My drink of choice used to be a margarita - no salt. That sweet, tangy deliciousness was a reliable friend that I could unwind with at the end of a long week, or in the middle of an even longer one. To be clear, I was never a huge drinker. I've never once been blackout drunk, but I did go to college so I definitely had my fair share of tipsy nights. I was mostly a social drinker, but when I got my first apartment, I had to have a stacked liquor cabinet because honestly, I like to have choices. I loved creating delicious cocktails and I loved drinking them even more. I was always careful to limit myself, but I had nothing against having a good time. Even though I wasn't what you'd call an alcoholic, I was an avid enough drinker that most people would never expect that one day I'd go cold turkey and quit drinking altogether.
My second year of college was brutal. I was at my highest body weight, the culmination of years of junk food, exacerbated by the late night burgers, chicken strips and french fries I'd taken to eating while holed up studying in my dorm room. Random happy hours and too many weekend drinks didn't help either. My health was, to put it plainly, shit. I was in and out of my doctor's office for health issues, mainly related to my horrible period.
After tons of complaints about unbearable menstrual cramps, my doctor prescribed a transvaginal ultrasound, which to this day remains the most invasive, most painful and most embarrassing medical test I've ever had done. The doctor who performed the test was not at all delicate, and her bedside manner sucked. It was bad enough that I had to drink a whole liter of water and wait in excruciating pain with a full bladder, but she also took no care when she basically shoved the transducer inside of me.
What came of this horrible experience was not an answer to my debilitating periods, but something else entirely. While I expected to hear that there was something clearly wrong with my lady parts, she said, to my amazement, that nothing was there. "But", she exclaimed with no attempt to hide her judgment, "You do have a fatty liver". At the time, I was annoyed as hell. After years of searching for an answer to my horrible period cramps, I received none. The test felt like it was all in vain.
Feeling lost, confused and embarrassed by the doctor's bold lack of sympathy, I completely glossed over the whole fatty liver thing. I mean, I was fat. In my mind, it only made sense that there would be fat around my liver, too. I was also young and naive and neither of my doctors at the time made it clear to me what it truly meant to even have a fatty liver. Besides a brief dramatic scare over a spike in my liver enzymes while I was on birth control, the topic of liver health never really came up.
In the years following, I lost some weight, but I also still had plenty of cocktails and loads of greasy, fatty foods. I honestly didn't give my liver a second thought because I really didn't understand its role in my bodily health. I had no clue the amount of stress my lifestyle, particularly my diet, had been placing on my liver. To me, liver disease was something that alcoholics got, not casual drinkers like myself. I knew nothing of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or that obesity was just as capable of damaging my liver as drinking was.
My liver was engulfed in fat and struggling to carry out its duties, and my drinking, even though it wasn't outrageous compared to most, was only compounding the problem. As the years went on, I continued to lose weight, and focus more intently on my health, a journey which eventually led me to veganism. I decided to prioritize foods that would be helpful and limit or eliminate the foods that were harmful, which included alcohol. Let's be real, it's not even food, it's a toxin, and no matter what the latest industry-funded study says, it just isn't good for you. With my history of fatty liver, obesity and myriad health issues, the last thing I need to consume is alcohol.
My decision to stop drinking was more than reaffirmed when I came across this recent article by NPR discussing the rising rates of liver disease among millennials. Something that usually takes decades to appear is manifesting itself more and more within my peers, and to be honest, I'm not surprised. From music to television to college parties, we've all witnessed the slow and steady normalization of binge drinking culture. Going out to the club? Well, "bottoms up, bottoms up, ey what's in your cup, got a couple bottles but a couple ain't enough". Hate the taste of liquor? The market is packed with alcoholic beverages that can get you blackout drunk without ever tasting a lick of ethanol. Stressed? Meet your coworkers for happy hour or head home for your daily glass of wine.
Binge drinking isn't just promoted, it's celebrated. Beyond the damage that it's clearly doing to our health as a collective, it's also masking the very reasons people are drinking so much in the first place. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, the millennial generation is struggling more than ever to cope with stress. It may seem like many of us are drinking and partying for the sake of it, but in reality, it's one of the few socially acceptable and legal ways that people know how to deal with stress. Ironically, stress is also one of the reasons that people overindulge in crap food, so even if you don't drink or rarely drink, the result is often the same. We're stressed as fuck, and our bodies, particularly our livers, are paying the price.
In the past few years, I've had two family members pass away from liver cancer. To be honest, this had to be one of the biggest wakeup calls of all. It's been a year since I gave up alcohol, and no, I do not miss it. Thinking about it in the soberest way possible, my liver deserves some time to heal. One of the most beautiful things about the human body is its ability to heal when given the right kind of care, and up until this point, my body has endured more abuse than care. I gave up alcohol because my liver, my body in general, deserves better. The brief moments of pleasure, the brief respites from anxiety in social situations, they're just not worth the cost anymore. Besides, I've always preferred marijuana anyway. ;)
Some of my old cocktail creations, circa 2013-2014.
My name is Nivea, but you can call me Niv. Proudly hailing from the Boogie Down Bronx. My lifelong passion for social justice issues led me to earn a BA in Sociology from Columbia University. Currently I'm an NASM Certified Nutrition Coach & Personal Trainer with a love of all things plant-based. I'm just here, eating my plants, minding my business, and trying to find a peaceful path in a hostile world.