MILWAUKEE — Lauren Nelson is the Tenant Experience Coordinator at Schlitz Park and the founder of Roar Philanthropy, a passion project that helps non-profits raise money.
She's also a recovering alcoholic. And her sobriety — challenged by the race of being a busy young professional — is literally a matter of life and death.
"The results came back that if I wanted to live beyond the age of 35 without dialysis or just be alive at all, I needed to completely cut alcohol out of my system, because it was causing my kidney to decrease in function," said Nelson.
That's kidney, singular. Lauren has just one, after doctors removed the other when she had kidney cancer as a child.
Many people often focus on the liver when it comes to their drinking. But alcohol abuse can also impact the kidneys and their ability to filter blood.
"We weren't given like a user's manual on how to be a childhood cancer survivor as an adult in college," said Nelson. "My parents you know, did remind me, often, you only have one kidney, you shouldn't be drinking."
But, rebellious young Lauren, as she said, didn't listen.
"One of the nights that I don't remember, I was assaulted," she said. "And, so, after that I used alcohol to cope with that trauma. I actually flunked out of college twice because of alcohol."
She did eventually get her bachelor's in Journalism, Advertising and Mass Media Studies from UW-Milwaukee. But she struggled with alcohol after moving to Milwaukee as well, a city, in a state, where's it's hard not to run into booze all of the time.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, compared to Americans, on average, people in Wisconsin drink more every month, binge drink more every month, and perceive binge drinking as less of a problem.
"You asked me, you know, how long have you been sober? Well, I had a drink on Monday. So it's a journey. Being sober is not a linear path," said Nelson.
But that journey led her to her passion.
"After a suicidal episode, I realized that i wanted to do more with my life. So I created this organization, and I help nonprofits here in Milwaukee grow their fund-raising strategy and reach new donors," said Nelson.
She also has a message for others who are considering sobriety: "Lean on those around you. You're not alone. Be patient and loving with yourself. Like I said, whether you want to be sober for years to come or you just want to do it for Dry January, give it a try and see what your life looks like."
You can find out more about Nelson's philanthropy, and her life journey as a cancer and sexual assault survivor, at Roar Philanthropy MKE.