Having a dual diagnosis means that I not only have to battle mental illness I also have to do battle with my alcohol and drug addiction. Going off meds for me doesn’t just mean that my mind will start turning cartwheels; it means that I will go full-steam-ahead into an alcohol-infused, cocaine-snorting, pill-popping tirade that leaves me not knowing whether I’m coming or going. It’s hard enough staying regulated when you suffer from a mental illness but pair this with any kind of substance abuse issue and you have the potential for an eruption of volcanic proportions.
For the years before my bipolar disorder diagnosis my alcohol and drug abuse pretty much took over my life. At my lowest I would run home from work on my 30-minute lunch break, drink a 32-ounce beer and pop several Vicodin caps then drive back to work and finish out my shift. After work I would drive home and down a case of beer, pop about six or seven more pills and wash all this down with a whiskey back. Sometimes I would drink and drug until five or six o’clock in the morning. My normal work shift was from 2PM-11PM. Ironically, there were many days when I actually did overtime going in to work at 11AM after keeping the same out-of-control regimen of substance abuse the night before.
What I didn’t know was that this whole time I was abusing substances in an attempt to quiet the demons in my head of my undiagnosed bipolar disorder. My addictions were a symptom of my mental disease; my disease was not causing my substance abuse. Being drunk or high I could, I thought, function in my life and win over the feelings of anxiety, uneasiness and get rid of the feelings of wanting to jump out of my skin. I abused substances because I couldn’t really put into words what was going on in my body and my head. For me, it’s the chicken or the egg type thing. Through therapy I found out that I abused substances because of my bipolar disorder; my bipolar disorder was not, inherently, the cause of my addictions. Not everyone who has a substance abuse problem has a mental illness and not everyone with a mental illness will have a substance abuse issue.
Knowing that I will always be an alcoholic/addict and struggle with substance abuse has made it easier for me to manage and work through my bipolar disorder. I know that in order for my medications to work I can’t abuse other substances…period. I also know that when cravings bombard my brain I have to use the skills I’ve learned in therapy to help me get through to the other side (more about these skills later). My life may be a struggle from time to time but I know that I can beat this monster if I just stay in the fight.