I Drank the Way I Ate

The moderator of an online support group I participate in, posted this article. I thought it was very interesting, and worth keeping for later reference.

This article is of particular interest as it addresses the occurrence of trading one addition for another. This is a good HEADS UP! to make you aware that this can sometimes happen after WLS if you are not vigilant about your emotional, mental, and spiritual aftercare.
We must do the head work and heart work to be successful!

'I Drank the Way I Ate'
By Jane SpencerJuly 18, 2006

For much of her life, Patty Worrells was wracked by uncontrollable food cravings. She binged on half-gallon tubs of cookies 'n cream ice cream at 3 a.m. She devoured eight cinnamon rolls at breakfast. Often, she ate in secret. By the time she was in her mid-40s, her weight had soared to 265 pounds on her 5-foot, 4-inch frame, and she was struggling with type II diabetes and arthritis.

Then, four years ago, Ms. Worrells joined the rush of Americans signing up for gastric-bypass surgery and had her stomach reduced to a tiny pouch. She dropped 134 pounds in a year. For the first time in decades, she could fit comfortably in a restaurant booth and board an airplane without glares from other passengers.Ms. Worrells was elated -- until a new craving took over.

Never a heavy drinker before surgery, she found herself going out for drinks more often with friends. Eighteen months after her surgery, she was downing 15 to 20 shots of tequila almost every night. She often woke up in the morning with bruises and scratches from drunken falls she couldn't remember.

Patty Worrells lost 134 pounds after undergoing weight-loss surgery but gained a new addiction: alcoholism.

"I drank the way I ate," Ms. Worrells says. "There was no such thing as enough." Before her surgery, alcohol never gave Ms. Worrells much of a buzz. But food was a reliable source of solace.

Growing up in Akron, Ohio, a blue-collar rubber-manufacturing town, Ms. Worrells was always a little on the heavy side. (She remembers wincing when her dad, a truck driver, introduced her to friends by saying, "That's my daughter Patty -- she likes her supper.")

When she reached her early 20s, her weight began to spiral out of control. Her high-school boyfriend, recently returned from military service overseas, was intent on marrying her, but she had fallen in love with her best friend, a woman she went to high school with. In the end, she ditched both.

Ms. Worrells sank into a deep depression. "I decided I'd be alone forever," she says. "Food became my comfort."

Feeling isolated and untethered, she joined a conservative church. For more than a decade, she threw herself into church activities, leading bible studies and joining the chorus.But the loneliness endured. At night, she consoled herself with heaping portions of pasta casseroles, French bread smothered in peanut butter, and pineapple cream pie. The cravings were intense. She gained 130 pounds, doubling her body weight."I had this emptiness inside of me that needed filling," she says.

That began to change in her mid-30s, when she went back to school, eventually earning an undergraduate degree in psychology, which she followed up with a master's degree in clinical counseling. But her weight was taking a toll on her health.

She made a snap decision to get gastric-bypass surgery. As her body weight melted away, her diabetes and arthritis all but vanished. The day her weight dropped below 200 pounds, she cried and took a photograph of the scale.Like many bariatric patients who have long been isolated by their weight, she became more social, joining a support group for bariatric patients and developing a clique of close friends. Most members of the group were in their 30s and 40s, but they began partying like wild teenagers, hosting karaoke parties, going camping, and getting into romantic entanglements."We felt like we had a lot of fun to make up for," says Mary-Jo Banish, a member of Ms. Worrells's circle. " When we were huge, we were never the life of the party."

Ms. Worrells still remembers the massive rush she got from her first sip of liquor after her surgery. "It was like putting alcohol directly into a vein," she says. "Boom!" Her reaction isn't uncommon, as bypass surgery enables food and drink, including alcohol, to pass more rapidly into the patient's system.

Ms. Worrells, who is gentle and soft spoken when sober, developed a reputation as an out-of-control partier with a taste for tequila. At parties, she often crashed into furniture and got into screaming matches with her partner for the past six years, Debbie Anello. Friend Ginny Altomari recalls hosting a Halloween party where she unsuccessfully tried to put an inebriated Ms. Worrells to bed.

Ms. Worrells wasn't the only member of the group drinking too much. At a recent meeting of her bariatric-patient support group at a Denny's restaurant in Parma, Ohio, several other women in the group recounted their own stories. "My children were devastated," recalled Jeannine Narowitz, a mother of seven who had bariatric surgery in 2003 and began drinking heavily the following year.

Once, she woke up with a black eye from a drunken fall she couldn't remember. She finally forced herself to quit after she discovered that her 15-year-old son had poured all of her liquor out and refilled the bottles with water.Ms. Worrells had plenty of experience with addiction long before her own problem started. Her father was an alcoholic who died at age 54. Her younger sister Peggy also struggled with serious addiction problems for her entire life.

Ms. Worrells struggled desperately to hide her alcohol problem from her family, and avoid disappointing her mother and sister. She never drank at family gatherings, and avoided phone calls when she was drunk.

She worked as clinical director of a substance-abuse clinic, and sometimes led group-therapy sessions for drug addicts. She says she never drank at work, but began quietly leaving the clinic at lunch to buy tequila, just to make sure she would have it when she got home at night. She frequented five different liquor stores in the area so the clerks wouldn't realize how often she was buying it.

Within eight months of her first drink after surgery, her food cravings had vanished. But she was drinking every night at home until she passed out. She stopped taking calls from her mother and sister in the evenings so she could focus on drinking, lining up shots on the stove and downing 15 to 20 shots in the course of the evening."The progression was unstoppable," says Ms. Worrells."I've never seen a person change so fast," recalls Ms. Anello, who often drank with her in the evenings and was developing her own issues with alcohol. "She became a monster."

It was a single phone call to her mother that got Ms. Worrells to seek help. One evening while Ms. Worrells was cursing and shouting in the midst of a drunken rage, Ms. Anello picked up the phone in desperation and dialed Ms. Worrells's mother. "Listen to your daughter," she said, and held up the receiver.

Ms. Worrells instantly froze -- mortified that her mother had heard her cursing. Even at age 50, she couldn't bear to let her mother down. The next day, 10 months after her drinking began, Ms. Worrells went to her first 12-step-program meeting.

Three weeks later Ms. Worrells got an evening call from her mother. Her sister Peggy had died of what was later determined to be an overdose of Xanax. Ms. Worrells remembers feeling grateful that she was sober that night, as she drove to her mother's house to take care of her.

Recovery didn't come easy. For the first eight months, she relapsed regularly, going three or four days without drinking before succumbing again. She finally had her last drink after becoming frightened by an episode when she drove drunk -- something she had vowed she would never do.

Ms. Worrells still sometimes feels the same gnawing emptiness that drove her to overeat, and later to drink. Instead of drinking in the evenings, she and Ms. Anello visit the great blue herons that nest in Cuyahoga Valley near their home, or visit a wildlife preserve.

She still attends four 12-step-program meetings a week, but she says she has no regrets about the surgery: "I'd do it again in a heartbeat."


  1. My aunt, who had WLS about 4 years ago, went through a stage of heavy drinking post-op too. Thankfully she was able to stop drinking on her own once she realized the direction that she was headed in. I've read that Carnie Wilson has had a similar issue with alcohol post-op.


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