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 it: medications and therapy.
Amazingly, my depression lifted and I had no more desperate thoughts about picking up a drink. It was then that I made a decision to treat all my mental illnesses – alcoholism and depression (later diagnosed as hypomania). My sobriety blossomed.
Today, I look at my mental health like this: I treat my alcoholism with meetings, conscious contact with my higher power and chats with my sponsor and sponsees. I treat my hypomania with medications and therapy. If I do not treat all my mental illnesses, one will flare up.
It’s that simple.
I’ve been doing this for the last 8 years and my sobriety and life have never been calmer and happier. I still deal with the same crap – a broken air-conditioner, leaky roof and endless bills – but my ability to deal with that crap has gotten much, much better. My thoughts and reactions are right-sized. No more super-sizing.
Onward to year 17…
Birthday cake image available from Shutterstock.