Addiction and mental illness often co-occur. In fact, the combination is so common it has its own name: dual diagnosis. You can Google “dual diagnosis” or “bipolar disorder” or “dual diagnosis” but you cannot find out what a person is really feeling unless they tell you. And so I will tell you: Addiction, having once taken over my life, is trying to sneak its way back in. And I’m scared because addiction and mental illness is no joke.
What Causes an Addiction Relapse?
Similar to what causes relapse when you live with a mental illness, large (or small) life changes are at the top of the list, and that is what has thrown me off. I am moving for the third time in ten months. The first move I was excited, the second sad, and the third has left me wondering if I can sustain sobriety with what is going on in my life.
It’s hard for me to write this. I wrote a book that concluded with recovery—tentative but alive—and yet I still struggle. This is the nature of addiction and, in my life, it has been as frightening as chronic mental illness. Of course, mental illness and addiction live together: my mental health is destroyed by addiction and my addiction is summoned when my mental health is precarious (and even when it is not). Sometimes, it feels like I am being pulled from two ends: the part that is stable and the part that might kill me. That is addiction. I cannot sugar coat this. What I can do, and with absolute hesitation, is describe my mindset right now.
The Mindset of a Mentally Ill Addict
I do not like that title. I am more than a mental illness and an addiction, but it is true when they say “once an addict always an addict.” You can have forty-years of recovery under your belt and you still may think of drugs and alcohol and everything else that once made your world first sparkle and then crash.
The past few weeks, since I found out about the move, my mind has been skipping around. It pictures bottles of wine like you might picture the person you love most. It imagines drugs, the ones I used, sitting on my desk. Right beside me.
I am certain that if I were to relapse I would feel relief. And then utter despair. But sometimes the addict forgets the despair in light of relief. But I remember. I remember waking up in the hospital and I remember the seizures and pain and thank whoever lives in the sky that I do.
I hate addiction. I hate it more than mental illness because I cannot see my psychiatrist and find a medication that makes it better. I can only dream of my own medicine–the bad kind.
Addiction and Mental Illness Is Not Impossible to Handle
I know it will pass. It had better pass. If it does not? I am in for the long, short, haul. But there’s things I can do. Things you can do if you struggle with addiction. We can go to the infamous NA or AA meetings. And they really do help. For many people, myself included.
I wait it out. I write. Writing this blog allows me to breathe a little easier. I try to remember how much addiction hurt. Me and my family. I picture the destruction: the numerous apartments I was kicked out of, the dangerous company I kept, a body that could not walk properly and skin that was scratched till it bled.
I remember this. I remember this and then I walk my dog; sometimes I cry. Because I cannot have these things and do not understand why I want them so bad after how they have hurt me. How the memories hurt me still.
But this I know: this too shall pass. And with any luck, even a little, it will.
Photo credit DJ Spiess