Anyone who’s ever been depressed knows the suck of it. Depression robbed me of happiness for decades. Depression blindsided me at times I was supposed to be joyful. Depression kept me using and drinking in a failed attempt to self-medicate my misery. Depression put me in a hole so dark and deep I once considered ending my life.
My story with depression probably isn’t much different than yours. I denied having it. I refused to believe I was “one of those” people. I didn’t think anyone was capable of fixing my feelings of sadness. I detested the thought of having to take a pill to make me function like a “normal” human being. I judged those who sought help for it – because the problem with depression is it masks the possibilities of change with doom and gloom.
I hit bottom in my depression when I considered ending my life. My suicidal ideations were a result of a relapse into depression and a relapse with alcohol. I struggle with co-occurring disorders. This means I have clinical depression and alcoholism/substance abuse disorders. When I hit bottom in my depression, I was 9 months into an alcohol relapse after being sober for nearly two years. I had done everything right in my recovery from alcohol. I attended small group every week, I found Christ, I followed all the steps and I had accountability partners and sponsors. I even got to the point where I was leading a small group and a step study as part of a ministry team with my church. Why then, did I return to this hellish place?
I believe I went back to relapse in part because I didn’t address my depression problem. Even with all that recovery and that entire sobriety; unfortunately, I was still in denial about depression. I was still too proud to admit I struggled with depression, and honestly, I thought it was the alcohol that was the problem, not the underlying depression. I thought after one more step, one more meeting, one more prayer, I would be healed of what ailed me, but it wasn’t enough. I needed professional help.
Today, I can say I’m happy. I’m happy because I can freely admit I struggle with depression. The pain of depression is excruciating to those who suffer with it, but the good news is there are plenty of ways to treat it. Here, I list 6 steps I went through to find peace with my depression.
6 steps I went through to find peace with my depression.
1) Understand the biological complexity involved with depression.
Depression is more than just being sad. According to Harvard Medical School, depression has many possible causes, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems (http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/what-causes-depression). This means it’s a whole lot more than “the blues” and you are not just “moody.” Think about all the harmful chemicals you’ve ingested while using and drinking. Think about the effect that has on serotonin levels and brain chemistry. Depression is out of your control at this point, much like everything else in sobriety.
2) Chuck your ego.
Mental illness has a stigma to it, even in the most advanced society in the free world. Nobody wants to admit they are depressed, it is viewed as weak. Nobody wants to be looked at as the “crazy” one that can’t get their shit together, even when they are sober. But the truth is, when you look at the biological complexity of depression, you are completely free to chuck your ego out and get the help you need. Once you’re feeling better, you won’t care what anyone thinks anyway. Trust me.
3) Get professional help.
Depression is deadly. I work as a mental health professional in a psychiatric triage facility. The clinic handles those in crisis who are having thoughts of suicide. A vast majority of these thoughts stem from depression and many who don’t get help end up attempting suicide at some point in their life. It takes a professional to treat depression. Whether that professional is clinical or holistic, is entirely up to you.
4) Stop trying to medicate your way…it doesn’t work.
Medicating depression with alcohol and/or drugs is a sure way to stay in the hellish place of rock bottom. Don’t try to figure out which came first, the depression or substance use, it’s irrelevant. After you get professional help for depression you’re going to have to consider treatment options. Fortunately, most prescription anti-depressants are non-habit forming. Unfortunately, they take a good 6-8 weeks to reach their full effect and most people give up on them before then or stop taking them because they feel better, these actions lead straight to depression relapse. Meds worked for me. I’m an advocate for them, but I respect other holistic treatments, they just didn’t work for me. I tried praying my way out of depression and it didn’t work for me (please…no theological backlash here). I tried herbal and holistic supplements and they didn’t work for me either. I tried counseling by itself. It took me years of approaches and meds to find the treatment plan that worked for my depression. The key is to find what works for you and work it.
5) Work your depression recovery – just the same as sobriety recovery.
Think about it. Apply the same 12 steps, the same small group support, the same accountability and sponsorship to depression along with professional help or recommendations, and boom! You have the most comprehensive depression healing package you could ever hope for. This should help you avoid relapse into old habits if depression hits again. Depression may only last a season, or it may last a lifetime. It may recur after circumstances in your life change. The best thing you can do is accept what is, and prepare for a lifetime of recovery from it.
6) Accept the gift of happiness.
Speaking of acceptance, we alcoholics and addicts have a hard time accepting what we deserve right? I know I spent a number of years avoiding happiness because I didn’t feel I deserved it. Happiness is a gift; wrapped in this splendid package we call acceptance. The key to unwrapping the gift is just a flicker of hope. You might be a great distance away from acceptance and that’s ok. As long as we’re breathing there’s hope for change. Arthur Rubenstein said “I accept life unconditionally. Most people ask for happiness on condition. Happiness can only be felt if you don’t set any condition.”
With these 6 steps, I hope you found just a faint glimmer of hope among the serious topic of depression management. Depression is just a portion of the glorious mess that I call my story. I urge you to seek help if struggling with depression, there really is a whole world of people out there waiting for you to take that step. You are needed, you have a purpose and you are worthy. Choose happiness. Stay sober my friends.