I was sober for three years when I got pregnant the first time. I was also on mental health medications that I didn’t feel safe taking during pregnancy so I weaned off of them. They had never worked well anyway because I was wrongly diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Instead of seeking out better help and finding the right medications and right diagnosis, I demonized mental health medication and vowed never to use it again. I ended up letting go of my sobriety a year later and white knuckling through the ups and downs of my diseases (mental health and addiction) for the next decade.
I spent years trying every natural concoction for mental health. Juicing, smoothies, supplements, yoga, herbs, and some wild berry from some rain forest that claimed to be the cure all. There was no end to the lengths I would go to feel sane as long as it was “natural.” Every time I hoped the next thing would be the thing that would fix me, but it never did. I just ended up having severe mood swings.
When I was finally ready to get off the crazy train, I started looking for answers. I sought the counsel of two different therapists who confirmed what I knew to be true after much research on my part. I was cyclothymic, a high functioning version of Bipolar Disorder. Even with the correct diagnosis I refused to see a psychiatrist and fought the idea of taking medicine.
A few months went by and my life was becoming more unmanageable because of my mental health status. At some point the suicidal thoughts were stronger than ever before. I looked at my four beautiful daughters and realized that if only for their sakes, I would get the help I so deeply needed and deserved. I found a wonderful psychiatrist who spent a long time listening to all of my concerns. I felt like he was in my corner and only wanted to see me live a better life. He made it clear that this diagnosis wasn’t the end of the world and that being medicated wasn’t either.
Within days of starting that drug, my life changed for the better. It reminded me of the way my daughter talks about getting glasses when she was six. She had no idea that trees have leaves, they just looked like green blobs to her. Seeing them in their true form for the first time was astonishing to her. That’s the effect this medication had on me. I wasn’t some new person. I didn’t feel high, drunk, numb, or anything other than a more balanced version of who I had been.
Imagine my surprise when I got sober and starting hearing people make comments about not being sober if you’re on mental health medications. I was dumbfounded by the fact that people who are not doctors or therapists are saying this information to others in recovery! The very reason I was able to get sober IS because I am medicated and my brain is capable of making healthier choices. Not just medicated, but finally on the right medication.
“According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, approximately 50 percent of individuals diagnosed with severe mental illness are affected by substance abuse. About 37 percent of individuals with alcoholism and 53 percent of individuals with drug addictions have at least one serious mental illness.”
I carry a dual diagnosis, which means I not only deal with the stigma of being bipolar but also the stigma of being a recovering alcohol/addict. I don’t feel that anyone in recovery who isn’t a professional in these matters has any right to tell another person in recovery that they aren’t sober if they are taking mental health medication. It is dangerous for so many reasons. It also goes against any 12-step program’s principles.* Should we tell someone they shouldn’t undergo surgery because if they use anesthesia they won’t be sober? The rabbit hole to go down is deep and pointless. Instead, we should be supporting our fellows in recovery. If they (along with professional healthcare providers) deem mental health medication necessary, it’s no one else’s business or right to make claims otherwise.
As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I know just how powerful diet and lifestyle are to helping our mental health. My medication works very well because I compliment it with the way that I eat, sleep, play, meditate, get sunshine, and practice mindfulness. However, none of those things were enough without the medication to keep me balanced. My brain is wired in a way that I will need medication the rest of my life if I want to feel stable. Just like if I want to stay sober, I need to be in a program of recovery for the rest of my life. That’s what I know works for me personally. As an NTP, it’s not my job to tell anyone whether they should be on medication or not. It’s my job to help them find more balance and health through diet and lifestyle and to leave the medical advice up to the doctors.
If you’re newly sober or have been sober for years and are just getting treated for mental health problems, let your decisions about medication be between you and your professional healthcare team. It could be the difference between life and death, joy and sorrow, or being sober versus drinking.