Sure, I was self-medicating like crazy. I started smoking marijuana in 1978 at age fifteen, and drinking alcohol at seventeen, and kept the party going more or less non-stop (gave up the pot during my career as a cop but made up for it and then some with booze) until December 12th, 2013, when I finally saw what others took much less time to see, that I was drinking/abusing substances to the point where I was one stupid, alcohol and pot induced decision away from my life crashing down around me.
And my behavior changed for the worse (as bad as it already was) once I went back to getting stoned, after my law enforcement career ended. Unlike most stoners, the marijuana wasn’t enough for me, for some strange reason it made me want to drink (my poison of choice being Pinot Grigio) and I gradually escalated to doing both, first on my days off, starting around 11:00 a.m. and then I began doing it on days I worked, too, at first either a drink or two at lunch before work, or a quick toke off my one-hitter on my dinner break, and that’s when I realized I had to stop. I was impaired most of the time. And hiding it from others. Typical alcoholic behavior, right? So why don’t I want the label?
Because I have a mental illness, that I coyly referred to in AA meetings, for the five weeks I attended them, as a “treatment resistant mood disorder.” Yup. Hard for any treatment to take hold when you are consistently impairing yourself with depressants like alcohol (I’ve heard arguments both ways about whether pot is a depressant). I was on titrating up on lithium when I quit drinking/abusing, and after about a month of sobriety those nasty little insidious suicidal thoughts started to go away. Of course, my hands were also shaking badly and I didn’t want sex anymore, then I started to have thyroid problems, but hey, there are always trade-offs, no?
So in AA meetings, whenever I wanted to say something, which I did with less and less frequency as time went on, I introduced myself according to the rules, “hi, I am Tove and I am an alcoholic.” Then everyone would chime back, “hi, Tove (which, by the way, is confusingly pronounced Tova).” But I hated saying I was an alcoholic. I choked on it every time. My grandmother was an alcoholic. One of my siblings, my brother, is an alcoholic. But I self-identify much more strongly as someone with a mental illness. “Hi, I am Tove, and I am a self-medicating bipolar.”
But wait, even that’s not right. That’s like saying, if you have cancer, “hi, I am so-and-so, and I am a cancer.” No one says that. So instead, I should come out, here on this blog, as what I really am, “hi, I’m a person who, for too many years to count, self-medicated with drugs and alcohol due to having bipolar disorder,” and now I want to get better, and part of my journey is blogging about my thoughts on sobriety. (Hard for me to say that, publically, since no one knows the bipolar thing about me where I am employed, and I fear it would change their perception of my abilities. But no one where I am employed knows I write this blog, either. If anyone from work ever does find me, at least they’ll know I am sober!)
Sobriety is making me a healthier person, I will cautiously say, Perhaps, not yet, a better person, but hey, other than the truly stupid risks I took, and the bad decisions I made, due to either/both my illness and my self-medicating tendencies, I actually AM already a pretty good person. BUT I AM NOT MY ILLNESS. And even if I did self-identify as an alcoholic, like my brother does, I still would not be my illness. My brother embraces his alcoholism. He says drinking to excess and passing out every night makes him happy. But that is not the sum total of my brother. He is also a talented photographer, a loving husband, a responsible father, a caring brother, and an awesome fisherman.
So I am trying to think of myself as someone with an illness, but not who is her illness. Truthfully, what I think deep down is the label I really want but am afraid to give myself, is writer. Because having bipolar disorder and self-medicating for it is not condusive to getting much writing done, although I did knock off a quick novel, The Naked Truth. I guess I can start by saying I am a blogger who has written a novel. Maybe it’s time for a memoir.