Every year on April Fools Day, Britt and I go out to a nice dinner. During the first of these outings, we got a giant tower full of raw oysters, shrimp, and crab legs at a restaurant we’d been eyeballing since it opened, but on which we had yet to let ourselves splurge. Since then, seafood has tended to be our theme mostly out of tradition. The reason we do this every year is to celebrate the day that I didn’t die.
Since college, my drinking had gradually increased. This didn’t happen for any particular reason, but regular social drinking led to drinking at all social activities, which led to drinking alone while unwinding. Eventually I found myself drinking all the time, killing a bottle of whiskey behind the scenes every day on top of any other regular drinking I’d do with my social group, which was ample. I’ve always been able to handle my liquor, so while I might not have been the best employee or boyfriend, I held it together and worked 70 hour weeks at a high pressure management job. I believe the term ‘functional alcoholic’ is a pretty accurate description.
On April 1, 2016, I found myself in the hospital. I weighed over 200 pounds, was exhausted constantly, vomited regularly, and had completely yellow skin from jaundice. I want this story to be about my recovery and sobriety rather than my drinking days, but just know that it started at rock bottom.
The first step, for me, was accepting the severity of what was happening to me. I knew I was sick but I had always been able to get through everything with minimal effort. I first went to my general practitioner, who told me I needed to go to an emergency room, and no, I couldn’t wait for another day. At the emergency room I was joined by Britt and my parents. I kept asking them to leave the room while the doctors were questioning me and taking my labs because I had compartmentalized every aspect of my life. I somehow thought I could get out of this without any major upheavals.
Over the course of the day, reality started to kick in. My mother, who clearly saw this for how serious it was, pointed out that I was going to lose Britt if I didn’t let her in. That was the first moment I realized how badly this was impacting those who loved me. It wasn’t just me in that hospital, but people who clearly cared more for me than I did myself. I stopped asking everyone to leave and just accepted that everything was going to come down, all my walls and secrets… everything.
Late into the evening I was finally admitted to the hospital. A doctor told me that I had Alcoholic Hepatitis, my liver was on the verge of shutting down, and I had about a 50/50 chance to make it out of this alive. I collapsed back into my cot, called out for my mom, and had a genuine breakdown.
So this was the point that I had to accept the very real chance that I was going to die. To put things in a bit of perspective, I was a 31 year old having a serious discussion about whether I should simply go into hospice.
My hospital stay mostly consisted of having regular blood tests, watching a lot of Rocky movies on TV, having ‘real talks’ with Britt, and contemplating my life. My parents and Britt took turns staying with me. My sister flew out from Minnesota to be with me. Due to insurance issues, I was moved to a different hospital after a couple days. After a week or so I was scheduled to be discharged to recover at home and had even signed my papers and was dressed to go when a panicked doctor came to my room. He let us know that somebody had spoken too soon and that a recent test indicated my kidneys were shutting down. Because of this, I was transferred to a specialty hospital unit in Denver. After another week of tubes, fluids, and needles, I somehow dodged the need for dialysis.
When I was finally released, I had made a commitment to changing my life around. I didn’t know exactly what that would entail, but I was going to start by utilizing any resource available to me, whether I felt like I needed it or not. This meant starting with rehab.
My experience with rehab was somewhat frustrating but I don’t regret doing it. They started me off in a group room for detoxing. I’ve always been pretty self aware and I had done a lot of work with people in recovery, so a lot of the information they were giving out seemed like common sense. My health at this point was in a state of painful transition. I was massively swollen due to ascites and organ swelling. My feet couldn’t even fit into shoes because they had so much fluid in them. What I definitely did get out of this experience was a structure that required me to get out of bed and, painfully, walk to “classes” or meetings or meals. This structure made me move my body. While most people in rehab probably feel really stagnant, I was exhausted constantly.
The main thing that I got out of rehab was a resolve to overcome this my way and on my terms. The program I went through was, like many recovery programs, extremely focused on religion. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are the quintessential 12 step programs and a major aspect of both is replacing alcohol with God. If you don’t find God, you will not succeed in recovery. I have varied religious inclinations, mostly tending towards humanistic or pagan beliefs like Wicca. There were many excellent therapists at my program, some of whom talked about flexibility within the religious aspects of the 12 steps, but I distinctly remember getting into an argument with one counselor who fell back on his trump card: “you haven’t believed in God up to this point, and look at the choices you have made.” I’m all for religion and the positivity it can bring into people’s lives, but I didn’t appreciate being pushed at a time when I was most vulnerable. I was frustrated with being told there was only one answer to a problem that is extremely personal and different for every individual.
I checked out of rehab, with the blessing of my counselors, after two weeks of what was intended to be a 4 week program. God hadn’t done this to me, nor had my lack of devotion to Her/Him/Them/It. After everything that had happened, I knew that I was 100% responsible for the situation I was in, and I was the only one who was going to fix it. If I find God, it won’t be out of fear nor futility.
I want to say at this point that many, many people have been helped by 12 step programs and have found comfort a greater power. I have nothing but respect for anyone getting the help they need in whatever form. I am simply not a religious person. I have spent a lot of time contemplating my beliefs and am perfectly comfortable with them.
What did work for me was simply learning how to make commitments, which is something I have always struggled with on even a small scale (a few unfortunate women, employers, and anyone who’s ever taken my order at a restaurant, can well attest to this fact). First, I committed to getting healthy. I did my best to follow the guidelines of my doctors, which at the time consisted of severely limiting my sodium intake and simply not drinking any alcohol. I am very lucky that my aunt and godmother is a former nurse, so she helped me understand my test results and know what questions to ask my doctors.
Next, I committed to getting fit. I was still effectively couch-bound, swollen, and in a lot of pain. One doctor said that, essentially, I was living as though in third trimester pregnancy (so I have all the respect in the world for what you ladies go through). I started by taking little walks outside with our dogs Madison and McKenna. Eventually my energy started coming back, and I vividly recall the first day that I legitimately felt the need to walk all the way around the park by our house. This seems minimal, but was a huge victory for me. I eventually started the “Zombies Run” couch to 5k program. I also took a job as a campaign organizer, walking door to door in the mountains of Manitou Springs for 20 hours a week. By the time I ran my first 5k on Thanksgiving Day, I was as fit as I’d ever been.
Finally, I made a commitment to Britt and repairing our relationship. Nobody would have thought twice if she had left me to get my own shit together, but she never left. I didn’t commit to her as a “reward” for staying with me, I was making a commitment to the positive things I had in my life. I was extremely fortunate that Britt was there. I had no way of fixing the damage I’d done to our relationship other than putting in the effort one day at a time. Nothing but time was going to heal this, so I just kept at it. Eventually she learned to trust me and was dumb enough to agree to marry me.
This long term recovery applied to friends as well. I’ve burned a lot of bridges in my life, so I really tried to maintain the friendships I still had.
My recovery would not have been possible without my family, friends, and Britt. I was extremely lucky to have that support network, as I know that many people don’t have that. Nobody in my life abandoned me and I had no negative influences trying to push me back to my old ways. A friend from Portland, David, drove states out of his way on a cross country road trip to stop in for an afternoon just to tell me that I wasn’t alone. He did this despite the fact that we rarely speak and only ever really hung out when part of a larger group. But it really helped me. Things like that made a huge difference because knowing that I wasn’t alone and that what I did had real life impacts on the people in my life was all the motivation I needed to put my life back together.
Oddly enough, the one thing I don’t struggle with is actually staying sober. Sure, it sucks when fall comes around and the seasonal ales fill the shelves. And it can be a little tedious to watch people you’re out with slowly getting tipsy. But it isn’t hard not drinking. For me, I just think of it like an allergy. If I was allergic to shellfish, I wouldn’t be overly tempted to eat lobster, even if I did love it. Alcohol is simply not an option for me. Fortunately a lot of restaurants, bars, and breweries are now realizing that there is a serious market for quality mocktails or craft sodas. I don’t know if I’m different than others going through sobriety, so I don’t know if I will ever struggle with relapse as many do, but I’m four years in and so far it hasn’t been an issue.
Within the last year I went to a hepatology specialist at the University of Minnesota and I am happy to report I’m doing quite well. My liver is fully functioning. I do have enough scarring that I technically have cirrhosis, but my doctor is “hesitantly optimistic” that my liver could actually chew up the scar tissue and fully regenerate. All in all, against all expectations, I am completely healthy.
My name is Logan and I am NOT an alcoholic. I am a husband, son, brother, uncle, friend, and soon-to-be dog-dad. I am a runner. I am a world traveler. I am a political activist and community organizer. I am a super lazy couch potato who binges too much TV. I am a cook and baker who enjoys complicated recipes that take days to complete but 10 minutes to eat. I am an aspiring gardener. I am a homeowner who tries to be crafty. I am many, many things. Four years ago, I drank myself to the edge of death, but I will never let that define who I am.
If you are recovering from a health crisis and feel like nobody’s seeing you, you are not alone. If you are someone who is in need of help or feels overwhelmed by the changes you know you need, please know that change is possible and that you are not alone.