shakes and ease me into another couple of weeks without drinking, maybe ease me into not drinking again, period. I tried drinks with electrolytes, drinks with carbonation, broth to sip, etc., but nothing stayed down this time. Not even tiny sips of water. This morning, my son looks scared, really scared.
The blood pressure cuff was so tight, my arm was temporarily paralyzed. They tried the other arm, but eventually just pushed me to the ER. I had doctors and nurses mentioning “withdrawals”; shaking, tremors, and nausea. Yes, okay, I need to stop drinking, even though my liver is fine, but I must be “detoxing” so, maybe it’s an opportunity. So, fine. No more drinking. I don’t want to end up like my brother who two years ago almost died at the age of 41 from liver failure. Tests showed that my kidneys were failing and I was admitted to the hospital.
I ended up staying a second night because my potassium and magnesium levels weren’t up to normal yet. I was there, right? Let’s just get this dehydration thing done and back to normal. I can move on with my life now that my body has all the nutrients and hydration it needs. I’ll tell everyone that this was just my health crisis and now that I was treated in the hospital, I was back to normal. Okay, I can do that. Just, no drinking anymore.
During the second night, I was feeling better than I had in at least two years and I had time to think about this drinking thing. Time to think about my alcoholism. OMG! OMG, OMG, OMG! The alcohol wasn’t killing my liver it was killing ME. The alcohol had killed my appetite, even on days when I didn’t drink. WTF? Oh, dear God, I was starving myself to death. My body was shutting down because I wasn’t feeding it. The depression and the alcohol had formed a perfect union and they were winning. It may have taken 30 years, but they finally got their shit together while I was going along happy to have a healthy liver. My brother’s liver was shot, alcohol almost killed him, but my liver was fine. Sure, but you can’t live on liver alone (that was a joke intended to bring humor).
Hi, my name is Liz and I’m an alcoholic.
About the Author
Liz has a successful career in healthcare, two kids, a dreamy new husband, two dogs, and a cat. She transparently shares her stories to challenge the myths and stereotypes that surround addiction, specifically alcoholism.