Struggling at the Intersection Between Mental Health and Addiction

I was diagnosed a depressed bulimic when I was sixteen.

I was diagnosed a cocaine addict when I was nineteen.

I’ve lived in the intersection between my mental health challenges and my addictive tendencies for thirteen years. It’s been anything but easy.

At first, the hardest part was that I so obviously used drugs and alcohol to escape the hell of my eating disorder. But instead of providers seeing this, I was labeled a drug addict and directed to a 12-step meeting.

The teen that hasn’t kept food down in three years doesn’t belong in A.A.

I could string clean days together from drugs and alcohol fairly handily, but I never felt relief claiming a chip, because I knew my most dear and destructive coping mechanism raged alive and well within me, continuing to ravage my life and very existence.

I got sober from what had escalated into a methamphetamine habit/addiction a week before my 22nd birthday. I found out I was pregnant three weeks later. This time I held onto sobriety. This time I finally kicked bulimia to the curb–though it took me into my third trimester to master the art and eating and not throwing my food back up.

I stayed sober for almost six years before making the decision to drink socially. Two years after that I picked up a pipe when marijuana became legal in a neighboring state. I was off to the races again, but it took me a couple of years to fully admit this. During that time my mental health began to suffer. I’d started purging again, but hadn’t told anyone. When I finally did come out with it, I came out with all of it.

I’d been purging for four years. I was using marijuana daily. My drinking was a social crutch and a solo comfort. Anxiety and over-functioning were ruling my life. I needed help.

I’ve gotten ample help in all sorts of forms for the past eighteen months. I’ve also struggled mightily. I’ve added bipolar, PTSD, and ADHD to my ever growing list of mental health diagnoses. I’ve come out of the not-so-recovered closet publicly and privately. I’ve found life at this damned intersection to be daunting, baffling, and outright overwhelming; for me, and maybe also for those that provide care for me.

When I went to a naturopath complaining of chronic back pain compounded by my penchant for hardcore exercise, I was given a medical marijuana card. When I began manic-depressive cycling for the first time in nine years, I was directed to a prescriber. When I wondered what the weed was doing to my mental health status, I was told most of her patients used. When I went into the psych ward after weeks of sleepless nights and rapid cycling, I was the one looking for a forced break from the drugs and alcohol.

I found no one could tell me what withdrawal might look like, or even begin to assess the intersection of my use and my mental health symptoms. The knowledge I sought was most likely found behind the counter of the dispensary.

When my prescriber gave me Adderall for my newly identified ADHD, I returned weeks later with the confession I’d quickly began to snort it. When I tried to take breaks from the ever-present marijuana, my anxiety would spike so high I’d be reliant on alcohol and Xanax to maintain some semblance of even-keel-ness. It was like being stuck on a crazy-making merry-go-round. And I couldn’t get off.

I wondered if anyone was there to help me get off. Maybe even make me get off. It was clear to me my addiction and my mental health were intricately and intimately intertwined. I couldn’t tackle one without the other. But I was given all this leeway for coping, for surviving, for my well-worn penchant toward numbing. I craved the tough love of the addition world, even as I so desperately needed the gentle hand-holding the mental health system so sweetly provided.

I spun.

I stumbled.

Somehow, I also healed.

I healed some of the hurt of being forced into treatment too young. I healed the heartache of feeling unseen, inaccurately diagnosed, and ultimately harmed more than helped. As I healed these seemingly disparate hurts, my willingness grew. My steadiness returned. My readiness rose once more.

I don’t have an easy word about straddling these two worlds, about living in the tornado of too much and never, ever enough. It’s a fucked up path we are forced to walk regardless of readiness, of intelligence, of willingness, of want, of absolute exhaustion, of the inevitable other shit coming at us in every aspect of our lives. It’s a shitshow, often. It’s a challenge, daily. And it’s still worth it. I don’t regret my decision to wake up each morning, ever. I don’t regret my fight through this life. I don’t question the mark I’m making in this world, with my presence alone. I know I’m an enigma. I know I’m an inspiration. I know I’m a survivor of things no one should have to live through. I know.

And sometimes I find those brief moments of reprieve when I can rest in that knowledge. I am enough. Even at the intersection. Especially at the intersection.

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