Sick in sobriety – How to avoid the triggers

sick in sobriety

Early on in my sobriety, I remember hearing around the rooms people complaining about how hard it was being sick in sobriety .  At the time I couldn’t figure out what one had to do with the other.  Of course, at that time I didn’t have any children.  I had no idea of the biological warfare that is daycare germs.  And as I sit here, having been sick for over a month with one illness after another, while I don’t necessarily want a drink, I have started to understand the problem.  It’s not that I think a drink would make anything better, that’s a guarantee in every situation.  It’s more that my defenses are down, and that little addicted part of my brain, which is usually a pretty good napper, sees its opportunity and starts whispering to me.

This feels familiar

My mouth feels like sandpaper and my head is pounding.  What does this feel like?  A hangover. This is completely unfair.  Because this was part of the deal – I stop drinking, and the hangovers stop. That’s the deal.  Who is messing with the deal? ??

It states clearly in paragraph four.

Though I don’t want to admit it, there is some part of my brain that thinks “If I’m going to feel hungover, I should have gotten to drink!”  This is completely different than how I actually view drinking.  I don’t think of it as a privilege that I am denying myself.  I think of it as something that doesn’t work well with my body.  Kind of like Lean Pockets.

Side note: I got food poisoning from a Lean Pocket once. Why I was eating one in the first place is beyond me.  Alcohol was definitely a part of the decision-making process.  It was horrible and to this day the sight of one turns my stomach.  But when I get the stomach flu I don’t automatically think, “But I didn’t get to have a lean pocket!” Yet feeling sick with hangover symptoms triggers my “No fair!” alarm system.  And what was the one thing that could take the edge off a hangover? Yeah.

A pound of cure

balloon head
I may be sick but I still know how to rock

I do not have a high threshold for being uncomfortable.  If I don’t feel good in some way – either mentally or physically, I want to bomb it out of my body by any means necessary.  A big part of sobriety is learning how to sit with big emotions you’d rather block out.  I have learned to do that for the most part but still haven’t mastered it on the physical side.  So I drag myself to urgent care where they prescribe all manner of pills and potions.

When I still have a cough days later, the doctor wants to prescribe Tylenol with Codeine.  I explain that I am in recovery and would prefer not to use anything with opioids.  (This is a personal choice.  If your doctor prescribes it and you take it as directed, it is not considered a slip, but for me, I just don’t want to mess with it, especially since in the past they haven’t worked well.)  The doctor orders me some other prescription cough medicine which makes the room look slightly melty and makes my head feel like a helium balloon.  But it does help me sleep.  It makes me uneasy though.

So I try the health food store.  A man in a white coat but does not necessarily have any sort of medical or pharmacological degree sells me fifty dollars of tinctures that taste like an ogre’s jockstrap.  50 drops every three hours.  After taking it twice I read that tinctures are usually extracted with alcohol.  Great.  The ones I bought apparently do not, which is a load off, but that’s also a pretty easy way to accidentally ingest alcohol.  I am lucky to have avoided that.  My head is fuzzy and I am not being vigilant.


As alcoholics, we need to be careful about the temptation to take anything that lets us turn off the world for a while.  And just to put it out there – don’t take Nyquil unless it’s the alcohol-free version. Make sure to check everything you take.  Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you.  Hemlock is natural too but I wouldn’t recommend taking it.

This never used to happen

drunk rhesus monkey
I can’t even feel it

“I never got sick when I was drinking!”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this.  I have even thought it myself a couple of times.  My logic was that the alcohol killed whatever germs were in my system, though science doesn’t really back that up.  If you’re a rhesus monkey trying not to get smallpox it might help slightly, and to be fair, when drinking I never DID contract smallpox…  But beyond that, there is no proof to suggest alcohol boosts immunity.

What’s more likely?  I did get sick, I just figured it was a hangover. Or even more likely, I didn’t get as sick as I do today, because back then I didn’t have children, and could actually REST when I was sick.

No rest for the mommy

I barely remember what it was like to be sick before having a child.  It sounds like it was almost enjoyable.  I could lay down all day and watch bad tv and drink overly salty soup and ginger ale and sleep until I felt better.  I don’t have that option now.  I continue to trudge through my days as if I were healthy, thereby making myself sicker and sicker.

hospital patient
Why aren’t you logged into the VPN?

Part of this is my fault, in that I don’t ask for help early enough, but this isn’t because I am being stoic.  It’s all about the very real issue of balancing child care and the goodwill of our family’s employers.  Do I want to ask my husband to be late to work and come back early so he can do daycare duty, thereby saving me the mile walk each time?  Nah, I should probably save that for when I REALLY can’t do it myself.  Should I take a sick day?  No one really does where I work, since we all work remotely.  It’s considered lame.

Can my husband get up with my son when he starts screaming at night?  Yes, and he does.  And my son will have none of it.  I am getting no more sleep lying in bed hearing him scream “I want Mamaaaaaaaa!” than I would if I just went in there and rubbed his back.  Maybe this puts him back to sleep.  Or maybe he is up for the day at 3AM.  Does he care that I am sick?  Hell no.

Am I done relaxing yet?

Something I have noticed among most people in recovery is that we are high achievers.  We aren’t great at sitting still.  Maybe it’s because of all the years we wasted, or maybe it’s because we learned to function with a handicap of being drunk so much, it acted much the same way as a baseball player swinging multiple bats as practice – a single bat feels like a feather after that.  So for us, sober life feels lighter and easier.  For all these reasons, we do not want to stop and rest.  We hate doing nothing.

enough tranquility
Okay it’s been an hour. Enough tranquility.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a duvet day.  In theory.  But I usually can’t stay at it for more than a few hours.  My mind loves the idea of relaxation right until it gets bored.  So when it comes time to rest because my body is forcing it on me, I might take a half day to abandon my everyday chores, and then I get frustrated.  Why aren’t I better yet?  Now I’m still sick and the house is a disaster and I have twice as many emails to return.  This is bullshit.

The Mom Cold

You know how there’s the “man cold”?  Where some men get the sniffles and all of a sudden they act like they’re dying, and insist upon being waited on hand and foot?  My problem is that I THINK I’m behaving that way.  I think I have a man cold, when in fact I have a MOM cold.  This is where you are ridiculously ill but act like you are fine and do everything anyway.  I was certain I just had a persistent chest cold and found out it was really walking pneumonia.  It wasn’t until a doctor told me that and gave me a serious talking to that I allowed myself to call in reinforcements and just rest.

hotel room
Your sickbed awaits madam.

I have a fantasy in which I could just go to a hotel when I get sick.  Because at home, even if I try to rest, there is always something that needs to be done, and I can’t help myself.  But if I could just remove myself to a hotel, order chicken soup and sleep with no one yelling, I could recover.  Alas, I cannot afford it.

Back to reality

This is one of the many ways in which I feel like I should get a gold star for just showing up, while others seem to handle temporary illness with much more grace and little to no maid service.  So what can I do?  I can ask a friend who lives nearby to walk my son to daycare, and promise to do the same for her when she gets sick.  I can make giant mugs of herbal tea with as much honey as I want and drink them all day.  I can order chicken pho from the amazing Thai place nearby.  I can block off an hour on my work schedule and use it to take a nap.  I can go to bed at a very early hour even if I’d rather stay up and watch tv with my husband.  And I can remember that just because it FEELS like it will never end, that doesn’t make it true.  This too shall pass.

Anyone else?  Bueller?



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