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Why I Gave Up Alcohol for My Chronic Illness

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Editor’s Note:  If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA‘s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

I was hoping alcohol would help numb the pain, but it only made it worse.

Even from an early age I discovered alcohol can help you forget some of the turmoils in your life. This tasty and sometimes intense beverage can boost your confidence in ways that I only knew liquid courage could, but sometimes it only brought out the emotions and insecurities I was trying to control or hide that were bursting out of my seams. Or it brought up whatever I ate that day. Over and over I hear people drinking to cover up pain, but instead, it only makes mine worse.

Why don’t I drink just one, occasionally?

By my mid-20s, every time I drank alcohol my limbs would feel heavy and difficult to move, they would feel painful. One drink would send me to bed as my chronic fatigue progressed, and this made me question why my tolerance to alcohol was so low before I was diagnosed with chronic illness. I would feel sluggish, more so than how rheumatoid arthritis (RA) was already dragging me down, with that gnawing at you flu feeling that you can’t seem to shake. Sometimes I would get a nice buzz, but mostly I would go straight to the hangover. It seemed to turn my arthritis into overdrive.

Booze didn’t go over too well with the emotional and existential crisis I was in since being diagnosed with a severe chronic illness. Add in not really understanding my depression, or the increase of it when diagnosed with chronic illness, and you’ve got yourself one hot mess.

Alcohol is every where. In music, on the TV, when I step outside I see pubs or advertisements, cans on the street. Holidays and events I once loved to attend or partake in. Reminders of my friends fun on social media. Alcohol seems almost impossible to get away from today. Everything seems like a constant reminder of it. It’s not easy to let go.

When I first discovered the types of medications I would be taking when finally diagnosed at 29 with autoimmune disease seropositive rheumatoid arthritis, I decided it was not worth drinking anymore. Learning that my autoimmune form of arthritis can effect organs such as my heart, lungs and brain, I didn’t want to jeopardize my health – I was scared enough as it was.

It is harder than it looks.

Was I able to do it the first try? No. I broke my first attempt after about eight months sober and into my diagnosis with RA as I hit my rock bottom with depression, wanting my old life back – I wasn’t ready to let go. It didn’t go over so well. It made me even more angry and even more unhealthy. I gained weight, I lost control of myself and my life. I was lonely and dependent on alcohol to have a good time when I went out because I wanted to forget what was going on in my life and have fun like everyone else. After about six months, I realized it wasn’t my best idea.

My last taste of alcohol was a beer in an English pub in Camden Town, London, for my 31st Birthday. I instantly felt sick, had a headache and felt sluggish. I ended up giving my beer to my old friend.

July 31, 2016 marks my anniversary when I made the decision to reboot being giving up alcohol. I’ve learned a lot since and had to adjust my life and relationships. It’s been easy to stay away as my health continues its whirlwind. However, what I didn’t realize at first was exactly how much alcohol was involved in my life and exactly how big of a change that would be for me.

Planning to do things with individuals can also be awkward. Quite often they want to go out for drinks, and later in the evening, I start to become the arthritic Cinderella or pumpkin. Which shoe fits my arthritis today? What time will I expire my spoons? My wicked stepmother is inside me – arthritis. Can I finish all my house work while being stay at home mother battling illness? Can I make it to my son’s bedtime of 8:30 p.m.? I find this difficult because I am only 31, a few weeks shy of my 32nd birthday and Christmas just passed. I feel like I watched the earth have a good time while I struggled to survive busy December as a mother with chronic illness. I still have desires to let loose and have fun like I used to, and I frustrated feeling as though everyone else gets to have fun – except for me.

I saw Tinder matches disappear when I said I didn’t drink due to health issues. I was asked why I even go to a concert if I don’t drink. Events I once took part of are now too difficult for my body and make me feel like I don’t belong anymore. Sometimes you just want to fit in, feel normal, and have fun like everyone else seems to get to…but different isn’t always a bad thing, especially when it comes to your health.

I said goodbye to some friends and invitations from those who no longer saw me as fun because my nights of going out drinking are probably over. That hurt. Hurt right in the feelers. But once I realized that my life had changed so much and I really don’t have much in common with people from my past, I felt a lot better about the empty friendships I was focusing on. It really wasn’t anyone’s fault why we don’t have much in common anymore. Focusing on the loneliness that comes with the isolation associated with chronic illness can make it really hard see that it isn’t anyone’s fault, especially when you wonder why your phone stops ringing.

Though I’ve had to say goodbye to a lot, I found other ways to entertain myself – and I learned that being alone or going out wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I had a beautiful city to explore. I became closer to friends who don’t drink. Life had more meaningful things to offer than empty promises fueled with booze. It is also incredibly rewarding to know how dedicated I can be for my health. Sometimes being a little different is a good thing, knowing I can inspire others to be themselves. And, if needed, I can inspire them to give up the sauce for their health too.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA‘s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Gettyimage by: Cofeee

Originally published: February 1, 2018
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