A Life Dedicated to Promoting Second Chances

Beth Lehman, ALF Advocacy Ambassador, passionate volunteer and Event Chair of Liver Life Walk, Atlanta is shedding light on the challenges of living with alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD). Beth said, “I’m here to air my dirty laundry, so you don’t have to!” Growing up, Beth never drank alcohol. It wasn’t until she graduated college and started her career as a successful business consultant that she began drinking socially with colleagues when traveling. Beth said, “After work, we would go to happy hour to unwind, grab a drink and a bite to eat. I spent the majority of my time in San Francisco, CA, so on the weekends, I would also visit Napa and explore the wineries for fun. I learned so much about wine while I was there, and I fell in love with it. My social “happy hour” quickly transformed into a glass of wine each night with dinner and from there, it only got worse.”

There are over 100 types of liver disease. Alcohol associated liver disease is one of them.

After a brief, yet successful career, Beth retired at age 36, just two weeks before marrying her husband, Tony. On the outside, Beth lived the picture-perfect life of a southern belle – Tony was a successful attorney, Beth volunteered on several local boards and the couple’s social calendar was always full. However, on the inside, Beth’s life was falling apart as she found herself unknowingly overtaken by alcohol use disorder (AUD), a medical condition now recognized as a brain disorder, characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences. AUD may be caused by one or more factors including genetics, the age in which you began consuming alcohol and the frequency and volume of alcohol consumed. Beth said, “In 2016, a CT scan revealed the beginning stages of liver cirrhosis and my doctor told me then that if I didn’t stop drinking, I’d be in trouble. You would think this would have scared some sense into me, but it didn’t. My AUD helped me brush the diagnosis aside and continue down my cataclysmic path – ‘I don’t have a problem’, but I did.”

29.5 million Americans ages 12 and up have been diagnosed with AUD in the last year.[1]

Beth continued to spiral out of control and soon, everyone started noticing. Beth said, “Some community members and friends turned their backs on me and labeled me ‘a drunk’. My husband became more distant each day and I could sense his resentment; our sacred partnership, trust and intimacy traded in for my unwavering love for wine.” Beth’s trail of destruction took a turn for the worse on January 30, 2020, after she collapsed at a gathering she and Tony were hosting. She didn’t know it at the time, but Beth was officially in liver failure and would soon face the grim reality of her situation. Beth said, “I was so sick – I couldn’t keep anything in my stomach. Wine was the last to go, but on March 11, 2020 – just six weeks after collapsing, I had my last drink.”

Despite Beth’s newfound commitment to put in the work and change her life, it was too late – her only hope for survival was a liver transplant. Over the next several months, Beth faced several roadblocks and her status on the liver transplant waitlist was moved to inactive numerous times due to complications of ALD. She had varices that were banded and ascites, which caused an umbilical hernia. Additionally, doctors found liver cancer during Beth’s transplant evaluation which doctors hoped to quickly contain with aggressive radiation treatments every four weeks as opposed to the typical eight weeks. Beth recalled, “The treatments made me so sick and weak that one night, the force of throwing up caused my tailbone to shatter and become intertwined with my sciatic nerve causing yet another delay in transplant.” At her lowest, Beth weighed 82lbs and as her health continued to decline and complications continued to derail her transplant, her hopes of receiving a second chance at life were quickly escaping her. Beth said, “The intense feelings of shame, guilt and regret were all bubbling to the surface. How could I have done this to myself, my husband, family and friends?”

Nine out of ten people who drink excessively are not alcohol dependent.[2]

On April 18, 2021, 13 months after that sobering evening, Beth planned her own funeral. She said, “I had lost all hope, and I knew I was running out of time. My parents were in town visiting and I thought, ‘everyone is here, why not?’ Looking back on it, you could say it was morbid, but I didn’t want to burden my family with any more than I already had. Ironically, two hours after my parents left that day, the hospital called – they had a liver for me! I thought to myself, what a whirlwind of emotions – just two hours ago I was planning my own funeral and now, I’m celebrating my second chance at life!”

2020-2021 data revealed nearly 500 Americans died from excessive alcohol use daily – a 29% increase over 2016-2017. [3]

Unfortunately, Beth’s story is all too common. Often, intense feelings of guilt and shame cause patients with AUD and/or ALD to hide rather than seek help due to fear of rejection and judgement from family, friends and colleagues. Beth said, “My recovery has not been easy, and I lost a lot due to my relationship with alcohol, but I’ve done a lot of therapy work and recently, I celebrated my fourth year sober, and will celebrate my third liver-versary this April 19th.” Beth is now a passionate motivational speaker who shares her story to raise awareness and educate people about AUD and ALD. She is also dedicated to breaking down the barriers ALD patients face when in need of a liver transplant. Beth said, “I’ve spoken to so many people and once I tell them my story, they will immediately tell me about someone they know who also struggles with, or passed away from, complications of AUD. Cases of ALD have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so chances are, people just aren’t talking about it because of the age-old stigma.”

No matter which pathway brought you to liver disease, ALF is one supportive community.

Beth continued, “We are all on the same path, whether you are here because of ALD or not. We all have (or had) liver disease and we’re all here for help, support and guidance.” ALF offers education, resources and support services for those struggling with AUD and ALD, including, Life with Alcohol-Associated Liver Disease - an ALF Facebook Support Group and three new online support groups, Sharing the Journey, an ALF Support Network for Caregivers, Sharing the Journey, an ALF Support Network for Patients and Sharing the Journey, an ALF Support Network for Transplant Recipients. These new online support networks are all moderated by a licensed clinical social worker and meet monthly to help meet the unique needs of liver disease patients and caregivers, and to serve as a safe place for them to share their experiences.

In addition to Donate Life Month, April is also Alcohol Awareness Month. Thank you, Beth, for dedicating your life to honoring the gift of life through organ donation and for your courage to share your story and change the face of liver disease one speech at a time. To learn more, visit liverfoundation.org.

[1],3 Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) (nih.gov)

[2] 9 out of 10 Excessive Drinkers Are Not Alcohol Dependent | Infographics | Online Media | Alcohol | CDC


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