Alcohol, Tattoos and Chronic Illness

Ever since I mentioned my alcohol intake in the Diet blog post a couple week ago, talked about my feeding tube beer funnel on the PodFathers Barstool Sports podcast and reposted my 7 Summer Tips blog post, I’ve gotten a number of emails asking about the evolution of my feelings towards social drinking. To that token I’ve also started getting emails about tattoos, whether or not I have any and how I feel about them as they relate to people with cystic fibrosis.

I guess people are thinking I’m living a really alternative lifestyle, love to get after it, or maybe both.

The answer is no, not really.

Let’s tackle tattoos first since, well, I don’t have any, and that may or may not make me an expert. I’ve noticed that a lot of people with CF live for tattoos. I think tattoos can be used to outwardly express the invisible illness aspect of the disease in an incredibly creative way. At least, that’s what tattoos say to me (the guy who found himself negotiating for B’s in art class…). I know tons of people with CF that have unbelievably cool tattoos to represent not only CF, but also other things in their lives. Those are the kinds of things that have inspired me to consider getting tatted up, but I’m not sure I’ve really gotten myself there yet.

I’m one of those people that use the old saying, “you wouldn’t put a bumper sticker on a Ferrari” to sound like an asshole, or avoid that tattoo topic all together. Simply because, I’ve seen quite a few pictures on the Internet of tattoos people have gotten, and can’t help but think to myself, “does that guy actually look at himself in the mirror with that disaster on his chest?” I think colorful tattoos are HORRENDOUS, and unless you’re built like the Rock or a badass Navy SEAL, you should stay away from turning your body into a canvas for some kind of outside of the box mural.

The bottom line is that yeah, there is an infection risk with tattoos when it comes to CF, and I’ve heard some horror stories in that department (not worth sharing here), so that’s probably a part worth discussing with your doctor, but I think they’re kind of cool. I’ve got a bunch of friends, with and without CF, who have cool tats, including a couple bros from college that have tattoos inside their lips from a certain Spring Break trip. Spring Break forever……..

But….. I’ve also seen plenty of tattoos that are just horrible, and in fact I’ve seen enough of those to make me think twice about actually getting one. I think the general rule is to stay away from color unless you’re down with allowing your body to look like a 5th grade art project. Still it’s one of those things that since it seems a little rebellious and even kind of badass the idea does always cross my mind (sorry mom).

As for the other side of this blog post, alcohol, don’t take this to mean it’s okay to just go out and get shit faced because I said so. That’s not what this is.

“America, f*ck yeah!” he thought while drinking an imported beer like an idiot college kid wearing the only clothes that were clean in the dresser.

As I’ve said on here before, the number of times I go out drinking with friends since I’ve graduated college has significantly diminished. I guess I say that in a bit of an ironic way since we’re just coming out of 4th of July Weekend, but it’s true. I’d never say that I was a HUGE drinker, but I definitely did indulge a bit in college and then right after graduation.

Ultimately my health just hasn’t allowed for that kind of behavior to continue. Let’s be realistic here, I am taking a lot of medications that put my body in jeopardy in several ways.

The first being my hydration level. I have always struggled with hydrating myself. It has never been easy. I could drink 35 bottles of water in a single day and I think my pee would still be closer to “yellow” than it is to “clear.” Unfortunately a couple beers or a stiff bourbon doesn’t help in that scenario. I’ve learned (and it may seem shocking!!) that it’s actually more fun to feel hydrated than dehydrated. Wild, I know. My hangovers have gotten significantly worse as I’ve gotten older, and while I think that happens to everyone as they get older, I know some of it has to do with my inability to keep myself hydrated.

(I do what I can to win that battle, though. The feeding tube certainly helps, and so does Pedialyte).

The second reason I don’t drink like a fish anymore is because I know I’m putting a ton of stress on my liver. Let’s be honest here, I take a lot of medications and most of them are metabolized in the liver. I don’t have CF related liver disease (knock on wood), but I am making my liver work overtime, and I’d like to keep the organs I was born with for as along as possible, if not until the very end.

This is a long term play for me.

“But Gunnar, you’re living with a terminal illness AND making long term decision?!”

Yes, I am. If you live long enough with a chronic illness, you figure out that certain battles are worth waging and others aren’t.

Now, with all that being said I did, in fact, funnel a beer through my feeding tube (more than once), and I went on Spring Break my senior year with a PICC line and IV antibiotics in tow. Sometimes the simple pleasures in life are what make life worth living. For lots of college kids Spring Break is a right of passage and I was not willing to give it up. Just like I haven’t completely given up social drinking (my credit card statement reminded me of that on Monday morning).

To the parents reading this blog – you can’t expect your kids to go off and live in a tightknit bubble. It is okay to worry, but it’s not going to happen.

When I turned 18 my parents entrusted me with decision-making. They basically lifted any curfew that I had and told me that I would be held responsible for the choices I made, both good and bad. It was expected of me to make a few bad decisions, I think, so that I could learn how to make the right choices. Without that freedom, I’m not sure I would have had the opportunity to build the confidence to figure out my limits when it came to social experimentation before going to college, because that’s what I think it comes down to – confidence. I was able to get some confidence to make a choice, or learn how to say no in a tough situation.

For example, when it came to the end of my time at BC, the immediate months preceding graduation, my body was totally run down. I could not handle the consecutive late nights, the parties and horrible nutritional habits that I had developed. College graduation looked just as much like a finish line as it did a moment of pride since it really did feel like I was trying to breathe underwater.

At my 5 year college reunion next year, while all my friends and I will be trying to relive and remember the glory days of college, I think I’ll also be looking back on how great my health was when I started school in Fall 2009 compared to how much it has slipped to where it is now. It’s just the nature of a progressive illness.

If my college years certainly taught me how to be self sufficient and independent, my immediate postgrad years have taught me how fragile it all is. The middle ground is moderation. Moderation is key. Accept certain fights, understand consequences and always be willing to learn from the mistakes you make.

So when it comes to going out with my friends on consecutive nights over a weekend or thinking about getting a tattoo, these are some of the things that cross my mind.