Anxiety, Depression, and Addiction… Oh My!

Anxiety, Depression, and Addiction ... Oh My! - Featured Image

You know the days. The ones where you feel like you literally can’t breathe. Your mind feels like it is going 1000 miles per second and you cannot keep the angst at bay. You aren’t able to focus on any specific thought really, because you are trying to think about too many things at once. It feels like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. The days where it feels like life itself is sitting on your chest and all your worries, fears, and anxieties are suffocating you slowly. Those are the really bad days. The days you are so overwhelmed with life that you just want to reach for anything that will lift that burden and give you some sort of relief. Even if that relief is only temporary. Just enough relief so that you can take a breath, and release some of the stress that is plaguing your mind. Just something to give your mind a break and make you numb to the world of worries, even if only for a couple hours.

If anyone who is reading this has anxiety or depression they know exactly what I am talking about. I have pretty severe anxiety if you couldn’t tell from that description above. I have my good days, and of course the bad ones. Then I have the really bad ones. It is hard for my mind to shut off, and I often find myself feeling overwhelmed on a daily basis. Most days I just roll with it and keep it inside. An outsider wouldn’t even know I had anxiety. I am sure it just looks like I am a type A personality who likes to stay busy. I have had anxiety since I was a child. It would come and go in spurts. Sometimes it was really bad, and other times I barely noticed it at all. As I have grown older I have noticed that it seems to be situational. I am either really bad at handling stressful situations in general, or it is specifically the ones I cannot control that throw me into a tailspin. Control. That’s a funny concept isn’t it? I mean, it is almost comical to think that we really have any control over what is going to happen to us in our lives. I heard a quote once and it has stuck with me for years; “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” It is true. As much as I do not want to admit it, life is unpredictable and trying to control every situation is futile. There is no such thing as planning your future and expecting it to be a straight shot with no detours or unplanned stops.

This is much like the path of recovery from addiction. As many of you know when you begin your journey you may imagine it looking something like this: “I can never do this, I can’t get through the sickness, okay I have to do it I can’t keep going like this, I am going to get clean, wow I made it through detox and I am still here, okay going to try this treatment program thing, I have made my first plan and actually saw it through, now I am going to make some more plans, and I won’t ever have to look back.” Wrong. Recovery is riddled with roadblocks and detours for most of us. As much as I wish I could tell you that once you make that choice to get clean and commit to staying clean that it is smooth sailing after that; it just is not the case for the majority of us. Relapse is a part of recovery. For many of us it is a part of our recovery again and again. A lesson to keep being retaught and until we actually understand what we are suppose to be learning, it will keep rearing its ugly head. Rebuilding or ending important relationships that we have had in our lives often times brings heartbreak, which at times can seem unbearable and we wonder how we will get through. Maneuvering heartbreak, failures, and let downs on our new found sobriety is trying to say the least. Most of us want to run back to old habits to find the familiar comfort that using gave to us during these times. I get it and so do many others who have relapsed.

Life throws curve balls and its unpredictability can make someone like me with anxiety feel as though there is no other way to cope with life then to use. In fact, that is how it began for me. I started drinking when I was 15 but it was just casual. I guess if you could call any drinking at 15 casual? I guess what I mean is that it wasn’t anything heavy. Just the occasional “let’s sneak a Mike’s Hard Lemonade” or some other kind of malt beverage, and then we would split it between four girls. I started smoking pot when I was 15 as well, once again, just occasionally. I experimented with plenty of other drugs throughout my time in highschool but never really felt the pull to use more then recreationally. I knew I did not care for uppers, they just made me feel more wired then I already was. The same with hallucinogens, no thank you, I do not need to feel anymore paranoid about bad things happening then I already do. Downers were my preference and as I got older and my partying started becoming more frequent I was drawn to them more and more.

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In comes Xanax. Benzos really changed the game for me and that is when my addiction really started to take off. It was the mother of all relaxation for me. Especially when I mixed it with other depressants. That sensation that came over my entire body when I used was like a warm blanket that just made everything okay. It all started out as an occasional thing, I only did it on the weekends. Fast forward a few years and I found myself in a full blown addiction. Trying to manage my life and hide my addiction was just too much. I was crumbling under the weight of it all and finally hit my bottom. It took me three different treatment programs and several relapses to finally understand who I was and what that meant for me. Me as in someone with anxiety and depression. Someone who was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol because I needed that comfort and just wanted to feel normal.

I have since learned ways to cope with my feelings of excessive worrying and being extremely overwhelmed with life. I have learned ways to relinquish my need for control to feel secure. For me this looks like daily self affirmations, yoga, meditation, and exercise. I have be careful with exercise because I find myself becoming obsessive about it when I start to crave that endorphin release. I have learned that I need to monitor myself in that area, and lately have been doing okay with it. I practice yoga as a way to reach a higher spiritual state and connect with a higher power, and the same with meditation. I can’t say that any one of these things has been more important than the other when it comes to maintaining my sobriety. They all play a significant role in helping me to to stay out of my head and in reality. When I get lost in my head among my thoughts of worry and angst that is when things take a turn for the worst. If you suffer from anxiety or depression and addiction, there is hope. Seriously, I know that sounds cliche but I can attest to it. I know those days when the anxiety and depression have become physically debilitating, it feels like there is no point in living anymore. Don’t give up. It might not always be a straight and smooth road, but I can tell you that it will be worth it.

by Kitty Noir

Theories on Addiction

The theories of addiction are a bold attempt that let people unify their understanding of human behavior and pathological refraction. Reviews have already been presented about the existing theories on addiction. With these reviews and shares of point of views, people have already been divided about the theories of addiction. Some people believe that it is a disease while some believe it to be just a consequence of poor choice.

Point of View: It is a Disease

The theory that addiction to alcohol or drugs is a disease is no longer a new concept. In 1784, Dr. Rush already initiated that this condition is a disease. Requiring it to be treated by doctors and physicians. Nevertheless, the theory did not get much attention until Alcoholics Anonymous was established in 1930. Even during the olden days, before the disease theory became popular, society was prejudiced against people who were addicted to drugs and alcohol. Addicts were looked down upon. They were thought to have a lack of morality and discipline. They were presumed to be people who were only after pleasure without regard to other people. Addicts were also viewed as people with deficiencies in their character.

It was then that the theory of addiction being seen as a disease came up. This is exactly the same as diabetes, tuberculosis and Alzheimer’s disease. It helped to say that those who were suffering from addiction were not bad people. They were sick and needed help. With this theory, the public became less judgmental and less critical of those who were addicted.  It was not welcoming to hear that you were afflicted by a disease. But this was a lot better than being regarded as self-centered or immoral. The concept was embraced by almost everyone. The popularity of this theory, led people to explore more into addiction. They were better able to understand the changes that occur in the brain and that are brought on by chemical dependency. When all these physical changes that occur, it can be said that addiction is a disease.

Moreover, Dr. Benjamin Rush believed that addiction is a disease. In his struggle, it was twenty-eight years ago that he went to his first AA meeting. According to him, addiction is surely a disease. He drank and it was who he was. The fun and excitement just stopped along the way. He tried every means he knew of to control his drinking habits. Throughout that struggle he experienced failure after failure to stop drinking. It was not until he asked for assistance from a recovery treatment center that he realized with help he could achieve sobriety. He believed that addiction was just the same as a disease like cancer or diabetes. It was caused by a combination of factors and issues, including predisposition. Studies have also shown that ten percent of the population is predisposed to addiction.

In the year of 1950, the medical field already increased their support for the theory that addiction is a disease. The AMA, the APHA and the ASAM also pushed their position regarding addiction as a disease in both their treatment methods and definitions. In the past few years, psychology, pharmacology and neuroscience have concentrated more on gaining understanding of the physical side of addiction. The American Board of Medical Specialties even recognized another field, called Addiction Medicine.

Point of View: It is a Choice

There are some people who still believe that addiction is actually the result of a poor choice. To understand it clearly, addiction is a behavior and that behavior is a choice. An addict has all the reasons to start using and to start quitting. When one acts purely based on reason, it can be considered as a choice. Addicts are not simply mindless zombies who aim to find drugs at the expense of all else. Many of them are able to go through detox and get sober. They can make the decision to keep away from those situations that will trigger them. Recovering addicts can also enlist the support of their family and friends for them to get through the rough times.

Some people believe that once the brain has gone through a profound change after years of abuse substance, an addict could still be determined and motivated to stop it. This is also even after a short time. In a study conducted by a research group from Hart, it explains that addicts want to recover because of one important goal. For instance, physicians who were told to stop their addiction do so. If not, they will lose their medical licenses. The study uses an incentivizing process that is essential in support and recovery. The brain of an addict has already been chemically and physically altered by drug abuse over a long term period. But, they still have the ability to overcome and make a different choice. Thousands of addicts having proven this.

Some believe that addicts still have a choice to stick to their addiction or to choose a healthier and better life for themselves. There just are not many addicts that know this. It then becomes the job of trusted professionals, loved ones, friends, and employers that will guide the addicts to change for an improved and better life. The people who believe addiction is a choice argue that if it is a real disease, some of your body parts would be in a state of abnormal physiological functioning causing undesirable symptoms to occur. For instance, in cancer, it is the mutated cells that are the evidence of physiological abnormality. The low production of insulin cells is also the culprit to diabetes. And, those who have diseases cannot stop all their symptoms on their own. They also could not stop certain abnormal and physiological functioning that only creates the symptoms. In this regard, they could only stop the abnormality by way of medical treatment.

With regard to addiction, there is no such thing as physiological malfunction. Addiction is described as a chronic relapsing disease and is characterized by a compulsive drug use. Addiction is a choice because of the inability to quit despite the negative consequences. When an addict comes into addiction treatment no one is physically treating or healing their brain. There is medication involved in some cases, but that is simply to provide comfort measures. These addicts were ordered by the court to engage in a treatment program. These programs consist of individual counseling, group counseling, and many with with twelve-step attendance.

Gene Heyman is the author of the book “Addiction: A Disorder of Choice”. In the study presented in the book, it went back to cocaine abusers that were given conventional addiction counseling. They were offered vouchers that could be traded in for rewards like sports equipment or movie tickets. As long as they could prove their abstinence from drug use, through urine tests, they could get all these incentives. In the study, seventy percent of those who were under the program remained abstinent where as twenty percent stayed in the control group. This demonstrates that substance abuse is not involuntary or compulsive. It is actually a choice. After they were presented with a rewarding alternative to drug or alcohol abstinence, they chose to stop it. There were follow up studies that showed how this led to changes in a long-term period.  After a year of following the program, the patients doubled their success rate. Whatever it was they were filling their time with was working. The were able to replace their old bad habits with new, health habits.

In this study there was no evidence that substance or alcohol use is uncontrollable. The subjective report is that drug users cannot stop. The treatment professionals would also insist that the behavior is compulsive because of brain changes. Nevertheless, the promise of giving them an incentive is just enough to increase the success rate of traditional addiction counseling. Some people truly believe that addicts can control their urges. They only relied on substance to feel happiness. When they were introduced to other sources for happiness, they were more likely to choose these options. In the long run, they will stay sober and can practice self-regulation and self-control.

So there you have it. The two theories on Addiction.

 

LGBTQ in Recovery

by Eric Robert H.

 

When I came to the realization that I could no longer drink, I thought I was greatly disheartened. Anger and resentment against God pumped through my veins. It had only been a couple years since I came out as bi-sexual (which some people just put off as gay) and I was coping with my new lifestyle by working alcoholically and drinking the same. Now, I had to accept the fact that I have to endure the rest of my life on this Earth without drinking. Distressed, bereaved and spiritually enraged, I felt that God was punishing me for a life I never asked for. What I did ask him for was happiness, a mentor, romantic love and success in my career field. Alcohol inhibited any and all of those blessings from arriving.

Investigative journalist Walter Armstrong attests, “Alcoholism is the granddaddy of gay health problems. It may have little of the urgency or newsworthiness of crystal meth, say, or HIV, but it remains one of our community’s (and nation’s) most insidious and intractable destroyers.” (http://www.realjock.com/article/985) The disease of alcoholism is definitely insidious. The progressiveness of the disease in my life gained momentum when the pressures of living “in the closet” became near unbearable. In coming out, it seemed like the news spread like wildfire. I began to lose trust in others. Disclosure with a few resulted in many knowing more about my personal life than I had ever let on before. I could not trust myself with the truth, let alone others. So what did I do? I moved residences, got a new job on my ideal career path and isolated when I drank. The objective was not to drink alone but rather to avoid being disappointed by the lack of gay men at the local dive bars and also not to be overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy upon entering a gay bar. Alcohol cornered me – putting me right between its menacing grip of destruction, self-pity and isolation.

Upon entering rehab I found great solace and comfort in the support and acceptance I received from most men who were also clients of the treatment facilities. By taking that simply yet bold leap to enter treatment for alcohol abuse and dependence I took myself out of isolation. Rather than entering general population of the world right off the bat, I entered a population of men who knew and understood my pain as an alcoholic. This was one of my first experiences introducing myself not only as an alcoholic but also leading with the fact that I don’t identify as straight – a conversation that seems to arise quickly whenever men socialize. For the first time in my life, I did not feel so different, estranged and alone in a world where everyone else seemed to enjoying their booze in moderation. I thought my drinking was a homosexual problem when in fact I discovered and accepted alcoholism for the tyrannical spiritual malady it truly is. Straight men who stood by me, shared with me and attended groups with me led me to this understanding.

Accepting my sexual orientation for what it is takes courage each and every day. Much of my experience as a man pursuing other men revolved around alcohol. I struggled accepting myself and the struggle to accept other gay men was even greater. With that, I accumulated a lot of guilt and shame from drunken one-night stands with men who identified as straight. The shame and guilt I bore was not mine to bear. According to a study published by The Journal of Social Psychology,  “heterosexual people are more likely to find members of the same sex attractive after consuming alcohol.” The journal furthered the conclusions drawn from the study stating, “men who had more than ten alcoholic drinks were just as interested in the men depicted as they were in the women.” (http://www.newnownext.com/straight-men-drunk-gay-sex-study/05/2017/) In the words of R&B artists Jamie Foxx “blame it on the a-a-a-a-alcohol…”. Rehab gave me the healthy, sustainable friendships with gay and straight men I had always longed for.

In addition to rehab, spiritual and emotional gains have been made for the better due to the acceptance and tolerance I found in the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Two of my sponsors have been straight men and most of the calls I receive daily are from the like. My sexuality doesn’t define me, nor does it define my disease. I drink from the fountain of community with cups of friendship because AA and treatment facilities did not close their doors on those who identify along the spectrum of LGBTQ. Walter Armstrong went on to note that  “AA opened its doors to gay men two years after its founding in 1935, whereas gay-sensitive treatment centers remain few and far between in some parts of the U.S. It’s estimated that there are now more than a thousand gay AA groups nationwide, with 12-step.programs for everything from crystal-meth addiction to sexual compulsion increasing the count by half. “ (Armstrong, “Just a Sip? Gay Men and Alcoholism”, http://www.realjock.com/article/985)

In any discussion revolving around homosexuality it is necessary to address the lack of progressiveness and acceptance in normative culture. Matthew Todd, former editor of Attitude, argues that for gay men it is “our experience of growing up in a society that still does not fully accept that people can be anything other than heterosexual and cisgendered [born into the physical gender you feel you are]… It is a shame with which we were saddled as children, to which we continue to be culturally subjected.” (Owen Jones, “Gay Men Are Battling a Demon More Powerful Than HIV”, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/20/gay-men-hiv-homophobia-lgbt-drink-drugs). I have my own stories of being sanctioned, ridiculed, ostracized and discriminated against for identifying as bisexual. Even in treatment I experienced the pain of being called a “fag” by a fellow client who bore tattoos indicating allegiance to white supremacy. He later apologized and our friendship was built on the foundation of sobriety and clean time rather than our differences.

Recovery and AA have an irrefutable power to bring people who would typically not mix together.  Armstrong notes that “Recent studies have found comparable trends in alcoholism and alcohol abuse between gay and straight men.” (“Just a Sip?”) We alcoholics are not all that different regardless of who we want to spend the rest of our lives. Getting sober not only helps me come out of the closet but also accept myself. I attend AA mens meetings just as much as I attend gay meetings. I pray to a God of my own understanding. And the best part about early sobriety is that I’m not looking for sex or romantics for the next year at least.

So the pressure is off. Be yourself and defy whatever defamations alcoholism is trying to tell you. Getting sober is an affirmation uninhibited by race, creed, sexual orientation or religion. It’s a universal language of love that will endure as long as mankind and alcohol co-exist. If you are struggling with alcoholism and your identifying as anything other than straight, address your disease first and I guarantee the know-how and courage to face life’s other many mysteries will reveal itself.