As I write this I can proudly say I have not had a drink in 10 years. The more I learn about myself and this illness called Bipolar, the more I see just how much I used alcohol to help deal with an unchecked mood disorder until eventually it controlled me and ultimately took over. I was dependent on alcohol to fall asleep, get me through social situations, deaden the anxiety, numb the darkness and release my agitation. I viewed it as my source of comfort and safety.
It started as typical teenage rebellion with a drink here and there to fit in and feel cool, but it didn’t take long for me to realize how it helped me cope with an illness that was just beginning to take over my mind. Because of my emotional instability I always experienced social anxiety, so having a few drinks to lower my inhibitions seemed like a wonderful discovery at the time. During college and as a young adult, when going to parties and bars was the norm, I experienced my first real bouts of mania. I felt invincible and saw nothing wrong with staying out until the sun came up. The drinking and partying atmosphere intensified my “good” feelings that I wanted to hold onto forever. I avoided going to sleep for fear of waking up to find the depression I had once dealt with had returned. I lived recklessly which eventually triggered more mood swings in which my grandiosity would crash with bouts of sobbing and death wishes at the end of every evening.
When I was depressed I drank to dull the pain and drown my sorrows. I drank hoping to maintain a constant state of numbness and to avoid facing the reality that something was really wrong with me. When I got pregnant with my first son, I worried I wouldn’t be able to stop and mourned the fact I’d have to give it up, but surprisingly I was able and to my amazement the pregnancy seemed to stabilize me. However, after giving birth and having months with only a few hours of sleep at a time,it set me off into a wired but exhausted state of mind in which I decided it would be ok to relax with a few drinks here and there. Soon, here and there turned into all the time. I knew I was becoming dependent again but I buried that knowledge deep inside because I didn’t want to give it up, especially once I began to fall back into depression. At this point I had taken the step of consulting a doctor about my depression. I told him I drank but downplayed the frequency because I was embarrassed. He prescribed an antidepressant and Xanax, warning me about mixing the meds with alcohol, but I realized the alcohol boosted the effects of the Xanax and I became addicted to that feeling of intense numbness. Nothing seemed to matter once I took my meds and had a few drinks.
I became aware of the toll it was taking on my family every time I saw the disappointed look on my husband’s face as I’d crack open one last beer before going to bed, or when I’d feel terrible the next morning and I would lose my patience with my kids. It broke my heart thinking that my kids would have to deal with an alcoholic mother who was either angry, depressed or intensely happy so I vowed to stop, but the addiction had become stronger than I realized. A few weeks before Christmas I met with my pastor and his wife out of desperation because I had promised my husband I’d stop, but I knew I couldn’t handle the symptoms that intensified horrifically when I went without self-medicating. I admitted for the first time that I needed help and I asked them to hold me accountable. That was December 13, 2006 and I haven’t had a drink since. It took swallowing my pride and asking for help over and over again.
Just recently I read through some old journals I found from that period of my life and I stumbled upon the first time I ever wrote and directed my thoughts to God. I noticed how much guilt and shame I was experiencing due to the fact that I was trying to justify my addiction. I wrote about craving it and obsessing over it especially every time I tried to stop. But I also noticed how my voice slowly began to change once I started to write and talk to God. I began giving all of my troubles – through writing – to God. I had someone to direct my thoughts toward at any given moment of the day, I had an ally and felt heard after pouring my heart out. I began opening up more to those around me and I began to feel like there really was another way to cope. Reflecting on those journal entries I’m convinced that first time I wrote to God was the key to opening the door to healing.
Eventually I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and was actually relieved there was a medical explanation for the symptoms I had been dealing with most of my life and it was not due to me being crazy or weak. Dealing with bipolar sometimes feels like a never ending, losing battle and giving in to the temptation to have just one drink can sometimes seem so logical. But I know now that only made things much worse. Once I embarked on the process of turning my dependency on alcohol to dependency on the One who created me and kept me alive, it became much less of a struggle.
Here’s what I know without a doubt…For over 30 years I tried to fill a void with things that could never possibly help me. The only thing that space in my heart was meant for was God and only He could ever fill it. Bipolar told me I was crazy and unlovable. Alcohol stifled that voice, but did nothing to provide what was missing. Taking away the alcohol that had become my band-aid left a gaping, excruciatingly painful wound that truly threatened to kill me. However, when I turned to God out of desperation and started seeing I had Him to watch over me every second of every day and He could provide relief from my pain, He healed me from the inside out. Addiction just covered the hole in my heart and could never fill it like God could. Allowing Him to work in me by surrendering to Him and trusting Him provides a peace that no drug could ever come close to. And God’s peace is real. It’s lasting. It’s healing and it’s miraculous.
The madness in my mind had convinced me I was unlovable and therefore everything seemed hopeless. The mood swings from one extreme to another left me confused, exhausted and lost because nothing made sense and I couldn’t figure out why I felt so different. I needed my mind to slow down and clear and I needed something to help me cope. Alcohol met that need, but it was always temporary. It wore off and left me feeling empty, but still I went back. I was afraid of what it would be like if I stopped so it seemed easier to just keep doing what I was doing.
Currently I am reading an incredible book by Kyle Idleman called The End of Me. I read this tonight and can’t think of a better way to express this, so let me leave you with his words:
“After a while we get used to things and a limited life is less frightening than the thought of change…Fear of change can be highly motivating — and ultimately limiting…Jesus tells us ‘Try it one more time – but this time in my power.’ It’s never too late…God has no time limits. He has no limits at all. But he does have a favorite time and that time is NOW.”
Why not ask for help NOW? I promise you, He will get you through.