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An Update on My Friend

It’s been one week since I learned about my friend’s condition and shared it with you here on my blog, so I felt it was time for an update. I would love to tell you that she is doing well and has “turned the corner.” But…you don’t turn a corner with liver failure…not a “good” one, anyway.

They have sent her home to…I suppose…wait for a donor, a limbo I know all to well, as my own family lived there for 3 years while my brother waited for a kidney to save his life. As you can imagine, it was a horrible time waiting and worrying that his dialysis would stop working before a match could be found. But fortunately, about 15 years ago, they DID find a kidney for him — and a great one, at that…”Sydney” has been performing like a champ ever since.

“Our” story turned out well. But…we must wait to learn how the next chapter will be written for my friend. No matter how it unfolds, her journey will not be an easy one to read. That’s because there’s a bitter irony to her survival; she’ll need a new liver to live, but someone will have to die first.

Such is the beauty and horror of organ donation.

The horror is the death. But the beauty is the life that’s given. You see, organ donors are the most special of angels; they give the greatest gift without ever knowing they gave it, and those who receive it get a gift they will never forget.

* * *

But, back to the situation at hand: I’ve been pondering my friend’s circumstances, wondering if there were warning signs that she simply didn’t recognize…wondering if some doctor, somewhere, with some blood test could have called attention to this before it got this bad; wondering WHY it got this bad…? Of course, all of this is like yearning for yesterday, but it still makes me wish for a “Wayback Machine” so I could send her back in time to face this monster before it got its hold on her.

As I write this, she has still not been able to eliminate the 30 pounds of toxins that her body has decided to hold onto, so she is feeling understandably miserable. Also, she has been banned from ever consuming sushi or shellfish again. Ever. These are things she adored for as long as I’ve known her, and I promise you, she is mourning the loss. When I asked her why the doctor said not to eat them, she simply said, “I was told to eat like a pregnant woman for the rest of my life.” And that means, no alcohol, either…

When I told her I had shared her story with all of you. she was momentarily heartened because she knew some good would come of her bad. She knew her suffering could save someone else’s life, or keep them from suffering quite as much. I’m sure she never imagined she’d become an advocate for this cause, but she has assumed that role as gracefully as one can expect, and promises me that she will avail herself to any support groups in the area who want to meet her and ask her questions about her life since weight loss surgery — especially the tough stuff about the booze.

So, where am I in all of this today? Well, for the last week I’ve been, for lack of a better word, “managing” an unbelievable volume of feedback and discussion on the subject of alcohol consumption after weight loss surgery.

I’ve witnessed an avalanche of outpouring for my friend’s condition, and I am eternally grateful for the love, support and prayers going her way; thank you all for that.

I have also felt the undeniable burn of fear and frustration as the subject of my blog spread like wildfire through our community.

I have heard a chorus of confusion, anger and denial from those who simply want to know how this could have happened.

I have fielded more than a few private messages from people who see themselves in my friend’s story, and are terrified that they will end up like her.

I’ve heard from multitudes who simply didn’t know this was a possibility after surgery, and feel betrayed that they were never warned.

I’ve met precious people who shared with me how terrified they are to be at a point where they’re so far out of control with their own alcohol consumption they wonder if they’ll ever find their way home. They worry that it’s too late, and fear that all hope is lost, but mostly, they want to know if they really are addicts.

Well…addiction is a scary word and sometimes, it keeps people from getting the help they need. So…why use it? It’s not necessary to identify yourself as an addict to seek recovery — you only have to know you have a problem and need help. It sounds trite, but it’s true, and I tell everyone the same thing: Recovery is not easy, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it; it simply means we shouldn’t give up when it gets hard.

I am passionate about this subject. I am convinced to my core that we must open the lines of communication and talk about this very real, very deadly problem. And we must start now.

  • We must talk about the things that scare us.
  • We must be bold in the face of criticism.
  • We must not fear judgment more than we crave recovery.
  • We must take a stand and tell others what so many doctors neglected to tell us: Alcohol consumption after surgery is not healthy, not necessary, and non-negotiable.

We lost weight to gain our health; why would we throw it away on something as meaningless as a drink? Clearly, we didn’t see it that way, for if we had, we might have thought a bit longer before we poured that first glass.

If I could speak to doctors, here’s what I’d tell them:

  • You MUST talk to your patients about the very real dangers of alcohol consumption after weight loss surgery.
  • You MUST educate them on how their new bodies will process the toxins in alcohol.
  • You MUST let them know that therapy is okay.
  • You MUST let them know about the potential for cross-transfer addictions. And finally,
  • You MUST let them know it again, and again, and again.

You know my position on this:

  • We must stand together as a community and support our brothers and sisters who are struggling with addiction (or whatever you want to want to call it) after WLS.
  • We must bring a united message of hope — not judgment or condemnation — to those who would confide in us about their private battles with food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, etc..
  • We must not fear the truth, for those who follow in our footsteps will demand better of us.

I am on the front lines…ready to do what it takes to shine a light upon the dark secret that is not-so-silently killing people in our community. I hope you will join me.

I will keep you posted on my friend’s condition. In the meantime, thanks for your support and prayers. We ALL need and appreciate them.


RECOVERY FROM OBESITY: Learn About the 12-Steps


1 Laura { 06.18.12 at 7:13 pm }

so are they saying that drinking alcohol even just for socializing maybe like once or twice a month is dangerous to the liver after wls?

2 bariatricafterlife { 06.18.12 at 7:57 pm }

Hi Laura — Well “they” are not saying much of anything, and that is sort of the problem.See, every BODY is different, and based upon the surgical procedure you had, the alcohol is processed differently and at varying degrees, etc. PLUS –there are both psychological AND physiological aspects to consider, so there is no simple answer.Here is what I have learned in my research (I AM NOT A DOCTOR): Bodies process alcohol differently after gastric bypass surgery (I will answer specifically from that perspective, as I had it, many articles discuss that procedure, and it's the procedure my friend had). Since the liver is where toxins are processed, it follows that if we pour straight alcohol into the liver, it's not going to be happy about it.What does that mean for a gastric bypass person? Well, since the stomach is bypassed, that means all of the enzymes that would normally breakdown alcohol get bypassed as well…so alcohol pretty much goes straight through the intestines to the liver. What happens is, you feel the effects very quickly and FEEL sober quickly, but you really aren't, because the alcohol is still in your system. (Ask how many post-ops have gotten DUIs, even though they felt completely sober…it's shocking.)I guess what I'm saying is…I wish there was a straight answer to this, but there doesn't seem to be.From a psychological perspective, we know that alcohol consumption reduces inhibitions, which affects judgment and rationality, which means that a diminished capacity for reasoning can lead to an increase in alcohol consumption (meaning you drink more, faster and lose track of what you've consumed).BUT — that's not what you're asking, right? You just want to know “how much is too much?” Right?I am of the opinion that, since I don't know how much is too much for me, I'll remove it from the equation and NOT take that risk at all.However, I know that other people view it as only a moderate risk, which they are willing to take.Either way, it's a very personal decision.In my case, I had surgery to save my life, and because I want to eliminate as many risk factors as possible, I had to make a conscious decision about alcohol. At one point in my journey, I simply asked myself if alcohol was necessary or vital to my life…did I need it for nutrition or sustenance…did I need it to have a good time…was I dependent upon it…did it make my life better…?For me, all of those answers were, “No.” And that's where I left it.Sadly, in my friend's case, she answered the questions differently and, while she believed she was exercising moderation, it turned out NOT to be so. In other words, when she said, “I should cut down…” she may have thought it was enough…but it wasn't.In the end, the decision is up to you and I don't know if there's some test out there that says, “You can safely have “this much” without hurting your liver…” — so, that's why I'm opting for NONE.Geesh, I just realized that I didn't even get into the SIZE AND TYPE of drink…how many ounces is in “2 glasses” of wine? How much alcohol is in two beers…when each beer is a 32 oz. schooner? How much hard liquor is in a Cadillac Margarita? Ugh. Too many variables for me, so it's ZERO…I wish I could give you a black and white answer, Laura…but it's not black and white 🙁 Perhaps you could begin with speaking to your own surgeon about the matter? That could eliminate the guesswork…most of it, anyway ;-)Take care! and thank you so much for reading and commenting.

3 Hala { 06.18.12 at 9:35 pm }

Let's add that post op RNY we are told not to use NSAIDS but tylenol for pain. Tylenol and alcohol can be deadly for the liver. There is not "safe" amount of either one… and the combination can be deadly.

4 bariatricafterlife { 06.18.12 at 10:00 pm }

So true on the Tylenol and…I have cut WAAAAAY down as a result of my friend's news. I was *thinking* about it before, but now I'm serious. I have severe headaches everyday and have taken Tylenol for YEARS. Trust me…I'm taking it with a grain of salt now. Oh, and Milk Thistle…

5 Jill { 06.19.12 at 4:08 am }

Please be sure to let me know if you can ever use me or your story to help people understand this is real and there is help available. Some of us do come out okay on the other side. Celebrating 2 years sober.

6 bariatricafterlife { 06.19.12 at 7:22 am }

Yay you! I am glad u repeated what I don't say enough: many of us choose recovery 🙂 I am thankful you are one of them. I will definitely see if we can support each other while we support the community :-)Sent from my iPhone

7 Amelia { 06.26.12 at 1:43 pm }

The post about your friend was nothing I hadn't heard before – I know 2 people who have died from liver failure after RNY/drinking. For some reason, even though I knew I was "playing with fire" I wouldn't/couldn't change my behavior. I am 3 years out from RNY and for the last 2-1/2 years have almost daily consumed 6-8 drinks a night. I hardly ever drank before the surgery so it was hard for me to come to terms with this.

I have done some very stupid things on alcohol that have endangered my life, my kid's lives and my marriage. Still didn't change my behavior. I started DBT therapy, thinking that would change me. it helps but nothing changed. In fact, I would drink before group! I lived a life of shame, guilt, self hatred, hopelessness, you name it.

The day you wrote about your friend, for some reason it finally hit me. I had counseling that day and my therapist said that I won't be able to do this on my own, but since I was so opposed to AA or intensive out-patient treatment (I still don't think I am an alcoholic, but certainly an alcohol abuser), she suggested I contact my doctor for help.

My doctor had me come in immediately, prescribed some medication to eliminate any withdrawl symptoms, and ran blood tests to see how in trouble I was. To my surprise, everything was normal and I hadn't done any damage. Now, part of me thought, oh, no consequences, I can keep drinking. But I knew better and was ready to try to stop drinking. I went on vacation for a week after that and decided to wait until I got back, so on Saturday I began taking the chlordiazepoxide and acamprosate. No withdrawl but I certainly had cravings and irritability the second day. Today is my 4th day sober and I feel great, no cravings and since the second day no cravings.

I thought I "should" be able to do this myself, without meds – I mean, I never had a problem before – but my counselor convinced me that I haven't been able to do that even with a year of trying. the longest I had gone without a drink was 1 day and had terrible night sweats and cravings, so I would drink again.

You are right that very few people understand that this is very much associated by the re-routing of our intestines (maybe a little addiction transfer) but mostly a physiological phenomenon. I get this "look" from people when I tell them this – the research and understanding is just NOT out there. The majority want me to go to AA, outpatient treatment, etc. I tried AA once and was very uncomfortable and felt it wasn't for me.

My experience was that I would drink one drink, get a buzz that would "wear off" after an hour, have another drink and another trying to maintain that buzz. Then I would pass out, sometimes black out. I was too embarrassed to let my husband know that I couldn't remember things like conversations we had had, putting the kids to bed, going to bed, movies we had seen (I have NO IDEA what the movie Bridesmaids was about!!).

None of this was enough until I was ready, and I want to thank you so much for providing me with the "push" I needed to ask for more help and fess up to my husband how bad it was. He already knew I had a problem (he found empty mini bottles of wine in my purse), but I don't think he really "got it".

I know this is long, but so much of what you have on your blog speaks to me and my experience that I wanted to tell you thank you and also if this helps anyone else see themselves and reach out for help, it is worth it.

Keep up the good work!


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