Mental Illness and Addiction - The Elephant in the Room
There I was sitting in my driveway. My heart was beating out of my chest, my mouth was dry, and the crushing pressure in my chest had choked my voice to a tiny squelch. I listened on the other side of the phone in disbelief, with heartbreak.
She's decided to leave you.
"What happened?" I wondered. I had kissed her goodbye that morning. She had said "I love you" before I walked out the door. I didn't feel right that morning, so I had texted her to tell her that I love her and told her to have a good day. She replied the same, and I had thought everything was okay, but deep down I knew it wasn't.
I grew up in a broken family. When I was child my uncle had murdered my Aunt. We lived in a small town, and the ripple effect that had on the community was devastating. Ultimately it ended with my family losing their business. My mother went out to find work to support the family and ended up having an affair. This culminated in a nightmarish divorce that has imprinted unpleasant memories that still pervade my memories to this day. My father was committed, and both of my parents suffered a separation that I can only imagine as awful, even heart-rending.
I have no way of knowing if this is when my anxiety and depression had planted their seed. As I traversed my way into adolescence I searched for a way to medicate myself. I started with cigarettes, but they didn't do anything for me. At the tender age of twelve years old, I moved onto alcohol and marijuana. I found my niche in a group of friends that had the right connections, and spent my nights and weekends wandering the streets of my small town in search of a buzz. I loved the sweet feeling of intoxication, and I was finally able to numb the pain that had engulfed my young life.
I found myself cruising through high school effortlessly. I didn't do my homework, but I was acing my tests while watching the kids around me zoned in on the instructors. I couldn't understand their obsession with taking notes, and studying for exams. They were so excited talking about applying for college, and all I could think about was taking a puff off of my next joint and downing my next six pack. I ended up half a credit shy of graduation, and it was at this point that my life had spiraled into an abyss.
I had a nasty breakup at the end of high school, and the same friends I had a smoked weed and drank with in junior high had graduated to bigger and better things. Now, cocaine, ecstacy, mushrooms, and other much more reprehensible things had joined the ever heavier deluge of alcohol that we were indulging. I worked full time at a job I hated, came home, got wasted, and repeated. My relationships failed before they started, and before I knew it I was jobless, traveling from couch to couch playing my guitar for a few dollars in tips trying to stay afloat. When my car finally broke down, I had hit rock bottom. I didn't have money for drugs or alcohol, I had no place to live, and I was starting to wake up from the haze that had created the ludicrous situation I was in. Somehow I was in my mid-twenties with no education, no money, and no hope. I happened to talk to a friend that I had not heard from in many years that offered to take me in and help me under one condition: I go to college.
I had woken up suddenly. I realized that I didn't want to do drugs anymore. I moved in with my friend and his wife and started school. I had hope, and I was moving in the right direction, but this is not the happy ending that you may be hoping for.
I was still drinking, and I was drinking a lot. My friends drank sometimes, my parents both drink, and all of my siblings drink so what was the problem? We were all having fun. I was getting As in college, my reviews at work were fantastic, and I was continuing to improve my skills. I kept getting promoted, but my personal life was still suffering. At the end of my technical college education, I suffered another break up. I can't attribute the failures of that relationship to alcohol, or my ongoing mental health problems. The best way I can sum it up is that we were both just two people in the right place at the wrong time. When things went south, I really was hit hard with one of the lowest and most depressing moments of my life. I continued drinking heavily, and because everyone close to me was also drinking, no one noticed my inner turmoil continuing to build.
I moved again at the end of tech school to pursue my bachelors degree. I was still drinking like a fish and Acing my classes once again. I landed a job at a global tech company that had a branch in town and immediately became a top performer on my team. I was getting wasted, killing it at school, and my performance at work couldn't have been better. I am the upper echelon of high functioning alcoholism. All of this pain on the inside, and no one can see it because I could mask it with booze and slay my competition. My peers were humbled, my instructors praised me, and my managers were at my desk asking me to take the lead on all the biggest and most important projects. My self medication was working, and no one was close enough to see what was on the inside. It was working, so there was nothing wrong, right?
Eventually I graduated college with high honors, something that young, drunk me would have never imagined possible. I decided that I wanted to move back home to be closer to my family, and move onto to starting my life with a beautiful wife, a white picket fence, and God willing, some beautiful children that wouldn't have to suffer through childhood the way I did.
Things were looking good. I got a great job, a new car, moved into my new job, and before I knew it, I had finally met my beautiful, sweet wife. I was still performing above all my peers at work, and indulging in alcohol the same as I ever had before. "It was working, so why stop?" I often wondered to myself.
Soon things weren't working as well as they had always before. My years of alcohol abuse, high stress environment, and my inability to recognize and deal with my anxiety and depression had taken their toll. I started having horrid, ugly thoughts. I accused my wife of cheating on me, and to this day my sober mind cannot fathom why I would do that. I didn't understand at the time, but I was projecting and reliving the nightmares from my parents divorce in my own relationship.
Before my wife and I were married, I had accused my wife of cheating, and she had left. For the first time in years, I was forced to look at myself in the mirror. I fell into a deep depression, and I was hospitalized. I wanted to die. I couldn't lift myself from the hospital bed, and was forced into group meetings listening to people teetering on the edge of suicide talk about their feelings. I was crammed into room with social workers and addiction councilors, and forced to recount my childhood and confess my alcohol problem. I ended up talking with a very nice psychiatrist who had given me some hope and some good council. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, agreed to take me back as long as I started going to therapy. The addiction councilor asked me to seriously consider removing alcohol from my life, but I didn't understand how that could have possibly been part of the problem.
After leaving the hospital, my wife and I were married, I started going to therapy, and things had started to normalize a bit. I had thought things were great, and I could continue along that path with no issue. My therapist urged me to consider cutting alcohol out of my life.
My wife and I went on vacation, and I had a few things come up at work that had interrupted my therapy appointments, so eventually I stopped going. Things seemed to be better at the time, so I didn't think it would hurt to stop. Once again, my drinking got the best of me, and I had started fighting with my wife and accusing her again of awful things. I couldn't get out of bed, and I would go to sleep as soon as I would get home. My wife pleaded with me to go back to therapy because our marriage was becoming increasingly more frail.
I agreed, and over time things started to get better. I agreed to cut back on my drinking but still struggled with it whenever I was around alcohol. It got so bad that at my last therapy appointment before our honeymoon my wife had said that if I drank again, we would be through. I took it seriously, and my therapist warned about drinking while we were on vacation. Looking back, I feel like we had rationalized it a bit and didn't think it would be that big of a deal as long as we limited it to only drinking on vacation.
I had managed to go nearly three weeks without alcohol before our trip which was a fairly large accomplishment for me. I was going to the gym regularly with my wife and eating healthy. We went on our honeymoon and had an amazing time, but unfortunately, we indulged in heavy drinking, because it was so easy in the tropical paradise that we were in. I thought I could manage returning to sobriety, but I didn't realize how bad my problem really was, and I do have a problem.
I started drinking again, and stole a few drinks out of the liquor we had brought home from the trip. I stopped at the bar before my wife got home, and snuck a few beers in that I had grabbed from the gas station. Then I did the worst thing of all. When she asked about it, I lied. We got into a huge fight. She finally gave me an ultimatum. I either go to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), or she was leaving.
I agreed and actually went to my first meeting, but the damage had already been done. My recent binge had sent my brain into an ugly depression, and once again I had accused my wife of cheating. Our strenuous relationship was at its last thread, and I tore it apart. I got up to get ready for work, I kissed my wife goodbye and told her I loved her, and when I returned she was gone. She won't speak to me now, and has relayed a message to my sister that she will be filing for separation and divorce tomorrow. I don't know that I could have prevented this, but I know I could have taken all the suggestions of my council more seriously. Worse, I know I could have listened to my wife who is the love of my life as she pleaded with me to save our marriage. I am beside myself with pain. I'm devastated as I'm typing this now, and I am disgusted that I refused to acknowledge my problem and deal with it. I can now say with certainty that I will never touch another drop of alcohol again in my life, but I can't understand why it took such a horrible thing like this to force my hand.
If you are reading this, and you or someone you know has an alcohol or drug problem, please seek help. You may be able to avert a crisis that will forever alter your life. There are resources available to help. Some of these resources (like AA) are free to the public. You may need to see a doctor and go to rehab, and it will be hard, but it could save your life. Don't come home to an empty driveway, an empty house, and an empty heart.