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addiction

addiction (Photo credit: Alan Cleaver)

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.

First Salad of the Season

First Salad of the Season (Photo credit: Chiot’s Run)

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?

A depressed man sitting on a bench

A depressed man sitting on a bench (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Grim Reaper (advertisement)

Grim Reaper (advertisement) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Becker College Class of 2011

Becker College Class of 2011 (Photo credit: Office of Governor Patrick)

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.

Overqualified (novel)

Overqualified (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Pie

Pie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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Lilith

Lilith (Photo credit: rami.sedhom)

Having earned my degree, I’m trying very hard not to dwell on depressing situations. Achieving my academic goals is something I’m very proud of in addition to being a miraculous feat considering the challenges I’ve had to overcome in order to attain them.  After surviving in this world for nearly 35 years, I suffered a bout of hypo-mania and was hospitalized for three days. Even though in hindsight the diagnosis makes complete sense, I had great difficulty in accepting that I have something which is incurable and I still struggle with it. College was awesome, it was great “therapy” for me; however, it’s over– so now what?

Twins

Twins (Photo credit: Amanda D. Olson)

My whole life I have tried to lead a “normal” existence; however, nothing about my life has been very normal. In fact, there have been several tragedies and traumatic events occur before I even reached the age of ten. Such events I’ve been told, are considered beyond the handling capabilities of a “normal” person. In other words, one would’ve had to be slightly cracked to have survived. My family and loved ones did their very best to safeguard me and my sister from hurtful things; but, they could only do so much to protect us. My sister is very outgoing and successful, she makes friends far more easily than myself as I’m quite withdrawn. Even with small variations here and there, we come from the same family so we have pretty much the same background.  If it weren’t for my sister, I wouldn’t know what having a friend might be like as she has always been so kind in sharing hers in addition to being my best friend. My sister has a wonderful spirit in which I admire and envy (in a good way, of course)! So, I wonder how it is that we’re so different? I have Bipolar Disorder and she is my giggly, wonderful, sweet, AWESOME sister! I’m grateful more and more each day that I have her because who knows where I would be without her? I truly wish I were more like her; but realistically, I don’t think there’s a medication out there which can help me achieve that.

Abraham Lincoln's apotheosis

Abraham Lincoln’s apotheosis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unlike her, I’m not a very well spoken person at all. Sometimes multiple ideas will ruminate so quickly in my mind that I  can’t hang on to a single train of thought, so I choke on my words and even stutter. I’ve tried several medications to help me to become normal; however, the side effects of the medications seem to amplify the fact that I’m different. What can possibly be normal about excessive weight gain (Depakote), walking around as though you’re a comatose zombie or sleeping all of the time (Seroquel), having freakish facial twitches (Geodon), or having everything you eat taste metallic (Lithium)? Who could conceivably entertain a single, useful idea while drowning in these side effects? Can one imagine a world without  the Law of Gravity by Sir Issac Newton, who was posthumously diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder? Can one imagine a world without Abraham Lincoln’s ability to rise into the collective consciousness and grab the idea to end slavery? Can one imagine a world without Jack and Sally, or any of the other Tim Burton characters? Would the medications offered today have had a positive impact on any of the people I’ve mentioned or not? 


Not everyone who has Bipolar Disorder is cut of the same cloth as those famed for their contributions to mankind and are able to put food on their tables. Everyone has different aspirations and talents. I could only aspire to be influential within my own micro-world and hope for more. Some things I do have in common with the above mentioned individuals are that I’m very sensitive, I have a creative edge, and I truly do have a different way of viewing the world. I hope to embrace it rather than have it drag me down. 

Road

Road (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

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