Yesterday was an emotional day for me. Our nine-year-old Shaun was home for the third day in a row, missing school because of a virus. I had a couple of very important meetings for work, and had to be out of town, leaving Amanda at home alone to care not only for Shaun, but also for our two new dogs, Bev and Booboo.
We have come to accept my business travel as a part of life, but that acceptance becomes more difficult to muster when life gets challenging at home. We handle such times by increasing our communication, assuring one another that our family is a team, regardless of whether we are physically together or not.
Regardless of how things are going at home, when I travel, I up my meeting attendance. Typically hitting a noontime meeting and another in the evening. Yesterday was no exception.
Yesterday’s two meetings both focused on the topic of relapse. It’s a tough topic, and one that stirs deep emotions for me when I think back in my own relapses in my early days of recovery.
At last night’s meeting, when my turn came to share, I began to connect some dots from my own story that had been eluding me. Dots that I believe tied my own struggles with relapse to depression.
It started on Tuesday. A member of one of the recovery groups to which I belong on Facebook had asked about dealing with depression in recovery. There were several helpful and encouraging suggestions. I chimed in with my own take, which is to address my depression with medication prescribed by my doctor, exercise, and meditation.
The very next person to comment pounced with a series of questions:
- Do you have a sponsor?
- Do you go to meetings?
- Do you work steps?
- Have you read your literature?
She answered that, yes, she does all of those things. Of course, but she needs more.
Well, you should do more service work. Get lost in serving others and your depression will melt away…
I so wanted to jump back in and grill this NA jackass. I didn’t do it though. I’ve made a commitment to be uplifting and encouraging in social media, avoiding all “Facebook battles.” Oh, this one was so hard to stay out of, but I did. I had offered my encouragement, and that would have to do.
Anyway, here is my point. Hold on, this may be news to some of you…
NARCOTICS ANONYMOUS DOES NOT CURE CANCER!
There, I said it. Have I committed heresy here? Nah…
It’s common sense, right? If someone comes into a meeting and shares that they have cancer, no one is going to tell them to blow off all doctors, medications, and other treatments in favor of working steps. Nor will anyone suggest fighting cancer by sitting on an H&I panel.
Just talk to your sponsor about it and that cancer will go away.
Read a few chapters out of the Basic Text. You’ll be amazed at how much that tumor shrinks!
Sounds foolish, right? Completely outlandish even.
The addict seeking recovery can substitute diabetes, a broken arm, heart disease, or almost any other medical condition for the word “cancer,” and most would agree that medicine and professional help are going to be required.
Yet, sadly, where mental health is concerned, many among us seem either unable or unwilling to connect the dots. Admitting that one suffers from chronic depression, or any other mental health issues at an NA meeting is likely to bring judgement and criticism from some in the room.
Oh, you actually treat your disease? You take MEDICATION???
Yes Bucko, I do. I take medication to treat depression, and guess what… it works!
Getting back to how this all ties into the topic of relapse, last night I finally connected the dots between my own battle with depression and my struggle with relapse early on.
I had originally been treated for depression back around 1999. I had been paralyzed with irrational fear and indecisiveness. Functioning at home or at work became a daily struggle. I was a mess.
So, I went to my doctor to talk about my condition. He looked at me and very plainly stated, “Kent, you’re depressed.”
He explained depression from a neurological standpoint, and how an antidepressant could help intervene in my situation. He warned me that it would take a few weeks, but over time, I should notice a difference.
A few weeks later I felt like a new person. The medication worked.
I stayed on that medication for a couple of years. Then it happened. I stopped taking it. I decided it was no longer needed in my life. After all, life was good. I was good.
It didn’t happen over night, but eventually, I began to self-medicate. At first, and for a long time, it was with alcohol. Eventually, that didn’t seem satisfactory, so I added prescription pain killers to the mix. When those no longer sufficed, meth became my “medication” of choice.
Then, came NA. Once aware of my addiction, I chose to do something about it. I wanted to get clean. I wanted to find recovery, and a new way to live. No matter what though, all my enthusiasm for recovery couldn’t keep me clean. Until, that is, I also sought treatment for depression.
Months of struggle, frustration, and guilt over my relapses came to an end on December 1, 2016.
Now I will be the first to say that there were several things that contributed to my ability to finally stay clean and get clean, but addressing my depression was a NECESSARY first step.
Oh how I wish I could have just worked some steps, or called my sponsor. I wish a meeting a day for my first ninety days of recovery had solved Kent’s problem.
The trouble was that, because of my depressed state, I once again felt paralyzed. There were days that I couldn’t get out of bed. Days I couldn’t push myself to walk out the door. Days where working for an hour or two, at a job that I loved, felt like a major accomplishment.
Work steps? Serve? Get honest with my sponsor? Actually working the NA program seemed impossible. It WAS impossible.
I didn’t lack willingness. I lacked ability. Professional help gave me that ability. It opened the door to my recovery. It made working the program of NA possible for me. It continues to make it possible for me now.
No, NA doesn’t cure cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. It doesn’t cure depression either, and that’s ok. I don’t need NA to do those things for me.
The NA message is clear. An addict, any addict, can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live. For me, NA is a vital part of my life today, but it is not a cure-all. My new way of life is full of hope for the future, and free of those paralyzing fears that once kept me down.
Have a remarkable day!