From the moment I was first diagnosed bipolar, I did extensive research on the disorder. Knowledge is power and all. A common behavior with mental illness, bipolar, depression, and anxiety specifically, is the use of alcohol. Self medication.
Shrinks will tell you, don’t drink, bad for you, bad mix with meds, worsens depression…And they’re not wrong.
What none of them seem smart enough to figure out is, would a person drink if their meds did as good a job as the pharma companies claim?
I was a late bloomer, as far as alcohol is concerned. My dad used to give me sips of his beer when I was nine, ten years old. It wasn’t some mystical taboo for me. In fact, I still loathe the taste of beer. Drinking was just never a huge thing for me as a teenager when everyone else is experimenting and going off the rails. There were a couple of epic benders, but for the most part…No.
I turned 21 and still…Booze did not appeal. I was on 3mg of Xanax a day so my anxiety never really kicked my ass.
Over the years as my doctors have gone through the local mental health care revolving doors of serving two years and fleeing…They’ve lowered my Xanax. And since then, for the last ten years or so, my drinking has been sporadic but when stressed to the max…It’s a crutch. At times, it’s two crutches. It never helps the moods or depressions. It does slow the thoughts down, quiet the swirl of emotions, and provide a relaxed numb no medication can.
I have tried to explain this to the doctors.
Bam. Instant “alcoholic” label.
I dispute this whole heartedly because at one low point, I actually called the local rehab center and spoke with a professional substance abuse counselor. I described my symptoms, when I drank, how I’d go months, years, without a drop…How I could buy booze and not touch it if I wasn’t anxiety ridden…
And she told me I didn’t belong in rehab because I don’t have an an addiction, I had a behavior problem. I get stressed, I drink. I have anxiety, I drink. There are times I don’t drink and have no desire to.
I’m not in the bathroom pouring mouthwash down my throat trying to get a buzz. I’m not at the liquor store sticking bottles in coat pockets.
When I drink, it’s because I choose to. Not because I have to. Not because I crave the alcohol itself.
And I don’t go in thinking that bottle/can whatever is going to solve my problems.
I do know it will quiet my mind and buzzing nerves and that is what I crave.
So if a rehab counselor can figure that out, why can’t a so called mental health professional?
So many mentally ill people get wrongly labeled as “alcoholic” or “substance abusing”. I find it irritating and a little libelous.
If someone has chronic back pain, and they take a painkiller so they can focus on life rather than being in pain, does it make them an addict?
Well, I don’t see it being any different if someone who is in psychological pain decides to have a drink (or ten) when the pain gets to be too much.
Oh, my doctors have told me time and again, that’s abuser mentality, refusal to admit a problem, self justifications.
I know someone who is a fine upstanding member of society, church deacon, owns his own business, everyone loves him…But he literally cannot go one day without beer. And I don’t mean a can or two. I mean three, four, five, six tall boys a night. And he’s been doing it since he was in his teens. To me, that’s functional alcoholism.
Because no matter how bad my mental crap gets, I can’t drink 7 nights a week. At some point, the thought of alcohol repulses me. I don’t like being altered. Sometimes, altered is better than batshit paranoid and nervous, though.
I just find it almost comical that someone who is socially acceptable can drink 365 days a year and it’s just who he is, ha ha, him and his beer.
But if you have a mental illness and drink a few nights a month…You have an addiction.
I have a behavioral issue that stems from my anxiety. Booze does fuck all for moods or depression. But when the prescribed meds fail to ease you into a place where you can manage your anxieties…That alcohol numb seems like a mirage in the dessert. And perhaps that’s exactly what it is. A mirage. Non existent.
But with mental illness, sometimes it really is just a matter of “whatever will get me through this day”.
I reject the notion that I have an addiction to any substance. I have an additive personality, true. I can’t have one of anything, I have five computers, working on a sixth. I can’t own one lipstick, I own thirty. One purse? Ha, try twenty. I’m a hoarder of sorts with possessions.
But as far as booze or drugs go, prescribed or otherwise…My problem is behavioral.
I take Tylenol when I am in so much discomfort, I can’t focus.
I take cough syrup when I’m sore from hacking up a lung.
I take Xanax when I am getting edgy and cranky from anxiety.
And when my mind spins and I get to that place where every muscle is knotted with tension and I think even the cats are plotting against me…
I have a drink.
I may have ten.
I may take one sip and stick it in the fridge for weeks.
I’m sick of having to feel bad about it. People party every weekend and get shit faced drunk and they’re “having fun”.
I have some booze when I’ve clawed my arms from nerve induced hives and I have a problem?
Fuck the professionals.
There’s one thing all their education and degrees can’t make them an authority on.
Actually having a mental illness.
You can’t judge until you’ve walked in those shoes.
Not everyone who chooses to have a drink or two or ten…is abusing alcohol. Sometimes, it’s a buoy in a sea of anxiety to cling to.
And then life goes on and alcohol isn’t at the center.