Saturday, January 11, 2014

Stress is not my friend

We have completed our move into town.  We've even unpacked a substantial number of the boxes.  The moving was pretty stressful for me and for the rest of the family as well.  I don't do well with stress.  It seemed like I was doing OK until I blew up and lost my temper in front of the kids.  Well, "lost my temper" is sort of an understatement.  I'm disturbed and ashamed by my behavior, but as my forgiving counselor said, "no one got hurt and you didn't get drunk" so let it go.  In retrospect, I had been getting angrier and angrier for a couple of days during the move.  I must have been just bottling it up, not sharing about it, storing it up for a blowout. 

My outburst turned into yet another catalyst for discussion and an important life lesson for the family.  Anger happens.  Even adults lose their temper sometimes.  I had kind of been looking forward to not having my behavior be the center of the family's attention for a change though.

Bipolar folks do not do well with stress.  It exacerbates the symptoms of the disorder.  In this case irritability.  I also found my "rat brain" active too.  My rat brain is what I call the part of my brain that tries to talk me into drinking again.  It tells me I'm not good enough or not lovable or not a part of...  These thoughts lead to the thought that drinking again might be a good idea.  It's never been a good idea, but why not try it one more time, right? 

On the plus side, I've really had the opportunity to reflect on some areas of my life.  Faith, vulnerability, commitment.  You'd think I'd have these things down by now, but I don't.  Vulnerability seems to be my life lesson right now.  I've been coming to the realization that there's only a certain level of vulnerability that I'm comfortable with.  Anything beyond that makes me want to "run", and my favorite way to run is by drinking and using.  I need to break through to some new level of vulnerability without having to use to escape further growth.  What the hell,  I'm ready for change.  Anything is better than the way it's been. 

I've also started to think more about gratitude.  Maybe even starting a daily gratitude list.  I have so much to be grateful for.  I feel so blessed.  I need to remember that when my rat brain says I don't have what I want or need or deserve.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sadness is not the same as clinical depression

I've been sad the last couple of days.  We are moving into town, have sold all the animals, and are wrapping things up out here in the country.  Not that we are moving to a New York City or anything.  Just down the road into a nearby small town.  But still, it is a huge change in lifestyle for us.  I was packing books yesterday and packed up all my books on farming, market gardening, homesteading, and animal husbandry.  I felt sad about the animals I had sold and about the goat I had to put down earlier this year.  Sad that I would not be there to watch my goats kid this Spring.  Sad that I was letting go of this chapter in my life.

But sadness is not the same as clinical depression.  It does not need to be avoided or treated.  I do not need to drink over it or use over it or even to go see my psychiatrist over it.  It's normal to feel sad when life presents you with saddening events.  It's OK.

I felt refreshed tonight at a meeting where a friend of mine celebrated 11 years of continuous clean time.  Life goes on and it is good.  It'll be a blessing to me to move into town and be closer to meetings.  Closer to my friends in recovery.  I'll be able to go out for a cup of tea with my NA sponsor without having to drive for an hour and a half.  We won't have to spend half the day driving kids into town.  And we won't spend half our income on gasoline.

As sad as it is to leave farming, it is the right thing to do.  It is the right time to do it.  I feared the change.  I feared it so much that I used it as an excuse to drink.  A pretty sorry excuse but there you go.  I'm not fearing the change as much now.  I'll find new avenues to channel my energies.  I'll certainly still be able to grow a garden.  Maybe I'll get back into soap making.  Maybe I'll make more sausage.  I'll have to buy pork in bulk rather than butchering my own, but I might have more time for crafts like that.

As much as I miss the goats, it is nice to not have to milk them every single day in sub-zero temperatures.  I've been milking goats and caring for animals every day for years.

Grieving is a part of life.  Things pass, things are lost, things change.  Yes, I am sad.  But I welcome the sadness.  At least I'm not numb.  At least I'm not sitting drunk and alone in a crappy motel room.  As sad as this change is, I still feel incredibly blessed.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Med change...again

Well, the favorite of bipolar folks everywhere.  Time to make a change in medication.  This has been happening far too often this year.  Anyway, I'm coming off of Abilify, an expensive atypical antipsychotic, and either cutting it out completely or switching to a cheaper drug from the same family.  I don't seem to be experiencing much difficulty except maybe a little change in the racing thoughts department.  It is hard to tell though as I am traveling and going to family holiday parties.  Traveling and holiday parties can cause racing thoughts for me all by themselves. 

One problem with living with medication is that they can lose effectiveness over time.  Something that worked great in the beginning, can stop working after a while.  Or side effects can become problematic. 

Racing thoughts are not my friend.  They rarely race in a positive direction.  Usually they go something like this.  "I'm not good enough, I'll never succeed, I'll always feel THIS way, nothing will ever change."  Of course, I am good enough, I frequently succeed, feeling come and go, and things are always changing. 

How do I counteract these negative, racing thoughts?  Prayer, meetings, meditation, and serving others.  Getting active doing something positive.  I prayed a lot last night.  I was staying with some relatives.  My wife was asleep in our bedroom.  My sister-in-law was asleep in the living room.  And I had insomnia.  Nowhere to hang out and nothing to do.  So, I lay in the dark praying and trying to sleep.  Tonight is slightly better.  I'm having insomnia in the hotel lobby while everybody sleeps. 

We have a long drive tomorrow going home.  It'll be good to be home.  Now I just need to get some sleep so I can help with the driving.

Friday, December 13, 2013


It is so hard to write when I'm not having regular manic episodes.  The "loss" of creativity is often cited by bipolar folks as a good reason to stop taking their medications.  Bipolar folks are frequently very creative.  You know the mad artist or musician.  Van Gogh, Edgar Allen Poe, Mozart.  A good read on this is Kay Jamison's "Touched with Fire".  It's kind of grandiose to think that I'm anything like these guys, but still, sometimes I feel like being bipolar has fueled my creativity.  Not only has it been hard to write, I haven't been playing guitar either. 

I'm doing great on the current medication regimen.  Lithium in particular seems to be helping a great deal.  The two months preceding my alcohol relapse were hell.  One manic episode after another.  No one in the house knew what the heck I would feel like, who I might be, from day to day.  I finally got off the Paxil, which was incredibly difficult, and onto a higher dose of lithium.  The Paxil may have been solving several problems, but it also may have been precipitating manic episodes. 

The other problem that the Paxil had was that I couldn't seem to cry.  Or at least not very often.  I know crying doesn't seem like much of a plus, but when you haven't done it in ages, it is such a relief when it happens.  Anyway, now I cry frequently.  At first it was uncomfortable and weird.  I'd be in church listening to the sermon and just start crying for no particular reason.  Just now I was reading a book, "Carry On Warrior" by Glennen Doyle Melton, and just couldn't finish the chapter I was crying so hard.  It felt good to cry at a sad book.  It just feels good to be more emotionally alive.

So, why if I'm feeling more emotionally alive in some ways, do I feel as if my creativity is decreased?  Just a hunch.  Lithium has a reputation for this.  Maybe I just need to force myself to pick up the pen or the guitar.

And that's my resolution for the day.  To do some writing and play some guitar.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Relapse and Recovery

I relapsed.  On alcohol.  With all its catastrophic consequences.  I almost lost my family and next time, if there is a next time, I will.  I suppose there are a million excuses I might give for why I relapsed, but the honest truth is that I just like to get high.  Problem is, I don't like the consequences.  Among other problems, there is the fact that once I start it is almost impossible for me to stop. 

I made several obvious mistakes leading up to the relapse.  I stopped going to meetings, I isolated myself from friends, I isolated myself from my wife and family, I stopped praying.

Luckily I only drank for four days or so.  On the last day, I sat in the cheapest motel in town, glass in hand, and prayed.  In addition to praying, I had also talked to my psychiatrist and my wife.  I had reached out for help.  I dumped out the booze.

In short order, after I had stopped, there was a whirlwind of Positive activity.  I went to a meeting and admitted that I had relapsed.  I got out of the motel and into a basement apartment in the home of some members of my church.  I went to a meeting with my wife, my psychiatrist, and a couples counselor.  I jumped back into recovery with renewed vigor.  I jumped into my relationship with my wife with renewed vigor.  And I ramped up the therapy with my psychiatrist.

Interestingly, this whole mess has produced a renewed closeness with my wife.  We are planning to renew our wedding vows.  With a twist.  One of those vows will be that if I drink again, it will mean the end of our marriage.  Our new vows will be a definition of what each of us will be bringing to the table, and of what each of us expects the other to bring to the table.

I am filled with gratitude.  Not for having drank.  But for the unexpected shakeup in my life and marriage.  I am feeling a deep sense of joy and gratitude because I am still alive and that I get another chance to stay that way.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


In the words of the Psalmist, "This is the day the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."  Psalms 118: v. 24

While not an overly religious blog, this seemed to fit today.  Attitude is everything, and Lord knows I have a lousy attitude much of the time. 

Each new day in recovery and healthy living is a blessing to me.  I'm lucky to be alive and sane at all with all the crazy stuff I've pulled. 

When I approach each new day with the attitude that it is a gift and that I can greet it with a joyful countenance, I have a much better time of it.  Certainly, there is plenty to be anxious about.  Everybody has problems, but approaching those problems remembering that each day is indeed a gift.  And more, that each day be enjoyed regardless of what problems it brings.  Today we talked about some of the difficulties we face on the farm.  But underlying that conversation was the knowledge that we will be guided through those difficulties.  The certainty that a loving and caring creator will see us through.  The knowledge that we will feel through our dilemmas and make the right decisions. 

When I dwell in the negative, I run the risk of a relapse in addiction or mental health.  I can get so spun out that using drugs and alcohol seems like a good alternative.  Courting death and destruction for the notion that chemical peace of mind seems like a viable option.  Luckily, sanity is a prayer, a meeting, or a phone call away.   Just having someone on the other end of the line say, "so you're going to risk all that is good and right in your life so that you can get high?"  is enough to get me centered again.  Because the pill and the bottle are empty only provide empty promises.

The opposite of fear is faith.  The antidote to that deadly despair is to rejoice.  Seizing life is the opposite of chasing death.  There are alternatives to active addiction and that is good news indeed.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

How can I help?

I read an amazing article called, "No one brings dinner when your daughter is an addict." by Larry M. Lake.  It's a tear jerker but definitely worth the read.  The general idea is that when someone gets sick with cancer, friends, family, and church communities show up to support the family.  The symbol of this is the dozens of church casseroles that show up in addition to all the cards and calls.  Unfortunately, usually no one shows up when a family member goes to a mental institution or gets locked up involuntarily in a alcohol rehabilitation facility.

I know, at least in my experience, that there was very little outside support for my wife and kids when I had troubles of this sort, although to be fair the pastor showed up at my hospital bed once when I was drunk and suicidal. 

I'm not trying to say that anybody's being mean or anything.  It's mostly that people haven't the faintest idea what to do or say.  We are not prepared, by our experience or education, to deal with mental illness in our immediate families or communities.  We are taught that addiction and mental illness are a family's "dirty laundry".  We are taught that we ought not talk about it in public.

OK, so assuming we are at a place where we can acknowledge that we don't have a clue, what can we say or do?

We can offer assistance to the family who has a loved one ill or hospitalized.  Card, calls, prayers, and, of course, casseroles.

We can ask the family if they care to talk about it.  One could say, "I understand that Russ is ill, but I don't understand mental illness.  Would you like to share with me what is going on?

We can confront our own fear and confusion about mental illness and addiction.  Get it out there.  In the light of day.  Out of the closet.