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Justine Fedak orders her water straight up, with new realization of what it means to say ‘no thanks’

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Updated: September 23, 2012 6:15AM

I have to admit I never really thought about my drinking until recently. I’ve always enjoyed a great glass of red wine with dinner, Champagne on the weekend or a nice whiskey on ice. More often accepting the offer of a nice cold drink than not, whether at social events or at home, I never had reason to consider what it meant to refuse one.

I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting Multiple Sclerosis in 2001 and began suffering severe mobility issues, heat sensitivity, general fatigue and other unpleasant but expected symptoms. I refused all medication and remained determined to fight the fight through other means. I had my daughter, Alessandra, in 2004 and focused on living a healthy lifestyle, battling through the disease rather successfully, and getting my mobility back to my baseline. I focused on managing my fitness level and living a very full life.

Despite my doctor’s repeated attempts over the last decade to encourage me to add the drug Rebif to my healthy and positive course of managing MS, I kept refusing. Finally, this past June, I agreed to her recommendation, and I started injecting myself three times a week. Also on my doctor’s advice, I also stopped drinking alcohol completely.

I admit that at first I really missed my red wine. I admit that I loved indulging in the simple pleasure of unwinding at the end of the day with a great full-bodied friend. But the greater shock of not drinking was the reaction that I experienced joining the totally sober population.

I had imagined that adjusting to injecting myself three times a week with a needle would be tough enough, given I couldn’t even watch someone give me a needle or draw blood. But, I found out that saying no to drinking, and the adult peer pressure I had never recognized existed, was actually going to be the real challenge.

I’m out a lot for dinner, at events and at gatherings across the city. People kindly offer you a cocktail, wine and beer. You politely decline and then the dialogue begins. “Are you sure you don’t want anything? Maybe just half a glass? It’s a really special vintage? A little won’t hurt you will it? Can you really not drink at all?” And the uncomfortable silence when everyone else is enjoying a drink and you are sipping your sparkling water with lime.

I reflected on times when I had been part of the drinking crowd and never stopped to think about the repercussions of saying no. I thought about times when I had heard people disclose rather immediately that they were addicts or recovering alcoholics and how I had wondered why they felt they needed to share. Now I know. You have to — or people continue to ask you to have a drink.

I think I have a greater appreciation for respecting people’s privacy when they say “no thank you” to an alcoholic beverage. I think I have told more people I have MS in the last eight weeks of self-imposed sobriety then the past 10 years, simply to make them stop asking me if I want a drink.

I’m not an alcoholic. I do have MS and I am sober, by choice. And I now realize how important it is we respect someone’s decision to refuse a drink — whether they are the designated driver, an addict, on medication or choose not to drink for religious reasons or just because. Let’s make a pact we don’t need the reason why.



Justine Fedak donated her fee for writing this column to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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