Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

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by Annie Dixon |

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It’s just about two more weeks until Easter. I am, of course, looking forward to the annual celebration of the greatest miracle of all time. But due to the sorry state of my spiritual development, I’m also counting down the days until we return to our vices.

Long before I became aware of Dry January as a cure for the overindulgence of the winter holidays, I was trained in seasonal abstinence in anticipation of the spring holy day. Lent is a period of six weeks leading up to Easter, in which the Christian faithful are instructed to be more charitable toward others and less self-indulgent. In other words, it’s a crash course, an annual reset, in behaving the way we always should.

This exercise manifests most publicly in the concept of giving up something for Lent. And due to the primal nature of humanity, it is generally applied to food and drink. As children, we were encouraged to sacrifice candy and sodas; as grown-ups, we tend to restrict our consumption of meat and alcohol.

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Famine or feast

The Catholic Church requires all adults between the ages of 18 and 59 to abstain from meat on Fridays during this period. I was raised in Maryland, within an easy drive of the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The coastlines and the legacy as a Catholic colony resulted in grocers and restaurants catering to this demographic with crabs by the bushel and plentiful fresh seafood buffets.

Here in the Protestant hinterlands of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I count on the Friday night fish fry hosted by the Knights of Columbus at the parish hall for food and fellowship. Raised in Northern Ireland, my husband actually favors this fish and chips approach to what others may consider a weekly hardship. But the truth is, as year-round pescatarians, we secretly enjoy the abundance of seafood this time of year, whether in the north or south, fresh or fried.

Dinner without drinks

Alcohol is a different matter. We like our wine with dinner and our Champagne with celebrations. I can enjoy a beer with a sandwich, and Guinness is a blood type in my husband’s native land, where most men end most evenings with a wee whiskey. And then, suddenly, it all stops for six weeks.

This is indeed a sacrifice and a test of will. There is no reasonable substitute. We aren’t secretly savoring a plethora of herbal teas and flavored seltzers. This feels like the period following my husband’s hospitalization for atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome, or aHUS, when we experienced an extended period of personal prohibition.

Obviously, there is no alcohol in the critical care ward. Our three-week stint there was followed by many months of abstinence at home, for both patient and caregiver. He was on a variety of medications and would fall asleep at any hour, even happy ones. I had to be sober during the day and a light sleeper at night in order to manage medications and be ready to drive to the emergency room at any hour. During this period, we had no time or interest in anything that didn’t contribute directly to survival.

From saving to savoring

As his strength slowly began to return and some of the prescriptions were scaled back, we began to believe that his life had been saved. Then we began to wonder if our former lifestyle could again be savored.

At the end of a particularly good bloodwork report, the team of doctors invited questions. Hubby asked, “Am I well enough to celebrate with a wee drink?” Noting that complete abstinence would be “cruel and unusual punishment” for an Irishman, the hematologist gave the OK for beer and wine, while the nephrologist cautioned against whiskey. Forever.

Two out of three is not bad for permissible vices for a rare disease patient. And six weeks out of 52 is a tolerable test of our ability to control our affinity for those two.

Of course, the main point of the Lenten exercise is to help us experience a time of spiritual reflection and discipline. But there are beneficial side effects, including our renewed gratitude for the return of some of the simple joys of our pre-diagnosis life. And savoring the anticipation of mimosas at Easter brunch in just two weeks.

Note: aHUS News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of aHUS News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to aHUS.


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