(apologies to Stephen Colbert for the title.)
It was a telling moment, one that I identified with wholeheartedly. It’s kind of strange that I could feel such a connection to a scene from “Glee” but it was one of those instances that brought back strong memories and emotions and now the obligatory blog. The school counselor, Emma Pillsbury, contemplated a bottle of anxiety medication and was screwing up the courage to take that next, fateful step; that step of going on “meds.” I’m not sure how folks who never abused drugs and alcohol feel about taking meds, but in my case it was a very strange event.
I’ve shared a number of times about my alcoholism and drug use on this page, about my struggles with faith and gratitude for AA and many of the people both inside and outside of the group that have had a profound impact on my life. I’ve been pretty open on this page and every time I’m a little afraid of what might be said afterwards, so far anyway, I’ve always come away with amazing support and encouragement from those that read what I post here. Basically, it’s a point I generally don’t like to discuss because of societal stigma for one thing, but because of my own ego. I am a semi-rare breed in AA these days. I didn’t go to treatment, I wasn’t recommended by a professional and I sure as hell didn’t have an intervention. A neighbor at the time simply said, “Have you thought about quitting drinking for a while?” Honestly, I never had. He didn’t mention AA or recovery or anything, just quitting for a while. Well, I pretty much knew that I couldn’t quit by myself, just wasn’t going to happen. On top of that I was sure it was hopeless, that AA (or whatever) would be too hard to find, too hard to get to, and just plain too hard. I still remember looking up the phone number and dialing a 1-800 number, convinced that I would have to go to Columbus, OH (the nearest large city) to have any hope of quitting drinking; turns out that there was a meeting that night a block away from my dorm room. In fact, I knew exactly where the meeting was being held. After that, the rest as they say is history.
So I was, as a friend liked to say, a straight AA baby, no 27 days for me. I quickly learned that a lot of people came to AA in a lot of different ways. Many came via treatment centers, other came from court orders and others were part of something called outpatient. I don’t like to think that I took pride in the fact that I didn’t go any of those routes, but the truth is I did. I especially took pride in the fact that I didn’t take any medications to deal with my demons, nope all AA all the time. I even harbored a bit of a resentment toward psychiatrists, with no real grounding mind you, because I was convinced that they only wanted to push meds on people and not really help people with their issues. I trusted psychologists as a matter of fact I went to therapy almost immediately after I got sober. It did me a lot of good and I had great relationships with my counselors, but as far as meds went, I didn’t need any of THOSE. I should note that I knew (and still know) many people in AA that were medications, so my disdain for them was considerably lessened the longer I was in AA. Still, they were for other people, not me.
The problem was that not every issue I had could be, as another AA friend liked to say, “AA’ed away.” I tried desperately to use the steps on all situations, and it made things better, but not gone. I really began to believe that this was just the way I was, that this was it and I had to tough it out. All the racing thoughts, ruminations about horrendous and trivial things alike was just a part of my make-up, good luck with that. This is not even mentioning the lack of joy, the fear of impending, yet uncertain doom that seemed to trail me wherever I would go. Sure life had its great moments, but it was easy to fade to black, to feel overwhelmed. I never got to the point where I was before I got sober, but I was damn close and I knew it wasn’t getting any better and I already sobered up, so now what?
Turns out, it wasn’t all that different than when I sobered up. I was seeing a psychologist (who I still see from time to time) who I had built quite a relationship with, at least four or five years, so he knew me and my situation pretty well. We had tried multiple approaches in therapy, bits of advice, techniques and other strategies. Overall, things worked, for a time, but sooner or later the same problems would surface, just in different guises and forms. Finally, during a session the doc asked, “Are you depressed?” Honestly, I didn’t have an answer, but I knew I wasn’t in a good place and hadn’t been for some time. He made a suggestion that I see a colleague, a psychiatrist and begin discussing medicinal treatment for depression. I thought I would have a stronger reaction that I would rebel, but to my surprise I didn’t. All those years of taking advice in AA, made me much better at taking suggestions. Don’t get me wrong, I still wrestled with the idea, I even talked to my sponsor about it who said one of the most reassuring things. Basically he said, “I’m not a doctor I can’t tell you if you do or don’t need medication, I don’t diagnose.” I met with the psychiatrist, got the pills and went home.
I didn’t take the pills right away. I was still a little gun shy. I was (and still am a little) concerned about the long term effects of the drugs and some of the side effects they mention are a little daunting. More than that though, I was crossing a personal Rubicon, I was admitting something that I never really thought I would, I was admitting that I had a mental illness. Sure in AA I talked about insanity and being crazy and doing stupid shit, but this was different. This was MEDS. This was scary, exactly like that scene from Glee. I had to work up the courage just to open that bottle. I sang a little bit of “White Rabbit” and popped my first pill.
The affect wasn’t as instantaneous as it was on Glee, in fact the meds made me very sleepy for a while. I adjusted to that and wouldn’t you know? Things slowly got better. After a couple of months, I could genuinely see and feel the difference in my life. No, I wasn’t walking around pressing wild flowers all the time, but I had a calm that I hadn’t experienced in a very long time. I didn’t feel weighed down, at least not as much, not as much at all. It didn’t make everything magically better, but it made me much more able to cope with thoughts and moods. I wasn’t as obsessed; I wasn’t as worried or anxious. If you asked, I wasn’t depressed. It’s still hard to admit sometimes, partially because of the stigma surrounding it, but the truth is I have a mental illness, a treatable mental illness that doesn’t rule my mind and my life anymore. I don’t like to think of what might have been, so I’ll close by saying this, if you feel like you need help, or someone mentioned that help might not be a bad idea, don’t wait. You may not go on medication or be crazy, but it’s not as bad as all that. In fact, it can get a whole lot better if you’re open to trying something new and having a little faith.