Booze and Bipolar

PJ Stephens, Founder Angels Rise U.P.

November 23, 2020

I thought this topic would be fitting given the quickly approaching Thanksgiving holiday. I’ve been thinking about writing this topic for a while. But every time I got ready to write about it, it just seemed incredibly overwhelming. In part because I’ve battled with the idea if I should be slightly dishonest. Kind of out of shame but from the feeling of utter failure. So, before I even begin, I should get it out. I have relapsed a couple of times during this pandemic we see ourselves facing. In the very beginning, I broke down crying in the bathroom of my workplace. Thankfully I had a good friend there to comfort me. And the surprising thing even to me, I knew she wouldn’t judge me for this breakdown. I pretty much trusted her from the start. Its good to have people like that in my life. I have a few, but each and every person has a different quality to them that helps me through dark days. That may seem a little codependent, but its not. Believe me I know what it feels like to be codependent. I was with my mom, pretty much my entire life. As I write this I want to add, that I am going through a slightly manic state. It was triggered from a mess up in my meds.

It’s healthy that I can admit my own fear

So this past summer, I had already missed a couple months of work because of Covid-19 (I didn’t have it but thankfully my employer was great at giving us time off for self-care) So I definitely took that time. I also must stress, yes, I was scared and still scared of something that I can’t see but is killing many. I’m not ashamed of my fear. Fear is not a bad thing it is a normal human response in the whole fight or flight scheme of things. Its healthy that I can admit my own fear.

I have not been able to go too long without relapsing. It started while I was in the military stationed in Germany. Hate to say it, but the military causes more alcoholism than it helps to prevent. Ok, maybe I need to say that differently. Its our own responsibility if we decide to drink or not. But the military does not help when it has beer always stocked in vending machines in the barracks. A lot of us numbed ourselves at least every weekend. Being a medic we would even steal bags of normal saline to give ourselves i.v.’s for our excruciating hangovers. If that doesn’t scream, “I’m an alcoholic!” I don’t know what does.

I’m a three time suicide survivor

After years of living as an alcoholic I have been able to discern when I’m most likely to drink and when I’m not. I have found that I usually drink to bring down a manic spell. So far, I’ve been doing well. I haven’t grabbed for any alcohol for the past two days even being manic. But I pretty much peaked yesterday. I am coming down, but my hands can’t keep up with my mind still. Many times, I compare my mania as having butterflies in my head. I try catching them, but simply can’t. I go through hypomanic spells. I am diagnosed as bipolar 2. This basically means that I have bouts of severe depression with moments of a “mild” form of mania. There are still many doctors who think that 1 is so much worse than 2. That’s not true. I’m a three time suicide survivor.

When drinking I have found that I am usually on that manic high. So, while it helps alleviate some things, it ultimately creates a cascading effect which I then go into extreme bouts of depression. And suicidal ideation is not too far behind. Again, I’ve survived this past couple of days not wanting to even drink. But the danger really comes when the mania lasts more than a few days and I just can’t come down no matter what. I’ve tried taking more of this pill or that, which just creates another problem. I still like to be my own doctor occasionally. And of course that’s not healthy for me at all. Again, that cascading effect. Unlike what so many think, mania isn’t always fun, at least not for me. At first, I love it. But then as it drags on, not so much. Cause then I know I’m going into a place that may end up with me in the hospital yet again. About 10 years ago I called a nurse telling her that the meds they had just put me on caused me to go manic. I told her I did not like what it was doing to me and that it swung me up. She said, “Oh really? Most people like being manic.” I advise all never doing that. It was very dismissive.

All of this is a reason I also don’t date. There was a point when I was married that I became so manic that I locked myself in my office, slept on the couch in there and went on a 3-day bender. My wife felt hopeless. I still feel guilty about putting her through that. Most of us with this brain disease have many failed relationships. But that is a topic for another day. Talking about my experiences being married while living with bipolar is hard for me.

“It’s ok to not be ok” philosophy works for me.

As I stated, so far, I’m doing ok. I feel myself coming down. I just need to remember that I have tools in the shed, for lack of a better phrase, that I can use to help me through this. I have another friend I can call. She doesn’t care that I could be manic or whatever. Her day job is being a counselor, so I’m sure she’s seen it all. I believe she’s been doing the job for quite some time. I also really need to use the coping skills I have found that work. Exercising is one of them. I have put that off for a while, because I have been injured on and off for the past 2 years. But even as I write this, I’m taking breaks to lift some weights. It’s not as much as I usually do, but its something. And no, exercise is not a cure, but it is a coping mechanism that works for me. But believe me, there are times I’ll spend days in bed and just roll over and open my eyes. And you know what? That’s ok. I have a notebook on me or next to me all the time. I’ll write one or two things down that I did for the day that are for me, huge accomplishments. If I write, “I breathed today.” that’s a big deal. As mentioned, I’ve almost died. “Its ok to not be ok.” philosophy works for me.

Long story short. Alcoholism is as much a part of me as my bipolar will always be. I cant guarantee that next week I wont drink, but that’s why I take it day by day. Hell, some days I have to take it minute by minute. I’ll count every single minute I don’t drink, as being my own master of the universe. And that also works for me.

“Every addiction no matter what it is, is the result of trying to escape from something by going in the direction of a need that is currently not being met.”


If you are in need of help please go online to:

SAMSHA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration

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