‘My name is Brad, and I’m an alcoholic.” I’ve said it over a thousand times.
I’m the best tour guide in Los Angeles. I’ll show which bench on the Santa Monica Pier is best for sleeping. I’ll tell you which church distributes the best free food. I’ll give you maps to the best places to hide your duffel bag as you search for one friend left to put up with your shit and let you crash for the night. I learned all this important info a few years back as I was pouring liquor down my throat and putting white stuff up my nose.
Then I was directed to A.A. I wasn’t an alcoholic, of course. If you had my life wouldn’t you drink? OK, it was piss poor logic, but it made sense at the time. I wish I could say magic fairies carried me to my first meeting. It’d be a lot cooler, but something just made me go. I don’t know where the hell the speaker was from, but her accent was so thick I didn’t understand a damn thing she said, yet I knew I was in the right place. It’s not my place to say A.A. is for everyone, but it saved my tired, broken ass. Getting sober wasn’t easy, but my sponsor kept saying “It will get better, I promise.” He was right.
6 months sober, I became so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. I had a plan to end it all with every intention to carry it out. What the hell was this??? They didn’t tell me this was part of my sobriety. I mentioned it to one of my sober buddies and whoosh I was taken to the emergency room where I was checked into the psych ward for a lovely 7 day vacation. It really wasn’t a bad place, but the view sucked.
Luckily, I was taken to the famous Cedars Sinai. I have huge respect for that hospital. Yes, I met a couple of celebrities but I respectfully can’t name them. Once they die, though, all bets are off and I’ll fill you in. Near the end of my stay at Camp Sinai I was taken to an office where a team of doctors were waiting. It felt like going to the principals office. I was told it was absolutely vital to continue my 12 step program, BUT (their emphasis, not mine) all the 12-stepping in the world wasn’t going to cure my other problem. Based on my family history, my history and their observations, I was told I was a textbook case of major depression and I should be on meds for the rest of my life. Textbook case? I’d finally achieved something.
Once this loony was released from the bin I continued my A.A. program. I don’t think every alcoholic suffers from a mood disorder any more than everyone with a mood disorder is an alcoholic, but I do think they are more intertwined than many understand. Some in A.A. turn their nose at those who are on psych meds. They think it means someone is not working a good program. I have a name for them – ignorant assholes. Without A.A. I would never have gotten sober enough to get the psych help I needed, and without my meds I would be too crazy to continue with A.A. (Insert here Elton John singing The Circle of Life).
4 years later and now I’m diagnosed with bipolar I. It’s not uncommon for bipolar to be misdiagnosed as major depression since bipolar takes long term observation. Not something that can be done in 7 days.
As I stand on my soapbox, which is now weakening under my weight, I admit I’m not balancing both my disease of alcoholism and mental disorder. I began slipping away from A.A. 2 years ago when I started suffering from frequent seizures, intense vertigo, and my bipolar disorder became more pronounced. When I became so agoraphobic that it was sheer terror to go to the mailbox, it was hard to get to an A.A. meeting. I’ve never done acid, but I’ve experienced bad acid trips – it’s frightening when each light, object and sound takes a life of its own and comes directly at you.
I’m more balanced now, so why am I not working on maintaining my sobriety? The primary tool in A.A. is to be of service to other alcoholics. But does the service have to be other alcoholics? I’m not sure. I’m fully confident I’m being of service through this blog, being completely open about my mental illness and by organizing a local Depression and Bipolar Support Group. But being of service is just one of the steps. There are eleven more.
I must stress I have few regrets in life. Why relive your misery? I could wallow in regret, but instead I look at them as amazing life experiences. How many can say they’ve sipped mimosas on the deck of a sailboat off of Puerto Rico and slept in parks in one lifetime? How many can say they’ve stayed in a two story penthouse hotel room in San Francisco and stood in food lines in one life? How many can say they’ve snorkeled in the Virgin Islands and had sex with someone they weren’t attracted to so they would have a place to sleep (Oh hell, I wasn’t going to mention that one).
My life today? I’m light years from making as much money as before everything fell apart. But I have a new and better life. I’ve renewed my relationship with my daughter, have many friends who love me, and a wonderful husband who I adore with all my heart. Not a bad deal.
I must ask myself why have I pulled from focusing on my sobriety. I’m grateful to A.A. for saving me and millions of others, but what of the 1 in 5 of us with bipolar disorder who successfully kill themselves? I need to stay in touch with my fellow nuts, just as I need to stay in touch with my fellow drunks. Am I just not able to handle both at this time in my life or am I just finding excuses. An A.A. meeting is after all just an hour long. I don’t know the answer to that, but I know I need to think about it. And, for those of you in A.A. who want to tell me I’m going to think my way back into a bottle – I’m giving you the finger right now, which obviously shows I’m not working a good program.