I’m currently in addiction therapy attempting to manage my bipolar disorder. Whether a person’s doing meth, popping pills, smoking crack, shooting heroin, snorting coke, enjoying a beer, drinking coffee, eating paint chips, or sniffing sharpies, addiction is addiction. What is an addiction? A habit that is difficult to stop doing because it’s amplified by cravings. People go into treatment for addiction because some of the substances they crave lead to self-destruction. With bipolar disorder, I want to avoid addiction and need all of the help I can get.
When one goes to treatment, what is it that person is expected to do? Forget about the sharpies and accept aroma therapy as an alternative. Using meth? Time for regular urine analysis! Like pills? Try meditation! Want some crack? Come to excessive meetings to discuss addiction instead! Need heroin? How about learning some breathing techniques? Wipe that powder off your nose and pursue an interest! Stop drinking that coffee, opt for Green Tea or decaf and don’t even think about that beer or those tasty paint chips, choose to eat a salad instead. In other words, it’s a trade-off because the addiction is still there; it just takes on a different form. I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the thought of a person dealing with a situation that makes him or her angry and emotional, then ending up furiously chewing a salad in order to stave off some sort of a craving. Don’t get me wrong, this is a nice thought; but, is it realistic?
I have to say that I’m doing the best I can to participate in the group therapy adequately; however, I’m saddened to report that going to group therapy has proven to be a trigger which makes me want to drink. This last session, it was a lot of work to get the gist of the information offered to me while experiencing skyrocketing anxiety levels. The topic of the discussion was the expectation of flexibility in exchange for NO COMPROMISE. After a 90 minute lecture presented in an “it’s my way or the highway” format, I came home from group therapy feeling quite teary and depressed, so I withered away into my bedroom.
Another reason why addiction is so difficult to beat is because when one is an addict, finding a substance to abuse is fairly easy. If an addict has a substance within his or her possession, then it’s simply a matter of using it. In many cases, the substance conforms to the user and is far more convenient than attending a regularly scheduled group to conform to. To put an addict in treatment is to require that person’s “presence” and participation. Often times, an addict will relapse following treatment because once treatment is finished, then the structure is gone. Why? Because the user is no longer required to be “present” and his or her problems still exist; therefore, this leaves the addict with a doorway of escape.
This is where continuing individual therapy picks up the slack. Personally, I do much better with individual therapy depending on the therapist. Individual therapy goes beyond the over simplified “what’s in the box, what’s not in the box” exercises in group therapy; however, I have a tendency to see both sides of most situations. My therapist told me to once a day, at least be aware of my presence. Yesterday, I sat on my back patio admiring the plants I have in containers and counting my son’s tomatoes. Then, I looked at my hands and noticed how my middle-aged skin is wrinkling up. I became aware that where I’m living doesn’t belong to me and the patio isn’t mine, either—even if this place did belong to me, it’s something that can be taken away. In fact, everything in my life can disappear. I felt extremely vulnerable and began to swallow a large lump I felt welled up within my throat. Then death began to speak and said that if I could die in this moment, I could be content. This is “what’s in the box” right now.
What isn’t in the box anymore is my life prior to 2007. I was in a marriage I didn’t feel valued in no matter how I tried; but, the lights of my life have always been my family members. I grew very tired of the situation and decided to attend college as an alternative to feeling worthless. My then husband didn’t support my decision to better myself and the marriage ended. I think perhaps he was fearful of the student loans I would amass and he had no faith in my ability to achieve a degree while suffering from a mental illness. He greatly underestimated my intelligence and what he didn’t realize is that I needed an alternative to depression.
I witnessed how treatment for my bipolar disorder added up to a very large sum over the course of just one year. I walked away from a ten-thousand dollar, three-day hospital stay with a costly prescription, a recommendation for ongoing therapy and a diagnosis for an expensive, permanent disease in which I was left to manage with no education and no budget to do so.
Although the structure of college classes was also costly, it was useful therapy as it added up to a degree and I walked away with something; however, graduating is as if I dropped out of therapy and now that structure I came to depend on is all gone. Currently, I find myself no better off with a degree than without it. On a positive note, I would likely find myself in this exact same predicament had I chosen the medical route instead of a degree. I feel I made the right choice; however, I find I’m able to score employment within low paying, highly stressful environments filled with conflicts in which I have no capability of handling or provide input to help control –and I didn’t even need a degree to be hired. What’s worse? I’ve concluded that my wages are likely going to be low anyway, so I’m willing to let go of some stress for an even lesser wage; however, those are positions in which I’m over qualified.
What I neglected to think about when I enrolled in college is that having a degree in no way offers any means to manage real-world anxiety better. I’m not sure that drugs or ongoing therapy will either, as I’ve attempted these routes with little success.
Fortunately, my individual therapist isn’t a big advocate for medication and I feel there should always be alternative treatments. My perspective is that in medicine, a patient walks away with an expense in exchange for a chance of “feeling better” while a practitioner walks away with his mortgage payment. My entire motive for getting an education was to contribute to society rather than sucking away from it one prescription at a time. My perspective is that I have a responsibility to accept the fact that I have a permanent condition known as bipolar disorder and attempt to work with it because there is no drug in the world that can change it. Not everyone who has bipolar disorder is unmotivated. What one may see as delusions, another may perceive as hopeful inspiration or creativity. What one may be viewing “inside the box” are solid items, whereas another observer may notice a distinct relationship between the very same items. Just because there appears to be empty space between the items doesn’t mean the space itself doesn’t exist.
I think perhaps I need a different type of group therapy; although I’m not sure what. I do know that I’m tired and my resources are limited. I very much dislike someone else dictating to me what is and what isn’t in order to prove a point; for example, having someone point out that everything I see in the box is actually a trigger; yet, for the sake of convenience and correctness, not all places that sell alcohol are triggers. A gas station that sells beer is not the same kind of trigger as a liquor store because it sells gas, snacks and other things; therefore, it isn’t in the box and not a trigger. On the other hand, a person who eats paint chips and a meth user are both addicts and it’s one in the same. All addicts are addicts, so a trigger is a trigger! How is telling a struggling addict an opinionated idea of what is and is not a trigger helpful? It isn’t. A pie is a pie, no matter what flavor it is or how you slice it.