I had clinical depression for two years–1986 to 1988–when I was 10 years into addiction recovery. It was a very shocking experience. I didn’t know how to talk about it. Whatever I said in AA meetings, I was advised to work the steps harder. I was going to a daily noon meeting where I felt safe and secure. But outside, in the real world, I was having a very tough time functioning. Drinking or using was never an option. I call living with addiction and depression recovery the “double whammy”.
Denial is a tricky companion. In 1988, I was working at a psychiatric hospital in marketing giving lectures about depression in geriatric homes. One day I looked at my giant flipchart of the 18 symptoms of depression and realized I had at least 15 of the symptoms. It was OK for me to be a recovering alcoholic, but not OK to have depression. I left that lecture and went back to the hospital, looked up my favorite doctor, and told him that I needed help. Within 3 weeks, I felt better than I had ever felt in my life. So I had lived with depression for as long I could remember. I used alcohol to self-medicate. I know now I have dysthymia, a mild kind of depression that comes and goes.
Living with the “Double Whammy”–addiction and depression recovery, I have had to learn relapse prevention for both. Luckily for me, I decided in 1976 that I would go all in with addiction recovery. I elected at 3 months sober to go to a very modest home for alcoholic women. At the time, it was the fashion to go to country-club style treatment in North Carolina. But I know that I needed to be in that modest home. While there, we worked the first 3 steps and I found the God of my understanding. I have never had anything happen that was more important to me than staying sober.
The 12 steps taught me the way out of addiction. But they didn’t help me with depression. Luckily, for me, I have dysthymia which is a lifetime experience. But it is milder than other depression types and it comes and goes. I have had to learn everything about my depression by myself. I am sure that is true for most of us with co-occurring or dual diagnosis. The mental health field can provide labels, medication, and sometimes, if you are very, very lucky, good counseling. But we have to become our own mental health expert. It is an individual journey.