Sick is sick I don’t care how you got there

This morning while I did a quick workout on the exercise bike I perused Facebook.  I saw a status update from a friend dealing with a chronic illness that said he was insulted by people calling addiction to alcohol and other drugs an illness.  I knew right away, at 6:55 a.m., that I was going to have to write a post about it because I wholeheartedly disagree.  I have two immediate family members suffering from serious and debilitating chronic illnesses.  I understand chronic illness.  It’s close to my heart.  I know how the trials they face each and everyday and I have written about them on my blog.  Each one inspires me to be a better person everyday.

But I also know the chronic illness called alcoholism all too well.  It killed my father less than a year and a half ago.  For 38 1/2 years I watched him fight this disease in different ways.  I watched it ravage his body in ways I wouldn’t want my worst enemy to experience.  I saw it slowly try to take away every quality that made him my father and every single thing I loved and admired about him.

I’ve told you before my dad was not a conventional ‘drunk.’  I have 40 years of his journals sitting next to me as I write this and I am sure I could pinpoint the exact moment he became an alcoholic.  Some may debate whether alcoholism is a disease because the alcoholic makes the choice to drink.  Lung cancer from smoking is still an illness even though you made the choice to smoke.  Sunbathing clearly causes melanoma but some people still choose to do it.  Some smokers smoke for decades without getting lung cancer.  Some sun worshippers never get melanoma.  I believe it is our bodies reaction to the alcohol, cigarettes, sun or any other adverse stimulus that causes the disease. I am not downplaying the stats – in most cases smokers get lung cancer and sunburns cause melanoma – I am just mentioning that there are other diseases caused by lifestyle choices.  The problem is the stigma that an alcoholic carries.

Each and every time my dad was in ICU I was reminded by a nurse or doctor that his illness was caused by his drinking.  Unfortunately, he battled chronic leukemia and depression as well making his situation impossible to deal with.  I was reminded that he had alcoholic cirrhosis in a condescending tone.  It was clear that many of the medical professionals felt his sickness was his own fault and because he had a history of alcoholism he was less worthy of treatment.  When Georgetown University was considering him for a liver transplant as he sat in his room strapped to a hospital bed not knowing where or who he was, they looked at studies to see if the transplant drugs would make the leukemia more active and some of the doctors thought they could keep the leukemia at bay but the majority of the doctors were not convinced my dad would be able to fight the urge to drink.  So he was denied a liver transplant and the only chance he had to watch his grandchildren grow up.  All of his diseases were deemed untreatable or unworthy of treatment.

The alcoholism made them treat him differently too.  He wasn’t an intelligent lawyer, he was a drunk.  When they couldn’t understand his speech it was because he was speaking in Latin not jibberish.  Unbeknownst to them, he was even quoting Don Quixote.  Compassion left the room for many of them with that one word on his medical chart.  A neighbor, who is a nurse, suggested taking pictures of us and pictures from the kids so it would remind the medical staff that he was more than what they read on his chart.  We did that but most of them were lost as he was transferred to other hospitals and other rooms.

Yes, my dad did choose to have a drink.  His body and brain took those drinks and turned them into a sickness.  Someone else’s body may have allowed them to stop drinking.  My dad’s didn’t.  But my dad was dealt a tough genetic hand with a propensity for alcoholism and depression.  He was also dealt some hard blows that would increase anybody’s chance for becoming an alcoholic.   His mom, my grandmother, died from melanoma while he was in his early 20’s.  His dad, my grandfather, died shortly after that.  I remember when my dad turned 50 and then 60 he could not believe he was still alive.  He never believed he would live longer than they did.  And I wish that we were planning a joint 40th/70th birthday party for each other this year.  But we aren’t because a disease called alcoholism killed him.


Yes, my eyes are closed but I love this picture because it shows my kids loving their grandfather and not afraid of his disease.

*** These are just my opinions formed by my experiences with a few facts thrown in for good measure.  I am working on a memoir that will dive into these issues in greater detail.  No hard feelings to my facebook friends.  I respect his opinions as different from mine as they may be. ***


8 comments on “Sick is sick I don’t care how you got there

  1. Helen Mazarakis on said:

    Thanks for this post – there are many kinds of diseases, and some seem to generate sympathy while others generate judgement and condescension. You must have been a great comfort to your dad.

  2. Sheana Ochoa on said:

    I’m sorry you lost your father to alcoholism. The American Medical Association and the World Health Organization (and other such experts) classify alcoholism as a mental illness, which is a disease like depression. I applaud your effort to educate people who have such contempt prior to investigation.

  3. Well said/written:)

  4. Michelle on said:

    I’ve come across you’re blog while reading as much information as I can find on the correlation of alcoholism. I am curious and shocked by the results I found, it’s amazing how many links were returned that include someone’s story of alcoholism, as well as a diagnosis of leukemia.
    A dear friend & love of my life found out they had Chronic leukemia 1 year ago this March. He evidently had been suffering with this already for a year if not more than 2 when he finally went fir blood work. We separated less than 6 months after his diagnosis, due to his drinking. I knew that for the two years prior to his diagnosis that his drinking had seriously increased but want truly aware of how bad it was until we moved into a home together.
    His drinking is completely out of control at this point & I’m certain he’s headed for a losing battle and quick transition into Acute leukemia, because of his drinking if not an additional cancer diagnosis or possibly liver disease.
    The amount of 100 proof liquor he consumes due to his high tolerance must be damaging & scarring his liver. I was curious and hoped you could answer a question for me? Did your father’s leukemia diagnosis come after he had been drinking heavily for awhile? I just find it to be more than a coincidence I’ve found so many stories of alcoholism and Leukemia despite the reports that this is not a type of cancer caused by alcohol consumption.
    I’m so sorry for the loss of your father, and thank you so much for sharing your story!

    • Julie Farley on said:

      So interesting! Thanks for responding! My dad’s leukemia did come after he had been drinking heavily. I’ll have to do some research myself…

    • Julie Farley on said:

      And I am so sorry for what you’ve been going through.

      • Michelle on said:

        Thanks so much for responding. I am shocked by the number of men diagnosed with leukemia that also have severe alcoholism. There has to be a link between blood alcohol level and newly created cells mutating because of alcohol.
        I’ve bookmarked several articles that go into detail about CML & AML and how we get them from the bone marrow cells and how alcohol also causes the same mutation. The thing is they only link alcohol abuse to liver, throat, and breast cancer.
        It’s frustrating, especially when I’d love to be able to discuss this with my dear , sick friend. I’m sure you understand how difficult it is to discuss anything with an alcoholic but especially when it’s something regarding their health or consumption.
        Thanks again for responding, and please update this blog entry with any info you find while researching the topic. I’ll do the same!

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