My Alcohol Addiction Nearly Paralyzed Me At 24 Years Old

Photo: Courtesy of the Author
mother and son walking
Self

Nerve damage is the hell that is my life. If someone would have told me last year that I would become paralyzed due to alcohol, I would have laughed in their face. Me? A healthy 24-year-old woman? Yeah, right! Yet here I am, fighting to get my body to work again. I had to relearn how to walk, bathe, and feed myself independently again.

But let's back up a bit.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had an addictive personality, and like most people, addiction runs in my family.

I started drinking daily in 2018. I didn’t go anywhere without having shots in my purse. The first thing on my mind in the morning was making sure I had more whiskey from the night before, and if I didn’t have it, then I'd make sure I got more as soon as possible.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I lost my job and began receiving unemployment benefits. With thousands of dollars a month in hand, my addiction grew aggressively. Looking back now, I was delusional to think my drinking was under control.

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Tragedy hit in June of 2021, completely out of nowhere. My father, who was also a struggling alcoholic, was found on the floor barely conscious and was put into an induced coma. I remember the shock of walking into his hospital room and seeing him lying there, connected to machines and IVs. I was scared to touch him because he looked so fragile.

The strongest man in my life was fading away.

Significant damage had been done to his organs; he wasn’t responding to dialysis. I received the call I was hoping not to get, which came from my aunt late on June 25th: they were taking him off the ventilator and it was time to say goodbye.

“It’s okay to let go now, Dad. I love you,” I said clenching his limp hand. That was the last thing I said to him.

There was so much left unsaid, so much I still needed from him. 

He passed in the early hours on June 26th, at the young age of 50.

Following his death, I felt like it was all left for me to figure out. 

I buried my feelings in bottles of Jim Beam for weeks.

I didn’t shower, I barely ate, and didn't move from bed.

On top of all this, I was trying to take care of my three-year-old son. I'll never forgive myself for being so physically and mentally absent during those weeks following my father's death.

I didn’t know it then, but my life was about to change forever.

My nerve damage symptoms started off small, with numbness in my hands, feet, and mouth. By the time I finally went to the ER, I was in horrible condition.

I wasn't able to walk or talk and my boyfriend wheeled me into the emergency room. I had lost all muscle control throughout my body, making it impossible to move on my own.

I was so severely dehydrated that my ears were ringing, and I was delusional. While I was in and out of consciousness, my boyfriend answered the doctor's questions to the best of his ability.

Numbness turned to burning and stinging throughout my limbs, I didn’t know what was happening to me.

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After two weeks of testing at two separate hospitals, I was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy: a nerve condition that causes pain, numbness, tingling, swelling, or muscle weakness in different parts of the body.

Peripheral neuropathy may be caused by chemotherapy, diabetes, or in my case, alcoholism.

The exposure from the toxins — on top of not taking care of myself — had severely damaged my nervous system. I transferred to a physical rehabilitation facility to begin my long journey to regain strength back in my body.

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For the next five weeks, I met with occupational, speech, and physical therapists. We worked long hours every day in hopes of regaining the ability to walk and live my life independently again. From falling on the ground over and over to getting so frustrated that I would want to cry, I continued to put 100% into my recovery.

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It was at the beginning of September when I was discharged, right before the holidays. I was ecstatic to be going home to my boyfriend and our beautiful son, but I was nervous about the transition back home. My boyfriend would now be my caregiver because I could barely walk with a walker and couldn’t get around alone.

He still had to work, though, and we have a rambunctious son. How was this going to work out?

If it wasn’t for the help of my boyfriend's family, we wouldn’t have gotten through this year. The holidays were already difficult for me being newly sober and healing from almost losing my life. With their help, I was able to focus on healing myself to the mother and person I needed to be.

Five months later, life is starting to look up for me. I can finally walk around my home unassisted, bathe, and dress. I'm mostly independent. I’m not driving yet or going to be running marathons anytime soon but every day, I feel stronger.

Every day I regain new tasks that were ripped from me. I still suffer from small nerve damage in my fingertips, which makes it hard to feel much and perform basic motor skills. I am now 5 months clean of alcohol and am finding myself again.

With still such a long road ahead for me, I can’t help but feel like this all happened for a reason, and that this is my second chance at a healthy, new life.

After all that I’ve been through, it's so beautiful to see the light at the end of the tunnel. With my family by my side and my father in my heart always, I’ll make it through anything.

Vanessa Gomez is a 24-year-old mother based in OC, California. Follow her journey to recovery on Instagram, @_vanessasrecovery .