A few months ago I completed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This was after nearly a year of one to one counselling covering a host of issues as diverse as my relationship with my parents, to the loss of an unborn child right through to getting out of bed in the mornings. I’ve also been in a very intense program with a charity called Addaction that has lasted 6 months and has also just come to an end. It would be fair to say I’ve done an awful lot of talking and nearly as much listening since my spectacular fall from grace last summer.
When my CBT therapy ended, I was worried that I still needed to talk and learn and the only thing left for me was to enroll in a group called “Self Management Of Depression”, which I had almost forgotten about until I was called and asked to attend the first meeting last night. My first thought was maybe after all I have been through I might be taking up a valuable place that maybe could be better used by someone else. What is clear to me is that there is a very strong relationship between Addiction and Depression and then I moved on to question ultimately whether Therapy has been successful in helping me get to the other side of all that pain.
The first question is what comes first? Does Addiction lead to Depression or is it the other way around? I’m absolutely sure I’m not qualified to enter such a massive debate but for me if I had to pick one, I’d go with Depression being the catalyst. But it can quite easily be Addiction that starts you on the road to Depression. Everyone’s personal predicament will be different. I’ve recently received a number of emails telling me that this blog is ‘powerful’ and ‘socially relevant’ and as flattering as that is, this is just sharing the experience of my own journey. I’m definitely no expert and never will be. But people that have previously pushed me away are now seeking me out to discuss their own demons, and that is very humbling and something I do not take lightly. As I mentioned in my last post, every addict has a responsibility to do everything in their power to help others who may be struggling. Experience is something that can be shared, and if you can stop a single person from making a mistake that you have previously made then it is essential that you do.
When I was seriously depressed, nothing seemed to matter. A heavy Depression can make you suicidal, so anything less than that is ‘better’. Even if you are suffering from apathy, a lack of motivation, an eating or sleeping disorder (either too much or not enough), social withdrawal or substance abuse, nothing is worse than being suicidal. That’s the end game and a place from which of course there is no coming back. I “coped” with my Depression by getting as off my head as I could. And this did indeed put me in put me in very serious physical danger.
There was a time when I was so drunk I almost burned myself to death and another when I climbed into the dinghy from my boat in the middle of the estuary without either oars or an outboard engine and didn’t really care where or how I ended up. Thankfully I got through both scenarios (almost) intact. Were they attempts at suicide? The truth is I was so hammered on both occasions that I really can’t remember what I was thinking. One was a true accident and the other I’m not so sure about. I so was grief stricken with loss that I was existing purely in Crazyland.
You can tell yourself that the release that Alcohol or Drugs offers helps you cope with Depression as much as you like, and in the very short term when you are high, that may well be the case. But how long does that really last? A few hours, a day at most? When you wake up and your head is pounding and your mouth feels like you have been licking pool tables all night, are things really any better? Of course not. So then you get into a vicious circle of abusing yourself more to get back to that feeling of numbness. Put simply, it’s a mugs game. They were not helping me cope with my Depression, they were fuelling it. Depression stops you thinking clearly, Substance Abuse stops you thinking at all. You do the maths. And, I have taken Anti-Depressants for over a year and I can tell you quite categorically that’s it’s not an old wife’s tale. They do not work if you take them alongside Alcohol.
So, onto Therapy. Does it work? For me, it has to be, along with time, the only sensible choice. But like time, there is no quick fix and you will not get the instant release from your pain that substances offer you. It’s a really slow process and quite a painful one too. But it is the least damaging and possibly the only cure for your Depression. AA is therapy, or self-help with the support of the fellowship. For me, this was the least effective of my endeavours. I found the whole program far too based in religion. It might for you however and is well worth attending. It did help me identify one thing very valuable though, and that is if there is such a thing as a ‘higher power’, then that power is YOU.
I eventually decided that I was facing such a huge problem that the only way to deal with it was to break it down into specific areas and address them individually. For the substance abuse I went to the aforementioned AddAction. This is a modern Government program where the do not insist you stop drinking. They may even work with you to try and return you to being a social user of Alcohol, like ‘normal people’. It’s up to you to decide. They fill you so full of education about substance abuse and then leave you to make the judgement call as to whether you want to continue along that path. I remember being handed a picture of a human body and asked to point out which organs I felt were effected by Alcohol. I thought I had done pretty well until they revealed the correct answers was er, every organ..That’s the kind of strong visual stuff that really sticks with you. After a few weeks of attending this program I made the decision all on my own that abstinence was the only sensible choice. This was massive area of my Depression that I could take out of the equation immediately.
At the same time as attending this, I was also engrossed in CBT. Unlike the one to one counselling, it was a more a one size fits all approach for coping with Depression. It covered the physical, behavioural and cognitive areas that Depression manifests itself in. It breaks it down to bite sized portions that you can cope with and address daily, such as exercise for the physical side, not isolating for the behavioural and rationalizing your thoughts and small, positive goal setting for the cognitive areas. These are small examples of a much bigger picture.
So, back to the course I attended last night. Well, it was only after sitting through it and thinking ‘I’ve heard this all somewhere before’ that it dawned on me that I might just be at the end of my own Therapy. Nothing came up that was new, and as I looked around the room I could see that there were a lot of people there in a far worse place than me. Maybe I had taken up a valuable place that someone else could be using after all. I don’t know, I shall go again next week and then make a decision.
So what, if anything, have I learned? The first and most important thing to stress is that Depression and Addiction are just as much an illness as Measles or Diabetes. And therefore a trip to see your Doctor is absolutely essential and must not be put off for a single moment. They are far better placed to point you in the right direction than anything you might read here on the internet. And in 2012, they now have a very real understanding of these issues that they might not have had even 20 years ago Unlike a lot of illnesses that can be cured, I’m not sure these these can be, but they can be controlled. And there are many different tools you can use to do this. There is no defined right path, just many avenues all leading to the same place. I’ve also learned that no help will work if you are not willing to help yourself. You must not give in, no matter how hard that might appear to be. You must make a choice to keep holding on. You will be up and down like a pair of prostitute’s knickers, but that’s normal, and that’s so much better than just being down. Even perfectly well people have bad days where they don’t want to do anything. You must make the choice to get better. You cannot dwell. Yes, it will take a long time to feel better, but when was anything worth really having quick and easy to get? You may still be on your own at the end of the day, but you will be able to cope with that without the need to embrace oblivion.
At the end of the day, holding on is the only option you really have. And by the way, I still have trouble getting up in the morning.