Mental illness doesn’t take a break for the holiday season. With just one more day until Christmas, I understand it can be an extremely trying time for those with Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Schizophrenia and other illnesses.
I hope you don’t feel guilty if you’re just surviving, day by day, if you’re just getting by. Don’t feel guilty if you’re not merry and bright, if you don’t feel up to forcing some holiday cheer around the family.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts or ideation — I want you to know that I’m proud of you for still being here. I know how hard it is to simply survive with these kind of thoughts. I hope you find something, anything, worth living for, even if it’s as simple as a good book or enjoying your favorite movie (mine has to be the 1986 Little Shop of Horrors with Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene). I keep a list of things worth living for in my planner, as well as a list of the things, activities, and people I love. When those pesky suicidal thoughts start to creep in, I take out my lists and look over them as a reminder. As Juliette Lewis said, “The bravest thing I ever did was continuing my life when I wanted to die.”
No matter what your battle is, no matter where you are in that battle, just know that you have at least one person who is proud of you. Because I’m there. I’m with you. I’m in your shoes.
I hope you do more than survive some day; I hope you thrive in spite of your illness. But for right now, I hope you simply get through the holidays.
August 20th marks 12 years of sobriety from alcohol and pain pills for me. I was 21 when I went to a three-month outpatient rehab program for my drinking and drugging. I remember the withdrawals. Vomiting the morning after as my body reacted to the drugs leaving my system. I remember the cravings. Being unable to resist that next drink, that next pill, that next high. Towards the end of my drinking career, I was drinking daily. And not just one or two drinks. I was blackout drunk every night.
But I’ve been sober since August 20th, 2008. I took my last drink August 19th, 2008, at a bar called The Alley. After my psychiatric hospitalization post-suicide attempt, the facility signed me up for the outpatient rehab program for drugs and alcohol. I agreed, desperate for any kind of relief from the chaos that was inside my head. Within the first couple of weeks, the rehab facilitator told us that less than 25% of us would remain sober, that most of us would relapse. Hearing that I might relapse sparked a fiery determination inside me. I decided, right then and there, that I wouldn’t be another statistic. I wasn’t going to relapse. I started going to twelve-step meetings, got myself a sponsor, began collecting chips to mark my time in sobriety. 24 hours. 1 month. 2 months. 3 months. 6 months. Time went on, and I didn’t pick up a drink or pop a pill.
Since then, I haven’t picked up a single drink. I even use the alcohol-free brand of mouthwash. I don’t eat foods cooked in alcohol, as cooking it doesn’t completely burn off the alcohol; you have to flambé it to completely remove the alcohol content. I refuse to take benzodiazepines (such as Xanax) for my anxiety, as they affect the same A-1 receptors in the brain as alcohol. Granted, I have to have Versed, an intravenous benzodiazepine, post-ECT treatment, otherwise I freak out when I wake up from the anesthesia.
There are still times I wish I could drink like a normal person. There are still times, 12 years later, that I get cravings for alcohol, urges to chase that old high once again. But it’s just a good reminder that I’m an alcoholic and addict, that I can’t drink normally, that I have to take extra steps to guard myself from that first drink. I love sobriety, but I must always be aware that my demons are lurking in the corner, waiting for a moment to strike. I must never become complacent.