That’s a lot of demons for a woman who had none. Whitney Houston was mentally ill. She had the disease of addiction. She was not possessed. She was very, very sick. I afford her the same compassion and sympathy as I would someone who is slowly dying from cancer or some other progressive, fatal illness.
Addicts and alcoholics – like me – do not have demons. We have illnesses.
To the folks in Salem in the 1600′s we probably seemed possessed because, let’s be honest, some of us do some pretty wicked things when we are under the influence – especially those of us, like me, who are dual-diagnosed and who – like me – have other mental illnesses, such as bipolar.
We stigmatize addiction and alcoholism every time we use the word “demons” to describe our illnesses. We take a step backwards in the relentless effort to convince others that these are “real” medical conditions. The American Medical Association has recognized alcoholism as a legitimate illness for decades. Why can’t we?
Sometimes the power of a bad example is as powerful as a good example. I’m thinking of Kim Richards, one of the housewives on The Housewives of Beverly Hills.
My daughter got me hooked on that show when she came home from college on winter break. There was a time – not too long ago – when that little intellectual dilettante in me would have dismissed such a show as a complete waste of time only to be watched by the mindless, vapid masses. Thankfully, I shut that little dilettante up and now I’m watching all the re-runs – thank you very much.
Watching Kim’s slow, self-destruction over this last season is good for me. I am, like Kim, am a single, somewhat middle-aged, mother whose child has grown up. We are both trying to keep our hair blonde and minimize our wrinkles. I am not going to pronounce Kim an alcoholic, but let’s just say there was a day – before I got sober 13 years ago – that I would have partied with Kim in a heartbeat.
So, you want to get a holiday gift for your friend with depression. Let’s start with what NOT to buy.
Animal therapy is great. My dog dragged my butt out of the house when I was in the deepest throes of my last major depression. However, the time to become a pet owner is NOT when you are in the bottom of your black hole. This is not the time to become a pack leader. Pets, especially dogs, need affection, discipline and exercise. They need this from the moment they walk into their new home. Most of us in our healthiest state of mind aren’t up for that challenge.
Remember, puppies can read and they are discerning little rascals. Any leather product that says “Made in Italy” is as good as rawhide. I’ve never had a kitten but I hear they’re like having a little shredding machine. Ixnay on the et-pay.
“Brace yourself,” she said.
It seemed like any other Friday morning. I went to the gym, took Dog to the park, made lunch and drove to work. I parked in the same spot. Swiped my security card at the same door and said “Mornin’” like I do every morning.
My co-worker, Carol looked like she had been crying.
Three in my department – 24 overall.
The layoffs and buyouts began at my company about three years ago. The company has offered generous severance packages and had always let us know when layoffs were looming. Not this time. Although they still offered generous severance packages, we had no warning.
Way back in the 1970′s, when I was a teenager, the only depression we knew about was the one in 1929 that made our parents and grandparents tightwads. Back then, teenagers with depression either hid it (like I did), self-medicated (like I did) or were loners – kids who did not fit in.
So when I heard a local couple who had lost their son to bipolar was underwriting Johns Hopkins’ ADAP program at local schools, I had to ask…”What if this had been around when I was in high school?”
The Adolescent Depression Awareness Program is brilliantly simple. It’s common sense at its finest. ADAP provides teachers with a curriculum to use on on how to teach their students about depression.“Through education we will increase awareness about depression and the need for evaluation and treatment.”
This should not be controversial but teaching teens anything about their health can be absurdly controversial. Just say the word”condom” in in some parts of the country and you’re just asking for an inquisition by the PTA.
Last Saturday I celebrated 13 years of sobriety. Whodathot? Thirteen years. It sounds strange coming out of my mouth. Thirteen years.
I don’t miss alcohol or drugs. I don’t even think about alcohol or drugs anymore. I don’t miss the taste. I don’t miss cooking without it. And I definitely don’t miss the hangovers. Just conjuring up the memory of a hangover is enough to keep me sober.
I drank a lot. I drank wine, beer, vodka gimlets, Long Island iced teas and anything with a little paper umbrella in it. I loved to drink. I even trained my dog to jump up and grab a lime from my lime tree when I popped open a Corona. She was a great dog – the best drinking buddy ever. If only she had been able to drive…
For many alcoholics, opposites do not attract.
This is especially true for dually-blessed alcoholics (those of use with another mental illness besides our alcoholism). Take me, for instance. I have alcoholism and hypomania (Bipolar Disorder II). Sometimes I have a lot of energy. A whole lot of energy. Throw a case of Corona and a few limes on that energy and you’ve got one really wound up gal.
The last thing I want to do is hang around someone who does not like Corona, limes and dancing on – not at – a bar. What good are you to me if you don’t skinny dip? Why would you not want to pretend you don’t understand English when you try to sneak into a chi-chi private spa and the attendant asks for your room number? What do you mean you don’t want to:
A. go scuba diving.
B. jump out of an airplane.
C. ride a Harley.
D. join the Mile-High Club
I don’t want to be around people – especially men – who have OFF switches. They are no fun. Even after years of sobriety, therapy, medications and a membership in AARP, I still prefer people – especially men – with that live-on-the-razor’s-edge, laugh-in-the-face-of-death attitude.
Recovered alcoholics have two birthdays. Our belly-button birthday – the day we took our first breath – and our sober birthday – the day we took our last drink. We get presents for both.
I’m telling you this not because my sober birthday is coming up – August 27 is 13 years without a drink – but because we live a life divided. Our sobriety has given us a new life but it comes with price. Secrecy. Anonymity. I am speaking about the life we lead among our clan of fellow recovered alcoholics.
We have sayings – “Keep coming back it works if you work it” – and we have tokens of devotion – colored poker chips to denote lengths of sobriety. We have clubhouses and private meetings. But there are no dues for membership.
I am not knocking any of this. I love my sober life. I am telling you this because this is not always an easy way to live. Especially if you are a dual-diagnosed recovered alcoholic. For many of us, we have spent much of our lives either denying we had a problem, convincing ourselves that we could handle it, ignoring all of it and covering our tracks.
Good Lord, what have I come to? I spent Sunday night toggling back and forth between writing this blog and TMZ’s live minute by minute web feeds from Charlie Sheen’s show at Radio City Hall in New York City.
What is WRONG with me?
Every time I think of Sheen with that smug look on his face I think of his father, Martin Sheen, and brother, Emilio Estevez. I saw one brief interview with them. Martin Sheen talked about how his son, Charlie, is sick and we must treat him like a person who is sick, as though he has cancer. Emilio said nothing.
This must sound crazy to someone who has never loved an addict or alcoholic and sought help in a 12-Step program. It is in these programs that alcoholism and addiction are presented as illnesses:
“An illness of this sort – and we have come to believe it an illness – involves those about us in a way no other human illness can. If a person has cancer all are sorry for him and no one is angry or hurt. But no so with the alcoholic illness, for with it there goes annihilation of all things worth while in life.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 2)
I take responsibility for managing my depression and sobriety. Yes, I take meds. Yes, I go to 12-Step meetings. Yes, to therapy, getting enough sleep, eating right, exercising blah, blah, blah.
But seriously, it really comes down to honestly answering one question: Is what I am doing right now bringing me closer or further from a depression and a drink? Going to a sports bar and watching Michigan’s football team get clobbered by Penn State – again, is going to bring me closer to a drink. Not taking my meds is going to bring me closer to a depression. Listening to Sarah McLaughlin and pawing through old photos after I break up with a guy is going to bring me closer to both.