Reflecting back on my childhood, I always had a vivid imagination. I would imagine being an artist or a musician or even a sheet metal worker, but never a social worker. Drugs and alcohol and mental illness led me to the path of social work treatment, and recovery services (dual diagnosis). At school the other kids laughed and joked during recess while I watched from the shadows. When the other children raised their hands to answer the teacher’s questions, I held my breath trying to be invisible terrified I might be called on to speak out loud. I hated school. I couldn’t seem to make sense out of the math. I couldn’t focus enough to hear or remember anything even for a few minutes. When the teacher explained things all I seemed to hear was a senseless drone. The writing and diagrams on the blackboard just made my head swim. I didn’t get it and I felt stupid. I don’t remember exactly how, but when I was in my early teens I discovered, alcohol, drugs, sex, and just about every other means to moderate and control my feelings and thoughts. By the time I was 16, I was a seasoned drug user who was drunk and stoned on some substance or other nearly every day.
I worked at low-paying jobs for the next several years. Finally, I was having blackouts regularly and I lost my jobs. I was having panic attacks; I acted on the thoughts and attempted suicide. Fortunately I was unsuccessful and after I was released from the hospital I was sent into the mental health system where I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, and PTSD, panic attacks, and various ‘personality disorders’. A treatment program of medications and therapy was initiated.
I rarely felt safe enough at the AA and NA meetings to openly share about my psychiatric illnesses or the fact that I was taking antidepressants and medications to control my anxiety and psychosis. Many of the folks at my AA and NA meetings simply didn’t understand that depression, as I knew it, was a serious illness and that I needed to take my medications to remain functional. Some would condemn me as engaging in self-pity and others told me I wasn’t sober as long as I was taking medications. I felt like I was “faking” my own recovery program because I could not openly practice the rigorous honesty spoken of in the Big Book.
Eventually, my symptoms became manageable and I went to the local community college of Allegheny county to learn a new career in