Emma’s story: “I was slightly jaundiced and a liver scan revealed cirrhosis so I was advised to cut down on drinking”

Alcohol was an integral part of Emma’s social life, but she never considered herself an addict. When her anxiety increased during the pandemic she was drinking three bottles of wine a day which led to a breakdown in family relationships and an emergency hospital admission where doctors fought to save her life. Thank you for sharing your story with us, Emma

The liver is one of the most vital organs in the body. It controls so much that you need to live, but people aren’t aware of it and that’s why I’m so passionate about sharing my story with the British Liver Trust.

I’ve always been a very sociable person and my friends and I liked going out for dinner, Sunday lunch or a picnic. Drinking never seemed like a problem because we were all doing it.

As I moved around with my job, I ended up having various social circles and on the days that one circle wasn’t doing anything, I would go out with another. On big nights we would probably get through a bottle-and-a-half of wine each. We’d top up each other’s glasses and no one batted an eyelid. I never thought about what it was doing to my body – if anything, you stood out more by not drinking.

I’d been an anxious person from my late teens and it became more of an issue the older I got. When I was diagnosed with mild depression I became more reliant on that glass of wine in the evening and when my mental health took a bit of a blow due to relationships breaking down, I would comfort myself with a bottle. My GP just gave me a pill because the waiting list for any other service was six months.

The drinking ramped up in 2020 due to Covid and I’ve heard so many people say the same. I was living in London on my own, locked in and with my anxiety going through the roof. I was drinking three bottles a day, but never felt like an addict and no one could judge me because no one knew.

I knew I needed to cut down on drinking, but didn't necessarily want to

The world opening back up again made me anxious, as did being in large crowds and the fear of having a panic attack, so I didn’t want to go out without having a drink first. After lockdown I needed one or two glasses of wine before friends came round so I would be more relaxed. I knew I needed to cut down but didn’t necessarily want to – I was almost fooling myself into thinking it’s just the world we’re currently living in and I’ll do it when I’m ready.

After lockdown ended my friends noticed I was always cancelling plans and they thought my personality was changing. I began associating with new people, but not necessarily the right people. I’m friendly to everybody but didn’t always assess others’ intentions’ and was being used for my kindness.

Six months before my diagnosis everything went from bad to dire. I’d had bruising for around two years – I’d wake up and there would be a bruise on my arm or leg, but I’m quite a clumsy person so I thought that was just me. My skin now became really bad too and in June/July 2022 I started experiencing severe nosebleeds – there was one episode when the blood was absolutely pouring out of me and I had to go to A&E.

Blood tests showed my platelets were shockingly low – I had about four transfusions and was in hospital for about two weeks. I was slightly jaundiced and a liver scan revealed cirrhosis so I was advised to cut down on drinking, given the number for Alcohol Services and told to try AA. This was a reality check – I’m not a stupid person, but when a professional tells you it hits differently.

It wasn’t easy, but I did cut down quite a bit – I’d have a glass with dinner but not every night. But the damage had been done. I found the AA meetings interesting, but nothing triggered me into stopping drinking. I realise now that I hadn’t hit rock bottom, so it was hard to start picking myself up.

When I started losing weight without trying I thought that was fantastic – until it wasn’t. My family said I should stop drinking completely – they could see my health was deteriorating. I was scared but didn’t want to admit it so I started drinking in secret – it drowned out the fact that I had a problem.

Our relationship was breaking down and one day I packed up my suitcase, took my passport and left. My parents thought I would be in a coffin the next time they saw me. I went to stay with a friend who hadn’t seen me for a year and she was shocked when she saw me. Within a couple of days she confronted me and I broke down and admitted everything. She then took me to hospital and I was admitted.

My anxiety, panic and the withdrawal of alcohol was just horrific.

I screamed at a doctor to put me to sleep. He said he was only willing to spend NHS money on trying to save me – and there was a high chance that he wouldn’t be able to – if I promised I would never drink again. That scared me beyond belief, so I promised him, shook his hand and he started me on medical detox. That was November 3rd 2022 and I’ve got it tattooed on me. I wouldn’t have lived more than 36 hours if hadn’t been admitted and haven’t had a drink since.

The detox took two weeks, but I don’t remember it at all. They keep you sedated while your body withdraws from alcohol – it has to be done under medical supervision in case you have seizures. My body was shutting down and I had lots of infections – if things had worsened I would have been sent to intensive care in minutes. Then it was about stabilising me and I was given lots of fluids, platelet transfusions and a course of steroids. I was discharged after five weeks, but went back a week later for another week because my bloods were doing some funny things. I was finally discharged on December 21st and my parents took me back to Wales for Christmas, but then two days before New Year’s Eve I was admitted into the local hospital with a chest infection. I stayed there for a further six weeks. I had fluid build-up but they couldn’t drain me because of the infection so I had rounds of bloods, platelets and antibiotics to help me survive.

There were about seven or eight stays in hospital in six months to help keep me alive. Having your life dangling in front of you and surrendering everything to medical professionals is very traumatic, but I could now process things in a logical way without the influence of alcohol. My mental health was improving the whole time and had never been stronger.

If you are addicted, I don’t think you really hear the advice until you want to hear it. It’s not always easy to find, but there is genuine help out there. I did some online counselling, joined various support groups, went to AA, found myself a key worker, started reading self-help books and sought out private therapy, so I really went hell for leather on all the support I could get. The information on the British Liver Trust’s website was very useful too. I started going back to church and found great comfort in that, rebuilding broken relationships with family, getting rid of negativity in my life and not allowing anyone into my inner circle who wouldn’t benefit me.

Some friends fell by the wayside. Maybe me facing up to my problems made them realise they didn’t want to face their own. Others didn’t like the new, sober version of me or didn’t want a friend who was critically ill, so decided to leave. It’s painful and upsetting when someone withdraws support when you really need it, but in the long term it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

I was admitted to the liver transplant centre after I had been sober for six months

I was referred to the transplant centre in Birmingham in May 2023 after I had been sober for six months and admitted there for two weeks in June as an emergency because my sodium levels were so low. The day after I was discharged I got a call to say I’d been added to the transplant list, then eight days later I got the call to say there was a liver for me.

I was in intensive care for a week after the transplant and then moved down to the post-surgical liver ward where I stayed for five days. My body did start rejecting the liver, so I was put on a big dose of steroids to counteract that. The first few weeks post surgery was understandably uncomfortable and sometimes painful, but nothing compared to the pain of the previous months of hospital stays. At least with this pain, there was an end goal in sight.

I don’t take anything for granted now and feel pure gratitude to the donor and their family, the loving support of my family and friends and the people who stuck around and showed how much I meant to them. I’ve got to pat myself on the back too – I decided to make the change and found the information and research that I needed to guide my way through this.

Luckily I’m not shy about sharing my story, but imagine other people would be very affected by the shame that society puts on addiction so wouldn’t want to talk about it or do anything about it. People don’t understand addiction, they think it’s your choice and not an actual disease, that you’re unworthy and don’t respect yourself. They don’t realise that once you get to a point where it is a problem then you’re already too far.

No one should judge anyone until they’ve walked in their shoes. People suffer from addictions for various reasons, whether it’s trauma from childhood, the passing of a loved one, the losing of a job, the breakdown of a marriage… They should be grateful they don’t understand it because it means they haven’t been through it.

I am now six weeks post-surgery and feel like I used to 10 years ago. I can now do things that have been absent in my life for the past 10 months such as family days out, eating in restaurants, walking, sleeping and most importantly, being able to plan things in the future knowing I will be physically and mentally well to enjoy these things.

I have been discharged from some support services as a huge success story but continue my private therapy and self-help activities which have been vital in unravelling all that has happened to me in such a short space of time. Knowledge is power in my opinion.




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