Fifteen years ago tonight I got very, very drunk. I don’t remember much of that night and what I do remember sickens me. I really hope that if my life flashes before me as I’m dying, this night is left out. I don’t really want to know what else happened that night.
Nothing has been the same since that night, August 27, 1998. It was simultaneously the worst and best night of my life. I hit bottom. I surrendered and started a new life- without drugs or alcohol. That night the first domino fell and since then I have learned that alcoholism is not my only mental illness. I also have hypomania – a kind of bipolar disorder with less dramatic and violent mood swings that bipolar I but my tendency is towards depression.
Getting sober was the beginning of my life making sense to me. If you do not have a mental illness, you may not understand how important it is for your life to make sense. Your life has probably always made sense to you.
My life was a disaster. I wasn’t even 40-years-old and I had already been through two marriages. I was a bitch. I had a lot of anger and spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. Removing the alcohol made life even more raw – like someone had taken a potato peeler to my soul. I not only had to learn how to live without alcohol, I had to learn to live. Period.
Having grown up in an alcoholic household and starting my own drinking/drugging career at 14, my social skills were a little lacking. I had to learn how to play well with others instead of conquering others. I had to learn to do things like apologize and mean it, tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and learn how to dance without a dozen Coronas in me.
Mostly, I learned to be open minded and non-judgmental. Had I not learned these skills during the first few years of my sobriety I don’t know if I would have had to tools to finally surrender to my depression. Admitting – 7 years into my sobriety – that there was something terribly wrong with me and I needed help was incredibly difficult.
I had thought that cutting out drugs and alcohol was all I needed to do. But I found out that I was among an army of other addicts and alcoholics who have more than one mental illness. We are the dual-diagnosed. Besides our alcoholism and addiction we also have bipolar, depression, schizophrenia or other mental illnesses.
If we want to get better, we have to treat ALL our mental illnesses ALL the time. I felt double-screwed when I first found out. Endless hours of therapy, trying out medications and learning, learning learning about my new mental illness followed. But gradually all the work paid off. By constructing a timeline of my life and my drinking and drugging I could see what had been going on since I was 14-years-old – when I took a hit off my first joint and drank my first beer.
For much of my life I had been self-medicating my depression with drugs and alcohol. I learned that because alcohol is itself a depressant, I had been making myself sicker every time I drank. I was holding the hand that held me down.
When I saw how my depression ebbed and flowed with my drinking and my drinking ebbed and flowed with my depression, the clouds parted. My life made sense. I don’t blame my alcoholism and depression for the incredibly bad decisions I have made in my life. Those mistakes were my fault and I take full responsibility.
What this revelation meant to me – and still means – is that I have the capacity to make good decisions! I was not the victim of some unseen karmic demon who preyed upon me and made my life miserable for no reason. There was a reason! Alcohol + Depression. If I quit drinking, cleaned up the wreckage of my past and took my medications, I had a shot at making good decisions and being happy.
Do you have any idea how liberating that was…and is?! I’m not an inherently bad person, I just have a couple of mental illnesses. All I have to do is treat them – as I would any medical illness – and I have a shot at being stable, well-adjusted and happy. Bad things still happen. My parents died just 16 months apart – and then my dog died. A terrible break-up, hospitalizations, a leaky roof – you name it, I can- and have – faced it.
Getting clean and sober and taking your medications is no guarantee that your life will get better – although it probably will. But your ability to deal with life will get better.
Alcoholic name-tag image available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 27 Aug 2013