The Serious Side of Alcohol After WLS

Steph Wagner

July 20, 2016

3 Powerful Stories of Transfer Addiction After WLS
Alcohol After WLS - Especially RNY Gastric Bypass

 

I find it so timely that as I was finishing this blog post, Obesity Help recently posted an article on this very subject. If you haven’t read it already, here is the link to a post on “Should WLS Post-Ops Drink Alcohol After Surgery.”  Here’s a very telling excerpt from that article –
In a nutshell, it comes down to this:  In a patient who has had Gastric Bypass, blood alcohol levels rise much faster after drinking, they peak at least two times as high, and it takes much longer than pre-surgical patients for the blood alcohol levels to return to zero.
In a moment of total honesty (a common theme in today’s post), a few months ago I shared a post on alcohol after WLS and received criticism from a follower that it was too lighthearted for such a topic. As someone who strives to always get better and be open to criticism, I sent a message to the administrator of the Facebook Group “Transfer Addictions After WLS.” A Facebook group that has almost 900 members. Hmmm. Maybe, just maybe, addictions after surgery are more common than we think?

 

I admitted in my message that this was an area I needed to be better educated in (it’s possible someone struggling with an addiction after WLS is not coming to appointments to see me, or hides it very well…therefore I’m not often exposed to this side of alcohol after surgery). Thank you Daphne, Miss T and Sharon for your willingness to be so vulnerable and honest with your story. In a quick personal note, I’ve made the recent decision to leave alcohol out of my upcoming cookbook “Drinks and Desserts” and instead will have an alcohol free “Mocktails” category. Your stories have opened my eyes wide to the ugly side of alcohol after surgery and I want to stand with you in support! You are amazing.

 

I urge you, dear followers, to read all three stories…trust me…it won’t be hard because you’ll find yourself hooked hearing what these women have been through. Praise God they are alive and here to tell us about it!

 

“T’s” Story
I never had a problem with alcohol before my surgery. But I certainly had a problem with food. Or, to clarify, I had a problem with the way I related to eating. I received the gift of WLS in 2006 and went from 383 to 165 and I stayed there for years. I was a poster child for success! I had my picture in different magazines and websites. I was a winner! Until life got difficult.

 

Stress got harder to take. I didn’t have the ability to cram endless amounts of food into my mouth for soothing the pain. I was very aware of my addiction to compulsive overeating and had even protected myself by getting years of therapy pre WLS and post! But at some point, I became complacent. And when I did, I remember it so very clearly. It was at my son’s wedding. I toasted him and then, over the next three years I unravelled.

 

It ended with over 2 bottles of wine a night. Blackouts, hidden boxes of wine in a secret hiding place and even a secret compartment in the bottom of my handbag, which contained a “water bottle”, which actually contained wine. I didn’t leave home without it. All the while, I worked a job and lived a life where almost no one knew. My husband suffered the most, as he was completely perplexed at the fast, the terrifyingly fast unravelling of me. I remember coming to bed and weeping, because I didn’t remember how I got to bed. That horrible feeling the next day when my husband would say “Remember what I told you last night, so you know what time I’ll be home”-OMG! What did he tell me? Was he bringing people over?! Terror and unspeakable sorrow.

 

And I also want you to know that I knew not to drink alcohol. Although we are really only now starting to get real statistics of post WLS addictions, I caught wind of it. Knowing my addictive personality, I pledged never to touch a drop. But I did. And now, I don’t. I haven’t for well over 2 years. One day at a time. And my life depends on never forgetting the nightmare I went through, when I nearly lost my life to a bottle of wine. Finally, I want you to know something I believe to be so critical and important, if you remember nothing else I shared here. Shame will kill you. If you have an addiction and you are ashamed and you are unable to share it with anyone, you are in terrible danger. Find someone, anyone, to share it with. If you don’t think you can trust anyone in your personal life, reach out to one of us here at Transfer Addictions or email me at Keeper_of.hope@yahoo.com. You are not alone. And you can break free.

 

Sharon’s Story:
Prior to WLS, I lived by this motto (as we all have) “I’ll start my diet tomorrow.” Today? Each meal is the moment to restart my health goals.” Thirteen years ago, I was a 364-pound woman in her mid-40’s. As I prepared for WLS, I remember approaching the task with a bit of a cocky attitude, after all, I’m a mental health professional and I was well aware of many of the pitfalls WLS can bring, they just didn’t apply to me. This was a life-long habit, in that rules were for other people. Ego. Such certainty. But let’s back up a bit.

 

By age 7, I had adapted to nightly childhood sexual abuse, by turning to our refrigerator for comfort and self-soothing. I quickly blossomed from a skinny kid to a kid carrying an extra 60 pounds on her frame. No one knew. It was as if my growing largess was invisible to the safe adults around me. This abuse continued until I was 16 and able to fight back. However, I continued to use food as a strategy for emotional self-soothing. Food was my primary self-regulating drug, which I used for 32 years. It worked until it no longer worked. My teen years were spent experimenting with various drugs, and always escaping consequences from using drugs.

 

My primary drug remained food until the physical & emotional pain were just too much to bear. In January of 2003 I underwent a RNY gastric bypass, quickly taking me from 364 pounds to 175 in a matter of less than one year. I had given up my physical protection and my inner fears were exposed. I was defenseless, having released my protective armor. Living with such raw feelings put me at risk. I remember clearly my surgeon advising me to avoid alcohol for at least 18 months, and I complied out of fear of hurting myself. Then came body contouring, a 360-degree total body lift. Percocet soothed my physical pain, but then something happened, it began to soothe my emotional pain. I could have lived on the stuff. With my new body, and my lowered guard towards opiates, alcohol only made sense.

 

It was during this time I met my husband. Socializing, parties, fine wine, numbness. In no time I found myself going from a social drink to polishing off 2 bottles of wine a night, thus gaining attention and raised eyebrows. Not appreciating other’s concern regarding my drinking, I did the only logical thing. I started to sneak it! Stashing and hiding bottles, making sure I stayed under the radar of being shamed. Knee-deep in drugs and drink naturally led me down a path of sexual affairs, stealing drugs from family members and even ditching my booze tabs at the bar. I was no longer trying to escape my shame, I became my shame. Living the kind of secret life that only an addict and alcoholic will understand.

 

Finally came the inevitable spiral into the abyss of blackouts, stupors, mysterious bruises and even broken bones. I no longer recognized myself, bloated, exhausted. In all, I spent 11 years post WLS finding and keeping sobriety. I no longer had the luxury of a couple of cocktails. One drink would unravel into darkness.

 

Finally, the day came, when “too much” was achieved. A combination of insane amounts of Percocet, chased by a couple bottles of wine and a vodka cap. No one was more surprised than me when I awoke the next morning. The truth was all around me, empty bottles, empty pill bottle. I was empty. It was then that my husband gave his ultimatum. Stop or it’s over. That was the moment my knees hit the floor and I found my voice to ask for help.
And help came, at an A.A. meeting, which I now call my home meeting. Through A.A. I have been able to receive the Grace of God to lift the obsession of drinking and using. In hindsight I find some red flags.

 

I spent 11 years in relapse because:
  • I was unwilling to go to any and every length to find and remain in sobriety
  • I was unwilling to do exactly what I was told, to understand the feelings are not facts.
My self-will continued to lead the way, until May 12, 2015. On that date the pain of staying sick was a debt I was no longer willing to pay. It was time to blossom, to shed the wreckage of my past, body & soul. I came to realize I was part of the growing statistics of WLS patients developing “rapid onset alcoholism”. I never saw it coming, most of us don’t. But we are many and our numbers are growing as sufferers of addiction transfer. With over a year of sobriety, I have no plans to alter this beautiful direction. My life has truly blossomed. With the support of the 12 Steps of A.A., I have the tools I need to navigate daily living. I no longer focus on trying to manipulate & control life, rather I take it as it comes. I’ve awakened to my character defects and work to release them in return for a more positive way of living. One day at a time. Most personally poignant is learning to take an observer position in my thoughts. I’ve discovered my addiction transfer is not about food or alcohol. It’s a drive deep within my psyche, originally born from sexual abuse & shame. This drive has a “voice” which says “more, more, more!” It’s not important which substance or behavior “more, more, more” latches onto. For me, food was my earliest emotional soothing substance. After WLS the drive focused on anything that would produce a dopamine rush – alcohol, Percocet, Ativan and shopping, to name a few. Do I still struggle? Yes, of course. And I probably always will. However, I will struggle less, find greater peace and happiness and be able to maintain this healthy lifestyle I’ve created through years of hard knocks. Now, I look for ways to increase peace in my life, and when I do so, I experience a very sweet nearness of Spirit, who always looks for greater good. Today I’m deeply grateful for the pathway addiction transfer has taken me down. Because I was finally willing, honest and open-minded, I could allow for my own flavor of addiction transfer to quietly slip into remission, contingent that I remain spiritually fit each day. I’m eternally graced for second and third chances. Contact me at Sharonmagar@WLSanswers.com

 

Daphne’s Story:
 
I was born in San Antonio Texas. My parents were divorced. Stability wasn’t big on the menu during my childhood with my mother ultimately marrying three times and my father, five. I was in need of security and confidence and both were in short supply for me. For a time, I lived in New Mexico and then moved back to live with my Dad in Texas at the age of 17. I really wanted to fit in and that meant competition as a good drinking partner, seeing as he provided the beer!

 

This was also the first year I tried meth. I then moved to my grandparents and finished my degree in Mortuary Science, finally moving to Farmington, NM when I was 21. I met my hubby, still married to him today, when I was 22. I considered myself as having a normal life, although I was still knee deep in the booze. I had short bursts of sobriety that lasted nine months, that’s right-babies! Then something so earth-shattering came along to shake me to my core.

 

My son, Hunter, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I was angry, I was full of rage at the injustice. I was angry with God. It became my reason to stay sick. Amazingly, Hunter recovered to full health, where I continued to deteriorate even further into my addictions. By 2000, I was a real professional at drinking and getting my meth. I tried to tell myself I was parenting, but of course, I missed so much, all those teenage milestones were viewed from my drug and booze blurred eyes, from a distance.

 

I was unable to resurface for my family at that time. Then in 2003, came my Gastric Bypass. Of course I was going to stay clean and sober for this! And I did, a whole 3 months, and then all hell broke loose! I continued to stay checked-out of life and my focus stayed strong towards my addictions. This part is important to all us post WLS people, I found myself experiencing a different kind of drunk. At first I drank beer, I figured that wasn’t as bad as hard liquor. Before I knew it I was going to my kid’s soccer games with my booze, never fall-down-drunk, but at a constant blur and buzz. At some point, I was introduced to Bloody Marys. Hey! It’s got veggies in it! And I have to tell you, the way the vodka floated on top of those gorgeous drinks and the way I felt it burn all the way down from my lips to my core was a whole new depth of addiction for me. Clear liquor turned out to be the kiss of death for me. Once my original tool of using food for comfort was removed, I was in trouble. That’s because I hadn’t yet accepted there was a problem, that I was in trouble. I couldn’t eat, but I sure as hell could drink! And drink I did.

 

Gastric Bypass was forced behavior modification and I quickly found my way around it! The stats will show that we process booze differently than pre-surgery. It hits us fast and it hits us hard. I loved the attention of losing weight and being high. But I still felt horrible on the inside. I continued to spiral down. By the time I was at 2012 and 2013 I was completely absent in the lives of my family. My dealer ended up getting put in jail, making my meth too difficult to find. I decided I would go “cold turkey”. However, being the addict I was, I didn’t stop drinking. Hey! At least it wasn’t meth right? Little by little my life got smaller and the room I barricaded myself in, got darker. I got darker. Roll on 2013 where I found myself getting back into work. I loved going out for drinks after work. I often got my drinks paid for and I surely wouldn’t have wanted to hurt someone’s feelings by turning them down! 2014, found my current job. And again I scored with a boss who loved his drink. I stayed blissfully in my cups until he left and I hit my bottom.

 

Wrapped up in the gift of desperation was rehab, which came on February 3rd, 2015. With hubby firmly on my side and standing behind me, as he always has. The moment came during rehab where I had a call with my kids, to explain to them what happened and what my commitment was regarding my sobriety. I owed them that and much more. It was finally time to come home. Terrified, on shaky ground, I found a therapist. I went to as many meetings as I could attend and received the gift of learning to ask for help. I did all of this and more because I found people who had what I wanted and I was willing to go to any lengths to get it. Now my husband has a wife and partner, my kids have a mom, my boss has a trustworthy employee and I have today. What I will tell you now is that I don’t have a backup plan. I’ve allowed no place in my mind and heart for a relapse, I cannot do that ever again. This is my one and only chance and I know it. Today I feel better, look better. I’m in remission from this disease, one day at a time, having been acquainted with my Higher Power. Yes, there are hard days. Some of things I’ve just told you would have been easier to say with a Bloody Mary in my hand. Each day I am reminded in big and small ways of my reasons for sobriety. I never want to hear someone saying they didn’t know there was a way out of addiction. I wish I could have had the gift of knowing how vulnerable post WLS people are to addiction. Maybe I would have been saved earlier. Most of all, I want to be that person for you, to tell you-there is a way. My love is sharing my experience, strength and hope. Please know I’m here for anyone who reaches out to me. I make it my business to walk with those who decide to join the path of sobriety, or who are fighting for it. I will answer you back if you reach out to me. That is my commitment. I want to be there and to listen for the rest of my life, as I know it’s one of the keys to my sobriety. I spent 8930 days as a drunk and drug addict and today I have spent 509 days sober. I am new to this. I am grateful. I want to share it with you. Email me at s_dcummins@msn.com or find me on facebook (Daphnie Cummins)

6 thoughts on “The Serious Side of Alcohol After WLS”

  1. Great article.  I am just starting the process for WLS and want to be as educated as possible.  Do I have an addiction, of course I do and that addiction is food.  I too look at this WLS as a new way of life and there is no going back.  Thank you for sharing your stories.

  2. Best of luck in your journey to surgery…and beyond! Utilize the search bar on the right hand corner for any questions that might come to mind. If you don’t find your answer you can always email me at steph@foodcoach.me

  3. Outstanding article. Profound insights from these courageous women. I am now just over 4 weeks post WLS, and will now be super guarded when the day comes and I can consume alcohol. Their stories will forever be in my head, reminding how easily we can transfer our food addiction to harmful substitutes. Thank you for this!

  4. I really appreciate the insight. As I come from alcoholic parents who were obese, I’m always cautious around alcohol. In my history I was addicted to cigarettes, chocolate, and pop. I broke cigarettes 13 years ago, pop around 6 years ago and thanks to prepping for sleeve surgery my desire for chocolate has returned to a healthy level. I almost developed a peanut butter addiction but stopped it quick. Am I a food addict, yup. I’ve also learned I stress/emotion eat, something I didn’t realize before. Alcohol is way too easy so asking with a nutritionist and therapist I will be vigilant. Thank you and many blessings to all.

  5. These articles were awesome. Very encouraging, powerful and just real. May God continue to bless all three of you with continued strength.

    One of the reasons that I liked this article so much is because of its truth!!! Most doctors aren’t telling their patients that there’s a probability that they could become addicted to alcohol. One of my oldest friends had WLS over fifteen years ago and became that alcoholic. She occasionally drinks as her problem solving mechanism; and then it’s those times that I don’t hear from her.

    As for me, alcoholism runs in my family and I’ve always tried to make the choice of drinking and not drinking. I’m 17 months post-op and had my first drink a week ago and became buzzed so quickly, that the probability of me having another one is far and few in between.

    Keep up the good work ladies as you continually go “one day at a time”… Thank you for being an encouragement for me and the many others whose lives you’ve touched.
    Sonya

  6. Thank you for our comment! I agree these women are so encouraging and their honesty is a huge gift.

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