drinking and being irresponsible

One thing I really miss about being healthy is that I always had the freedom to do what I wanted without really having to plan ahead.

Particularly when it comes to drinking alcohol. (Also, when it comes to medical bills.)

I was never a big drinker, but I never had to think twice about drinking either. I could let the moment decide how much I was going to drink. If I went out to a bar, I could have a beer. If I came home from work and felt the need to relax a little while I was cooking dinner, I could open a beer or have a glass of wine. If I felt like splurging, I could walk down the street and get a pint of microbrew and a slice of pizza. My favorite bars had a beer list a mile long. A cold winter night in Chicago called for a really dark beer. Summer called for something cold, light, and fruity, or just the standard 312. I started appreciating gin & tonics.

Technically, I can still drink. My liver tests are normal enough to show that it’s still functioning quite well despite all the tumors. My oncologist said, “A glass of wine every now and then” is OK. But the problem i’m running into is: a fairly social 20-something usually drinks more than that in a week. More, if the week has been particularly stressful and there’s a party going on.

I think the part of drinking that a lot of people enjoy is that they don’t have to think about it. And then, they don’t have to think when they’re drunk. Having a glass of wine or whatever “every now and then” is something I have to think about. Enough to write 700 words about it! So it just zaps all the fun out. Except I still really like the taste of beer and wine. I’ve gotten pretty used to ordering a sparkling water and lime and sipping on it like it has something in it. I would drink soda except my pancreas needs the help, too. I stay away from parties and places where the primary goal is to get drunk. I don’t really want to, I just don’t want to have to turn down drinks because it reminds me that I have to think and be responsible.

On my birthday, I had two beers. Nothing bad happened. And since then, and since i’m on my two weeks off from the chemo, I have started to drink a little more. Or, at least, have a few sips whenever it’s offered to me. A few nights ago, I had another whole beer to myself in an effort to appear “normal.”

When I think about it rationally, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. My liver has a hard job–shouldn’t I try to make it easier as much as I can? Is it really more important to appear normal when i’m out than keep my liver happy and functioning? And, if I’m going to be on the liver transplant list at some point, I won’t feel quite right about drinking. A lot of people on the liver transplant list need livers now because theirs aren’t working the way they’re supposed to. It feels like abusing the system that I still get to drink and I take a liver away from someone that presumably can’t drink and needs a new liver to, well, live. I guess I do too, but the urgency is uncertain.

But it’s not just the drinking. It’s the being irresponsible. It’s that my memories of living in Chicago and being happy in my adult life involve drinking beers and hanging out with friends. In LA, being happy is hanging out with friends (or sisters). Period. And feeling conflicted about drinking a beer or not drinking a beer.

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12 Responses to drinking and being irresponsible

  1. Jean Farmer says:

    So sorry you are conflicted about drinking beer. It’s part of being young and having friends and going out for fun. After college, I soon stopped drinking. Not because I had to, I just lost the desire to drink. And I could still ACT crazy and silly with my friends who WERE drinking. They didn’t care that I wasn’t drinking, at least after the first couple times when I didn’t drink. I was still one of the folks – and sometimes they liked it because I could be the designated driver. Which I didn’t mind. And they could laugh at me when I ordered a glass of milk with my pizza! As you go thru your 20s, I bet you’ll discover that other friends of yours are feeling conflicted about this, too. Part of it is growing up a bit; part of it for you is that darned liver.

    I so enjoy reading your posts. Thanks for sharing.

    • Mike Basart says:

      I feel the same way. I quit right after college and was still able to act as goofy and silly, and you’re right – everyone appreciates the designated driver! You’ll be fine. 🙂

  2. Jen Feng says:

    I’ve never really known that feeling of irresponsibility that comes with being able to drink, since I always just get sick, and reading your post made me wonder if I’m really missing out on something. I’ve found enough comfort at the end of the day with a good cup of tea, hot chocolate, or, since it’s fall in Virginia, apple cider (!!!), and a couple of really good cookies, but I can see how it’s not that same as winding down with a glass of wine. And how getting through a night out on soda isn’t the same as drinking a few beers. Is the ability to drink alcohol really that freeing?

  3. lindsey says:

    I don’t think you’re really missing out on something, Jen. Maybe this feeling I have about drinking is left over from college when drinking was the way everyone “let loose.” In that way, it felt freeing, like, “I’m done with class for the week, now all I have to do is drink for the rest of the night.” It also feels adult (even though i’ve been over 21 for 5 years now) to be able to buy the beer and then decide when to drink it. With the post, I was trying to differentiate between the act of actually drinking being freeing and making the decision to drink without worrying about it as freeing. If that makes sense.

    That damned liver! That’s the truth, Jean. Thanks for commenting.

    • Cybit says:

      As someone who had leukemia a bit younger (I was 14 at the time, now 26), before the alcohol question came up, I had never thought about it until I hit 22 or so. My liver & kidneys are shot from the chemotherapy (I was given a super high dose), and while I’m in remission currently, I always have trouble deciding whether to drink or not, to this day. I don’t currently, but that’s because I’m trying to lose weight.

      But, as you state, I don’t really think it’s about drinking or not drinking, it’s that whenever it comes up, it now reminds you of everything that has happened. The freedom I think you crave is the freedom from having this disease impact your life in yet again another way, that shoves itself often times rudely into your face. That…I don’t know if that ever really goes away.

      I don’t feel like I get to control much of what happens in my life. But I do get to control how I react to it. I may never be able to do a lot of things, but I don’t have to let it make me feel any less of a human being. I’ll never be able to look at getting a cold or the flu the same way again (stupid immune system not really functioning), but I can make sure that everything I’ve been through doesn’t make me feel like an outcast.

  4. jesse whinters says:

    Try some trees, legality aside it’s a lot more pleasant than alcohol anyways, if you over smoke you just pass out, and it will put no stress on your liver. It’s a very social activity, and life is short why not, plus it has some benefits for someone in your unique situation.

    I am not trying to be your typical medical marijuana thumper here, but it’s proven to help with appetite, along with certain chemicals in cannabis help aid in destroying cancer by inhibiting certain signals that help cells to grow. http://www.labnews.co.uk/news/cannabis-destroys-cancer-cells/.

    If you don’t want to smoke make some edibles or get a vaporizer, and enjoy another easy, and wrongfully illegal way to de-stress!

    And in your 20’s at a post college age, you should be able to hunt some down :3 stay safe and get well!

  5. Matt says:

    I stopped drinking socially as an experiment several years ago and havnt looked back, in the vast majority of people its social anxiety that make them want to be out of it to be social. The thing is nobody cares how you appear as they are too busy thinking about themselves and how they appear to others. If you hang around with interesting people then it will be a non issue. Also as a guy I can solidly say no one, even drinkers dont want to make out with a girl with beer breath or one who seems half sozzled / stoned, its a obvious negative in the dating world.

  6. Roger says:

    Hmmmmm, Lindsey. I love good beer and good wine. And I have a glass of one or the other with my dinner every night. An indulgence I’ve had since I lived in Spain, for fifteen years! At the same time, my gut has been expanding steadily for a few years now, so I struggle with this. It’s said that alcohol is “liquid candy”. But I would like to think that if I had a diseased liver or pancreas, that my desire to live long and healthy would provide ample motivation to give it up. What is confusing here is your doctor’s assent to your indulging now and then. Were I one of your friends or relatives, I would do whatever it took to encourage you to give up alcohol until you are 100% free of disease. That might include cheerfully giving up brew myself. Could it be that you are allowing fatalistic thinking to cause you to hedge? Like, “I may not survive this, regardless, so I might as well enjoy the time I have left?” I know, when it comes to stress, alcohol is so convenient. It’s cheap, it’s easy, its pleasurable. That’s why our nervous systems crave it. But there are other ways. Trust your intuition.

  7. Jay says:

    as a fellow cancer liver (diagnosed at 26, im almost 31 now) I’ve dealt with the same thing myself. My conclusion – there are health benefits to chilling out, relaxing, and having a good time (maybe even a little “too good” of a time very occasionally)… to me these health benefits override the health risks. enjoy yourself – the last thing you should be feeling is guilt.

  8. Matt says:

    The thing is to realize we wrongly associate drinking or smoking pots with happy (or sad) moments, this is not necessary at all.
    I never had fun drinking to feel I go along with people, or giving myself the feeling I have much fun that way.
    The most important at the end is the moment you spent, clean or not, with true moments of speaking with friends, families, lover, …
    It’s common to see teenagers and people trying to get high before going to a party, why is that needed? Is the life much cooler that way ?
    Do not avoid your life, but enjoy it with true things.

  9. Simone B. says:

    Teetotaller (or whatever, couldn’t you anglophones come up with a less silly word for it) here, because I actually felt like NOT drinking made everybody else perceive me as more normal/socially acceptable but you know what, fùck it, after reading your entry I think I’ll be having some beers here and there while I’m still healthy.

    Don’t drink too much tho, you definitely don’t need that to look alright to the bystanders.

  10. Ashley says:

    I just stumbled across your blog today and I love knowing some one out there feels the same (in general, about a lot of things..not just this particular post). I had ovarian cancer when I was 18 and then again when I was 20. They took out both my ovaries and everything has been “great” since my last surgery. I am now 24 and constantly feel the guilt of not living a healthy life-style. I eat whatever I want and occasionally drink with friends. Sometimes I think..”I survived…aren’t I suppose to change my life completely and be this role-model of how to live a healthy life?”

    But on the other hand, I agree with Jay. Sometimes letting go and just being happy out-weighs the benefits from trying to “be healthy”. Obviously there is a line to cross, but if there is one thing I have learned from having cancer, it’s to give yourself a break and enjoy the moment with the people you love.

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