What Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?
Early on during my recovery, a very wise counselor posed this question in a small group of men struggling with addiction and depression. He asked us, “What came first, the addiction or the depression?” This subject intrigued me very much and at times it still has me perplexed today. It can be different for each individual. Much like how one individual can choose heroin and another choose alcohol. How one person can be bipolar and the other person can suffer from severe depression. In this blog, I will pose my thoughts as how I see it and how these two very powerful diseases affected my life.
Being a child of the 70’s, depression was not a topic that was shared and discussed at the family dinner table. It was not a commercial that portrayed some happy individual running through a field a flowers while a long list of debilitating side effects were spewed forth by the calm, soothing voice of a commentator. It was mentioned in passing as a person that suffered from “nerve problems.” Looking back at family discussions about relatives and friends of the family, I can see now that those individuals were suffering from bouts of depression. Some were hospitalized, some were counseled by the clergy, and some even experienced electric shock therapy. Thankfully today, therapies are much less taboo and hush-hush.
I believe I started suffering from depression in the late 1980’s. I grew up in a very loving and supportive household. I had been given everything I had ever wanted or desired. The thought of not succeeding or being good enough always seemed to be buried deep in my mind. I had already graduated college and was seriously rethinking my career path. It was during this time, I had decided to go back to college for a second degree while all of my other friends were happy and experiencing success in their first professions. I was also struggling with my sexual identity. During this era, AIDS was a new disease called the “gay plague” by the news media. It was feared by all and it was taking a devastating toll on the gay community. I saw many of my young friends affected and eventually lose their life to this epidemic. I look back at this time of my life as not really living, but hiding. On one hand, I was confused about what professional path I was going to choose, and on the other hand I had to pretend to be someone I was not just to have validation and acceptance from mainstream society. The eventual “coming out” to my family was devastating. I was racked with fear and hoping not to be rejected. It was during this time I felt so uncertain of any decisions I made and I always felt like I didn’t deserve the things that other human beings deserved. I had a physician at the time that I discussed my feelings with. His solution was to solve the issues with medication; an anti-depressant that would be the solution to all of my life’s little problems. It sounds great in theory, but that didn’t work. The depression continued. Some times were good, some were not. Eventually, with the fuel of alcohol and drugs, day to day life got even worse.
My major addiction was alcohol. I had my first drunk and blackout at the age of 13. From that first drink, I knew I had found something that would make me feel equal to others around me. Alcohol took away those barriers of inferiority. As my adult life progressed, there was not a social gathering that I attended that was not saturated with alcohol. I believe that I drank alcoholically from my first drink. As they say in AA, one is never enough! I was the person who would go out and drink socially with friends and have a nice dinner and then go home and drink till I passed out. I was the person who would wake up and pray to God that I would never drink that much again and within 10 to 12 hours I was at it again. Blackouts were just normal to me. I was always the person who called friends the next day to see who I really pissed off or to find out how I got home. It sounds absurd, but to me this was a major part of my life for almost 25 years. It caused me to lose friends, relationships, and self-respect. It seems like you just keep drinking yourself into this dark hole that you cannot see how you will ever be able to crawl out of it. The thought of sobriety at that point in my life was unfathomable. I wanted to change but the fear of failing at another aspect of your life when you feel so bad about yourself is unthinkable. I was no stranger to the term alcoholism or AA. Alcohol addiction runs in my family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings…you name it, my family has it. My parents became aware of treatment facilities, AA, Al-anon, etc., when I was around 18. They threw themselves into education and meetings to understand the disease when trying to help one of my siblings. I attended family programs, al-anon, and even open AA meetings to hear my sibling speak. My parents had a conversation with me at this time and warned me to be careful. I knew of the genetic component, but I knew I would never let it get to that point. I was the responsible kid who had a job, career, house, and car. Somehow, I was able to hold these things all together but living in a miserable existence of addiction and depression.
In 2013, my struggle with my depression and addiction came to an end. I knew that I could not live one more day like I had for the past 25 years. Alcohol and the depression had defeated me. I was blessed to have gotten sober with a great treatment center and sober living facility that gave me the tools to venture out into the world and succeed on my own. With continued therapy, meetings, and surrounding myself with positive people and energy, I am able to get up and make a difference in my own part of my world.
So when comparing these two diseases, I believe that my addiction came first. Does it make a difference? I don’t think it does. The depression was also a very debilitating component of my life as well. These two co-occurring disorders happen simultaneously in many of us. However, there is hope today when people share their history and stories. When we can share a dialogue about our understanding and experiences with others, we are not taken back in time when people would whisper under their breath about the person next door or their colleague at work. By talking to others and taking the shame out of our game, others can be educated and enlightened. This is how we can break the stigma associated with these disorders that many of us have been holding onto for years.
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