It’s been twenty years of not taking a drink or a drug. My one day at a times have been strung together some of it, good times like my wedding, and some in a haze of mental illness. My drugs of choice were alcohol and weed. I never was truly addicted but I sure did get into trouble with my using. I didn’t have to drink for long (I only drank for four years off and on), but sure it was crazy.
I got sober a few months after September 11, 2001, a few days after Martin Luther King Day, and a few days before I turned 25. The world had changed, and I could feel that now was the time for me to look inward and change. Change meant dealing with the bipolar disorder which was also wrecking havoc and causing me unbearable internal pain.
At 19, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Back then, drinking a carefe of red wine on Newberry Street in Boston didn’t seem like a big deal. I had my first drink with friends in my dorm room. I later did share blackberry spritzers with a girlfriend when I traveled from Boston to University of Rhode Island for some fun with her. I didn’t drink much after that. College life was a haze of psychiatric drug trials.
I picked it up again when I was fired from my first journalism job after college. I wasn’t out about my bipolar back then, my symptoms flared up and it became too much for my stymied editors. I drank right through the first months after 9/11 with periods of sobriety and moments of insights, then got sober that January.
Addiction and substance abuse is a hard road to recovery. It’s about relapse after relapse, then long term recovery. Much like mental illness, it’s about learning from your mistakes and then moving on to make different ones. The twelve steps got me through in the beginning, then therapy and developing self-care skills help me to this day. The right medications are also helpful too. I spent years on the wrong meds in a fog watching life pass me by. Then came lithium and Abilify which stabilized me for more than a decade, and now Lamictal and Abilify. I’m grateful to every sponsor I ever had who put in great effort sometimes to no avail, every psychiatrist, therapist, mental health worker who got me where I am today. I’m grateful to the jobs I lost out and in sobriety which taught me how to be a worker and what a worker was not. I’m grateful for the bad relationships, the selfishness on my part, for teaching me what I needed to be a good friend and the wife I am now to my husband. Twenty years is an accomplishment. Many addicts never reach this. This is for the ones that died and the ones still out there as it is for all those doing the work in long-term recovery. I’m a firm believer in living amends. Doing the soul work, showing up for your life and to the page, and being of service—giving of yourself to the causes and people who inspire you.
I get to be there for the best moments of my life, the small ones and the big ones. And, I get to feel the awful ones too, the ones that force soul-searching where there is more work to be done. It’s an honor and a privilege that I’ve had so many opportunities paid and volunteer in journalism and mental health advocacy to show up and inspire others with my craft. I cannot do those things without my sobriety and my recovery from mental illness.
In early sobriety, I was hospitalized for my mental illness. I remember a mental health worker saying to me “Stay in Today” because I was in a rush to do, do, do to become someone great. I had to learn to just be and watch life unfold in the direction it had for me. Some wonderful opportunities have presented themselves when I slowed down and took the next right action. It’s all about baby steps, waiting for good orderly direction. Taking them toward lasting sobriety and taking steps to your ultimate goals or bucket list for life.
This sounds like a lot of platitudes but it is what I’ve learned as truth. I have no suggestions for how to get sober, everyone is on their own path. For those who don’t make it, their lives are lessons for others to learn from.
Below are resources to help you or your loved one reach recovery.
Alcoholics Anoymous www.aa.org
Dual Diagnosis Anonymous https://ddainc.org
Hay House publishing house with books on spirituality and recovery
Resource for LGBTQIA community http://glast.org
Resources for Communities of Color