I Stopped Drinking For 5 Months and This Is What Happened

Pretty much what you’d expect: I saved a bunch of money.

That title was amusing to me though.

I love a dumb headline.

I just realized that I haven’t posted in something like 8 months.

So, yeah… In a week, it’ll be 5 months since I’ve had a drink.

I’m sure it’s possible that I could have lost a bunch of weight, and my skin could have cleared up, and everything was just sunshine and rainbows and everyone got the socialist utopia they were dreaming about…

But that didn’t happen. You know what happens when you stop drinking?

You get massive sugar cravings.

So this has basically been my last 5 months:

  

That’s… about it.

Work, homework, and candy.

I hope to get back to writing soon, maybe about things everyone cares about… like information literacy! That’ll make me so popular on the internet. I can see it now.

How to Fall in Love: Copenhagen Edition

When I went to Ireland and Amsterdam in 2014, I needed that trip. I talk about that trip a lot because it was so important to me. It was my first trip out of North America, my first extended trip as an adult, and the first time in 8 years that I felt, truly and completely, alone. I had no boyfriend, I hated my job, my health was failing, and I didn’t know if I would even make it to 2015.

I was scared, exhausted by my daily life, and I needed to be anywhere else.

I needed Ireland.

I needed Amsterdam.

When I booked my trip to Copenhagen, there was a part of me that thought I would need this trip too. I had just been dumped after a year of not-so-great-long-distance-dating. At the time it seemed fine, but even I knew, deep down, that we amounted to little more than friends. We were mismatched in too many ways to make something last. But, of all the things I am, I am stubborn and unrelenting.

It ended, and it should have, and I was okay with it a whole three days after it happened.

And then I went on a date. A date with a person who, at the time, I felt was odd and arrogant, but somehow felt like the most comfortable person I’d been around (he knows this). It’s easy to romanticize things looking back, and I promise you that I’m not. It took a few months for us to get on the same page about our relationship, and within those months, I planned a solo trip to Copenhagen. I felt like the need for a big trip was coming again. I felt like I’d need to be anywhere but home. I felt like things weren’t going to work out.

But that hasn’t been the case. I’m here because I want to be here, 3,600 miles from home, experiencing a new city, making mistakes, getting lost, ruining my feet, seeing everything I can possibly see… But I don’t need to be here. I don’t need to be alone.

My life has made quite a few unexpected turns over the last month. I’ve been home, on a lake, busy, sad, happy, frustrated, overwhelmed, and trying to set down roots in ways I never imagined I would.

But here we are.

And here I am.

This was one of the worst planned trips I’ve ever been on. I had a short list of places I wanted to go, but I didn’t spend too much time looking into what or when or how to accomplish anything. I didn’t look up restaurants I wanted to go to, or how to navigate the metro, or … Well, anything. I knew how to get from the airport to my AirBnB, and that’s about it.

I also had to buy clothes today to fly home in. There was no way an airline was going to let me board with pants that smelled that badly. I thought I had packed another pair of pants, but… just add it to the list of things I didn’t plan very well for this trip.

I feel like I’ve spent the last three days walking around in circles. I managed to go to Den Blå Planet,Tivoli, Ny Carlsberg Glypototek, Nationalmuseet, and Christianborg Palace (including the Tårnet, royal stables, and the ruins beneath the castle),  Kronborg (Hamlet’s Castle), Fredensborg PalaceNyhavn,  and The Round Tower. Oh, and I went on a canal tour, so I got to see a lot of things from the water that I didn’t visit, like The Little Mermaid statue and a bunch of landmarks.

There are two places I ate at every day that I wish I could take home with me: Wulff & Konstali Food Shop, and Cafe Alma. I could seriously eat at these places forever. I’ll miss them.

Things I wish I’d done: Frederiksborg Castle,  The Royal Library, any number of the old churches, and the Danish Jewish Museum. I also slightly regret not going to Christiania.

Even with all of that factored in, it’s hard not to be in love with Copenhagen. There’s art everywhere. I didn’t realize it until I took the canal tour, which gives you a unique perspective on a city that almost demands that you look up at every turn. There are statues on almost every building, even in the shopping districts. It’s beautiful here. The food is great, the people are friendly, and there’s nothing to regret. It’s worth the trip… even if you only have one pair of pants for three days of 70 degrees with 80% humidity.

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How to be a tourist: Copenhagen edition

  • Wear good shoes.
  • Bring a second pair of shoes.
  • Invest in Compeed blister patches.
  • Look out for cyclists.
  • Apologize all the time when you can’t hear someone so they think you’re apologizing because you don’t understand their accent.
  • No, really, look out for cyclists.
  • Say “hi” with an I sound instead of “hi” with an E sound so it sounds like you’re saying “shark” instead of “hello.”
  • Spend half your day at Tivoli.
  • Photograph your food… The locals will give you really strange looks and it’ll brighten your day.
  • Sweat.
  • Smell terrible. Re: sweat.
  • Wear whatever you want. People like to tell you not to wear shirts with logos or designs on them in Europe. “Europeans never wear that stuff,” they exclaim, ripping your “Boston” t-shirt from you and shredding it with their bare hands. It’s not true. I haven’t seen a shred of neon (thank God), but I have seen t-shirts of all variety. I’ve seen girls in dresses, girls in yoga pants, girls with screen printed shirts, girls with makeup, girls without, girls of all varieties! I’ve mostly just seen men wearing really tight pants, so I can’t comment much on the men’s fashion. But girls: wear whatever the hell you want.
  • Wait in a bunch of lines you don’t have to.
  • Get lost on your way home when you can’t access free wifi to figure out where you’re going.
  • Sit somewhere and just people watch. It’s worth it.
  • Drink all the lattes.
  • Attempt to say city and landmark names and get laughed at. Eventually start saying, “if I try and pronounce it, you’ll laugh at me. Where’s Hamlet’s castle?!”
  • No, I’m serious. Look out for cyclists.

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My bag holds a lot of stuff.

I smell bad and no one wants to sit with me on the train to Helsingør.

Train graffiti.

Stretch Marks & Self Love

On Sunday, I will take my last dose of prednisone.

Let me just say that again.

On Sunday, a month shy of two years from when I started taking it, I will take my last dose of the steroid that has been equal parts miracle and disaster.

Over the last two years, I’ve suffered almost all of the possible temporary side effects — the mood swings, the weight gain, the acne, the “moon face,” the hunger, the joint pain, the exhaustion, the insomnia, the unexplained crying. I’ve lost my temper, been hurt suddenly with no reason, couldn’t get out of bed because my body didn’t feel like my own, and had to apologize for crying because sometimes it was the only thing that made sense. Those are things I can say sorry for. Those are things that happened and I don’t have to see again.

But there are other things that I can’t apologize for.

Even if I have no pictures of my puffy face or 50 pound weight gain, even if I want to forget I was ever on this drug, my body won’t let me forget. There are ugly red marks across my stomach, which at first I joked made it look like I’d been attacked by a bear. These are worse than your standard stretch marks… These are large, ugly, bright red marks that look like someone tried to claw their way into my body. And they don’t fade easily, not even after you’ve dropped 25 pounds.

For women who have had children, stretch marks might be a reminder that, for awhile, your body was not your own.

For me, my steroid related stretch marks are a reminder that I had no control over my body for two years.

I can’t apologize to myself every time I take my shirt off. It doesn’t make sense to say sorry to anyone else for being sick without cause, being on drugs to make me better, to whimper an apology because my body is a little damaged. It’s not the ideal, sure. But what body is?

In 2014, my therapist told me to stop trying to control everything and accept that I can’t change everything right now. To cope, I had to focus on what little things I could change — cleaning my apartment, spending time with people I love, going on walks when my body felt up to it — and just let the getting better happen, even if it meant that my body would change. In essence, Stephanie, go through puberty again. Once you’re on the other side, you’ll know more about the body you’re left with.

So here I am.

And here is this body.

It has ugly marks on it.

So what?

If I make a list of “The Worst Things Steroids Did To Me,” it looks like this:

  1. Stretch marks
  2. Joint pain, especially in my knees
  3. I keep having to reintroduce myself with “No, we met last year, my face just looked really puffy…”

I’ll take those problems over a stroke.

(If you could all say a silent prayer that I never end up on steroids again, that would be fantastic)

I didn’t reach this place of acceptance on my own. I had to read a lot of blogs, listen to some books, and exercise a lot of self love. I feel a lot of pressure to lose weight, to get back to who I was (which wasn’t all that small to begin with), but it’s all pressure I’m putting on myself. No one else cares if I lose another 25 pounds. No one else cares if I fit in a size X pants.

No one cares.

And if they do care, that says more about them.

Aside from my carotid artery problem, I’m alarmingly healthy. I have good blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar. You name it and it’s okay. (Apparently my iron could be higher, but I think that’s why I started eating hamburger.)

So why not accept my body as it is? Why not wake up loving myself and enjoying the fact that I’m actually alive to see today? Why not enjoy the fact that my face looks like my face again? Why not enjoy a selfie every once in awhile? Why. The. Fuck. Not?

Why not love myself?

[If you can answer that for me, I’ll pretend to hear you out, but really I’ll be giving 0 fucks about your opinion]

Steroid Withdrawal & Emotional Fallout

Some time over the last two years, I’ve started to feel like a different person.

In June of 2014, I started my steroid therapy for TAK. I started at 50mg a day, which is an incredibly high dose. I was on it for months before I started to taper off… And I stalled at 35mg for four of five months. In February 2014, I started tapering again, and it’s taken me over a year of messing with my immunosuppressants to find something that effectively manages my symptoms to replace the steroids.

I’m currently on 3mg of Prednisone, tapering my way to 0mg…

And I’m terrified.

Over the last year and a half, I’ve become a different person. While it’s true that most of my more irritating personality traits have remained intact — my brain never stops, I manage to be the most insensitive when I’m trying to be cautious, I’m judgmental and rude — the emotional part of me is entirely different. I’m cautious. I’m sensitive. I cry more, hurt more, and generally give a shit, well, … more. I feel more than I ever used to.

These are, I admit, mostly good changes. I’m no longer the biggest jerk on the planet when it comes to other people’s needs. I’ve done a pretty good job hiding this from the rest of the world — I still act cold and indifferent to even the most depressing parts of my life. I’m very good at “moving on” quickly, but the process of “getting over” is hard and dark.

Tapering off of steroids has a lot of withdrawal side effects. Some good, like weight loss… But mostly bad, like abdominal pain, low blood pressure, nausea, and mental changes.

Lately I’ve been overwhelmed by an endless string of thoughts.

What happens when I’m done taking these medications? Am I actually better? Will this happen again, and I’ll be on steroids again, and it’s a never ending cycle of fat face and fat body and pimples and an upset stomach no matter what I eat? Am I going to turn into yet another person? Will I go back to being who I was before, because she was kind of a jerk…

I’ve always been really good at catastrophizing, but I’ve only gotten worse in the last two years. It’s times like these that I have to separate from my surroundings. Being on the road helps sometimes, getting out and moving, listening to Rachel Dratch’s “Girl Walks Into a Bar” on audiobook… Heading somewhere and just participating in life outside of myself really helps.

And so I go to the beach.

And so I take photos.

And so I write.

Mostly I spend time with people who I love.

I love more.

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