From Cancer to Sobriety
Open letter to old friends from a past life…
First and foremost, I want to thank you for the amazing times we shared.
I remember MOST of it, and it was lovely. But today, I am writing this because things have changed for me over the last couple years. * I * have changed… for the better, let’s be clear. 🙂
While I owe no one an explanation, I just wanted to write my story, to fulfill the urge that my truth should be released into the world. THIS is what I’ve been up to!
This is my story:
From teenager years on, I’ve felt awkward in social situations.
While I am a very social person at my core – I talk a lot and love to be around people – I still feel weird about strangers around, or finding myself in certain situations where a lot of people are around. It occured to me later in life that I did suffer from social anxiety and over time, I found that having a drink or two during an outing made the anxiety easier to handle. So that’s what I’d do.
The issue is that over time, this behavior became a habit.
By my mid-twenties, I calculated my weeks based on “going out on Friday night” like many people around me did. And like most of those same people, when I went out, I had a drink. Or two. Or three. Or four. Or thirteen. But at least one. Always.
It was always assumed that if I was going out somewhere, there would be drinks that would be had.
It’s just what we all did, really.
Many of you, I bet, are nodding, agreeing, understanding this.
As this habit built itself into my life, without me realizing it at the time, my anxiety was also getting worse. I had been suffering from various levels of anxiety since a very young age, but it got worse in my late 20s. I would get anxious and have more drinks in the evenings, during outings, in order to help myself “calm down” as I still had the misconception at the time that alcohol relaxes you.
(Plot twist: it doesn’t actually relax you.)
This went on for years. I would drink to relax in the evening and drink when I went out. It was part of what I did. It was part of me. And never did I realize that it was messing with my head… all this time, my anxiety was getting worse due to the drinking. My hangovers became panic attacks instead.
It wasn’t relaxing AT ALL.
I mean, let’s be honest and look at the nutrition aspect of this: alchohol is mostly sugar based.
You throw that much sugar in one’s body, of course the body will get anxious. Mix that with smoking cigarettes and drinking Tim’s and no fuckin wonder I was a mess.
The drinking was relaxing DURING the event, but the next day, I would be hungover and suffer THE worse anxiety I’ve had in years. That’s when I put two and two together. Ouch, I thought.
It was clear: the only way that I would get rid of anxiety was to get rid of the habit(s) contributing to it. This was the 1st on the list and this became the scariest reality for me. *deep breath*
Upon realizing this, I actually went deeper into the drinking because I didn’t want to face myself, or this obvious problem. I became really good at avoidance. It became a skill for me.
After my divorce, it got bad, I will admit: I was sad and I was drinking. That was my solution to avoid dealing with my feelings, my anxiety and myself. Easy! The more I drank, the more I forgot my sadness, and that worked for me for a while. But there was an other side to that – I was really starting to dislike myself. A lot. This caused me to become a person that I didn’t recognize. Or like very much.
I felt ugly, broken, and weak.
During the day, my anxiety was getting worse. At night, the drinking was getting worse, to the point where I would black out, friends had to drop me off home, and I would forget my evening completely. What a waste of a great evening with cherished friends. I wanted to remember the good times with them, but I didn’t. I became very judgmental of myself for that. I felt a lot of shame for that.
This was a very hard time for me.
I didn’t like myself and didn’t know how to snap out of the weird destructive cycle I had created with my life. On the outside, everything looked fine – most people didn’t realize I was in such pain, but I was breaking inside, I was holding on for dear life, just wishing I could find the solution to my madness.
That’s when the universe sent me the best thing that’s even happened to me: an old friend who completely changed my life. He didn’t drink, and never questioned or judged my drinking. I appreciated him for that, because I judged myself enough already. He’s the best gift I’ve ever received.
It was refreshing for me to be around someone that didn’t go out as much as I did, or do all those “drinking” activities because suddenly, I saw a new side of life, one that involved green tea and relaxing. And honest, unboozed laughter. I re-learned how to have “sober fun” much like I had when I was a child. It was refreshing, and probably life saving. I am forever grateful for the gift that he is.
From there, I started to really enjoy non-drinking activities, so I stopped going out as much.
That was a choice that *I* made.
The hard part of this decision was the inevitable fact that friends would quickly fall off the grid in the process… A majority had already withdrawn from me after my divorce, and the rest left after I stopped going out every weekend. I wanted to do activities that didn’t involve going out, but that wasn’t really on everyone’s agenda. And that’s okay, that’s life. People come and people go.
Let’s me honest, I also withdrew myself from old circles, on purpose.
I started to surround myself with happier, more positive people. I realized that I craved positivity, and that I had been surrounded by a lot of negativity so I craved happier people. That’s a decision that I would have made, regardless of the choice to drink or not drink – I really just wanted to be happy! I was just trying to find the real me, the me without the booze. I had to decide to stop. It was time.
Note that at this point, I still had a drink once in a while, but I was learning to actively choose NOT to.
I just hadn’t decided to quit yet.
Part of me still wanted to have a drink. I’m not completely comfortable with the term “alcoholic”, for a thousand reasons, but I can say that I had become an alcoholic. Everyone chooses their own definition for that term – some choose to use it, some don’t. Myself, I am still trying to figure out if the word fits.
But, while trying to make my best decision, I drank less. A lot less.
Even then, people had weird reactions around me. Why do people judge when someone doesn’t drink? I always wondered that, even if I use to do that, I have been THAT person. Why?
To those I made feel that way, I’m sorry. Really.
No one should ever judge you for that decision. No one should judge one’s decision to be healthy.
Drinking is not a prize, it’s not an accomplishment or something you achieve with great pride and success. It’s a habit, and for SOME people, it’s a terrible habit. For others, it’s okay.
For me, it wasn’t okay anymore.
Keep in mind, I am not talking poorly about alcohol – to each their own choices. I applaud those that can do it gracefully. I still wish that I could just have A glass of wine with dinner, as I think that is wonderfully enjoyable. That’s when alcohol is relaxing. Those who do that, and stop there, PROPS!
I am talking only about MY experience with alcohol, which is where A glass of wine leads to many. That’s when it’s not good. I do not judge what others choose to do, as they shouldn’t judge me.
This is my story.
All it comes down to for me, is that I recognized a problem in myself that only I had the power to resolve. I had to fix this. As said by author Glennon Melton “Addiction is a hiding place where sensitive folks go to hide from pain” and it IS where I went to hide. When I was in a social situation, I drank to be comfortable with it. Over time, I did not like “Drinking Me”, and I didn’t want to be her anymore.
I wanted to release that part of my life and no longer hide.
I was ready to face myself SOBER, without booze. I just had to figure out HOW I would do this.
How does one completely change their life, to take a completely different course?
The only way to do … is to begin.
I only had a few glasses in the last year of my drinking. That’s how I started the process of my sobriety. I had literally begun… it was 2015. I wasn’t really drinking anymore, but I couldn’t just “cut the ties” for some reason. I was holding on to my old friend, the habit. We had gone through so much together.
Some would say “you were barely drinking anymore, you weren’t an alcoholic” but I was, and still am.
Those “few” drinks I had at the end of my drinking days were the hardest of my life, as I had to stop myself from having more with all of the might in my body. It was like trying to take a raw steak away from a rabid dog, or at least that’s how it felt inside of me… It was pure hell for me.
It was uncomfortable, just like most healing is, I’ve since discovered.
But here’s what I discovered: healing pushes you to be uncomfortable in your old habits, to come out on the other side as a truer version of yourself.
It’s just a bumpy ride in the middle.
On April 2016, I got the universe’s WAKE UP call.
While I should have listened to all the other signs to finally cut ties with booze that I received before, this one was unavoidable.
My body had decided FOR me.
After several doctors appointments to find out why I had a weird bump on my throat, I got the answer that would forever change my life. ” You have salivary gland cancer! “. Well then! Surprise!
How did THAT happen? I have CANCER??????????
Well, for years, I thought my body was undefeatable.
I thought I would eat what I wanted, drink what I wanted, smoke what I wanted and I would end up being juuuuust fine because I still took my vitamins, ate relatively well, and thought I was happy-ish.
But my body had other thoughts. My body was not happy with the choices I had made, and gave me this gift. Yep, it’s a gift. That day, when I got my diagnosis, I knew that my life had to change.
I was about to have a crazy ride and I had to make better choices.
I only had one drink after that, and that’s the one I had with my dad on June 4, 2016.
I wanted my last drink to be one that I would remember as positive. And no one knew it would be my last except for me – I just knew that I still loved having a glass of wine with dinner, and that it would be how I would end my drinking life, by having a glass of good quality wine with my father over dinner.
That, to me, was a moment that I would always cherish as it’s something I loved to do, and something my addiction hadn’t ruined. It was a positive way to end a sometimes negative adventure.
The next day, I woke up on the morning of my 36th birthday and I was finally sober.
The decision had been made, I was done.
I was now ready to fight cancer!
Two weeks later, I went into surgery to have my salivary gland removed, and the next 6 months were entirely the song and dance of my cancer treatment, which involved 33 radiation treatments, losing my taste buds for months, and healing. A whole lotta healing, both physical and mentally.
It was transformative.
The hardest part of cancer treatment, to be honest, wasn’t even the treatment itself – it’s the guilt I carried that I treated my precious body like it was indestructible. I had caused this cancer.
Some say it just happens, but I believe I stressed myself sick, literally. Can anxiety cause cancer?
I think so.
I had had such issues with anxiety for years prior to that, and for the last few years, I kept asking the universe for a break – I wanted to have a break from work, a pause, a vacation, a time where I could breath. Sadly, I didn’t clarify in my request to the universe on WHAT KIND of break I wanted…
… then I was given cancer, and the associated 6 months off for treatment. Got my break. Thanks!
It wasn’t what I had anticipated, but it was what I needed.
The two lessons I had learned so far:
– Treat your body well, as it’s not indestructible.
– Clarify your wishes, otherwise expect the unexpected.
It was now up to me to make better choices.
That took a while, to be honest, as it was hard to process all of this.
I was still in the early stages of my sobriety, which completely changed the flow of my previous life, and then I was now in remission from cancer treatment. Wow. That’s a lot to take in.
I was no longer the same person that I was before. At all.
And I’m not even now the same person that I was when all of this happened.
To the people I use to hang out with in my 20s and early 30s, with whom I drank and partied with, I want to thank you. I did have amazing times with you all and I will always cherish those. We had fun.
But I also want to say sorry, as there was a few moments in the last few years of my drinking that I was embarrassingly hard to be around. For that, I apologize to you all, if I ever caused you any discomfort or shame. Finally, while I owe no one an explanation, I just wanted to say that I hope you are well and I also hope you understand why I disappeared so suddenly, without an explanation.
I was processing sobriety and cancer, while still processing losing friends to my divorce and my “no drinking”. Some even got weirded out by the cancer, and disappeared after that.
I really held on to the new friends and family members that stuck by me, and decided to focus on me for the most amount of healing possible. So if any of you have wondered what happened to me, or where I went, I simply had to go inside and go into healing mode.
I’m still in it now, more than ever.
I am now 1 year cancer free, and almost 2 years sober of alcohol and I am starting to feel like the “me” that was I truly meant to be. It’s a long road and still a long process ahead of me, but I feel amazing and better than I did in the last 20 years. Healing is not easy – truly looking at yourself in the mirror is even harder. But the reward when you start to really find yourself is all worth it.
Friends, I wish you all well.
I send love to all of you, my new friends, my old friends, my old drinking buddies, and the people I’ve met since starting my healing journey. I cherish all of you, good times and bad, as you have all been part of my story and I choose to OWN my story. It’s mine and it’s awesome, in all of it’s messiness, it’s still awesome. I had to make hard choices, and I thank you all for your support and understanding.
Know that I’m not looking for comments or reactions, as I just wanted to share my story for my own purpose: putting it out there, into the world, so that I could release it from my own brain.
It’s not about anyone else, in this moment, it’s really about me, and how I chose to take ownership of my life and my happiness. Just wanted to share this small leg of my story with the rest of you.
I will never let my anxiety get so bad again that my body chooses to create a cancer to get me to slow down and take care of myself. I will not put myself through that, as I’m starting to learn to make better choices for myself. Leaving drinking behind was a choice I made for my own happiness and health, but I would never force that choice on anyone. For me, it’s the best decision I ever made.
So know that I support whatever you choose to do, as I hope you will support what I have chosen to do, and share with you today. Thank you for reading my story. I send you all love and appreciation and hope that you will find whatever makes each and every one of you shine bright. Love heals all.
And remember, beyond the fuzzy clouds, there’s always clear skies.