I lie here in the glorious sunshine by the pool at my place in Cape Town. I’m content, doing work that is both rewarding and enjoyable, I have a good circle of loyal friends and a family that loves me and wants me to be successful but most importantly happy. This still however feels so alien to me and far removed from the devastating chaos caused by over two decades of fumbling blindly through the confusion of daily abuse of alcohol and the underlying, possibly causal factor, depression. To medicate is normal, to self-medicate is logical, prescription medication combined with the self-medication of choice is the real killer that lies beneath. Only now, away from all that, is my ability to separate the two, take away the non-prescribed drugs, the overly-prescribed drugs, the over the counter drugs and the alcohol, get a clear view and treat the depression as if it is simply an inconvenience that can be managed and just like addiction, it can be managed effectively. If someone had even suggested that to me a few years ago, I would have given a very negative and violent response.
My point here is that, although on the surface life is brilliant for me, what people who don't suffer from depression understandably don't grasp is that quality of life is of no consequence to the illness. When locked in depression, happiness isn't measured by what we've got to be grateful for, by having people who love us, even by a knowledge that we are good people with good hearts doing exactly the right thing. It's irrelevant, inexplicable and the depression can strike at any time. The last couple of days I've been in a rare state of low mood, it still happens, more than two years after taking my last drink but this is depression, this is, like addiction, an illness that will be with me for life and one that I have to manage. It's fine now though because when things go dark, it's temporary and I have a bad day, stay sober, go to bed and hope the next day will be better. If it's not, I simply repeat the process. It's uncomfortable and soul destroying when I can't motivate myself to do simple everyday tasks but it's my reality now and it always goes away until it comes back again. I'm happy this way because I've lived for twenty years trying to make myself happy in such destructive ways that I'm lucky to have come out alive. I think back to the long weeks, months and years where every single day I had no hope, filling my life with bullshit and alcohol as some kind of counter against the darkness until the time when the darkness was there for good, regardless of any measures I took to lift it. It was a tragic way to live, waking up to a world where nothing seemed to lie ahead but years and years more of what I was already finding intolerable. I would pray at night that I wouldn't wake up the following morning, knowing that sleep was my one and only time when I had any peace. I manipulated a series of relationships, engagements and a marriage in a vain attempt to give life a degree of purpose but absolutely nothing I tried gave me any happiness. When the alcohol really took hold, it was a solution to the problem, it filled the waking gaps between sleeps and took me away from a reality that hurt and confused me. It gave me solace but it also turned me into a shell, a zombie and relationships with actual people became an inconvenience rather than a comfort.
One of the benefits of having suffered this way is that I have extreme empathy for others who are still suffering, I appreciate things, people matter and things that go on around me are relevant. I read about the recent Paris attacks with sadness, I’m not naïve enough to believe that all people are good but I do believe that inherently, the majority of people are good. I no longer want to get involved in battles I can do little about, does that make me a coward or just realistic? I don't want to be a politician or work in the press, having to sell my soul for a pay packet, corruption is a cancer that comes with misused power and I'd rather have my own sound agenda than some larger harmful one. The only way I as an individual can help is small yet extremely powerful, it gives me peace and a desire to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. My belief is that helping the world starts with helping the person next to you. It's about knowing your limitations but having a desire to improve the life of that person in any way you know how. I'm privileged to have knowledge, experience and support to make good things happen and that's what I will do. I don't subscribe to any notion that the problem is too huge, there are too many suffering, helping one won't make any difference to the world right? Wrong, it will make the world of difference to them and trust me they will want to help others because it's contagious, it spreads quickly and that's what will make a difference on a huge scale.
These days, I don't update my personal Facebook status much, I think I used to buy into the belief that if I posted about how amazing my life was it would somehow become that way. With a long stretch of sobriety and one pill a day for the depression I don't need those kind of false highlights anymore. Life is manageable now I'm on a level, life is bearable and even with the blips, I wouldn't want it any other way. What the world sees aren't just highlights, a vain attempt to hide the real pain beneath the façade. What they see now is me, reasonably happy, very content and moving on with a life I'd never believed was possible. I no longer fear death but I do now like being alive, the world simply is a frightening place but it's not so gloomy that I no longer want to be a part of it and that to me is a miracle.
Someone once identified in me something that I've never really explored until recently. They said something along the lines of 'You people (meaning presumably those suffering from addiction, depression or both) seem to be unafraid of death because the thought of living scares you more'. Laughing it off at the time I never realised quite how profound that was. It's 100% true! I've thought a lot about it and when you are acutely depressed the fear of life makes death a more reasonable option. This of course varies in drama and intensity from person to person but I certainly understand the feeling. Without being dramatic, I've been moved to suicide in the past and as irrational as it feels now, it was very real at the time. Some people go that extra step and succeed, I've lost friends, particularly in recovery ironically, and by the grace of God, it didn't happen to me and my life goes on equipped with some useful life experience.
As it stands today, I still have no actual fear of dying and this is because I’m more hopeful in my outlook, there's no point worrying about what's to come and the joy in living every day fully is enough for me. Sorry to bring it up again but I was stabbed on a train, puncturing my lung and as near to death as I have realistically become. This was a year into my current recovery and it taught me some amazing things. The first thing it taught me was that I had no fear, I took on the muggers, both armed, in order to hang on to my stuff because injustice makes me angry and I saw no reason for them to have what they requested. Whether or not this was wise is irrelevant and the means justify the ends, if they had of killed me I wouldn't have had any regrets. I stood up for what I believed in. The second thing is that I can forgive, despite the opinion of experts that I would have trauma for months or years to come following the attack, I felt no anger, I forgave my attackers instantly and moved on. How I did this is one of life's mysteries but it makes me happy and I feel I gained from what could otherwise have made me bitter and resentful. I avoided the bitterness and the anger which in turn, gave me peace, we have to leave behind the things that will ultimately hurt us more so that's what I did.
On the subject of death, I still think very often of my Dad who I lost 4 years ago to cancer. Initially when someone dies the grief is too much to form coherent thoughts let alone try to find some positives in the situation! That's why we all need time to grieve of course, it's human. Beyond that and years down the line I only ever think positively about my Dad. I thought we were worlds apart for a long time but every day I realise I am more like him than either of us would ever have admitted. Fortunately for me, I seem to have inherited his good traits and that thought that my Dad's legacy continues in me shows me that death is just a moment, the person still lives on. Like me, my Dad had a period of depression where he found routine and life intolerable. It was short with him but what impressed me most was his resilience; he didn't simply give up. He made changes to his life, took a step down in career but this just made him more valuable and useful in his new role. He was the go to man for any problem and had a knack of handling people, this has been the benchmark to my recovery. Although he was a quiet and humble man and not such a risk taker as myself, his power came from being approachable and helping others and that's what's important, it's human and it lives on forever.
I want to end with how to deal with depression in someone and this is also relevant to people with addictions. Just because you don’t feel the same way or have the same urges doesn’t mean the next persons reality isn’t exactly as they describe. Depression and addiction are both illnesses that affect the brain chemistry and as such are as real as any physical illness. Even if you are unable to emphasise with the person, you can still be non-judgemental and supportive. Be human, listen, give them the time they need, it really is as simple as that. If you need help with a dual-diagnosis issue yourself or for a loved one then visit my website and fill in the form, we will get back to you straight away.
Life can still be difficult for me but it’s infinitely less difficult than it used to be when I wasn’t managing my depression and addiction. Alcohol used to be the solution, now life and hope is the answer for the alcoholfreeme.com