This past weekend was the 47th birthday of my late sister in law, who passed away three years ago. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of her or wish things could have been different. On any given day, I can remember her, smile and have compassion for her, and other days I can be sad, angry and just downright confused at what happened (and this is almost 4 years later).
Megan was a very bright woman. I always admired her for her strength, intellect and independence. She was one of the few women I knew that had a great job, owned her own house and her own car. I was in awe of what she had achieved, because it was something I honestly thought I could have never done. Conversations with Megan were always interesting as I learned from her every time she spoke. Whether we talked politics, travel, or current events, she was always filled with interesting perspectives and shared a lot of knowledge. I really miss her during our family dinners.
Looking back, 2015 was when I began to question whether or not I had an issue with alcohol. I talked about it a lot with my therapist that year. It felt as if I constantly sabotaged my goals because I was not willing (or hell, maybe I couldn’t) give up alcohol. Oddly enough, this same year was when our family started to notice that things weren’t quite right with Megan. Her behavior became more and more odd as the year went on. One could also see that her physical health was declining rapidly. Over the year, we tried to ask her if she was ok and she always answered “everything is good.” We knew things weren’t good, but we had no idea what could be going on and we did not press the issue out of fear of pushing her away.
In August 2015, Matt and I had a scary and frustrating encounter with Megan. This experience forced us to press Megan a little harder and get more family involved in understanding what was going on. Over the next few months there was a lot of stirred up emotions within our family. Rage was my primary emotion. I remember feeling as if I wanted to shake the shit out of her and scream, “What the hell is going on?” During this time, her physical health continued to decline rapidly, and finally, in November, Megan agreed to go to the hospital.
Upon Megan entering the hospital, our family learned she had cirrhosis of the liver. I remember being absolutely stunned. My thoughts were “No way! How can this be?” I honestly felt that she did not drink enough to warrant this type of diagnosis. However, when she was in the hospital, Megan admitted to her doctors that she had been drinking more than she ever led on. In the beginning, there was a drink to unwind at the end of a day. As time went on, drinking became more of a regular habit. Our family soon learned that she had been sad for many years. Learning this fact shook me to the core. I can tell you, I had no idea she was ever sad. This is one of those instances where you just never know what goes on behind closed doors, even with family. Again, she always seemed so confident and independent. She was in total control of her life and she was, as it seemed in my eyes, crushing it!
I have to be honest, there is so much we will never know about Megan’s situation. There are many unanswered questions. Once she got to the hospital, the last thing anyone wanted was to probe about the past. All efforts and focus were on getting her well. Upon learning she had been sad, I just felt heartbroken that I/we did not see past things to know she had been hurting or needed help. She, like many of us, used alcohol as a way to mask pain and sadness. Sadly, after a hard two month fight in a few different hospitals, she passed away on December 31, 2015.
Her sickness, the fact that we had no idea she had a problem and had been sad for so long, truly haunts me to this day. Seeing what she went through has inspired me to want to help people from the inside out. Many of us deal with hard things on a regular basis and we must learn to deal with things in a compassionate and healthy way. I decided if I was planning to help others, I had to start with myself first.
It’s only been this year that I really understood how much I have used alcohol to mask pain, take the edge off, or ease social anxiety. Perhaps it has been on my mind for a while, but this last year, I have really taken some time to dig a little deeper. There has been therapy, many books, podcasts, classes, and a whole lot of deep conversations with family and close friends about making the change to quit drinking. I never wanted it to be a big deal, but like starting an exercise program or improving one’s nutrition, these things take time to change. I realize everyone’s story and situation is different, but this was how I related this to myself.
The first thing I needed to do was to understand why I felt I needed to drink. Here is the “why” good old Steph-Dawg Mitchell has used alcohol; a) to feel comfortable (read that as “fit in”) in a group, b) to cut loose at a party (dance my face off or sing my favorite tunes at the top of my lungs with not a care in the world), c) to “deal” with the day, d) to make myself feel less anxious, e) to try to not care if something was bothering me, f) to make an uncomfortable situation seem manageable, g) to feel funny, h) to deal with my depression, i) because I loved to party and it’s what I do, j) to connect with my husband after the kids went to bed, k) to do the other “crazy and care free” stuff I loved to do (that I won’t share here in case my kids or their friends read this one day).
Now that I know the “why” (and I am sure many more will be uncovered), I can begin to address these reasons and move forward in a positive fashion. I am not afraid to face some tough things in the future. It is evident that my life will change as a result of my decision. I can say with certainty that it is far more important for me to show up as a wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend, fitness/wellness chic, rather than the party girl of the past.
So this is part of our family story and the “whys” behind me making a big change. As time goes on, I will be sure to dig deeper into these reasons, as well as share funny stories from the days of old. If you choose to read this and go through my journey with me, I would love for you to consider the same question I’ve asked myself: “Why do I drink?” Are you, like me, numbing or masking something? Do any of my “whys” resonate with you? While I am not a social worker or counselor, I would want you to know that I am here for you as an ear and will give you a big bear hug or virtual hug if you ever needed to chat. I don’t think we need to be ashamed of our past or what we have done, but learn from it and grow. We can do this together if you want to be a part of the hard conversations. #LFG Sending love and warm wishes always.