I am a recovered alcoholic, also diagnosed with bipolar II.
I am what they call “dual-diagnosed” – or “twice blessed” as those of us in recovery often quip. I was about 7 years into my recovery when I slid into a deep depression and was diagnosed and put on medications.
The decision to take antidepressants and a mood stabilizer posed a huge ethical and medical conundrum for me. I had heard from many fellow recovering alcoholics that WE DON’T TAKE MIND ALTERING MEDICATIONS! Obviously, antidepressants and mood stabilizers are – thank God – mood altering.
Desperate – and with the encouragement of doctor friend who understands addiction – I took them. It took several months find the right dosages and for them to kick in but when they did, my life – and sobriety – completely changed. I’m not saying my life got better but my ability to deal with life got much, much better.
But I still had a nagging feeling that I had relapsed and was no longer sober because I was taking these meds. I wrestled with it and only spoke about it – privately – with other recovering addicts and alcoholics who had also decided to take antidepressants or mood stabilizers.
Then, while reading reading the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, I read this on page 58:
“There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.”
I was grateful that the authors of the Big Book acknowledged those of us with other mental illnesses. However, I had no idea how the “capacity to be honest” fit in to dealing with both my mental illnesses. Aren’t we supposed to be honest in all our affairs – regardless of whether we have one, two or a dozen’ mental illnesses?
What does “capacity to be honest” mean for those addicts and alcoholics – like me – who have other mental illnesses?
Here’s what I came up with.
Be honest with myself. Exercise humility and admit that I need outside help. This is particularly difficult for addicts and alcoholics because asking for help is not a natural act for us. We spent our entire drinking and drugging careers convinced that we didn’t need help controlling our drinking and drugging.
The whole concept of asking for help and my inability to do it became painfully clear when a friend asked me how helping others made me feel.
“Wonderful!” I said. “I love helping other people.”
“Well,” she said. “When you refuse to ask for help, you are denying someone the opportunity to feel as good as you do when you help someone.”
For me, honesty also means telling ALL those who treat me – doctors, therapists, nurses – that I am a recovered alcoholic and that I do not want to be prescribed any drugs that I could get high if I took enough. Don’t give me drugs that can be abused unless it is absolutely necessary. That means opiates and benzos.
My mother taught me that “honesty is the best policy” but it never worked for me while I was drinking and taking drugs. Looking back over my years of sobriety, I realize honesty saved my life. It is as vital to me as my medications.
Honesty-is-the-best-policy image available from Shutterstock.