My Illness Forced Me To Give Up Drinking. Here’s Why I’m Grateful.

Getting sober at 26 was, honestly, desperately lonely. But I didn’t realise how walking away from booze would open up my world, writes Lexi Weber
Courtesy of Lexi Weber
HuffPost UK
Courtesy of Lexi Weber

The early morning light filtered through my bedroom windows. It was winter during my senior year of college at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest and I woke up the same way I had most mornings that year: fully dressed in clothes from the night before, my dirty waitressing apron draped across my legs, a queasiness settling in the back of my throat.

I rolled myself out of bed and hit the ground. My body shook, my back was wet with sweat, a heavy weight sat on my chest. I made my way to the closet and reached for the warm bottle of vodka I kept hidden in a pair of winter boots. Swallowing hard, I willed it to stay down. I threw up. I drank more. Soon, the trembling subsided, my breathing steadied, and the sweating stopped.

I was 22. And I was physically dependent on alcohol.

I knew that my relationship with alcohol was unhealthy and had been for a long time. I knew that my roommates and close friends weren’t drinking alone in their closets first thing in the morning. I knew that I couldn’t brush my teeth, check the mail, leave my apartment or even take a deep breath without my blood alcohol content hitting a certain number. I knew all of this and still didn’t know how to stop.

“I felt such shame in being found out, as being labeled an alcoholic. I couldn’t imagine my life without alcohol.”

For the next couple of years, I would be unable to remember significant chunks of time. Not just a few hours at the end of a long night, but the conversations I’d have in the middle of the afternoon, family holidays, my grandfather’s funeral, and one particularly regrettable trip to San Francisco.

That all changed the night after I celebrated my college graduation. I woke up with a dull ache in my stomach that spread to my back. The pain was subtle at first; there was a pressure in my upper abdomen and the nausea that I knew intimately after so many nights of heavy drinking. I shrugged it off and continued packing up my apartment, folding sweaters between bouts of dry heaving. I was preparing to move home to the east coast, but as I tossed shoes in suitcases and threw out old papers, the pain grew more severe. I laid down on my back, but that only made it worse. Just rubbing my hand over my stomach hurt.

My parents rushed me to the hospital where I stayed for a week. Doctors ran test after test before diagnosing me with acute pancreatitis, a condition, the doctors promised, that could improve with the right lifestyle changes or worsen if those changes weren’t made. The biggest culprit was alcohol, followed pretty distantly by spice, fried foods, and a diet high in fat. I couldn’t imagine my life without vodka in the morning to stop the shaking and, on top of that, I felt such shame in being found out, as being labeled an alcoholic. So, I kept my drinking a secret. Even when the doctors asked how much I drank, I lied. I lied to my parents who were sick with worry and to my friends who visited everyday. Most of all, I lied to myself.

Courtesy of Lexi Weber
HuffPost UK
Courtesy of Lexi Weber

I didn’t know that walking away from booze would mean that my world would open up, so I kept my world very small. I continued to drink heavily for the next couple of years. My pancreatitis flared up so frequently that the hospital began putting me on suicide watch when I was admitted – the medical staff believed anyone who would drink so heavily with my condition certainly wished to cause themselves harm. I couldn’t argue with them.

My rock bottom came one month after a car accident that totalled my Volkswagen convertible and landed me in jail. I woke up in enough emotional pain to try something different. I made a decision that would chart a new course for my life – I checked myself into rehab. It was there that I was introduced to a 12-step program that taught me how to approach my alcoholism as a long-term, treatable disease that affects my body and lifestyle choices.

After adopting and following those steps, the withdrawal symptoms from alcohol became less severe: the constant trembling in my hands lessened, the night sweats stopped, and I could keep down solid foods. As my body began to recalibrate itself, I started to feel better and, as I learned more and more about how drinking negatively impacted my life, I took a closer look at my other self-destructive behaviours that needed to be changed: a diet that consisted of processed foods and refined sugar, my constant need for external validation, and poor choices in romantic partners, just to name a few.

“For a long time, I was just surviving. Now, I have the chance to really live.”

Getting sober at 26 was, honestly, desperately lonely. In a culture where drinking is more deeply ingrained in our social lives than we perhaps realise, I often felt on the outside of things. My friendships with people who drank shifted, and I felt incredibly awkward at nearly every social engagement that I attended. But the upside to this kind of loneliness? The more that I sat in it and worked through it, the more resilient I became. As I kept moving my feet and acknowledging the truth of who I am, I grew more and more into myself. I’ve been able to understand who I am and what I am capable of – because I’m no longer hiding behind a substance.

For a long time, I was just surviving. Now, I have the chance to really live. Sometimes, I get so busy living my life that I’m only reminded of my now chronic pancreatitis when it aches a bit after a really long run without enough water or a meal with too much spice. Recovery has been a humbling process of reassembling all of the pieces of my life and myself that lay scattered around me.

The end result is a pretty cool mosaic of who I really am, and who I can be.

Lexi Weber is a freelance writer. You can read more of her work at and follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @_lexiweber_.

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