My Recovery Story

My Recovery Story A Consumer’s Story

At school the other children laughed and played during recess while I watched from the shadows. When the other children raised their hands to answer the teacher’s questions, I held my breath trying to be invisible terrified I might be called on to speak out loud. I hated school. I couldn’t seem to make sense out of the math and grammar. I couldn’t focus enough to hear or remember anything even for a few minutes. When the teacher explained things all I seemed to hear was a dull senseless drone. The writing and diagrams on the blackboard just made my head swim. I didn’t get it and I felt stupid.

I don’t remember exactly how, but when I was in my early teens I discovered that I could get a buzz by sniffing gasoline. For a few magical minutes I escaped the constant pain and turmoil that was in my mind. From that day on my life was wrapped up in seeking even greater escapes. Within the next couple of years I discovered, glue, alcohol, drugs, food, sex, and just about every other means to moderate and control my feelings and thoughts. By the time I was 16, I was a seasoned drug user who was drunk and stoned on some substance or other nearly every day.

I never bothered to attend high school and no one seemed to care. Instead, I joined the service when I turned 17. I still can’t say exactly why I enlisted, but I knew I needed some sort of drastic change in my life. Shortly after finishing Boot Camp I was busted for possession. The military doctors told me then that I was depressed. I thought that just meant I was a weak-minded loser. They didn’t offer any explanations, treatment, or even suggest that there was anything that could be done. Before long I was discharged and returned home.

I worked at low-paying labor and light mechanical jobs for the next several years. I eventually became a welder, which paid more, but I “had” to drink and use dope every day throughout the whole day. I’d take speed to get going and drink beer and smoke pot to shake off the fear and anxiety later in the day. Finally, I was having blackouts regularly and I lost my job. I was overweight and malnourished. I would get bruises on my body just by being touched. I was having panic attacks but didn’t know what they were. I wanted to quit drinking and using and I tried every day to quit’ but I could not–not drink.

I went into treatment in 1984 for my addictions. I was scared to death because I had no idea what to expect and I didn’t really believe that it would work for me. I finished treatment and threw myself into AA full time. I wasn’t working and was terrified of relapse so I’d attend several meetings a day. It was very difficult because I was having severe panic attacks. I couldn’t stand how I felt. I had no words to describe what I felt. I was overwhelmed with shame and began hearing my mother’s condemning voice telling me that I was evil and didn’t deserve to live. Finally, I acted on the voices and attempted suicide. Fortunately I was unsuccessful and after I was released from the hospital I was sent into the county mental health system where I was diagnosed as having chronic major depression, PTSD, panic attacks, and various ‘personality disorders’. A treatment program of medications and therapy was initiated.

I rarely felt safe enough at the AA and NA meetings to openly share about my psychiatric illnesses or the fact that I was taking antidepressants and medications to control my anxiety and psychosis. Many of the folks at my AA and NA meetings simply didn’t understand that depression, as I knew it, was a serious illness and that I needed to take my medications to remain functional. Some would condemn me as engaging in self-pity and others told me I wasn’t sober as long as I was taking medications. I felt like I was “faking” my own recovery program because I could not openly practice the rigorous honesty spoken of in the Big Book. Others could share what was going on in their lives at meetings but most of my life was tied up dealing with my mental illnesses, and those subjects were controversial. Still, I had plenty of reason to love the AA and NA programs and utilize them fully to do exactly what it was they were intended to do, which was to keep me clean and sober, they do work!

It was really tough trying to figure out what I was feeling those first two and three years of recovery. Doctors would ask me how I felt and I would be stumped. I had no experience being a sober adult. I didn’t know what normal was. I didn’t understand what the medications were supposed to do or how they were suppose to feel. I often felt like I was faking my mental illnesses–like it was all one big scam. I had a difficult time believing that the medications were responsible for quieting the voices. The idea that somehow I should be able to think my way out of the hallucinations, sadness, emptiness, and panic attacks plagued me almost every day. I felt terribly alone.

I began to build new social skills during this time by going to 12 Step meetings. I was in weekly therapy for my emotional issues and spent countless hours at the library searching through information about my illnesses and medications. My new friends were also recovering people and we worked very hard at building healthy and honest relationships, something very new and different to me. A benefit of working the Twelve Steps is that it leads to much healthier relationships. I began building a new sense of spirituality.

Eventually, my symptoms became manageable and I went to the local community college to learn a new career. I had a symptom flare-up and missed one term but still managed to work things out and finish. It just took longer. I also had to take a lot of special adult education courses to learn the basics of simple writing, grammar, and mathematics. I stayed sober and my symptoms remained manageable and eventually I landed a job. It was a very creative job in an artistic atmosphere and I loved the work. Three years later I was involved in a serious industrial accident. I was left physically disabled and living with chronic pain. I could no longer work and had to apply for Social Security Disability. The bottom had dropped out of my world. My depression returned and I slowly crept back into a life of near total isolation.

Then one of my recovering friends got involved in Dual Recovery Anonymous. He helped organize several meetings in the town where he lived. He needed some desktop publishing done for his DRA groups and I happened to have a computer and printer. I told him I would do the computer work and printing for him but he would have to leave it with me for a while. He left me some rough looking copies of DRA literature, a copy of The Twelve Steps and Dual Disorders book and the then brand new, companion Workbook. While I was typing and formatting I was blown away by what I was reading. Never before had I heard of “dual recovery” or “no-fault illnesses.” The whole idea of treating both diseases as part of a single 12 Step program made so much sense to me. It was like a light switch being suddenly turned on in a dark room. This after being clean and sober 11 years in Alcoholics Anonymous. I immediately set to work applying the First Step of DRA to my psychiatric illnesses. This was one of the most liberating feelings I’d ever experienced–accepting my psychiatric illness just as thoroughly as I did my alcoholism and addictions and using the same tools that had worked so well for my sobriety. Reading “The Twelve Steps and Dual Disorders” that first time was one of the major turning points of my life.

Before long I attended my first DRA meeting. My life really started turning around after that. The concepts of dual recovery and the DRA has helped me to stay sober and to deal with my psychiatric symptoms in a much more constructive way. Now I do service work for the DRA including managing their official web site. I have found purpose and meaning in the Fellowship of Dual Recovery Anonymous. It is my hope that the message and concepts of DRA and dual recovery become available to everyone who is in need. For me, that message was a lifesaver.

Yours in recovery,Dave A.

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