Fourteen years ago today I took my last drink. I’m not sure exactly what it was because much of that night remains a blur – in and out of a blackout. I remember going to a party where there were massive martini glasses on each table filled with goldfish. I was determined to SAVE THE GOLDFISH! when the clean-up crew started flushing them down the toilet. Ah, the joys of being the last one at the party.

I have a few other snippets of drunken debauchery from that night but I clearly remember waking up and my neighbor coming over and asking if I was okay because my front door was wide open when he went out to get his paper that morning and some of my clothes — the kind of clothing that neighbors usually aren’t privy to seeing — were strewn about my front yard.

I stumbled into a 12-Step meeting later that day, sat in the back and realized I was in the right place — even though I thought it was insane that these people could be laughing at stories like mine from the night before! How dare they take this so lightly! Can’t they see how much pain I am in? What is wrong with these people?

I kept going to those meetings and I got better. My life did not get better. I still got divorced and watched both my parents die of cancer in the first few years of sobriety. But my ability to deal with life got much, much better. Diagnosing myself with alcoholism wasn’t tough. I mean, let’s face it, people who aren’t alcoholics don’t spend years fretting about whether they really are alcoholics.

They don’t put the recycle bin out in the middle of the night so the neighbors don’t see all the bottles. They don’t freak out when the wine runs out at a dinner party. They don’t have friends telling them to lay off the bottle. In fact, at the end they usually don’t have friends at all. If they have anyone left in their lives, it’s pissed off family members.

Diagnosing alcoholism is fairly easy. A lot of people hope for the day when a blood test or DNA analysis confirms their alcoholism. Give me a break. If you are in such denial that you need a blood test to confirm what everyone is telling you — that you have a “drinking problem” — there is a pretty good chance YOU ARE AN ALCOHOLIC. If you still are not convinced, try some controlled drinking: Only one beer at a barbecue or one glass of wine after work. Just one. See how long that lasts.

Once I finally accepted my alcoholism and stopped fighting it, I was able to control it. However, diagnosing and accepting my depression was much, much more difficult. Seven years into my sobriety I began to feel worn down. I was weary. I didn’t want to eat. I didn’t want to work. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I got to a point where I didn’t want to live.

Friends who have depression told me I was depressed and needed help. Me? Need help? Are you kidding me? Hell, if I can lick my alcoholism I can certainly lick this, whatever it is. I DID NOT want to have depression and I certainly DID NOT want to take medications. Secretly, I had always thought that people who took antidepressants were weak.

What changed my mind was a friend, whom I consider to be a brilliant, accomplished woman, looked at me and said, “Go on, I’ve been taking them for years.” With those few words she gave me permission to have depression and take antidepressants. I got some blow-back from other recovered addicts and alcoholics who believe that you are not clean and sober if you take antidepressants or mood-stabilizers.

It ticked me off at first. Then I realized that the closest I had come to drinking during my years of sobriety were the months before my depression — eventually bipolar II — were diagnosed and I began taking medications. Screw em’ and I began speaking openly about my depression and alcoholism. Suddenly, strangers and people whom I had known for years came out of the woodwork. They, too, had alcoholism and depression or bipolar but were afraid to talk about it. They were afraid to take medications because they had been told that they could not consider themselves clean and sober if they took antidepressants.

I did a lot of research. It is estimated that as many as 1/3 of alcoholics also have another mental illness. The likelihood of staying clean and sober significantly drops when the other mental illness goes untreated. Left untreated the addict/alcoholic self-medicates with drugs and/or alcohol and thus begins the viscous cycle.

Suddenly, the clouds parted and my life made sense to me. All the way back to my teenage years. when I started drinking about the same time I started having bouts of depression. Drugs and booze and depression and mania. On and on it went for years. Now, it has stopped. The last seven years of my life have been remarkable. I still have trouble explaining to people how amazing it feels to be level after living decades a bubble or two off plumb.

I take my meds,  go to meetings and I don’t give a damn what people say. I treat ALL my mental illnesses – one day at a time.