So this writing won’t be for everyone, but I’m sharing my experience anyway because I don’t hear many people talk about it. It’s not even considered as a possible hurdle to staying well among women that I’ve spoken to in recovery. It’s something all women have to face at some point and even men have their own version of it. My secret hell is menopause and it has been the most challenging experience of my sober life yet.
I’ve been in recovery from alcohol addiction for fifteen years. In that time I have had many life experiences, some which are joyous, some which have rocked my world. I have survived all of those events, good and bad, and stayed sober. Menopause though, has left me on my knees. It’s talked about in passing, usually as a joke or some way of insulting women of a certain age, but let me tell you it’s far from a joke for me. It’s devastating in more ways than one and it’s challenging my desire to stay sober daily.
The beginning of change
I felt myself change little by little every day for the last ten years or so. I’m fifty-two now and since my early forties, it’s felt like a piece of me got lost each year. Perimenopause brought all the usual physical symptoms, weight gain, lethargy, sleep issues, feelings of rage, the list goes on. I dealt with each symptom not understanding what was happening. Still, at age forty-eight I hadn’t joined the dots and was putting it all down to some thyroid issues I was having most of my life. Even my doctor hadn’t suggested that my symptoms could be anything to do with perimenopause or menopause.
It wasn’t until I came across an article about menopause while aimlessly scrolling social media that I had a lightbulb moment and realized my hormones were the issue. What started out as mostly physical symptoms had now progressed into mental and emotional struggles. Most days, I felt like I was losing my mind. My memory was shot, I would get upset at small things, and I found it hard to make decisions or even enjoy things I used to. Coffee with a friend was too much. Even taking my dogs for a walk became a monumental task and my husband and children became increasingly worried about me. I’d spend my evenings alone in my room secretly crying feeling like I wanted to die.
I knew I needed help but where would I even start? I spoke to my doctor again, but because my blood work wasn’t showing any decrease in hormone levels he said I wasn’t in perimenopause. Little did I know that General Practitioners have very little understanding of this stage in a woman’s life and blood work is no indication as to whether you are menopausal or not.
Looking for answers
I searched online for forums devoted to menopause and thankfully I got many answers and found thousands of women in the same situation. I even talked to some women who like me, were in recovery. Some of them had relapsed because they found that using alcohol was the only way they could cope. One woman spoke to me about how before she understood what was happening to her, she felt like a failure in recovery because she didn’t feel mentally or emotionally sober. She knew at any moment she was vulnerable to taking a drink but couldn’t figure out why. I was terrified of that for myself but boy could I relate.
Just being able to connect with other women going through the same thing helped a lot. I was able to find some compassion and understanding for myself and that spurred me on to find a solution. I found a medical professional who specialized in menopause and began taking Hormone Replacement Therapy. Within a week, my sleep had improved and just that alone made me feel better. After about three months, most of the physical symptoms of perimenopause had subsided which I was monumentally grateful for. But what hasn’t changed at all for me is the mental and emotional struggle.
My Secret Hell
I don’t know myself anymore. I am in full menopause now and haven’t had a period for three years. Obviously, I don’t miss the periods but I miss the person I used to know. There is no outward reason for me to feel so low. I have a very happy marriage, two wonderful kids and happy peaceful existence. Inside though, I feel lost. I rarely go out and I quit my job because I couldn’t cope. There is no desire to socialize and be full of life like I once was, but I am so heavy with sadness inside that it stops me from doing those things. I tell my family that I’d rather be home in the garden with my dogs because I’m happier there. The truth is I cannot cope with being away from familiar environments. I’m disconnected and unsure of myself and don’t know where the confident, bright woman that I used to be disappeared to.
I have shared this with my sponsor but wouldn’t speak about how I’m feeling in a meeting. It’s a very private issue for me and I’m not sure anyone would understand. I have no problem ageing and getting older but I do have a problem with ageing and getting older feeling the way I do though. I have tried everything and made the right choices. Is this how it’s going to be now, living in my secret hell? I really hope not. Just for today, I won’t drink and maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow.