My Turn: Battling a Devil of a Disease

It was when I was on a business trip that the panic set in. I was in Amsterdam, unpacking my clothes in my hotel room, and I could actually feel my liver underneath my rib cage. Feel it from within, and actually feel it with my fingers through my skin. I had been noticing my urine color change for several weeks by this point, but I just kept making excuses for it. It's not really tea-colored ... I lay on the bed, feeling below my ribs with my fingers, saying over and over again in my head, "Oh God, please don't let my liver be enlarged. Please let me be OK. Please don't let me have done this to myself."

When I got back to the States, I knew I had to see a doctor, as much as I didn't want to. The verdict: I had a serious liver problem, and the only reason that the doctor could find was that I may not have been as forthcoming as I should have been about my alcohol consumption. The sentence: hospitalization.

By this point in my life, for reasons surprisingly not related to my drinking, my marriage had completely fallen apart. I was angry at my husband; I was angry at my doctor. So I packed up my car, left my home near Daytona Beach and headed toward Boston to be with my family. My brother lives in Baltimore, so I stopped there on the way up and never left. I was too sick by the time I got there to continue. And for reasons I know now that I didn't know then, they wanted me to stay.

Within weeks I found myself in the hospital hooked up to tubes and nurses continuously coming in and out of the revolving door. There was no hiding it anymore. What was done was done. The tea-colored urine was continuous now. It never lightened up, no matter how much water I drank. My eyes were almost a neon yellow. My skin was pasty and tarnished yellow. I couldn't bring myself to look in the mirror—I was beyond sick of what I saw whenever I did catch a glimpse of my own reflection.

My sister came down to visit me in the hospital. My brother had already warned her of what she would see. He told her how bad it was and how I looked, and told her not to be shocked when she saw me. But the pain in her heart showed immediately on her face when she looked at me. If she could have taken it all away from me and taken it on herself, she would have, but she couldn't, and I wouldn't have let her. I did this. I did it to myself. I needed to face the consequences. But wait ... now I had done it to them. What I did was not only infecting me ... it was infecting them ... the family who loved me more than life itself. I vowed that I would quit. I had to. The doctors told me if I drank again, I would die. They weren't even sure I would make it at that point, even if I did abstain.

For months they monitored me, checking my progress. I did OK. Just OK. I went for months without a drink but then had moments of what they call relapse. "They" being the professionals and the ones who have traveled this road before me, the, dare I say it, the alcoholics. Yes, I have a problem with alcohol. Me and alcohol, we're like oil and water—we don't mix (pun intended)—no matter how relentlessly I kept trying to stir.

Yes, I knew that I could die, but that didn't stop me from the moments of relapse. I had actually at one point written myself off, thinking, well, if I'm going to die, I might as well be able to drink, since that's what makes me happy. Happy. Looking back now, I realize that I was drinking to try to be happy, but it was the drinking that took everything "happy" about myself away. Drinking took my happiness away. Drinking took my self away.

Living with my brother and his family ... it's given me my life back. The laughter and the love of him, my sister-in-law (minus the in-law, this woman is my sister) and their kids has been an irreplaceable experience that I will be forever grateful for. They taught me that I don't need drinking or a significant other to define my happiness, and that happiness comes from within and resonates off of the people you surround yourself with. For reasons that I at one time felt I didn't deserve, they, along with the rest of my family, surrounded me and loved me unconditionally until the grip that alcohol had on me was loosened. It's still there, mind you—it will always be there. But I don't feel the grip on my skin like I used to. It had nearly strangled the life from me, and now I don't feel it but for every once in a while. And when I do feel it, I find ways to get past it.

Yes, I need to actively find these ways. They can be as insignificant an action as sitting and being quiet, remembering what I had gone through to get where I am and actively voicing to myself that I would go through hell and back before I would go back to where I was in Amsterdam, lying on that bed praying to God to take the reality of what I had done to myself away. Other ways that I've found include going for walks, going to the gym, going for a drive and listening to my favorite music or calling my mom or a friend just to talk about anything and nothing—as long as it gets me past that moment and I can move on to the rest of my day.

My name is Suzie, and I am an alcoholic. My name is Suzie, and I am a daughter. My name is Suzie, and I am a sister and an aunt. These things make me who I am, and as much as I'd like to take the former away and just keep the latter, it's now a part of me, and the only thing I can do with that is to accept it, and then use it to either make me weaker or to make me stronger. I chose stronger, and because of that choice, I've been given a second chance to live a life I thought at one point was forever lost.

A therapist once told me that alcoholism is a "devil" of a disease. She is right on. On my worst enemy I would not wish it. It is not a social disease and does not take any prisoners. But there are many of us who stand as living proof that with acceptance and perseverance, a new life can be made. And most importantly, it doesn't have to define you. You can get to a point where it's just what it is. Whoever said that life doesn't offer second chances, well, they were dead wrong.