I tell a great many stories about being a drug addict and an alcoholic—it’s easy to do with benefit of more than a decade free from actively pursuing those particular hobbies. What I talk about far less is the period immediately after I got clean—the years between my 9th month clean and my third year, during which I was no longer struggling with the compulsion to get high and found myself struggling with the fact that my own personal narrative was badly, badly flawed.
You see, one of the major benefits an addict derives from their drug abuse is deniability. “I’m not an asshole, I’m drunk”, became my battle cry, if a battle cry is something you shouted as you wandered away from the scene of your destruction. Months without drinking or drug abuse revealed to me that my battle cry should have been “I’m an asshole who happens to be drunk!” That’s a tough pill to swallow; finding out that you are actually a devastatingly toxic shithead who brings ruin to those close to him with or without drugs badly disrupted my view of self, and I became very erratic and depressed.
It was during this narrow window of my life that I found myself sitting in the bedroom that I rented from a friend holding the shotgun he kept beneath his bed and crying. It was a place I found myself in a lot around that time. Several times each week—sometimes several times in a single day—I would find myself sitting with that gun simply trying to work up the courage to use it. For weeks I kept returning to that familiar position, wanting so much to no longer be alive and being trapped in life by a fear of literally and figuratively pulling the trigger.
On this occasion, though, I was committed. So much so that I had written my note, had dressed in the clothes that I wanted to be found in, and had gone and sat in the bathtub with the shower curtain pulled closed—I certainly didn’t want to make my exit more of an imposition on anybody else than it needed to be, they’d already put up with so much.
I was saved by a friend who, possibly because of his own struggles with depression, recognized the dangerous place I’d gotten to emotionally and took it on himself to help. He literally banged on the bathroom window with a child’s toy rake until I agreed to drive him to get some lunch. “Lunch” turned into an extended coffee break, lots of driving around, talking and, ultimately, a considerable amount of therapy. Ironically, this friend died a few years ago (far too young), a victim of his self-medicating to avoid dealing with his issues. I’ll never be able to express to him my gratitude for saving my life.
This stuff I don’t talk about so much. The “fun” stories of my active addiction are borderline socially acceptable, especially when spoken about using the past tense. There is nothing socially acceptable about mental illness—people with depression are treated as liars, or whiners, or melodramatic; depression is perceived as a weakness of character and that perception is LITERALLY KILLING PEOPLE. I very nearly died because I felt too much shame about my mental state to seek help—I was willing to die rather than face the judgement and shame that is hurled at people that are mentally ill.
I don’t suffer from recurring depression, but I know many people that do. People I know and care about suffer from varying forms of depression-related mental illnesses. I cannot fathom what that must be like. For a thankfully brief period of my life I was legitimately depressed—not just down, not bummed out, but deep in a hole that robbed me of my energy, of my fight, and of any hope that things even COULD get better. I can only imagine the horror if I had to deal with that on a regular basis.
So when I see people talk about how “selfish” suicide is, or offer vague “help” that amounts to “just stop feeling so depressed”, it makes me extraordinarily angry. It’s a trite comparison now, but it is the equivalent asking a cancer patient struggling through chemotherapy if they’ve tried aspirin for their brain tumors because it once helped your headache. Stop treating depression, or any mental illness, like a personal failing—like it’s something that people just aren’t trying hard enough to avoid. Stop killing people.
If you are a recovering addict or alcoholic, especially if you are early in your recovery, know that depression and addiction often go hand in hand. It is a good idea to find a therapist you can talk to, even if only for a little while. There are numerous resources available to those recovering from addiction—and no matter what program of recovery you are following, there’s always room for therapy.
If you are suffering from depression, you have to know that you’re not alone. I realize that where you are feels tremendously hopeless and like there is no light at the end of the tunnel—but that is a lie that your ill mind is telling you. There is hope, there are better days, and it really does get better; you just have to make it there. Talk to somebody and get some help. Please.