Kathy never imagined that alcohol and cancer would impact her life in the way that they did. Read on to see how This Naked Mind changed that experience for her.
My World Rocked
Two years ago, my life changed overnight. My two-year-old middle son woke up screaming in terror in the middle of the night because his back hurt. The next day, he could barely walk. After weeks of testing that left him gaunt from days of fasting, he was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. A tumor in his spine had fractured his vertebrae and he was quickly fitted for a back brace (aka his “superhero vest”).
I will always remember his oncologist calling my husband and I one evening after we tucked our son into bed. The oncologist told us that his scan that day showed the tumor was encroaching on his spinal cord, and that we should prevent him from moving and monitor him for signs of paralysis. When he woke up every morning, I did not know whether he would be able to move. I carried him around for weeks. He would have to undergo a year of chemotherapy and I had never felt so scared and powerless.
Rewind: Life on Autopilot
Before my son’s diagnosis, I had always been in a rush to complete the next step in life. I earned a large amount of advanced placement credits in high school and graduated from college in just two years. I went on to obtain two post-graduate degrees by the time I turned 23, and immediately started a high-powered career. The fast speed of my career trajectory meant that I was living my life on autopilot and missing opportunities to engage in valuable social activities and to make lasting friendships. Despite my accomplishments, depression took a hold on my life as I felt I was not living my life to the fullest in accordance with my values.
As I battled depression in my 20’s, I became a “social” drinker. I often felt anxious and self-conscious in social situations or romantic relationships, and thought alcohol made me more fun and outgoing. I rarely overdid it. But on the occasions where I did make a fool of myself by blacking out or saying embarrassing things, I would abstain from drinking for a period and then slowly start drinking more and more again.
When I was 25, I decided to get involved in new activities to raise my spirits. I joined Team in Training with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and started training for my first marathon and raised money for cancer research (not knowing a blood cancer would later affect my family). My mood improved dramatically. As an added bonus, I met my future husband on the team! Within a couple of years, we got married and we had three children in the first four years of our marriage. Between pregnancy and breastfeeding, alcohol – by default – did not play a role in my life. Though tired from the demands of motherhood, I was incredibly grateful for my family.
The Unthinkable Happens
My son’s cancer diagnosis rocked our little family’s world. I took leave from my job to take care of my two-year-old son during his chemotherapy treatment. I eventually pulled my one and four-year-old kids from preschool as an added precaution to protect my son’s compromised immune system. I threw myself into my new role as a stay-at-home mom and made sure my kids’ days were full of fun, germ-free activities so that they didn’t notice that they were missing out on normal early childhood experiences.
While I think I succeeded in keeping the kids occupied and oblivious to the fear and anxiety I felt about my son’s future, I began to break down. The endless appointments, emotionally scarring procedures, cancer-driven temper tantrums, and long hours of caring for my kids during the day started to take a toll on me. I felt very isolated, as I did not think people could possibly understand what I was going through. I hated not being able to control what was happening in my child’s body and I could not stand not knowing what the future held.
While I was ‘supermom’ by day – at night, I turned to alcohol to numb the fear, anxiety, and stress of the day. Instead of making me feel better, I became more and more depressed and overwhelmed. I would resolve not to drink the next night, but find myself turning to the bottle after tuck-in time each night.
Realizing the negative effect drinking was having on me, I stopped drinking midway through my son’s treatment for several months. I had to do something to take control of the uncontrollable. My husband and I decided to train for a half-marathon to raise money for a non-profit that funds research for our son’s rare type of cancer. We picked a local race and shared our story with friends and family. To our amazement, we raised almost $50,000! And training for the run boosted my energy and lifted my spirits.
Remission but Relapse
At the post-race party for our half-marathon, I decided to have a beer to celebrate. Slowly but surely, alcohol quietly snuck back into my life. After a year of chemotherapy, my son was in remission! While I was relieved that he was done with his treatment and grateful to go back to work, I was still anxious because his risk of relapse was high. The rest of the world seemed to move on, but I was still paralyzed with fear. To turn off my mind, I continued to drink every night.
When my husband became concerned with my drinking, I started to hide my habit from him. I loathed myself for being dishonest with my husband and I felt weak for becoming emotionally dependent on alcohol. As my son’s one-year post-treatment appointment approached to check for relapse, I hit an emotional low point after blacking out at a social event. I was tired, depressed, and sick of myself.
Discovering “This Naked Mind”
I had to make a change. I quickly discovered “This Naked Mind.” I read it three times in a week and I joined the “Alcohol Experiment.” I have completely changed my outlook on alcohol and can now see that it was not doing me any favors during the difficult periods in my life. With encouragement from Annie Grace’s lessons, I stopped drinking several months ago and sought therapy to address my post-traumatic stress. I have found that I have so much more time and energy now that I am alcohol-free. To offset my tendency to rush through life and to increase my presence in everyday moments, I have started meditating and journaling. I have also started participating in rewarding social activities like swimming, dancing, and painting. I am rediscovering the joy of living, and I look forward to watching my healthy family thrive.
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Alcohol and Cancer
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