Last week I celebrated 16 years of sobriety. Let me say that again because I can’t believe it: Last week I celebrated 16 years of sobriety.
The first 8 years of my sobriety were filled with mayhem: divorce, single-working motherhood, death of my parents, death of my dog and a deep-dark depression that led to a diagnosis that – along with my higher power – has kept me sober.
For me, the obsession to drink was gone by the time I put down the bottle. I was blessed. I have watched many, many alcoholics and addicts struggle with that agonizing obsession in early sobriety. Their desperation and self-loathing is visceral. My heart breaks for them.
I gave little thought to picking up a drink until I fell down into my black hole. My depression – and my seeming inability to fix myself – was so exasperating that I thought about picking up a drink. Nothing else seemed to work. Why not turn to the go-to remedy I used for decades: a bottle of chardonnay, a Corona with lime or a half-dozen glasses of Long Island iced tea?
Why not self-medicate my depression with alcohol? I asked myself that question and then got my ass to a meeting.
The answer to that question is simple: Alcohol is a depressant. The very thing I had been using for years to make me feel better had made me feel worse. I was blind to that fact until the brain chemistry was explained to me.
I can’t recall the details but simply put, alcohol would briefly alter the chemistry in my brain and make me feel better. But when the euphoria wore off, the hormones and receptors in my brain would not function as they should and I would plunge even deeper into my depression.
I had one of those cloud-parting epiphanies and my life made sense to me. I had been self-medicating with drugs alcohol since I was a teenager and I progressively got sicker and sicker. I accepted my diagnosis for depression and decided to get on with treating …
I don’t wear a watch. I have watches, very nice watches, in fact. I don’t even know where they are – probably in a drawer somewhere.
I don’t wear a watch because I have a thing with time. I learned early on in my recovery from alcoholism and depression that “time” was a problem for me. A very big problem.
I didn’t realize my “time” problem until a friend in recovery asked me one day, “What time is it?” I looked at my watch and told him the time. Then he asked again, “what time is it?” And I looked at my watch again and told him the time.
“No,” he said. “What TIME is it?”
I looked at him like he was crazy and said, “I don’t know. You tell me, what time is it?”
“Now,” he said. I had a D’oh Homer Simpson moment and then understood what he was trying to tell me. I was not in the present. “That’s why I don’t wear a watch,” he said.
About 8 years ago, during my last major depression, I was told that depression was anger turned inward and that if I did not get rid of my anger, I would not get better.
This baffled me because at the time I felt nothing but hopelessness. I had emotionally flatlined. I didn’t feel angry. I felt exhausted. However, the people who told me this – my psych nurse and therapist – knew what they were talking about. They had spent decades treating people with depression. If they said I would not get well until I got rid of my anger, then I would get rid of my anger.
My therapist gave me a whiffle bat and wanted me to beat a pillow. Really? A whiffle bat? A pillow? I figured that if the amount of anger in me was enough to reduce me to a listless, despondent lump of flesh, a whiffle bat was not going to do the trick.
I put on my steel-toed work boots, found a metal baseball bat in the shed and drove to a junkyard. I asked the guys if I could have a few minutes alone with one of their vehicles. They raised their eyebrows and took me to a green truck. They left me alone.
Last week Florida lawmakers passed a law banning most abortions during the third-trimester. A doctor who performs an abortion during the third trimester and anyone who assists can be charged with the third-degree felony.
However, the law makes an exception when a “physician certifies in writing that, in reasonable medical judgment, there is a medical necessity for legitimate emergency medical procedures for termination of the pregnancy to save the pregnant woman’s life or avert a serious risk of imminent substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman other than a psychological condition.”
Without wading into the debate over abortion, I would like to weigh in on the exception in the exception of “a psychological condition.”
Every now and then I get a glimpse of what my mental illnesses look like.
It’s been a long time. I have taken my medications without fail for years. I exercise, eat healthy foods, get as much sleep as I can, visit my psych-nurse practitioner every three months and I get on my knees every night and thank God for my sobriety. In other word, I do what I am told – an unnatural act for me.
As a reporter for a daily newspaper, I am accustomed to stress. For nearly 30 years I have lived with a deadline hanging over my head. I took six weeks off to have a baby, 8 weeks for my last major depression but other than the one- or two-week vacations, I have had a deadline over my head.
Recently, I accepted an assignment which today I realize I should not have done. I agreed to leave my home and my dog, suspend my exercise routine and healthy eating habits and forego nights of 8-hours of sleep to cover the Florida legislature’s last two-weeks in session.
I did this once before, nearly 30 years ago when reporters were only expected to write a story for the newspaper. Now, we must also Tweet, blog and make videos. Despite my degree in political science, after 30+ years in journalism, I’m kinda disallusioned with politics.
I was stunned.
My mother had rarely spoken about her childhood. She grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin. They did not have hot water and she and her three sisters and two brothers took baths one-by-one in a tub in water that had been warmed on a stove. You wanted to be the first in line to get the cleanest, warmest water, she used to tell me. They didn’t have much money. They worked hard. They churned their own butter.
I could not recall her ever speaking about her father – my grandfather, who died when I was very young. About all I knew was that he drank a lot. So I asked. She rattled off stories – none of them happy or funny. He took all six kids to school in the morning and then started drinking. She had seen him drunk, sitting on a curb. She was so embarrassed that if she needed to go past his watering hole she would take a different route to avoid seeing him.
He took the money she had saved to buy herself a car. When she announced she was going to college – the only one of the four girls in the family who did – he kicked her out. Women didn’t need a college education, she recalled him saying. She went on to get a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree.
We have a couple more studies that suggest that paralyzing key facial muscles with Botox can reduce the symptoms of depression.
In a recent 24-week randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study, done by Michelle Magid, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas, 30 participants with depressive symptoms were randomized and give injections of Botox or a placebo between the eyebrows (which happens to be exactly where I need it.)
The men were injected with 39 units of botulinum and the women were injected with 29 units. At week 12, the placebo group crossed over to treatment, and the treatment group crossed over to placebo.Participants were evaluated at weeks 0, 3, 6, 12, 15, 18, and 24. The primary outcome was a reduction from baseline of at least 50% in the 21-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale score.
In a yet-to-be-published study in the in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, Eric Finzi, a cosmetic dermatologist, and Norman Rosenthal, a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, randomly assigned a group of 74 patients with major depression to receive either Botox or saline injections in the forehead muscles that enable us to frown.
There was a time when I wanted a really big house. A two-story house with big bedrooms and bathrooms with his and her’s sinks – even though there is no “his.”
My siblings have huge houses on big chunks of land. BIG – as in having an intercom so the kids can ask mom to bring some snacks down to the basement, where they have gym, pool table, bar and movie room. You can put a 20-foot Christmas tree in their living rooms and it won’t hit the ceiling.
My house is 1,332 square feet on .17 acres. No basement. No upstairs. Right now, I absolutely love it. I have the windows open and it is raining. When you live in a very small house and you open the windows during a rain, it sounds like you are actually outside, in the rain. Surround-sound rain but you are cozy and dry.
In the words of the philosopher Crow: It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.
This is gratitude and it is an entirely impossible state of mind when you have depression. If you want to get a taste of what depression feels like, it is the complete absence of gratitude. It is compounded by friends and family trying to cram gratitude down your throat…”You have so much to live for…”
I don’t do resolutions but apparently a lot of people do because the gym was packed this morning.
If something needs to change, I change it. Relying on a number on a calender has never worked for me. Trust me. I’ve tried it. You can ask any alcoholic and they will tell you they have set deadlines and then either missed them or got sober for a few weeks and then they’re back at it.
It’s the same with dieting. If you can go ON a diet, you can go OFF a diet. You want to lose weight or quit smoking or drinking, you just do it – not because it’s a certain day of the year. Because it needs to be done and every cell in your body is convinced of that truth. In the words of the philosophers at Nike: Just do it.
Of course if you are as hard headed as I am, it may take some time to convince yourself that you really need to make a change. In fact, I brain has concocted truly ridiculous arguments to prove to myself that I didn’t need to quit drinking, take antidepressants or see a therapist.
And I shall go forth into another holiday season with this mantra: Expectations are premeditated disappointments.
I shall also turn the frickin’ channel when a jewelry commercial comes on the television or that chipper song Feliz Navidad plays on the radio. I will do my damndest to avoid sugar, especially M&Ms. I will avoid the mall and its DMV-ish lines and battles for parking spots.
I’m not doing this because I am a bah-humbug kind of girl. I’m doing this because I know that my depression is smack in the middle of the bullseye this time of year. After umpteen years of therapy and medications, I know that my expectations about Christmas – fueled by the American advertising industry – can push me over the edge.
So, I’m working on having a Charlie Brown kind of Christmas this year. I’m going to focus on putting a single bulb on a pathetic little tree – metaphorically speaking – and remember the nativity. I was raised Catholic, which likely explains a lot of other issues that we’re not going to go into right now, and taught that Christmas is about Christ’s birth.
Santa is supposed to be a side-dish, not the main course. I am going to focus instead on the lessons of the nativity, namely humility and giving.
And in that spirit, I give you this: a simple reminder of the simplicity of Christmas.
Pathetic Christmas tree image available from Shutterstock.