This month I celebrate 17 years of sobriety. Let me say that again. This month I celebrate 17 years of sobriety.
How the heck did that happen?
One day at a time. I also followed suggestions, especially from a doctor friend who told me about 12 years ago that I was in a major depression and needed antidepressants.
That major depression was the closest I have come to picking up a drink. I saw no way out. But for my friend, I might not be sitting here writing about my 17 years of sobriety (That still sounds so unreal – 17 years.)
I had listened to many other recovered alcoholics say that antidepressants were mind-altering drugs. If you take them, you’ve relapsed and can’t consider yourself clean and sober. I started believing that and got all self-righteous about NOT taking antidepressants.
You see, I could pull myself up by my bootstraps. My sobriety was so strong – so infallible – that I could handle depression. WRONG.
I found a good psych nurse practitioner – one who had worked in a treatment center and knew which anti-depressants addicts and alcoholics could safely take. With her watching over me like a helicopter mom, we found a cocktail of two antidepressants and one mood stabilizer.
At first, I told only my trusted friends in recovery that I was on antidepressants. I didn’t want hardliners to tell me I had relapsed and couldn’t take antidepressants. I consulted my therapist and nurse-practitioner. Both confirmed that I had not relapsed and that there are a LOT of addicts and alcoholics out there who have other mental illnesses.
Really? How come I’ve never heard about them? Stigma and stupidity. Researchers estimate that at least 30 percent of addicts and alcoholics had at least one other mental illness, such as depression and bipolar. Many of us self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
This is NOT to say I’m not an alcoholic. I am. But I did self-medicate for many, many years.
My anti-depressants and mood-stabilizer not only helped me recover and maintain my mental health, but also gave me the emotional fortitude to peel back more layers of emotional gunk that had prevented me from fully recovering from alcoholism and enjoying my sober life.
Years of dealing with ALL my mental illnesses has given me more empathy, humility and mental strength. I now know that I must treat ALL my mental illnesses if I am to stay physically and mentally healthy. I am happy, joyous and free.
And I am 17-years clean and sober. I’m going to say that again because I like the sound of it: I am 17-years clean and sober.
Alcohol-Free emblem available from Shutterstock.