Anniversaries and Honesty

By October 27, 2015Blog

Recently, I had the opportunity to present on several aspects of mental illness at a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for law enforcement officers. Afterwards, I stuck around to hear fellow Bring Change 2 Mind volunteer and former police commander, Chris Prochut, share his powerful and moving story. At one point, Chris spoke of the statistics – 1 in 4 adults will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. 1 in 4. Doing the math, that meant that roughly 7 people in the room had a mental illness. Chris invited those 7 people to stand up. No one moved.

Sitting in the back of the room, I slowly rose to my feet. I wasn’t sure if doing so would lessen the impact of the point Chris was making, but I also knew that if I didn’t stand up I’d be reinforcing the reluctance that filled the room. Chris asked me to share my diagnosis. ‘I have depression and ADHD . . .’ I responded. Then, hesitating, I took a deep breath and continued . . . ‘and I am a recovering alcoholic’.

Quickly I sat down, panicked, embarrassed and feeling like every eye in the room was on me. I had no problem sharing about depression or ADHD, especially in a room where, for an entire week, the topic was mental illness. But that last part – alcoholism – was something I’d never divulged in public, in writing, not even to my co-workers. My immediate fear was that this information could jeopardize my credibility and employability – that doors to future opportunities were slamming shut. I fervently hoped that people hadn’t heard what I’d shared or it hadn’t registered.

Why such a strong, negative internal reaction? For years I’ve been open and honest about the many ways mental illness has impacted not only my life but that of my family. I’ve encouraged others to discard their shame and their fears, reminding them that our diagnosis does NOT define us. Yet here I was, unable to follow my own advice.

The DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition) includes a chapter on Substance Related and Addictive Disorders, legitimizing alcoholism as a mental illness. Surely that confirms that, like depression, ADHD, schizophrenia, etc., addiction is not caused by a lack of willpower or poor choices. But still, that didn’t change my perception of what the outside world thought or believed.

For the past month my reactions and fears kept lurking in the back of my mind. Particularly as I thought about a fitting blog topic tied to BC2M’s 5th anniversary. I thought about how openly, fearlessly and honestly my fellow bloggers have not only shared their diagnoses but gone on to give readers an intimate, unfiltered view of life through their eyes. I realized the hypocrisy of my fears and my decision for the past 5 years not to share this one diagnosis. If I was truly going to walk the walk and talk the talk, if I was going to stand on equal ground with the 80,000+ people who have ‘liked’ BC2M on Facebook, if I was going to encourage my own children to be fearless and open about their own diagnoses . . . if I wanted to let go of the shame and the secrecy, then I HAD to stop ‘editing’ my story.

The reality is, I am not alone. Over and over Bring Change 2 Mind has been a catalyst for breaking down feelings of isolation. Through posts, blogs, PSA’s, videos, presentations and more, BC2M has started and fueled conversations of hope, support, collaboration and strength. Addiction and substance abuse frequently go hand in hand with mental illness and unless we include these in the conversations, how can we expect things to change? Might someone feel less alone because I set aside my ego and my pride and shared ‘the rest of the story’?

5 years ago, almost to the day, I took my last drink. I credit that milestone to the honesty and support of others who shared their stories and offered me hope. How wonderful to now share this part of my story within the BC2M community, built on a foundation of honesty, support and hope. Together, may we all flourish and grow in our shared honest and unfiltered journeys, struggles and triumphs.

3 Comments

  • Dana says:

    Hi…I am so impressed by your honesty and bravery! I have Bipolar Illness, PTSD, ADD and I am a recovering alcoholic(35 years)! I have been stable for many years with medication but it is never easy to walk this road, mainly because I have residual symptoms no matter how well I take care of myself… I just wanted to reach out to you in support because I know this road is not an easy one, but there are so many gifts, along with down side. I love being a creative, intelligent and loving spirit as I’m sure you are too. Sooo…rock on!!!

  • Beth says:

    I am also diagnosed with Bipolar and anxiety, and am a recovering alcoholic with 24 years. In retrospect, I suspect my drinking and prescription drug abuse probably kept me from suicide. Ironic, right? The big message is, of course, I’m still a recovering alcoholic and I still can’t drink or abuse drugs whether it kept me from suicide at that time or not. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic…that’s why it’s called an addiction. I am so glad I’m an alcoholic because it gave me a place to go to learn how to behave appropriately in situations that I didn’t learn the usual way. I’m very happy I was diagnosed, have a great psychiatrist and a very supportive husband. What I’m not grateful for is the bipolar and anxiety. It’s kind of amazing how many people have asked me “Aren’t you grateful for the mental illness because it’s made you who you are today?” umm no. There are so many things to be grateful for in life, and I am generally a happy, grateful person, but I am blown away every time I hear this. I know people usually don’t know what to say, so I don’t take it personally and try to offer more helpful responses. Thanks for your blog contribution and the reply…it’s great to be part of the club with creative, intelligent folks.

  • jan says:

    Beth, I have SPMI, which is the professional term for (serious persistent mental illness) and I am not grateful for it. Yes it has made me the person that I am today but it also basically has destroyed the life that I could have had if I hadn’t had the illness. Over the years many of my hopes, dreams, goals and relationships have been destroyed by the monsters of bipolar, PTSD, anxiety, clinical depression and other various diagnoses that have been attached to me. But I do have many things that I am grateful for. I have never had any serious diseases in any other organs in my body. I have two wonderful sons, both married and 3 beautiful grandchildren and friends. I have also been a member of Alliance House for 16 years. This is a program for adults with serious mental illness and it is based on the Clubhouse Model which helps us get out of the house and back into the community. Members work together with staff and other members side by side to accomplish the work of the Clubhouse. Members also have opportunities to accomplish career goals and finish their education. This is a wonderful program and I continue to attend Alliance House on a regular basis. For more information about the program, Google Clubhouse International.

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