surviving alcoholic liver disease

Gabrielle “Gaby” Campagna joins us on The SHAIR Podcast.  Gaby was an active alcoholic from age 15 to 36. In 2009, at age 36, her liver and kidneys shut down from drinking vodka heavily for over a year and she slipped into a coma. While Gaby was dying in the ICU from Non-viral hepatitis Alcoholic liver disease her family was told she wasn’t expected to make it. However her Higher Power had different plans for her and she survived, it took her over two years to recover her health back.

Unfortunately, she did not seek treatment or get any help. Gaby white knuckled it for over 3 years and smoked pot. When she turned 40 she relapsed for an entire year. On July 23, 2013, at age 41, Gaby entered an outpatient treatment program that is 12 Stepped based at Kaiser Chemical Dependency Recovery Program.  She completed all phases of the program in 16 months. Gaby’s recovery story is full of amazing miracles and her life is beyond good. Life is great!  Join us Now!

Clean Date: July 23, 2013

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Omar:  What initially was preventing you from embracing the idea of recovery when you first got introduced to it?

Gaby: Oh, probably the same thing that many people go through, that I’d be going to meetings every day for the rest of my life and I would just stop drinking alcohol and that’s it. I didn’t understand that there’s a whole world involved, that there’s a method to this. It’s not the black and white that you quit and then you trade that for meetings. I also thought that I was too sick for any program to fix me. It’s probably my ego, but I really thought, “I am so messed up. Who goes through liver failure and then drinks again? Who’s going to fix me? This is crazy. Who does that?” Someone said to me, “An alcoholic.” I’m like, “Oh, yeah. Okay, that’s right. I’m an alcoholic.” Really just thinking that I’m too young, you think you’re too young for this, and that’s just not true at all. There’s people of all ages, and it does work for them.

Omar: Is there anything more you wanted to expand on that spiritual awakening you had when you finally realized that you were powerless over drugs and alcohol but for the first time, developed the hope that you could recover?

Gaby:  Oh, I think waking up out of that coma. Something happened to me when I was under, because I was so close to the end. I can’t really describe it, but I know, because once I got to treatment, I was talking to my counselor about my thought process after I got out of the hospital and how I was starting to take the higher road. I was trying to be more patient with people, more compassionate, less self-involved.

My counselor said to me, “You already had your spiritual awakening when you were in that hospital.” After processing a few things with her, she’s like, “It’s almost like the program was injected into you before you got here, and that’s probably what led you to think that this could actually be a solution for you.” For me, it had to bring me to a coma. I don’t think everybody has to get into a coma to get a spiritual awakening. I think they just need to be open to the possibility that you can heal and you can recover.

Omar: Do you have a favorite book that you would recommend to a newcomer that you read in early recovery?

Gaby: I did read a lot of AA literature, but for people who might not want to get so far into that or if maybe they read a lot of it already, Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, was really good for me because my perfectionist personality, my perfectionism, it served me no purpose in my life. It just gets me into more trouble and to more self-doubt, to being hard on myself. This book, The Gifts of Imperfection, was really helpful because it really helped me start to soften my point of view on myself.

I can tell when I’m starting in a pattern, when I’m in the shower in the morning and I’m washing my hair, and if I feel like I’m scrubbing my scalp too hard, I stop myself. I think, “What am I thinking right now?” and I’m usually planning my day out, and I soften up because I know I’m already being hard on myself, like, “You’re not going to be able to get this done. You’re not going to be able to do this. What happens if you can’t get that done? Oh, God forbid.” Then I start all this crazy negative thought process. That book really did help me a lot.

For me, a lot of it is just I still deal with my perfectionism, but I’m getting better. I’m okay now when everything’s just not perfect, but I’m still trying to do everything right, and I don’t know if I’ll ever completely change that about me. If you’re a person who really is kind of like OCD in certain ways … I’m not making light of OCD. I don’t have it at the extent that I know some people do have. If everything in your house has to have a place and someone moves it out of place and you’re going to let that ruin your day, read this book, because you don’t want to trigger a relapse over somebody moved the candle and leave your house thinking that candle is still not where it’s supposed to be. Now I’m not that bad anymore, but I was at some point, especially in my alcoholism. I was getting really crazy, very sick, sick person.

Omar: Trust me, I’ve been there.

Gaby: Yeah.

Omar: We’ve all been there.

Gaby: Yeah. It was a really good book. Also, Emotional Sobriety, which I think is a little more advanced.  It’s, I think, the second edition for AA, once you get through the big book reading about emotional sobriety. I didn’t realize how emotionally immature I was until I got into this program. I thought, “I’m like a teenage girl living in a woman’s body, and I’m upset all the time.” I’m sure there’s a lot of teenage girls inside of middle-aged men bodies, too. We’re not getting our way. We want to pound our feet. Everything’s a crisis. Emotional Sobriety, that was another good book. I accidentally left it on a plane last year, and I thought, well, somebody who’s going to need this is going to get it.

Omar: That’s a great way to look at that.

Gaby: Yes.

Omar: What is the best suggestion you have ever received?

Gaby: Oh, this one I love, and I got it at treatment, “Stop taking yourself so seriously. Nobody else does. You’re ridiculous, and so is everybody else.” I’m like, oh, my God, that’s so true. I learned basically how to observe myself objectively without judgment.

Omar: I love it.

Gaby: That’s what not taking yourself so seriously means. A good way someone described it to me was like, “If you had a friend complaining about the problems that you’re currently having, how worried would you be for them? Would you really be that concerned for them, or would you think they’re being ridiculous?”

I thought, “Oh, my God, that’s such a perfect way to look at things.  When I’m worried about these problems that are just so not life-threatening problems, nobody’s-going-to-die kind of problems, yeah, stop taking myself so seriously. Life is short. We are all going to die whether we like to believe that or not. I think human beings are in denial about that from day one, like there’s something special and it’s not going to happen to me. The truth is we all will die when it’s our time, but before that happens, let’s just kind of take it easy, stop taking everything so seriously, unless you’re a brain surgeon maybe. There’s no point of beating yourself up when things aren’t going your way.

Omar: If you could give our listeners only one suggestion, what would it be?

Gaby: Oh, my gosh. Listeners who are already in recovery, keep going. It gets better and better and better. As we were discussing earlier, if you are a person who’s still in active addiction, don’t give up on yourself. Give yourself a chance to at least explore the possibility of recovery. A lot of people die from this. If you’re listening to this, you know you have a problem and you’ve broken through some denial, but you’re still drinking, you can do this. This is definitely something that’s achievable.

I mentioned on another podcast I was interviewed on, everything I was trying to achieve with drinking I’ve actually achieved in sobriety, that feeling of happiness and joy and bliss and peace. If you’re drinking, thinking it’s bringing you peace, you know it’s not bringing you peace, but recovery and sobriety, it’ll bring you all the peace that you need. It’s so worth it. Life is very short. We should not be sitting around putting poison in our bodies and thinking that’s fun or the answer to solving our problems.


“ Give yourself a chance to at least explore the possibility of recovery.”

Thanks again for your SHAIR, Gaby!

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Disclaimer – The opinions shared on this show reflect those of the individual speaker and not of any 12 step fellowship as a whole and though we discuss 12 step recovery and the impact it has had in our lives we do not promote or endorse any 12 step anonymous program.