Alcohol and our Immune System

Me and alcohol don’t mix for a lot of reason. One of the biggest is that I have an over-reactive immune system and alcohol seems to set it off. I didn’t make the connection until after I stepped on and off the wagon a few times. I labored over articles on the web trying to find evidence linking to two. I kept coming up short. I found tons of articles about moderation, and even some that touted anti-inflammatory benefits of alcohol (whhhaaat??), but nothing that said our system views alcohol as the enemy. That is, until now. These articles are written in nerdanese so it’s a wonder I was even able to translate them.  The power of determination wins again, my friends.

I’ll attempt to summarize. When our body breaks down alcohol it turns it into a toxic chemical called acetaldehyde. The acetaldehyde then attaches to proteins in our body and creates what is a called an adduct. This triggers an immune system response. Antibodies mark the adduct for destruction. Most of the time, antibodies recognize the difference between the original proteins and the adducts and leave the original proteins alone. Most of the time. It stands to reason then that there are times when the antibodies can’t differentiate between the two. And when that happens, I imagine the over-reactive immune response can make someone pretty darn sick. The way I see it, not only are your protein cells being destroyed by way of this process. But if you have an autoimmune disorder your antibodies can really beat down the proteins in your body. Google symptoms of low hemoglobin, lysine and collagen (all favorite targets for acetaldehyde). You’ll be amazed at what you find. I know I was. I’m fairly certain that when I was an active drinker I was deficient in all of them.

I could be reading too much into all this. But I’m excited to find something that kind of explains away how I felt when I was a drinker. I also found an article linking modified cells (such as these adducts) and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Again, super nerdy but it’s there. It’s amazing what you can find when you dig beyond the alcohol sponsored mainstream media articles, and start looking instead for science based articles on how our bodies react to alcohol. If you search for “Alcohol adducts” or “alcohol acetaldehyde” you’ll be amazed at the journals, reviews and findings.

The first article really gets into how alcohol affects the liver. I was looking specifically for immune system reactions but definitely found a ton about alcohol impact to the liver. Yowzers.

https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-4/285-290.htm

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5469548/

 

Happy Nerding! Stay sober!  🙂

 

 

 

 

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Acceptance is the road to all change.

I was thinking recently about the years of back and forth with my sobriety, and the change that really helped make it stick. My big fear was that I wouldn’t be accepted and that I would no longer accept those around me who were drinking. I had my long list of reasons for quitting. I also had a storyline for each one explaining the validity of the reason should anyone challenge me (including me…I argue with myself a lot). There were times when my drinking was out of control. However, by the time I decided to quit I had long wrangled with reducing my intake. The next step to zero came as a shock to a lot of people. “You don’t need to quit. You don’t have a problem.” Well, I did though. Alcohol and me were no longer friends. There were a lot of emotional reasons for quitting. It was creating a wheel of depression and disappointment. I saw it destroy people I loved and were close with. In the process of quitting I saw how it was wrecking me physically/mentally just by way of how good I felt in comparison. And spiritually, it just drained me. Well, how do you summarize that in one sentence? That’s what I was looking for. A bold and convincing one-liner I could toss out that would validate my reason for quitting to others and to myself. And that’s where I would fail. Others wouldn’t believe that I really had a problem. I’d stumble over trying to explain why I was quitting, and then fold like a cheap tent and agree with them that yes, I was being silly and no, I didn’t need to quit. I also didn’t want to offend anyone. How do you explain to someone with a drink in hand that you’re quitting because in every aspect it’s sucking the life out of you?

After round and round of getting up and falling again in the same damn spot, I got sick of it. I mean, how many times can you dust yourself off screaming, “Are you f**g kidding me? AGAIN?!” Trust me. Many, many times! Something had to change in how I was framing this. It came with differentiating validating my sobriety and accepting my sobriety. I had spun my wheels trying to validate it to myself and others. I had my list. I had my reasons. What I didn’t have was acceptance. I wasn’t accepting that this drug was 100% not for me. I always had mapped in my mind situations where I would be willing to take the hit. Willing to deal with the consequences. Willing to drag myself through the mud yet again. At first, the exception voice was so much louder than the dusting myself off voice. Over time, that changed. The dusting myself off voice became bold, defiant, and unwavering. No more. No exceptions. Just ACCEPT it. Words are so powerful and I remember how hearing that and linking it to my sobriety just worked. So I accepted it and haven’t looked back. If someone else struggles to accept it then that’s their issue to sort out. I can’t make someone accept my sobriety and I don’t need to validate it to anyone. I can explain it if someone is curious and wants to genuinely know and understand. They’ll have to grab a chair because it would be lengthy conversation! But explaining and validating are two different things. And validating and accepting are not the same either.

Explain: make (an idea, situation, or problem) clear to someone by describing it in more detail or revealing relevant facts or ideas.

Validate: demonstrate or support the truth or value of.  <— This is an exhausting process. 

Accept: believe or come to recognize (an opinion, explanation, etc.) as valid or correct.

I love that. To accept is to recognize it’s validity. No more need to explain it away. No more debates. No more internal/external struggles about it. Just acceptance. And that’s so much a part of sobriety. I supposed that’s why the say the serenity prayer at 12 step meetings. Sobriety will make you different. It will change your world. It will make you step outside your comfort zone and find a new one. But if it’s sobriety you’re after, then I promise it will all be for the better.

 

 

 

 

 

No…but seriously. Sober is the new sexy.

Before I quit drinking I armed myself with a list of reasons why I needed to quit. It started off including things like being tired of embarrassing myself, tired of getting into meaningless arguments with my spouse, tired of wasting weekends away by drinking too much and not having energy to do anything but drink. After I quit (many times) I added things to the list that, prior to quitting, I had no idea were related to alcohol. Things like body pain, chronic depression, and dry hair.

Somebody said to me recently that they felt bad that I couldn’t drink. Huh. I don’t think of it that way. I explained that I would feel bad too if I didn’t feel so good but that it’s really been more of a blessing than anything. For the record, trying to explain that to someone who actively drinks is like trying to tell them the Lochness Monster exists. Not only do they not believe you but they also look at you like you’re crazy. It got me thinking though. How would I feel if someone told me today that I had to give up my sobriety?

When I first quit drinking I was terrified. If I had to quit sobriety I can’t say I’d be terrified. No, that’s not the word to describe it. I would be deeply saddened. Heartsick. Sobriety has become my best friend.  It’s become a place to call home. It’s the soft place to land when everything else blows up. I never imagined it would be this way. Sobriety didn’t just meet my expectations, it exceeded them. There is an infinite list of things I would miss about sobriety but if I had to pick my top three, this would be them. They are in no particular order of preference.

Sleep – Not just any old sleep. Deep sleep. The kind that truly allows you to forget about everything for a while. I used to have the worst sleep. Restless leg syndrome, night sweats, waking up at 3am for water, and in the morning I’d wake up remembering so many dreams. If I had to go back to that, then yes, I guess that would terrify me. As would those dreadful sleep lines on my face that I used to wake up with.

Confidence – The version of me when I was struggling with drinking compared to me today is night and day. They say confidence is the sexiest thing a person can wear and I can attest to that. I stand taller. I make eye contact. I’m not afraid to speak. I have a better feeling of who I am and I like her! There’s something very powerful about being sober. I walk like a queen and I feel like I queen. I’ve earned that. I make no apologies for it. *double snap*

Tea Time – If someone asked me how I take my tea I’d reply “Seriously. Very seriously”. I have time dedicated to it every night. After dinner I make a blend of Yogi Egyptian and Yogi Peppermint tea with seeping fennel seeds. Devine! I know if I had to give up my sobriety that would mean swapping out my tea for wine. That’s soooooo sad. Tea for me isn’t just something amazingly delicious to enjoy at the end of the day. It’s symbolic of my daily decision to stay sober. It’s a gift I give to myself for putting me first. I do things with tea that I never did with wine; such as writing out birthday cards, calling family to say hello, or making cupcakes for the little kids in my life.

My heart is free sober. To be told I had to give it up would be like being told I could no longer be free.  That would be devastating. I’m so thankful that I get to make this decision for myself every day. I get to chose to be the best version of myself and that’s a pretty damn amazing. I’ll close this out with one of my favorite quotes as I think it’s relevant.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. “ – Marianne Williamson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Off Your High Horse Lady!

I sit here with my morning coffee. My favorite part of every day. I bounce out of bed, excited to face the day. I typically make my coffee and while that’s brewing, do a little yoga. Well, it’s stretching really. Ok, sometimes I just lay on my back. It’s me-time. You get the point. This morning feels a little different. I feel really thankful for my sobriety this morning but not in my usual “isn’t it great to not have a hangover” way. Maybe thankful isn’t the word I’m looking for. Respect maybe? Humbled?

I know how difficult it is to get sober. I understand the Jeckle/Hyde of it all.  The longing for a drink while simultaneously longing for sobriety. I know how it feels to beat personal bests on sobriety, only to nonchalantly pick up a bottle of wine on a Friday night. I know how isolating it can feel. It feels sometimes like you uninvited yourself from the funnest part of your relationships. I know the terror of not being able to pour a beautiful glass of escapism after a super hard day. Sometimes sobriety is all its cracked up to be. Sometimes it’s not. It depends on the day. And I know this is true because I’ve turned my back on sobriety many, many times.

I’ve been very haughty lately. I am on the longest stretch of my sobriety. With that has come a lot of well deserved pride. I’ve noticed though that it’s also come with a lot of ego. Some days it feels as though I’m standing on top of my sober mountain looking down at all the little people. Just look at their foolishness. I seem to have much compassion for anyone who has taken the steps towards sobriety or are actively seeking it. Yet I’m lacking it for those who know they need to stop or certainly peel back, and drudge forward anyway. When will they ever have the courage to do what I’ve done? 

That’s just it though. I haven’t done anything. I’m no different. In fact, I am those people. I pick myself up every day and put one foot in front of the other, just like them. I struggle with making sense of life sometimes, just like them. I enjoy the simple things and just want happiness for myself and those I love, just like them. I do my best to be my best and sometimes fail, just like them.

Sobriety is not a given. It’s a daily decision. I’m thankful that I didn’t decide to drink last night. I’m hopeful I won’t decide to drink today. But if I do, I hope I show myself more compassion than I’ve been showing others lately. I need to take it down a peg. I don’t need to assume everyone who drinks is suffering and can’t rise above it. Just like they shouldn’t assume everyone who is sober is tightly wound with no sense of humor. Hey, who said that?!

 

 

 

 

Blame it on the Banana.

A family member just returned from a 9 month military tour overseas. We had the whole gang over to welcome him back. He brought with him a prestigious bottle of red wine from Italy. Everyone gathered around and waited to be poured their share. I kind of hung back and decided now would be a good time to mingle with the little kids. Then I heard my name being called and a glass was being walked over in my direction. Oh god, I thought, he doesn’t know. I didn’t want to have the “I’m not drinking anymore” conversation in front of everyone. I also didn’t want to have a “no thank you” portion of wine (is that even a thing?). So I did what any normal person put on the spot would do. I said I couldn’t have any because I just finished a banana and wine and banana go horrible together. The look of “what the f**k” was priceless. I giggled to myself because it made ZERO sense and yet, it worked! He accepted it and walked back to his table of supporters. I went back to coloring with 4 year olds. In true monkey-see monkey-do fashion they quickly offered me their lemonade. I gave them the same banana excuse. I got the same “what the f**k” looks. Oh well, nobody said it was a bullet proof excuse. Sometimes it just has to be crazy enough that nobody wants to press the issue further.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

I pulled into a parking spot in front of the grocery store, relieved I had made it that far. Beads of sweat were dripping down my forehead. My hands gripped tightly around the wheel. I could feel my pulse in my eardrums. I kept telling myself to breath. That none of this was real. This was all a figment of my imagination and if I could just get my shit together long enough to make sense, I’d realize this was just like any other day. This was just like any other trip to the store. I was make it worse by escalating it all with my thoughts. I took three very long, deep breaths. Nothing. No change. Calm thoughts. Calm thoughts. Just think calm thoughts. Big breath in. Big breath out. My hands trembling, I fumbled for my phone and played a guided meditation session by Tara Brach. My brain though. It wouldn’t stop. Nothing was working. The panic sunk deeper. I really needed half and half for my coffee. I was all out and the thought of not having my normal coffee the following morning was just – it was just not an option. I steadied myself as much as possible and forced my way into the store. I’d been in here a hundred times and suddenly it was so bright. People, the people were staring at me. Why was the song “Lovely Day” stuck on the main chorus? Can’t someone stop the damn record from skipping? Jesus, this is 2017 not 1979. Where the hell am I? Am I in a grocery store?  OMG what is my name? I don’t have time for trick questions. I need to get out of here. Why is everyone staring at me? I’m going mad. Where the fuck is the half and half? Did someone move everything around in here? 

That was day 8 of withdrawal from Klonopin. I don’t know how I made it home that day. All I know is I’ve never been more terrified in my life. I was put on .5 milligrams of Klonopin in 2009 to help with sleep. I was never told that this medication was not intended for more than 30 days. I was never told that this was an anti-seizure medication (I’ve never had seizures). I was never told that this drug was very addictive and that getting off of it would be challenging, if not nearly impossible. I tried many times, not making it past 24-48 of withdrawal symptoms. I didn’t push beyond that until I was forced. My doctor was no longer refilling my prescription.  After 78 hours of withdrawal, the longest I ever experienced, my muscular system started going haywire. My left eye was twitching completely shut. My arm would aggressively strike the air as if there was an unexpected intruder. My body temperature felt dangerously low and I couldn’t stop shaking. I wasn’t going to make it. This was not something I could survive. I managed to drive myself to my doctors and insist they give me a refill. The same people that insisted this drug would do wonders for me were now looking at me like I was a vagrant stranger. Seeing my state, they begrudgingly agreed but they would only give me 30 days. I had to get off this stuff. And I did. It made Hell sound like a vacation destination. I had to content with temporary amnesia, bouts of violent retching that lasted beyond 24 hours where I was sure I would die, hypothermia, the list goes on.  But I made it. It’s amazing what you can get through when there is no other choice.

 

 

 

Be Quiet and Listen.

Living with a newly sober person can be hard. For quite some time, I judged my spouse big time for continuing to drink. I felt superior with my new found superpowers of health and vitality. The better I felt the more I talked about it. “You too could be this amazing if you quit drinking.” I was aggravating and annoying.

The problem here is my spouse has a slue of health problems. Had he not, he probably would have done the whole “that’s nice honey” thing and moved on. But my declarations of liveliness felt like a slap in the face to him. While it is true that a lot of his issues would be reduced if he quit drinking; nobody wants or deserves to have that crammed down their throat every day. When I was drinking I was overlooking his struggles that lead him to drink because I would just drink up with him. That was my way of showing support. When I got sober, I was continuing to overlook his struggles and simplify them all under the “just get sober” label.  That was my way of showing support. I thought I had the quickest resolution that would solve it all.

However, depression is real. Anxiety is real. Health issues as a result of depression and anxiety are real. There are a lot of very sober people who struggle with both. I’m learning to put the pom poms down and get to know his struggles. I’m taking time to ask questions and just listen. I know I was obnoxious. Understand, I was whistling past the graveyard. I really wanted this sobriety thing to be the best thing ever. I figured if I cheered loud enough then everyone would join me. The truth is I was scared to death of being alone with sobriety.

The funny thing about sobriety is you learn a lot about who you are. Time and time again I stepped off the wagon. Not because I didn’t enjoy how I felt. Not because I wasn’t feeling in my heart and soul that this was the best thing for me. I just didn’t want to be on that wagon alone. I have a fear of abandonment that rattles my security. I thought I had gotten over that years ago. Yet here it is. Had I not hopped on and off that wagon countless time, I would have never connected the dots on why. Had my supportive and honest husband not pointed out how incorrigible I was being, I may have never looked deeper.

So many lessons. So many beautiful and painful lessons along this journey.

 

 

This Time it’s Personal

My sobriety came in stages. The first time I quit,, I didn’t think I had a problem at all. I felt like my husband was the one with the drinking problem and I was frustrated that he couldn’t just rein it in. One night were discussing his problem and he said “If quitting is so easy then why don’t you do it?”. That really struck a nerve with me. I immediately felt retracted and defensive. Why should I quit? I’m not the one with the problem. I had been drinking daily, side by side with him, for our entire relationship. I just didn’t consider myself the one with the issue because comparatively he was much worse. After digging in my heels for a few days I decided to quit. I was going to do this and show him it was possible. This was going to bring about real change in him, I thought.  Well, I cried for about 10 days straight. I felt like I had lost my best friend (alcohol) and I really didn’t know what to do with myself. With each passing day, which felt like forever, my husband was still drinking as he always had and that just enraged me. He also would point out that I was miserable and wasn’t setting a very good example for sobriety, which compounded all these unstable emotions I was experiencing. I considered it a failed experiment and went back to drinking but that first step planted a seed. If it was so hard for me, maybe I do have a problem?

I quit several times after that. A few times for about 30 days and then another for nearly 6 months. Every time my initial motivation was to change him. But in those sober stints I would notice changes that made me realize I should be doing this for me. I’d notice my sleep was improved. My energy was up. I didn’t carry the same level of anxiety and that looming black cloud would go away. I treated myself and others better. I started to realize that I was the best version of me sober.

It wasn’t until my motivation was to heal myself that sobriety really stuck. Beyond the benefits of sobriety was a field of issues I hadn’t dealt with. I had developed a habit of being sober long enough to enjoy the benefits but pull out once it was time to face the real stuff. The biggest issue for me is my fear of abandonment and how rooted it is in my lack of self confidence. I’m slowly learning to unravel this beast. I’m learning to ask myself what I want rather than ask myself what others might want from me. I’m learning to ask people what they like rather than trying to figure how to get them to like me. I’m learning to lead the way. For the first time, I’m excited to see what I might find. I’m nowhere near perfection but I have my backpack on and am ready for the journey.

My point in all this is it takes time. It takes battle after battle. Lesson after lesson. A willingness to learn and to fail. Take notes. Be patient.

Got Anxiety? I’ve got a solution.

We hear a lot about alcohol. The majority of what we hear is the advertised joy and lightheartedness it brings. Of course, we know it’s not all roses. We also read the news stories of alcohol induced rage, accidents and deaths. It’s the extremes we hear about. The extreme joys. The extreme lows. But what about the in-between? We don’t hear much about that. What about that person that drinks a few pops every night? Maybe a little more on the weekends? What kind of impact is alcohol having on a day to day basis for those people?

Everyone is different and our bodies all react to things differently. However, it is a well-known fact that alcohol hits our nervous system. To what degree depends on age, sex, weight, body chemistry, etc. But it happens. There’s no way around it. It’s also a depressant. Therefore, if you’re drinking regularly you can expect to feel things like general anxiety and depression. So many people walk around with a case of the blues and nervousness and attribute it to who they are. We hear “I’m just high strung”  or “I’m just a nervous wreck” all the time. I’m not saying those feeling can’t occur naturally. They can. Life is stressful. But drinking alcohol on a regular basis is known to exacerbate those feelings. It’s a clinical fact. Yet, nobody talks about it. There’s no disclaimer at the end of the Budweiser commercial running down the list of possible side effects. So you know what? I’ll list several for you here. This is not a comprehensive list. If it was it would be pages long.

Feeling Unsteady

Agitation

Anxiety

General Discontent

Depression

What’s concerning is how many of us go to the doctor for these symptoms and begin taking medication to help. Most of these medications do not work well with alcohol and could make the problem worse. I know personally I was prescribed Zoloft and Klonopin. It took me years to ween myself off alcohol, Zoloft and Klonopin. I was, as they say, a hot mess. I had no idea that if I just stopped putting these mind altering substances in my body I would be okay. Happy, in fact. At minimum, I am content on most days. If I feel stress, anxiety, nervousness I know exactly where it’s coming from and how to put it in check. They are no longer phantom emotions that I lug around and consider part of my being.

It angers me that we’re fed lies by corporations and even doctors in an effort to feed the pockets of others. We’re suffering and we don’t need to be. If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms and have not tried cutting out the booze first, I beg you to try it. If you don’t feel better within 30 days you can slap my ass and call me silly. But I honestly believe you will feel like you have a new lease on life. Life is sunnier sober. I promise. Don’t buy into the lies that it’s not.

 

 

 

The Sober Journey A Year (ish) Later

It’s been quite a while since I posted last. A lot has changed. Sobriety has a way of doing that. It’s also brought about a lot of peace. Sobriety has a way of doing that too. I’ve been sober for over a year now. It’s become a way of life. I don’t really think of it all that much anymore. I almost find myself at a loss for words about it because struggling with those intense emotions has fallen off. However, I wanted to put this out here to give others hope. I know when I first got sober I was scouring anything I could find on sobriety and success stories. I was anxious to find one that spoke to my soul. I hope this finds its way to touching someone’s soul and gives the motivation to change their lives.

My story: I’m pretty average. I was a reach for the bottle of wine at the end of the day kind of gal. I was the one that brought the wine to the party. I was all things wine. I got pictures of wine for my birthday, my kitchen was full of wine décor, and I was always being tagged in stuff on Facebook relating to wine. In every picture I had a glass of wine in my hand. Eventually though it began to bother me that I wasn’t doing anything with my spare time but drinking wine, talking about wine, or planning the next wine drinking event. The big change came after my 40th birthday party with friends. We went on a group trip to Florida to celebrate. We all had plans to do fun events, see things and explore. In the end all we did was drink and take day naps. There were also some moments I wish so, so deeply I could take back. Times when I was drunk and acted like social norms and boundaries didn’t matter. On the plane ride home I thought, “I’m never drinking again.” I think I was sober a month. That was no small feat. My downfall can essentially be whittled down to an identity crisis. Who was I without wine? It didn’t help that everyone I knew razzed me about it. Looking back, I can’t blame them. They were struggling with figuring out who I was without wine too.  I spent a year bouncing between sobriety and drinking. Something had changed inside me and drinking just lost it’s luster, but I wasn’t familiar enough with sobriety to say that was definitely the road I wanted to go down. I tried very hard to be both. I heard, “Make up your mind!” more than once. So eventually I did make up my mind. I chose sobriety.

Today:  These days I’m known for my yoga practice, meditation, and photography. I’ve also found a real love for wandering around thrift stores and hoping to find cool items for cheap money. There is a peace about my life that I wouldn’t trade of anything in the world. My friends know me as their sober friend. I still see them but admittedly not as much. It’s okay though. My life is a hundred times more interesting and fulfilling. When I do spend time with friends it’s usually because they want to join me in a trip along to coast to take random photos, or poke around a thrift/antique store and do lunch.  I can’t remember the last time I had a nasty fight with my husband and my dog seems happier. I guess he can sense the peaceful change.

My advise: Just stick with it. We live in a very instant world these days but there’s nothing instant about sobriety. No two journey’s are the same. Listen to your heart. People will push back on your sobriety. You will find out who wants to know the sober you and who doesn’t. I’ve heard it said that ones who doesn’t stick around aren’t your real friends. I don’t really subscribe to that thought process. People change and grow apart all the time. It’s a natural part of life. It’s nothing personal. That’s how I’ve found peace with it anyway. The most important and best thing about this is you get to discover who you really are. It’s a very rewarding path to take. Even if you have one day sober and two days drinking. You’re moving towards creating a new habit and that should always be recognized.