World Menopause Day is October 18, a date dedicated to raising awareness about women’s bodies and the changes we experience. This month, we’re also celebrating Sober October — during a terrifying pandemic lurking everywhere. Hug yourself right now. You’re a superhero just for weathering the year 2020. Many of us are teeter-tottering towards the edge. Thankfully, we can help each other by sharing our difficulties, including menopause while in recovery.
When periods go rogue, it’s challenging. This year, it’s yet another “Are you kidding me?” And don’t even get me started on the 35 states in our nation charging women sales tax on feminine hygiene products. Thankfully, there is always something positive to focus on.
Pantone® just announced their new color, Period red. It’s part of their Seen+Heard campaign to tear down the stigma surrounding menstruation. Regardless of gender and generation, let’s smash the taboo on this topic. Women menstruate for an average of 2,535 days in a lifetime. That’s a total of 7 years. And when our periods stop, we need to adjust. As women in recovery, it’s one more emotional hurdle. Here are candid, sober women sharing experiences, strength, and hope as they enter the menopause years.
Sober Women Get Honest About Menopause Symptoms
Sasha*, 49, was born in Central America and raised in the U.S. She’s a successful Broadway and film actress, singer, and dancer. Sasha’s cycle was always punctual, but five years ago, while still having regular periods, Sasha says that “my body was weirding out.” As someone who had several relapses, Sasha’s physical challenges and mood swings weren’t new. “I was off drugs, but waking up in a cold sweat. I didn’t know what was wrong. It felt like when I was kicking heroin.” During a Broadway show, Sasha described “burning up” onstage. “Luckily, I was playing a disturbed street person, so I thought, hey, even if I’m shaking, they won’t know I’m out of character!”
“I was off drugs, but waking up in a cold sweat. I didn’t know what was wrong.”
Comedian Amy Dresner, 50, co-host of the podcast Rehab Confidential and the author of My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean, experienced something intense when she began entering perimenopause. Her bestseller chronicles a life of debauchery and severe mental illness. “I was shooting so much crystal meth, it gave me epilepsy.” Now, after 25 years of relapsing several times, Amy tells me she has seven and a half years sober.
“I had no idea what to expect with perimenopause. Let me tell you, it’s intense. Gnarly, man.” She described “super sweaty nights, crying jags,” and flying into rages. “It’s hard to know what’s isolation, loneliness, estrogen, or mental illness.” Amy also has borderline personality disorder (BPD).
“I had no idea what to expect with perimenopause. Let me tell you, it’s intense. It’s hard to know what’s isolation, loneliness, estrogen, or mental illness.”
Melody Lea Lamb, 61, is a prolific painter and gifted illustrator of children’s books, and sober for 35 years. “At 50,” she said, “it was way more than just mood swings. It was a hundred hot flashes a day.” She described Massachusetts winters, “In 10-degree weather, I’d go outside to gather wood wearing a T-shirt.” Summers were hot and sticky, “with hot flashes on top of that.” Night sweats were “so gross,” she said. “I’d wake up drenched on soggy sheets.” As for the mood swings, “I refused to let hormones dictate my days. I had two kids to parent.”
Melody describes visiting her dad and his second wife: “They stayed drunk from morning until night. Their home was always dark and smoky and sad. I swore I’d never be like that.” But in her 20s, Melody said, “Peter and I were drinking buddies before we got married. We were buzzed all the time. When I faced what I’d become, I got help.” In her first six months of sobriety, Melody decided she could have one glass with Peter. “I drank three bottles of wine in two hours. I’m grateful for that slip now because I know there’s no gray area for me, no matter what my moods are. It’s black and white. I can’t drink, smoke pot, or take any mood changers.”
“I couldn’t tell the difference between a bad period or a hangover. They’re essentially the same — depression, headache, sick to my stomach, and bone-tired.”
Mickey Revenaugh, 62, a writer and education technology expert, was 45 when she missed two periods in a row. “I was panicked. I thought I was pregnant. Even though I was happily married, I never wanted children.” She was on the pill for years, so her periods were regular and short. “My major problem was I’d forget to take the pills. A smart person would’ve gone to a doctor, but I just wanted to be sneaky and hide.” She purchased an over-the-counter menopause test and described a rush of relief when it was “just that.” Mickey isn’t one who wallows. “I power through by working.” Three-plus decades ago, in her drinking days, Mickey said, “I couldn’t tell the difference between a bad period or a hangover. They’re essentially the same — depression, headache, sick to my stomach, and bone-tired.”
Healing From Menopause and Seeking Medication Options
There’s no one size fits all for sober women going through menopause and considering their medication and healing options. Mickey loves work. Melody paints glorious woodland animals and runs with her dogs. I stay afloat playing with my puppy, Zooming with friends, family, and taking antidepressants prescribed by a psychiatrist who “gets” me.
I stay afloat playing with my puppy, Zooming with friends, family, and taking antidepressants prescribed by a psychiatrist who “gets” me.
“In Puerto Rico, I was shooting a film,” says Sasha. “The big moment I’d worked so hard for! Hair and makeup, perfect. I was ready — lights, camera, action! The worst time to get a hot flash. Through the whole scene I was dying for a towel. It felt like I was burning up with fever. But, damn, I couldn’t think about that. I had to stay in character.” The experience was so unnerving, Sasha went to a doctor.
“She told me it was perimenopause and recommended hormone replacement therapy [HRT]. I’d heard they cause cancer. She explained strides in medicine. I tried but it made things worse. I got full of ’tude, like guys with ’roid rage.”
Sasha says, “I just had to deal. I’d go to bed with a towel often waking in the night thinking, ‘I need a costume change.’ Then I’d realize I wasn’t backstage. I did what I had to — got out of bed and grabbed a dry t-shirt.”
“I just had to deal. I’d go to bed with a towel often waking in the night thinking, ‘I need a costume change.’ Then I’d realize I wasn’t backstage. I did what I had to — got out of bed and grabbed a dry t-shirt.”
Amy talked about life in the spotlight. “My book finished with a happy ending and me three years sober. My whole life imploded after that. Everyone thinks if you’re published, it’s golden. My boyfriend left me, I had a breakdown, lost too much weight, and started smoking again.” Then her mom was diagnosed with dementia and her dad with cancer. “I’d spent 25 years doing drugs and going into mental institutions,” Amy said. “I was 50 and didn’t know how to do anything but hit a vein. I had a junkie’s skill set but suddenly had to take care of my parents.”
Amy’s doctor prescribed HRT. “That helped a lot,” she says. “I’ve been on antidepressants since my 20s.” She describes feeling like she has PMS all the time, but doctors were cautious about raising her doses. “Since I have epilepsy, too many meds can lower my seizure threshold.” Determined to work through her problems, Amy entered relationship counseling, and found help in exercise, and Transcendental Meditation.
“I tell myself that perimenopause isn’t going to last forever, neither will menopause.” Amy says, “I’m working on my temper. It helped when I learned about borderline personality and emotional lability.”
“What’s an emotional labia?” I ask.
She burst out laughing. “L-A-B-I-L-I-T-Y” she said. “Emotional lability — that right there is a two-dollar word. I can be fine, then suddenly, triggered and I’m yelling at somebody. But, yeah, it does sound like labia. And, knowing me, I bet my labia is emotional.”
These sober women shared about night sweats, mood changes, stress, and anxiety. It’s also common to experience vaginal dryness, painful sex, weight gain, headaches, or brain fog. As the outside world is spinning in chaos, and your insides are acting up too, Menopause Day is a great reminder that we can do hard things, just as we did when we got sober. We are stronger together. Stay well and take care.
*Writer’s note: Sasha is a pseudonym to protect her privacy.