Tag Archives: alcoholism

Coming Clean on Getting Clean

Today I reached a milestone; I have one year sober.  I’m sure I should feel some kind of way but, surprisingly, I don’t.  Instead of feeling totally celebratory I feel quite introspective on this day.  I’ve spent the entire week leading up to this day thinking about the journey I’ve been on to get to this point.  I remember when it all started.

I was active in my addiction to alcohol and powder cocaine and not taking any medication for my bipolar disorder.  I was a walking train wreck and a health hazard to myself to the nth degree but I refused to believe or accept it.  I didn’t know whether I was coming or going and my body was beginning to cry out that something was wrong but I just kept abusing alcohol and drugs; I’d added pain killers to my repertoire of addiction at this point.  I was staying up days on end, playing my music louder than I would normally be able to stand, rambling on with my grandiose ideas, going from one thing to another never finishing anything, etc., etc., etc.  I was a classic bipolar addict mess and I’d been that way for several months.  I thought I was living the good life being drunk and high and all over the place but I couldn’t have been further from the truth.  I was on a fast track to destruction.  I’d chosen to deceive myself into believing that I had it all under control.

When I’m active in my addiction I’m what I like to call ‘functional’.  I’m still able to do normal things without much difficulty.  I fool myself into believing that I’m not some run-of-the-mill addict; I tell myself that I’m better than other  addicts who use alcohol and drugs and neglect life altogether.  How ignorant does that sound?  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  An addict is an addict regardless of how the addiction may manifest itself in a person.  One day something hit me and I realized that I was living a life of complete insanity.  I knew that I was out of control in my addiction and my mental health was at an all-time low and my health was truly suffering.

I don’t know exactly what happened but something deep inside of me wanted a change.  I was ready to get help and, truthfully, as much as I loved my addiction I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I sat down and made the call to a local mental health facility and went for an intake interview.  That same day began my journey down the road to healing.  I remember the seven days I spent at an in-patient hospital detoxing and starting the process of getting regulated and back on my bipolar medications.

The beginning was hell.  I had trouble sleeping, I had the shakes; I was hot then cold then back again, I was extremely irritable and my skin felt like it was crawling with bugs.  I felt like I was losing my mind.  These things are a normal part of getting clean but I’d forgotten about them and I didn’t like it one bit.  I spent most of those seven days thinking I must have been crazy to have wanted to clean up my act but I was determined to stick it out.  Getting sober isn’t easy and don’t let anyone tell you it is.  It’s hard and it requires a lot of will and determination.  I had to constantly remind myself why it would benefit me to be sober and why I needed to have my bipolar disorder under control.  Trust and believe addiction wreaks havoc on mental illness.  As much as I kept telling myself I was okay, I was not okay.

At first I would count my sober time by the days, then I was elated to be able to count the weeks but the real victory started to show when I could start counting months.  Still, I had to put in work.  I was in therapy several days a week and I had to learn to change how I thought about addiction and mental illness.  I had to see a psychiatrist on a regular basis and I had to stay committed to staying sober.  That is the hardest part of the journey; commitment.  Today I’m committed to staying committed about staying sober.

When I got to six months sober I began to see so many positive changes in my life.  My complexion was better, I was learning to eat healthier, my mental faculties were getting back into alignment and my sleep was more productive.  My favorite part of being sober was, and is, the fact that I was regaining my artistic self.  I used to believe that I had to be under the influence and off medication to be creative. Wrong!  Addiction is a full time job and a jealous lover and it robs you of everything, even who you really are.  I learned this the hard way and I’m glad I know better now.

As I got more together I started looking forward to my sober anniversaries; nine months, ten months, eleven months, until finally today’s big event…one year sober.

sobriety

Like I said to start, I’m not quite sure how I feel today.  I am happy and proud of myself and I feel so very accomplished but the day is a bittersweet one for good reason; I’m also mourning the loss of my addiction.  This may sound strange but it is a very real part of getting sober.  My addiction was such a big part of my life and letting it go was hard, my addiction was my friend.  Who wants to let go of a faithful friend who’s been there throughout the years, through thick and thin and good or bad?  Certainly not me but I had to come to the realization that sometimes we have to let things go out of our lives so that we can grow.

These are the struggles and triumphs that got me where I am, and for it all I can say I’m truly grateful.

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More About Bipolar Disorder and Substance Abuse

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.

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Finding Myself in A Dual Diagnosis

My life with a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and substance abuse is a challenging one but I am glad that I am, again, on the road to recovery.

I can remember, looking back, being a young child exhibiting bipolar characteristics but not being able to verbalize to my mother what was wrong.  I remember getting up in the middle of the night at five years old remaking my bed so that it was neat and orderly then getting back in it in such a way as to maintain perfection.  I remember organizing and reorganizing my toy chest putting toys in complete order then not wanting to pull anything out because it would mess up the order of things.  At any given time I could be found cleaning and creating order around me; I started helping my mother clean the house as early as seven years old.

When I became a teenager my bipolar disorder changed its face and I spent night after night crying, throwing fits in private and engaging in self-mutilation.  I was a latch-key kid so I was home alone for hours before my mother came home from work.  Being alone gave me the chance to totally demolish my bedroom taking my clothes out of drawers and the closet throwing them all around.  I would tear pictures off the walls; break all my fingernails off, engage in cutting myself and screaming at the top of my lungs.  I was able to hide all of this from my mother because I had time to throw a major tantrum then clean up from it before she got home.  My mother was, however, able to see some of my pain because of the numerous occasions when I would just break down into tears in front of her.  I could never really put into words how I was feeling; the closest thing I could think to say was that I was ‘tired’.  Throughout the years my need for order in my surroundings escalated so I did a lot of cleaning late into the nights which, unbeknownst to me, was a sign of the manic side of my bipolar disorder.

In my late teens my mother started taking me to the doctor to try to figure out what was wrong with me.  At that time bipolar disorder was not a common diagnosis so I was simply diagnosed with depression.  I was switched from one antidepressant to another trying to get me well.  At the same time I was diagnosed with pernicious anemia; an inability to process B12 in the body due to a lack of intrinsic factor in the stomach.  Ironically a lack of B12 can cause major disruptions in the nervous system which, in turn, was actually making the undiagnosed bipolar disorder worse.  Over time I was on and off B12 injections.  Eventually I was taken off these injections all together and this just helped my bipolar disorder to quickly progress.  I am currently on a regular schedule of B12.

Another aspect of my life that was a symptom of my undiagnosed bipolar disorder was the fact that, at the age of twelve, I’d started experimenting with drugs and alcohol.  Of course I hid this from my mother for years and years.  Any time I could get a hold of any type of drug or alcohol I did it.  I did this on quite a regular basis well into my teenage years and early twenties.  Before I was old enough to purchase alcohol on my own I had adults who would provide it to me.  As for drugs, I often got them from friends who lived in my neighborhood.  I did drugs and alcohol throughout my high school years and into college.

When I entered college I was very heavy into my addictions.  I had advanced to drinking and getting high every day.  My drink of choice was gin and I would smoke marijuana and snort cocaine every chance I got.  At this point I’d still not been diagnosed with more than depression.  Though I was typically under the influence at all times I was able to get my degree in communications.  During this time being under the influence of drugs and alcohol was my normal and I couldn’t function without them.  For many years after college my drug and alcohol use escalated and I eventually got addicted to pain killers along with the drugs and alcohol I used on a daily basis.  My life continued to spiral out of control for many years until my mother came to visit me.

When my mother came to visit she questioned me about my alcohol use; she was not aware of my addiction to drugs.  At this point I had graduated to drinking a case of beer and a fifth of whiskey a day every day.  Though I was always under the influence of something I managed to maintain my home, handle business and hold down a job.  After questioning me about my habits my mother took it upon herself to get me help for my addictions.  It was at this time, in my early thirties, that my bipolar disorder was finally diagnosed.  Because of my drug and alcohol abuse along with my bipolar disorder I have what is known as a dual diagnosis.

Over the years I have struggled with my bipolar disorder and drug and alcohol abuse on a daily basis.  I have had many periods of sobriety as well as suffering relapse after relapse.  I have been in intensive therapy and I have been on several different depression and bipolar medications.  Currently I am coming up on a year sober and I think that, with the help of my doctor and psychiatrist, I may be onto a promising path of stabilization with my bipolar disorder.  I attend group therapy three days a week and I go to individual therapy at least two to three times a month.  I do get overwhelmed from time to time but I know I have to continue doing what I’m doing if I want to overcome my addictions and my mental health disorder.

This road to recovery is not always easy but I will continue to put in the work so that I can finally find success.  A dual diagnosis is not a diagnosis for failure; life can go on with hard work and dedication.

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Back To The Drawing Board

Back in IOP (Intensive Outpatient) therapy…oh joy.  This will be my lot three days a week for the next sixteen to twenty weeks.    I walk in the room and come face to face with a motley crew of alcoholics and addicts who have committed to staying sober and working The Steps.  The facilitator is a slight red-head who reminds me of Shirley MacLaine but she is slightly disheveled and majorly unorganized.  I have to correct her about my name and that immediately makes me feel some kind of way.  My initial reaction is that I’m in the wrong place.  I’m a bit anxious and I feel out of place but, ironically, I start using DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy)  exercises; the nature of the group, to calm myself and find my niche in this space.  Twice we are interrupted from getting things going by the late arrival of two people and this aggravates me like nails on a chalkboard.   After everyone has finally settled in Teacher, what I’ll call her, announces that there is a binder of information we are responsible for and she hands me a white binder with a stack of papers that go inside.  She apologizes for the incompleteness of this wealth of information, none of the papers have holes punched in them, telling me that there is no three- hole punch in the building.  Ugh.  Really?  I’m at a loss for words.  This isn’t starting out good at all.  I keep telling myself to give this all a chance because I know the routine all too well; I’ve been in four other groups over the course of nearly a year.

Group begins with a check-in consisting of going around the circle and giving our names, announcing our addiction(s), how much clean time we have and what kind of mood we’re in.  Surprisingly I’m calm with the fact that I will soon give my story to a new group of strangers.  The eye contact that I get from the other group members as we go around the circle puts me more at ease and when it’s my time to introduce myself I’m confident and strong.  Teacher starts things off and my apprehension starts to creep back to the surface.  She’s speaking but it’s as if she really doesn’t know what she’s supposed to be doing.  I feel like I’m balancing on the edge of my seat in anticipation of her next word or instruction because she just seems so hesitant to take control of the meeting.  I want to jump out of my seat and snatch up her papers and her spiral guidebook and just teach the class myself.   Finally the ball gets rolling, albeit slowly, and we dive into the skill for the day.  Not even five minutes into this I discover that my stack of papers is missing the literature for the topic.   This is yet another speed bump to slow our momentum.  Teacher apologizes profusely and excuses herself to go make the necessary copies having to get originals from one of the other attendees.   She returns and we try this once again.

Class seems to creep by so slowly and I feel like I’m in another state of consciousness.  The information is helpful and informative but Teacher just seems a bit off-key to me.  Everyone else seems to be comfortable in a homey kind of way and I envy the way they seem to be able to abandon any judgement of the entire situation, they seem to be completely at ease.  Am I missing something?  We keep it moving and finally one of the other people speaks out of turn and asks Teacher isn’t she ready for a break.  A collective sigh of relief goes around the room and we all start putting down papers and heading for the door even before we hear how long break is going to be.  Maybe my observation was wrong about how the other groupies feel about the whole thing.

We all return from break grateful that there’s only thirty minutes left of this haphazardly conducted meeting.  Though we trudge along and play the game I can tell that I’m not the only one frustrated with how things go here.  I try to keep from watching the clock when one of the gentlemen brings to our attention the time and I perk up and see that time’s up and group is over.  Before Teacher is able to fully give ending instructions we begin packing up our things and preparing for our ending circle to recite the Serenity Prayer.

Wow, it’s over and I made it through and I’m actually glad I came.

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Not Today

Today I don’t want to be sober

I want to be part of the crowd

Today I don’t want to be sober

I want to drink beer, party and be loud

Today I don’t want to be sober

I want fruity drinks with exotic names

Today I don’t want to be sober

I want to play fun drinking games

Today I don’t want to be sober

I want cocktails with dinner

Today I don’t want to be sober

I want to do Jell-O shots like a winner

Today I don’t want to be sober

I want to go to the bar with friends

Today I don’t want to be sober

I want to drink and have fun until summer ends

Today I don’t want to be sober

I’m tired of water and juice

Today I don’t want to be sober

I want a few drinks to get loose

Today I don’t want to be sober

but I’ve got to suck it up and be brave

because If I don’t stay sober

I could be in an early grave

                                                                 ONE DAY AT A TIME

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