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My story: menopause in recovery

An anonymous account of coping with menopause while in alcohol recovery

From the age of 13, I struggled with the usual awkwardness that comes with being a teenager, but it was also accompanied by troubling moods, feelings of isolation and anxiety, particularly around the time of my period.

‘I started drinking and partying in my teens which helped to create an illusion of self-confidence and ease – a welcome anaesthetic for all the angst and discomfort I felt.

‘But over time, my reliance on alcohol started to negatively impact my relationships, family and college studies, particularly my emotional and mental health. Instead of the numbing effect I originally sought, my escalating drinking caused my anxiety to worsen, spiralling into panic attacks and the need for more alcohol.

RELATED: Alcohol and the menopause

‘Simultaneously, my periods worsened with intense migraines, acne and extreme mood swings – and I continued to find solace in alcohol.

‘I spent many years chasing the elusive effect alcohol had first given me and then a good few more trying to control the amount I drank, finally realising I wasn’t able to stop using my own will.

The turning point

‘Fortunately, I followed a suggestion from a like-minded soul entered into a 12-step programme. In that wonderful welcoming place, I was able to find, not only, a way to stop drinking but a connection to a group of people who showed me a new way to live.

‘That was 23 years ago, and I am still sober today. Throughout my early sobriety my hormones and menstrual cycle were still causing severe mood swings around ovulation and debilitating migraines before and after my periods.

‘At 35, with five years sobriety, happy and married, I had my first child but immediately after the birth I developed severe anxiety and depression.

‘Consumed by the irrational fear that my baby would be taken from me, I didn’t tell a soul; not my friends, my husband, the doctor or health visitor, pushing through each day without help. I was still in a 12-step programme but I began to isolate, justifying to myself and those around me that I had a new baby who needed me at all times.

How hormonal changes affected my life

‘I threw myself into motherhood and work, putting everything else before my programme, causing my mental, emotional and physical health to deteriorate further.

RELATED: Living well through your perimenopause and menopause booklet

‘I was still sober but I was stuck in a cycle of anxiety, low mood, fatigue, regular migraines and irritability lasting for the next decade. In 2016, and at 16 years sober, my wonderful grandmother died and within two days of her passing I developed a deafening ringing in my ears.

‘The next few nights I sat up, wide awake in bed, stricken with intense anxiety, unable to close my eyes, concentrating on the noise ringing in my ears.

‘I was 46 years old, and I was terrified. I sank into a depression I’d never experienced before: unable to get out of bed or move my body, I was paralysed by desperate repetitive thoughts. I couldn’t look after my children or communicate with my family.

‘I had isolated myself from my friends, and my family were worried. I began to think everyone would be better off without me. Then something magical happened which I will always be grateful for: a 12-step friend called and offered her help.

‘Again, I followed the suggestion and reconnected with my programme and I began to change. I started to get better. I was functioning again.

The start of my perimenopause

‘I was able to look after my family, help others and be part of the world, but I was still struggling with terrible migraines, tinnitus, fatigue, crippling body aches, irregular heavy periods, acne, itchy skin, sinusitis, skin allergies, digestive problems and most worryingly, the anxiety and repetitive negative thoughts were increasing again.

RELATED: Heavy periods during the perimenopause: what you need to know

‘I was confused because I had worked really hard on my 12-step programme, I couldn’t understand why I felt so unwell.

Listening to me, a friend simply replied: “It’s perimenopause!”

‘No, I thought to myself, menopausal symptoms started in your 50s.

‘I had been totally misinformed. It all started to make sense. That was seven years ago when there wasn’t good information about menopause in the public domain.

‘I unfortunately didn’t find the help I needed at my GP surgery, so I searched out a menopause specialist and was diagnosed with perimenopause and, something I’d never heard of, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) a very severe form of premenstrual syndrome.

RELATED: Premenstrual syndrome and menopause

PMDD diagnosis

‘Everything fell into place. I’d been at the mercy of hormone fluctuations for 40 years creating monthly bodily and mental upheavals – and by adding alcohol into the mix during my younger years, I had created a toxic cocktail.

‘I chose to go on HRT at 48 years old. After some tweaking of the dosages and introducing some lifestyle changes including yoga, exercise, nutrition, therapy and plugging right back into my 12 step programme, my symptoms subsided and are now mostly in remission – those that remain are very mild.

During the 1980s when I’d first been to my GP, I was told my mood swings and headaches were normal and would improve once I had children.

Post-menopause: a more positive future

‘Sadly that wasn’t the case and luckily today there is more accessible information about hormone health out there. I am now 54, post-menopausal and the healthiest I’ve probably ever been. I have the gift of stable hormones, peace of mind and contentment (most of the time!).

‘Most importantly, I had to reconnect with my 12-step programme and seek out the help I needed.

By not asking for help earlier, I created fertile soil for my illness to grow. Thankfully I didn’t pick up a drink. I would never have got well without the people who took the time to support me, therefore I now spend a good deal of time sharing my story with women, particularly those recovering from addiction.

If you are struggling, ask for help. Share your experience. Talk about it. Please don’t suffer in silence.

‘There is help – there is always a solution.’

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