When the shit hit the fan in 2015 I developed a condition knowns as Ascites. It results when there is a surplus of fluid in the abdominal cavity. Ascites is most often caused by liver scarring, in my case, Cirrhosis. This increases pressure inside the liver’s blood vessels. The increased pressure can force fluid into the abdominal cavity, causing your belly to swell where you appear to be about 14 months pregnant.
I got stopped everywhere I went with well-wishers wanting to know everything. “Have you picked a name? Is this your first child? Oh my goodness is it going to be a Christmas baby?!?”
And you know, people seemed so sincere and kind in their heartfelt words for me that I just didn’t have the heart to tell them it wasn’t actually a baby so naturally I made up a bunch of crap because that’s how I roll.
“It’s a girl and I’m naming her Nicorette!”*
“Heck no it wasn’t planned, I’m not even sure who the father is!”
“Can you touch my belly? You do realize you’re not at a fruit stand, right?!?”
I had to be drained seven times before my surgery. Go ahead, read that again. Drained. VURP.
It was during this time that per Doctor’s orders, I attended my first meeting for addiction and recovery. I was terrified. I hear a lot of folks say how indignant they were at their first meeting, how they didn’t identify with anyone there and how, inevitably, they felt they suffered from “terminal uniqueness”. Yeah, well, if everyone is unique than no one is, amirite?!?
I was scared, plain and simple. Scared of the meeting. Scared of dying. Scared of living. I was just flat out terrified. I was determined to not talk to anyone and to sit in the back with one horribly swollen foot (donning a cammoflage Croc*) out the door.
Which leads me back to my initial point as I was also HUGE in circumference. As I sat there planning on how I was NOT going to participate in said meeting it occurred to me that these folks here were going to take one look at me and assume I’m pregnant. Pregnant and drinking copious amounts of alcohol, nonetheless. As the meeting began, they asked if anyone was here for their first meeting. My plan of staying silent flew right out the window because, you know, HOW DARE THEY JUDGE ME?!?
I immediately spoke up and said in a high squeal, “My name is Jen and I am not pregnant. I know I look it but my liver is really swollen and there is a lot of fluid surrounding it right now and I just want you all to know that I’m definitely not pregnant.”
So yeah, I cleared that right up. In hindsight, I also made it abundantly clear that I was in the right place by that assertion. I waited for their scathing reactions.
Remarkably, they did not recoil in horror, nor was I laughed at or judged. I was met with warm smiles, kind eyes and a soft but solid “welcome” by the group. Don’t get me wrong, I was still humiliated and filled with shame, but something in me softened, and looking back on it now, I’d say it was relief. For the next hour I heard their stories.
No one I knew drank like me. No one understood. I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone finding out my truth, and yet, here I was in a room of strangers that suddenly seemed to have a pretty good idea.
There’s a saying that reads “Alcoholism can kill you, but it has to get you alone first.”
And just like that, I wasn’t alone anymore.
*this is Jason Isbell’s joke and I totally ripped it off but the reactions were so worth it
** much like in legit pregnancy my feet had swollen to astronomical proportions and I had to purchase CROCS to wear as they were the only shoes what would accommodate my HUGE ASS FLIPPER FEET and if that wasn’t bad enough I had to get MENS and they were camouflage from the Duck Dynasty line. I SHIT YOU NOT.