Is This Alcoholism?

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Is This Alcoholism?

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This post was originally published on September 7, 2013.

“I’m feeling funky,” I said when I left a message on my sponsor’s voicemail. Then I added more sentences, about how I sometimes feel wistful at this time of year, about hormones, about work doubts, about romantic doubts—about a bunch of things that make up a life, really. All things that the day before and the day before that seemed fantastic—just the way they should be, perfectly aligned with the universe’s plan for me. They even seemed that way that very morning. And then, as the minutes and hours passed that day, they didn’t. My brain seized on information that indicated that perhaps my life wasn’t as excellent as I’d been telling myself it was. I challenged those thoughts, as I’d learned to do—reminded myself that perception is everything and that I can’t always trust my brain when I’ve got a brain which I believe wants me dead at times but will settle for drunk and miserable. But those things that usually worked—those things that usually snapped the so-called bad thoughts back into submission with the alacrity of a seasoned boxer—did not. The brain still came back with the same calculation: it’s all a mess.

The difference now—probably the most major difference between my life now and my life then (in addition to the fact that I don’t fill myself up with lethal and toxic substances at alarming rates)—is that I know a sad mood will pass. It may even pass in a few hours. Certainly in a day or two, I know I’ll be back to feeling normal—which, for me, has become pretty God damn cheerful. Before, a dark mood could hit and it would last for—I don’t know. A year? Two? Certainly a few months. Until I got sober, I had no idea that a sad mood could change as fast as a light switch.

It’s probably hormones, I told myself. And it probably was. But just because something’s hormonal doesn’t mean you don’t feel the sadness. It doesn’t seem like this should be true: you’d think that awareness about what’s causing a sad mood would mean the dissipation of the feeling. And yet it doesn’t. Especially with my brain pointing out that if it was just hormones, then wouldn’t I feel this way every month? Maybe, the darkness screams, something really is terribly wrong.

And so then I get, really, one of two choices: do I try to break the feeling apart in an attempt to analyze what’s going on? Sometimes sadness hits because there’s something in my life that I need to deal with and the sadness is a message that the jig is up. The sadness, in other words, is the result of me resisting information—getting a glimpse of something, not liking what I see and doing everything possible to resist accepting whatever it is. It’s the same way I used to try to handle my cocaine use; for years before I got sober, I’d think, “Hmmm, maybe it’s a problem that I can’t stop doing cocaine when I have it in my house and also that I can’t stop buying it.” But I’d hate that thought because I didn’t want to give up this thing I’d become so dependent on so I’d keep doing coke in the face of it, trying, unsuccessfully, to push that realization away but feeling worse every second. The problem with epiphanies of this nature, of course, is that they are only perfectly clear in retrospect.

And so the second choice, then, is to practice that radical acceptance that I’ve learned in recovery: accept the fact that I’m in a funk, let it wash over me and hold onto whatever udder I can find. I can pray, of course, but it’s amazing to me that this tool that I believe in and rely on so much on a daily basis somehow sounds sort of inconsequential at times of sadness—like it’s hocus pocus, about as useful as forcing myself to smile would be.

I remember hearing a girl share in a meeting once about how she was shocked to realize that she wasn’t owed happiness at every minute. I related. I somehow became convinced, long ago, that life was about being joyful—particularly sober life. But nobody ever told me it was; I’d simply decided that this was the case and then assumed there was something terribly wrong with me if I didn’t feel glorious and giddy at all times. Because that’s the other thing: when I’m sad, I often judge that sadness—tell myself that the way I’m feeling is wrong or that no one else ever feels this way or that if I was doing life correctly, I wouldn’t feel like this. At the times that I should be my own greatest advocate, in other words, I can become my biggest tormenter.

And that’s always when I can feel myself wanting to grasp at external things to fill me up—the email declaring that the career thing I think is going to happen is definitely happening or the man in my life to say whatever will make me feel most adored or even, barring all that (cheaper highs, for sure), to go buy the dress that I can get on sale or the cupcake or whatever else I can take from the outside world and shove into my inside in a dopamine-raising effort.

But is that alcoholism or just humanism? We’re all dependent on the outside world, to some degree, to boost us up—though I do believe that alcoholics and addicts are more dependent on these things than so-called normal people. Yet I know that those things only provide a temporary, cocaine-like bump—that relying on a steady diet of external stimuli to keep my whole system running is as futile as returning to the mirror to chop up more lines. Genuine happiness, I’ve learned, doesn’t come from me getting the things that I want but from trying to give rather than get—to, in the words of the St. Francis Prayer, bring faith where there’s doubt and hope where there’s despair. It also comes from feeling grateful and getting my perspective back in gear since I know that, this particular mood aside, I have a pretty spectacular life. A girl once shared in a meeting that she feels like she goes to sleep with recovery but then wakes up with alcoholism, wondering what the hell happened. And that’s sort of what the dark moods are like for me. I have body dysmorphia—as does pretty much every other woman I know; this means that I’ll sometimes look at my body in the mirror and actually see weight that I swear was not there the day before. Even though I understand that one meal or missing one day of exercise cannot cause instant, visible weight gain, there’s no reasoning with what my eyes see. Sad moods, for me, I guess are a form of life dysmorphia.

So I meditated, prayed even though it felt pointless, worked out, went to dinner with a friend and hit a meeting. By around 10 am the next day, I felt cheerful as usual, wondering how it was possible that I’d been so despairing the day before. I told myself I’d remember the next time sudden angst hit that it was nothing to worry about, that it was just some sadness working its way through my body and would pass before I knew it—knowing, of course, I’d probably forget.

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8 Comments

  1. Yes indeed. Depression is a very different creature than just a temporary down day or couple of days, as is addiction. I absolutely had to deal with my addiction problems before my depression could be treated properly. After a chat with Anna about treatment, I finally made the decision to take antidepressants and I am very very glad I did.

  2. Anna David

    Oh, yes — I’m very much being treated for depression. What I was writing about here was more a temporary, temperamental flare-up that dissipated by the next day. But I’m a fairly loud advocate for anyone suffering from clinical depression to seek treatment for it (as Nicola well knows!)

  3. Everybody has the ups and down. And autumn is often a downer for everybody. (Keats wrote about the “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” but I think Labor Day is the cruelest of all holidays.) So are anniversaries of hurtful events. These will always get you down. But when these downs cause you to fear or lose hope or hurt people you love, then there is something in need of correction.

    Perhaps all you are suffering from is depression. And I write it that way because, in my experience, depression is a much easier condition to treat than a chemical dependency. Too often, I see people struggle with the blues and lose hope. They tell themselves they don’t deserve to feel better, they accept ruminating thoughts as part of life. Depressed people also compare themselves to the so-called “normal people” (a label I see thrown around a lot but abhor because I am convinced there is no such person), and believe their experiences or medical conditions or even karma are the reasons for their sadness.

    Depression is a serious condition of the brain, i.e., the organ in people’s heads. It is no more made up or a weakness than cancer or heart disease. No one ever beat cancer or heart disease by forcing themselves “to snap out of it.” Depression, like cancer and heart disease, must be treated medically. And science has made tremendous strides toward making the condition manageable in the last fifteen to twenty years.

    Depression also adversely affects the mind, i.e., the thought processes that are created with the brain. Much of treating depression involves relearning thought processes. The brain, while in a depressed state, can make up a lot of excuses for behaviors, fears, and self-loathing in order to justify one’s feelings. Therapy is often the best approach to relearn thought processes.

    The brain is a complicated mess. It rarely serves up a single, isolated malady. People who treat their anxiety or panic attacks are often left with depression, which was an underlying condition the whole time but not as prevalent or as noticeable as the feelings of panic. People who suffer from bipolar disorder also have other conditions like eating disorders, etc. There is nothing in science to suggest once one has dealt with chemical dependency that the brain is free from disorder. Make an appointment with your doctor. Seriously, what is the worst thing that can happen if you do?

  4. Anna David

    Marc, thank you so much for sharing that. And love your comments as well, ladies. I just read the Daily Thought from Jeff Kober (the recent AfterPartyPod guest) and it seemed so relevant – here’s an excerpt: “All these thoughts and feelings and moods become, for us, what they actually are: passing waves and ripples on this vast ocean of life, coloring our experience for a moment but then gone.” You can read the whole thing and sign up to receive his Daily Thought by email on his site: http://jeffkobermeditation.com/

  5. Totally humanism. I to take my sad/bad moods as proof that I am a total fuck up and that I keep doing it all wrong. It is so hard to remember in these moments that the bad mood and all of its trappings will pass. Although it runs rampant in my family, I have never been addicted to drugs or alcohol but I go through the same mental black hole at least once a week if not more. My husband and I recently relocated from NY to the UK and I thought that once we got here my life would be fantastic – my career would take off, I wouldn’t feel fat anymore, and every morning I would feel alive and happy. Well we’ve been here for a little over a week and so far none of that has happened. I realize that I am looking too far outside of myself for whatever it is I am grasping for but for some reason I just can’t seem to stop “going there” if that makes any sense. I’m glad that I bumped into your post – I needed a sunny reminder that this funk will pass:) Cheers.

  6. How many times have I asked that same question. I could relate 100% to everything you wrote. I think sometimes us addicts are so used to feeling abnormal that we beat ourselves up and compare ourselves to the so called “normies”. But it’s true, that every human has insecurities and angst in their thinking, emotions and life. I feel so lucky that I have a program to help with all that xo

  7. It’s humanism…the embrace of your humanity and ALL the feelings that come with being a functional person. Alcoholism and addiction to other substances is the opposite of that. When I drank I chose my liquor to suit my desired mood: cheer-up = beer, sad = wine, pissed off = whiskey. Beer worked in the beginning but eventually I fell into the game of “I need another beer to put me over the top”. Wine, well that was perfect to add drama to my depression. You get the picture.

    Being sober means that I have live with the down cycle. Since it’s all in my head anyway I see it as a chance for growth. On one level I can channel it into my writing to take me to really dark places, and on the human level I learn about myself (since I spent 23 years as a drunk I’m still a stranger to me.) Each bought of funk that I come through without thinking about grabbing a 6-pack is a huge victory. If I’m really out of sorts I can dig out my favorite movies on DVD, pet the cats, or go for a hike. In truth I find that the reason the funk set in was because I wasn’t making enough time to have a little fun. Unless there has been some serious bad news I’ve found that a little perspective goes a long way. On New Years Eve, 1984, I almost committed suicide. At the time the reasons all made perfect sense. I got good and drunk (surprise!) and went to the projection booth of the theater where I worked. Right at the last instant I changed mental gears and realized that I was not going to hurt the people I wanted to hurt by killing myself; I would be the butt of jokes before the next summer, and that I would have devastated the few people that I did care about.

    So I put away the gun in the manager’s desk and went home.

    Now when things get tough I goose my brain to look at things objectively, or if necessary – selfishly. I was so wrong to think about suicide but I went right up to the edge being lead by my damaged ego. That same damaged ego kept me a drunk off and on for most of my adult life. I’ll be seven years sober this November 22nd, and my rational brain (the one that saved my life) is in action full time. That means that sometimes I will get the blues. That’s okay.

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About Author

Anna David

Anna David is the founder and former CEO/Editor-in-Chief of AfterPartyMagazine/RehabReviews.com and hosts the (Re)cover Girl podcast, formerly known as the AfterParytyPod. She's also the New York Times-bestselling author of the novels Party Girl and Bought and the non-fiction books Reality Matters, Falling For Me, By Some Miracle I Made It Out of There and True Tales of Lust and Love. She's written for numerous magazines, including Playboy, Cosmo and Details, and appeared repeatedly on the TV shows Attack of the Show, The Today Show and The Talk, among many others.

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