Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Drugs - The Good Kind

This is not what I thought it would feel like to be 35, I told Linsey. She asked what I meant: Did I think I'd be the Composer in Residence for some college orchestra? More successful, career-wise? A better dad?

Not really more of anything, actually. The only way I knew to say it was, I thought I would be less lost.

The weeks after a relapse, even a quickly aborted one, are inevitably brutal. I've screwed up my brain chemistry: things that should feel good feel bland, things that should feel bad feel excruciatingly painful. Food for thought next time I get a “bright idea.”

But this one goes deeper. In this chapter of my life I find myself haunted by some of my more tenacious demons. Sometimes my sobriety feels like a game of Jenga. I think all of the pieces are there, that my stability is secure, and by a mistake of omission I pull a cornerstone. Each time the tower falls, I relearn the importance of vigilance.

I can learn much during this post-relapse period, as I tear away the band-aids that my addiction has plastered over my wounds. When I manage these hurts in healthy ways, I am prone to forget they are there. (I guess that's called healing.) But when I wake up from my addiction, there's a unique opportunity to look at whatever I was running from. What void was I filling with all the wrong things?

So I'm realizing that I've been a little sloppy in treating my depression. First, the usual caveats: depression is not an excuse for my relapse. And I'm not suggesting psychiatric treatment as a substitute for a rigorous 12-step program - depression and addiction are not the same thing. But, in my life at least, they feed into each other, in a wickedly symbiotic manner that leaves me no option but to face them both down, unflinchingly and relentlessly.

A week after I used, I left one of my regular meetings feeling supported and encouraged. I don't know what happened on the way home that night, but the bottom dropped out of my world. I took off my seat belt and took my van past 110 mph, praying to be killed in an accident. I'm either too chicken-shit or too grounded to ever follow through, so I talked myself down from the ledge and went home and called someone. I'm proud that I picked up the phone that night. People came over, we talked, I felt loved. After they left I carved myself up with a razor blade. I've been doing this for years and I never talk about it, because to talk about it seems self-important, like a “cry for help.” The silence has not served me well, so I'm ending it.

Obviously there are pieces of my relapse in that night, shards of guilt and shame and self-loathing that are achingly familiar. There is also a kind of narcissism in any self-destructive act. But I know that there is also a component of under-treated major depressive disorder-recurrent that I cannot afford to minimize. I know this for a fact. I know it because I've been on and off medication for all of my adult life, and I know what the “brain chemistry” part of depression feels like. I know what if feels like to be properly medicated, and this isn't it.

Towards the end of my college years, I gave a composition recital. I also tried to kill myself. My acceptance at that point of the inescapable roll of prescribed psychotropic medications in my life was tinged with sadness. I feared that if I medicated the blackest parts of my mind, the colors would fade as well. They did not. During this time, I fell in love with a child and lost her, and every shade of compassion and heartbreak I experienced was vivid, sharp, saturated. I composed the most honest and moving pieces of my career, all while under the treatment of a psychiatrist.

I guess the “recurrent” in my depression diagnosis was true. I guess it's time to put in some more work on that front.

[Photo by size8jeans under C.C.License]

This post is also at The Second Road.


  1. thank you eli - i pray that your honesty and transparency bears great fruit in your recovery.

    i too find after meetings that i become most desperate. it's almost like the emptying out that the meeting does makes me panic and flounder and seek to be refilled with anything and everything.

    you will be in my prayers, and have been, thank you for posting and updating.

  2. Eli, I respect and admire your gut-level honesty. You are really hard on yourself. We all are just only human--at least me! (and you too!)

    Peace, bro!

  3. dare i say a relapse has its uses, IF one comes out the other side a bit wiser, more knowledgeable, a little closer to healing...

  4. Your behavior reminds me of some of mine: when good things happen to me, when I feel loved and accepted, when I begin to reach my potential, I often would find myself enacting punishing behaviors that would almost "balance out" the positives.

    I don't really think it was a form of narcissism but rather repeating a pattern I understood from earlier in my life. I didn't deserve these good things in life and they were taken away from me by punishing people who should have been more supportive. I began to relate those behaviors to what god might want from me. I began treating myself with the same disdain.

    I still fight this sense of self-denial. I've gone the suicidal drive and self-harm routes before. Self-sabotage is an easy pattern that I can fall into if I don't take care of myself. I have a terrible time with accepting love and affectionn from people - I think that is the hardest for me. It's all part of my recovery that a take one day at a time.

  5. Eli, I hope that you get the help you seem to need. There is no shame in taking medication for depression. I Know some in AA try to say that you should not take medication,but those people are wrong. We are not doctors. I have been going through my own little hell lately and it seems like when I stopped analyzing myself things started to get a little better. That relapse happened for a reason, try looking at it as a blessing instead of a horrible mistake. God obviously has work for you to do in this life, you are here for a reason! You will be in my prayers.

  6. Eli,

    Getting it all out the open will help the healing process. I respect you for your honesty and openness. I know it is a long road that you have ahead of you, but I have a feeling that you are going to be okay.

    Sending you all of my love.

  7. Eli, I hope that things will ease up for you so that you know that every person has vulnerabilities and troubles. Each of us wants unconditional love. I've learned that I can get that from my Higher Power. I had it from my mother but she is now gone.

    Depression is difficult to deal with. I watched my mother suffer for years from it. I hope that you will get help to deal with that.

  8. Pure Honesty is good for you. I am honest to a fault and it often bites me but in the end, I would rather be up front with myself than to have to remember the lie I told myself to go through the self depreciating steps I could take.

    Keep talking, it all helps. Especially when you look back a month, 3 months, 6 months... it will help build you up on down days.