Facing My Mental Health Issues Was Harder Than Getting Clean

addiction-recoveryI started using heroin when I was 13 years old and considered myself a “high-functioning addict.” But the truth was, I used drugs to self-medicate my mental health issues.

“If you don’t do something to address your weird sabotaging behavior, our relationship is not going to last.”

The heat rose up my cheeks and spread to my ears. Exhaling, I wanted to launch into the many reasons why we should just end it here and now. Instead, I listened to what the man I love just said to me. He was right. I was sabotaging our relationship in both subconscious and deliberate ways. This space was familiar. I’d occupied it most of my life. Though I’d been clean for almost nine years, there was a pesky part of my behavior that was still wreaking havoc in my life.

I started using heroin when I was 13 years old. I used it off and on for the next 15 years. Hiding this from most everyone in my life until I first went to rehab at age 23, I considered myself to be a “high-functioning” addict. The truth was, I used drugs to manage my own mental health issues, masking behavior that was more noticeably disturbing when I was off drugs than when I was on them. I was aware of this on some level, but had not yet faced that reality.

Once the truth about my addiction was out, I found it easier and easier to be frank about admitting I was an addict. But, I did not understand the underlying issues that drove my addiction. After my first stint in rehab, I had some extended periods of sobriety, but I relapsed several times. The problem started with addiction, but it didn’t end there. I was no stranger to therapy. I had been in talk therapy off and on since adolescence. A year after rehab, when some of the painful issues from childhood could no longer be ignored, I started seeing a therapist again.

Dr. L. was great. She was a tall, handsome woman with wild hair, always sporting an oversized sculptural necklace. I loved her cozy office, full of dark wood, smelling of eucalyptus. The therapy helped, but it didn’t help enough. I mistakenly thought that I had left my darkest moments of depression and suicidal thoughts behind me. When those suffocating feelings came back, and I was able to admit them to Dr. L., she referred me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist, after an hour-long consultation, suggested “we” start with an SSRI, a Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitor, AKA a member of the Prozac family. Reluctant but open, I began taking my first anti-depressant.

It didn’t work, it made me feel worse, more depressed, more suicidal. After two months, I threw in the proverbial towel and decided that medication was not for me. On my last visit to the psychiatrist, he explained that finding the right medication can take time, and there may be a little trial-and-error in the process. He handed me a prescription for a different SSRI, which I threw in the trash on the way to my car.

Over the next three months, Dr. L. noticed I was getting worse, and she suggested I try another psychiatrist. Psychiatrist Number Two prescribed me Wellbutrin, a brand name for bupropion, a different family of antidepressants. Though Wellbutrin was, at that time, commonly advertised to help smoking cessation, it is often prescribed to treat general depression and as a mood stabilizer for certain cases of bipolar disorder. Psychiatrist Number Two said that I might be suffering from rapid-cycling manic depression, or general major depression and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), stemming from a sexual abuse incident I experienced as a child and had spent all my years suppressing and minimizing. Whatever it was, it was choking the will to live right out of me.

I was desperate. So, I started taking Wellbutrin. Despite my convictions that it would notwork, it did. Among some of my peers in recovery, suggestions were made that true sobriety did not involve medication. Others supported my decision. I wavered. Two months later, feeling better, and convincing myself that this had all been a fluke, that I didn’t need it anymore, I stopped taking it without telling anyone.  Read more “the fix”…


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