The Ugly Side of My Chronic Illness

I thought about writing this particular blog a while ago, but didn’t know if I wanted to reveal this about myself.  Then the other day, I received an email that reminded me why I started blogging in the first place. I wanted to bring awareness to my Gastroparesis and Colonic Inertia…the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly.  One of things I found out after my gastrectomy is a little phenomenon called “addiction transfer.”  It occurs when the one thing that you love in life gets taken away and you have to find “something else” to fill the void.  I hate the word addiction because it makes it seem so hardcore when in reality it could be anything; running, smoking, eating or singing.  If your way of coping with stress has been eating a whole pizza followed by a pint of ice cream, believe me when you can no longer do that, you will seek other means to reduce that anxiety.  Before my surgery, I never used food or drink as a coping mechanism, but in 2010, that definitely changed.

When I was in college, I drank every once in a while…probably once or twice a month, and that’s only when I could sell a textbook for cash, although me and my girls did have a really fun Hairy Buffalo Party one time.  Anyway, I never felt the desire to drink every weekend like a lot of the kids did on campus.  Even after landing my first job teaching and finally having more money in my pocket, I still only drank every once in a while, and when I did, it was usually “cute” drinks like a daiquiri or a margarita.  However, after my stomach was removed, I could no longer have “mixed” drinks or flavored liqueur like Kahlua because of the sugar content, so my nurse basically said, if you drink, it should be pure liquor.  Here’s a little anatomy & physiology lesson for you.  When a person has part or all of their stomach removed, alcohol (and its effects) will hit you so fast because it goes directly into your bloodstream, and depending on the alcohol proof, you could be tipsy within minutes.  And trust me, it’s not the kind of drunkenness that sneaks up on you like when you’re at a Christmas party, eating hors d’oeuvres, laughing with your friends and somehow you end up singing Jingle Bells off-key… No, this is the type that seeps into you so quickly that at first you can’t believe that one little drink could do that, then your body gets warm and then you simply don’t care.  Luckily for me, I wasn’t too fond of the harsh taste of pure liquor since I liked to taste something sweeter. Unfortunately for me…I discovered wine.  After I was diagnosed with Colonic Inertia in fall of 2009, I was placed on Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN).  For almost a year, I fed my body intravenously, until I decided take on the art of eating again.  Due to my lazy colon, I still had to be very careful about what I ate.  At first, I was very diligent, staying on all liquids, all the time.  Then one night, I tried a liquid I hadn’t tried before…white wine.  I took a sip and became nervous because it tasted sweet and I knew there was a good chance I would get sick from the sugar.  But I didn’t.  Two glasses later, I was slightly buzzed and I polished off an entire bag of 99 cent potato chips.  After another glass, I was totally relaxed and ended up eating crackers and some Doritos.  Every bite tasted so wonderfully delicious.  I finished my meal and then slept peacefully.  Of course, the next day, I had to deal with the consequences of having food stuck in my colon, but at that time, I felt it was worth it.  At the beginning, I would only have a few glasses once a week and I would use it as an excuse to eat.   I would only eat foods I considered safe and that would breakdown easily, but then my food choices got more reckless.  I was eating bites of steak, shrimp, noodles, bread, pizza and salad.  While tipsy, nothing was off-limits.  I started to question my behavior when I realized I was drinking three times a week and looking forward to it.  The day I looked in the recycle bin and saw numerous empty glass wine bottles, I was shocked.  It was in that moment that I knew I had been rationalizing my drinking.  It was no longer just used to eat “every once in a while” to get additional calories. Wine had become my transfer addiction.  I knew deep down, if I didn’t address the matter, I was going to spiral out of control.  It was a truly humbling moment the first time I walked into an open AA meeting.  I knew that by definition, I wasn’t an alcoholic.  My body wasn’t dependent on it, I didn’t drink every day, and there were weeks I didn’t drink at all BUT I knew that at one time, the very same women that sat around the table weren’t alcoholics either.  I introduced myself and told them my story and afterwards, I felt truly relieved.  I’m sure some of the women thought, “Why is she even here?” but not one person there made me feel like I didn’t belong.  With every meeting, I found more of myself through hearing the stories of others, knowing that I was trying to cope just like everyone else.  I stopped buying wine, got myself back on my eating program, became more honest about my feelings and thoughts and started feeling much better.  So, have I had wine lately?  Yes, I had two glasses a couple of weeks ago and it was great, because I enjoyed it for what it was…two glasses of wine and not as a portal to eat my feelings away.

* I just wanted to note that I don’t believe every person who has or will undergo a gastrectomy or even those dealing with a chronic illness such as  Gastroparesis or Colonic Inertia will encounter a situation like mine. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if others feel the same way I do or did. Please know, This blog is about solely about me and my experiences. However, if you do think you might be going down a path that seems chaotic, please seek help…Be blessed!



2 thoughts on “The Ugly Side of My Chronic Illness

  1. It is hard for people to understand the emotional comfort found in food/eating. Even though I get all my nutrition from my j-tube and PICC line, I still emotionally struggle with the not-eating aspect of my current life.

    Until we learn new coping skills that don’t involve food, we will struggle with food/drink. It is HARD to learn to cope with emotions rather than sooth them with food/drink. Coming face-to-face with our own anger, fear, frustration, etc. and learning to accept those emotions is the first step.

    Even now, two years AF (after food), I on occasion find myself searching the refrig or pantry looking for something to eat to sooth my feelings. During a few bad moments, I have even stood over the garbage can and chewed some comfort food and spit it out before swallowing. It was only slightly satisfying.

    Remind me to tell you about the time I put a little wine into my j-tube….talk about instant buzz.


  2. I can’t even begin to imagine having those kinds of circumstances. I would shoot myself square in the face if I couldn’t eat 200 pounds worth of french fries annually. I will be consuming an inappropriate amount of Thanksgiving fare in your honor tomorrow. Haha. Keep on keepin on.

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