I admit it. I am, and for the last 6 years, have been a heavy straw user. I put it out there for everyone to see early on, you can find my story about why I chose glass straws on our Facebook page and website: “I was just as guilty as everyone else of grossly over-using straws. Every drink at a restaurant comes with a new one. I even had a jar of straws on my kitchen counter that I used to drink my protein shake every morning.”. I was a straw-user, not just a straw user, but a plastic straw-user. What I didn’t put out there was the other part of why having an accessible, reusable option matters to me.
You see, I understand needing a straw. It’s not as noticeable now, but my face was paralyzed for a few months in late 2013 through early 2014. I woke up on Christmas morning of 2013 with Bell’s Palsy. I didn’t have any control over the right side of my face. I had a hard time chewing and swallowing without choking, I had virtually no control over my tongue. My food was pureed for the first 6 or so weeks, I was able to get the baby food consistency goo down without choking. Liquids were trickier, I couldn’t close the right side of my lips on the rim of a cup. Most of what I tried to drink would spill back out onto the dish towel I kept around my neck to catch the drool. Straws worked, I could put the straw on the left side of my mouth and hold the right side closed with my hand and was able to drink that way.
I looked funny and my speech was garbled and difficult to understand. I didn’t often leave the house and when I did I had tears burning my eyes every time I noticed people staring. At that point, I had no idea how well I would eventually recover. All I knew was that I needed to learn to be me again, with or without a smile. I cut my hair off so I was forced to stop hiding my face, and then I started practicing in the mirror. If I couldn’t control my right side I would instead work on having no expression on my left side. I was over the moon when I managed an almost symmetrical yet completely blank stare – you just couldn’t tell from the outside. 😉
It took months; lots of doctors, steroids, acupuncture and countless hours of practicing in the mirror but I slowly gained control back. It’s been 6 years now, and I have close to full control over my face again, but I still – quite often actually – have a difficult time drinking directly from a cup or mug. Without a straw, I will likely spill liquid out of my mouth at some point during the day. While I no longer technically need a straw, I will always feel more comfortable drinking from one, especially in public.
My situation was fortunately temporary, but it opened my eyes to how many people need straws. It’s important to remember as we work towards eliminating single-use plastics to offer eco-friendly options in their place. Like we tell people at shows. – It doesn’t need to be one of our straws, it just needs not to be plastic. Plastic is the problem, not straws.
Ps – Sometimes people mention how much I smile – there’s a simple reason. I smile just because I CAN 🙂