I never talk about this [Alcoholism and Autoimmunity]
Today marks the 1 year anniversary of losing my mom to alcoholism.
I never talk about this, but enough time and healing has happened for me to be ready to share this part of my story with you. My growing gratitude for this experience with my mom has shed so much light on opportunities for me to not only create greater health and happiness for myself, but to also inspire others to do the same.
So here goes…
I’m not quite sure where my genetic predisposition to autoimmunity came from. I suspect that both of my grandmothers had some kind of thyroid dysfunction, but they lived in an era when nobody was looking for or talking about autoimmunity.
In order to have an active autoimmune condition, three things must be in place:
- You have the gene for it – a genetic risk factor or pre-disposition
- You have a leaky gut – impaired digestion and immune system function
- You’ve come in contact with a trigger – various triggers include things such as gluten, environmental toxins, certain parasites, bacteria or yeast overgrowth in the gut, viruses such as mono/Epstein Barr or different Herpes strains and more
My mom didn’t have an autoimmune condition, at least not that I know of, but the effects of her alcoholism certainly played a role in why I do.
Autoimmunity can be detected 10 years before a clinical diagnosis is ever given.
Antibodies are the markers for autoimmune activity in the body, and there are blood tests to detect antibody activity in the early stages. Yet, doctor’s don’t preventatively look for autoimmunity. They only test for it once someone is visibly suffering from what looks to be an autoimmune condition, which usually means the person is at the point of a clinical diagnosis.
However, when autoimmunity is caught early on, reversing it is much easier.
I can look back now and practically pinpoint the time when my autoimmune process likely started occurring more than 20 years ago.
I was the girl who had it all together – straight A’s all throughout grade school, I hung out with the cool kids, went off to college, I excelled in every job I had, and quickly climbed the career ladder into high level management positions.
All the while, I was sacrificing my health for acceptance and success.
The effects of addiction on friends and family members is not something most people openly talk about. Those who have been affected carry a lot of shame and guilt with them or a fear of being abandoned if people really knew their family situation.
I carried the burden of these feelings for a long time, and as a result I didn’t always make the right choices to support my health.
As I know now, and as the research of epigenetics shows us, our lifestyle choices directly alter the cells in our body to either create illness or to support health.
In the past, the ways in which I chose to cope with my mom’s drinking habits and the feelings related to it were very unhealthy:
- I started drinking in high school to be “cool” and accepted by others
- I found myself in a string of codependent and unhealthy relationships
- I was a control freak about everything (this is a signature trait of a child raised by an alcoholic)
- I engaged in full on screaming matches with my mom over her drinking that left me completely emotionally drained
- I used work as a distraction and a means to validate my worth – my career success covered up my family dysfunction
- I hustled all week working 12 hour days or 50 plus hours a week, and socially binged on the weekends, never leaving time for me
Over the years, my body was giving me clear signs on just how much my mom’s addiction and my reactions to it were impacting my health:
- I had painful and irregular periods right from the start, and birth control was the bandaid I was given – a red flag for estrogen and progesterone imbalances
- Waves of fatigue followed in high school and became more constant in college and thereafter – adrenal dysfunction was setting in and maybe a case of undiagnosed mono
- I developed allergies out of nowhere and sensitivities to fragrances or chemicals in my early twenties – a huge clue for leaky gut!
- I was diagnosed with skin cancer at the early age of 25 – a sign my cells were sick
However, according to my conventional doctor, on paper I was the picture of perfect health. Once I became a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner, about 15 years into my mom’s alcoholism, I was able to get my hands on the right lab tests which showed just how dysfunctional my health had become due to the choices I had been making.
My test results showed:
- Severe adrenal dysfunction
- Poor liver and detoxification function
- High levels of oxidative stress and DNA damage
- A gut full of bacteria, parasites and yeast overgrowth and a weakened immune system
These were all early signs of an autoimmune process being in place. Had I run a test to look at autoimmunity specifically at the time I’m almost certain I would have had elevated antibody markers too.
In this week’s video I share more about the link between alcoholism and autoimmunity and what I’ve done to overcome it.
“When we focus on others, our lives become unmanageable” – a teaching from the Twelve Steps of Adult Children workbook
In response to my mom’s addiction, I had become so focused on managing her and her condition that my own personal life was unmanageable in a sense.
Almost everything I did centered around a reaction or direct action related to her condition in order to keep the peace, assimilate a sense of control in otherwise chaotic circumstances or to cover up what I didn’t want people to know.
The desire to be the opposite of an alcoholic was my priority, not my health.
It wasn’t until my mom had a near death experience 6 years before she actually passed away that I decided my health needed to be my priority. I realized I had sacrificed myself enough and life was certainly too short to keep going down that road.
Shortly after that realization is when I started to immerse myself in more functional and holistic health practices. I reversed my adrenal dysfunction, started healing my gut, and supporting my detoxification system better.
I was doing all of the “right” things from a scientific perspective – eating a Paleo style diet, exercising, taking supplements and getting satisfying sleep. But some of my old behavior patterns around control, how I dealt with emotional situations and lack of self worth persisted.
Having your best health and feeling like yourself requires work in all areas of life.
By the time I started to work on my physical health by changing my diet, getting more rest, taking the right supplements and reducing stress, the autoimmune process was already in place and through the physiology of epigenetics my mindset kept feeding it. You have to get your mind right to get your body right.
Part of untangling the autoimmune web for me has been addressing the effects that my mother’s addiction has had on how I handle life. I have learned to:
- Make choices from a conscious place to maintain my health as a priority
- Own my story without guilt or shame, but rather with compassion and gratitude
- To let go more and care less about the little things so I can focus on myself
- Forgive my imperfections and use them as tools to walk away from what is not me and find what is me
These are just a few of the changes I’ve made in my life to create greater health and reverse my autoimmune condition over the years.
Molly Hamill and I did a great webinar earlier this year talking more in-depth about how to activate and upgrade your healing process from the physiological and energetic aspects. You can check out the replay of the webinar here.
All of us have grown up in unique situations or experienced some kind of crisis in our lives. Alcohol addiction is only one example of this, but how we choose to deal with those situations can be the differentiating factor between having perfect or poor health.
In my 1:1 client coaching programs, I work with people to identify the physiological aspects contributing to poor health by running lab tests to look for underlying imbalances in the body, and by addressing old behavior patterns or beliefs that keep them from taking care of themselves like they want to be.
By doing this work on myself, I now have a better relationship with my mom and her situation than I ever did when she was alive. I am extremely grateful for what I have been exposed to, what I have learned and how I can share my experience to help others.
If you want to finally get to the bottom of what is keeping you from feeling like your best self and having your best health, then let’s see how I can help. Schedule a complimentary Ideal Health & Weight Discovery Session here.