Four years ago when I was diagnosed with depression and then bipolar disorder, the clouds parted and my life finally made sense. I did a timeline of my life with my therapist and bingo, there it was — my alcoholism, depression and mania had been singing in perfect harmony as I plowed through the chaos that I had called my life.
The amazing thing is how far back we were able to trace the illnesses. I started swimming competitively when I was 7. I swam hard and fast. I liked the way it made me feel. My coach and parents and teammates cheered me on. Swimming made me feel part of something — and I finally fit in with the other kids. At 14-years-old, I had had enough of swimming back and forth, staring at a black line on the bottom of the pool. I slid into a teenage wasteland and the endorphins stopped working.
I quit swimming and started smoking pot and drinking — my new drugs of choice. My depression got worse and my alcoholism blossomed. I was a blackout drinker from my first drink. At 20 years old, I knew I had a drinking problem. But drugs, nah, I didn’t have a drug problem. So for nearly 10 years I didn’t swallow a drop of alcohol. I took drugs instead, pretty much everyday and often morning, noon and night.
I figured I had licked my alcohol problem, never realizing that I had simply switched my self-medicating drug of choice from alcohol to drugs. During that decade, I married, moved across the country, and divorced. My drug supply dried up and I slipped into a mild depression. Alcohol was much more accessible — and legal — so I hit the bottle. I did not have to work on building my tolerance. I picked up right where I left off — a bottle or two of chardonnay a night, often every night. I was still an endurance drinker. It was like throwing Miracle Grow on my depression.
My 30s were hell. I remarried, had a baby, and went back to work after a 6-week maternity leave. There were some really good times, but by the time my daughter started school I was a mess. Drinking every night and hating myself and my life. I was, well, a bitch. I was sarcastic, passive-aggressive, filled with self-loathing and pity. My marriage ended, and I slid into a major depression.
Then I quit drinking.
The first seven years of my sobriety I kept all the plates in the air doing the single, working mom thing, going to meetings and volunteering to help other alcoholics. Then my parents died, a relationship ended, and my dog died. I started sinking. I went to more meetings. I worked with more alcoholics. I regressed and went back to my first drug of choice: endorphins. I worked out like a crazy woman, hoping the endorphins would give me some relief. I started therapy but I kept sinking.
Finally, in April 2006, I slid into the deepest depression I had ever known. I had not let up on my meetings or volunteer work. I had a regular exercise regime, took vitamins, and ate well. Still, depression consumed me. I succumbed, took off my cape, and agreed to take medications.
Then I did the timeline. I could see the ebb and flow of my depression and my drinking and drugging. Events in my life made sense: The weight loss and gain, insomnia, heart palpitations, stomach problems. I could see that even without alcohol, my depression was still strong. I don’t use my alcoholism or bipolar as an excuse for my behavior. I don’t delude myself into thinking that I only drank to self-medicate my depression and bipolar. I am — at my core — an alcoholic and when I deny myself alcohol, my addiction morphs to another substance or behavior.
I don’t know why the revelations of my timeline gave me so much relief. Everything was and is still the same. I still go to 12-step meetings and therapy. I still take medications. I am still an alcoholic (recovered) and still have depression and bipolar disorder. But my life no longer looks like a bad Jackson Pollock knock-off.
I like what I see today. It makes sense.
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Last reviewed: 8 Mar 2010