My Black Dog is on a leash. However, the leash has a long lead, and I am eternally getting tangled in it.
Lately I have been contemplating becoming an alcoholic. I know that sounds strange. After all, no one wants to be an alcoholic. And while I am not making light of alcoholism, I feel my life would be considerably better if I was not a depressive but instead an alcoholic.
As I said, I do not wish to minimize the serious damage that alcoholism can do to people and to their families, but hear me out on this. First, if I was an alcoholic, I could spend most of my time alone in a small room with a bottle of whiskey. The only lifestyle change required would be the addition of the whiskey. As an alcoholic, I would see more “positive” representations of “me” in popular culture. On TV and in movies, alcoholics do terrible things: they hurt and sometimes kill people. However, while the alcohol may have fueled their actions, at no time did they commit crimes because they were an alcoholic. On the other hand, how many perps, unsubs, and criminals committed horrible, heinous acts precisely because they were mentally ill?
If I was an alcoholic I would not be entirely to blame for my disease. Yes, there still is a certain degree of victim blaming in alcoholism, but we understand that genetics and brain chemistry play a role in addiction. While not blameless, the alcoholic is neither totally responsible for their addiction; whereas, I am the only one to blame for my being depressed. I just need to snap out of it or pray more or think happy thoughts. My chronic-severe depression cannot be a result of a genetic predisposition or brain chemistry. I am totally in charge of my emotions and feelings, and if I let someone or something affect me negatively, well, that’s on me.
If I was an alcoholic there are places I could go for treatment. Many of these facilities have amenities such as workout rooms, massage therapy, and gourmet kitchens. I would be able to stroll the grounds or sit out in the sun. Most importantly, I could leave any time I wanted.
Behavioral Health Units, on the other hand, are made of concrete walls of institutional beige and have bars on the windows. There may be integrated health services somewhere else in the hospital, but I cannot leave the BHU. No strolling the grounds or sitting outside. And, no going home until the doctors say so.
If I was an alcoholic, there is the possibility I could drink myself to death. My family would be devastated, my friends would miss me, but there would be no moral outrage over my death. No one would question if allowing my disease to make the decision to end my life was the right or ethical thing to do or if I can be buried in a Jewish cemetery.
If I was an alcoholic I could attain sobriety. I would always be an alcoholic, but I could not only achieve a state of sobriety but also celebrate my continued sobriety daily, monthly, and annually. With my sponsor, support group, family, and friends cheering me on, I would even receive tokens for each sober milestone reached.
For a depressive, there is no analogous, alternative state such as sobriety for the depressive as there is for the alcoholic. Happy is not the opposite of depression. I can never be “depression free.” There is no Depressives Anonymous to help me, and there is no long-term recovery. I can only count the time I am not depressed a few hours each day.
Alcoholism is a horrible, devastating disease. It ruins careers, destroys families, and takes lives. However, in the social hierarchy of victimhood, there is much more compassion and support for the alcoholic than for the depressive. Trading my depression for alcoholism is not based on a desire to trade one set of symptoms for another, but rather a desire to not have to explain to people that I cannot simply think my way out of depression. I would like to trade one large stigma for a slightly smaller one. I would like to trade brief respites of lucidity for recovery. If society dealt with depression as it does with alcoholism, I’d drink to that!
Your whole premise is based on the belief that depression and alcoholism are mutually exclusive. What if you go ahead with your plan and find out you can be depressed and an alcoholic at the same time. At that point you significantly intensified problems in your life. Have you ever seen a depressed alcoholic? I have. One of my best friends was a depressed alcoholic and, although I didn’t know it at the time, I nursed him through the last days of his life. His wife had left him, the girlfriend he had after that left him, and all he had left was his house and a bottle of vodka. I would go over to his house and sit with him and try to get him to stop drinking. He would go through more than 1/5 of vodka a day. He used to say before he was fired from his job that all he wanted to do was go to work and come home and have a drink. In the morning he would have his “morning beer”. And go to work. He could always give me a reason why he should keep drinking. I watched him go to the hospital, dry out, and go into rehab. When he got out he looked great and had a better outlook. I thought he had turned around.
One day I went to visit him and he was drunk on his couch with 4 or 5 bottles of vodka beside the couch. He said he had to drink to get rid of the pain in his stomach. A few days later his son found him dead on the floor in a pool of blood from a burst liver. This was a smart, active man who had done a huge amount of good for his community, yet he slipped into a deep depression and consoled himself with a bottle. He caused a lot of pain and sorrow and he knew it. He knew his behavior made the pain and suffering worse, but he just dove deeper into the abyss and the liquor helped him do it. I sat and watched him do it and no matter what I said he continued down his dark road. I would have to take 2 or three week breaks from seeing him because I began to feel responsible for his horrible decisions since I could never talk him into a positive direction. Everyone associated with him felt the same way and we all blamed ourselves. I have never been able to shake off my guilt for his death. I always feel like I never did enough and I am sure his family and friends felt the same way.
Quite to the contrary of what you are saying, the liquor accelerated his depression and made it deeper and darker than it already was. I don’t know how to give advice to people in this situation, but I can tell you and warn you as a good friend that your suggestion will very likely make things much worse. Please don’t go down this path. Call me before you start this. You cannot imagine the destruction such a path can produce. I hope you make the smart decision.
Actually, my post is based on the premise that society has a much more favorable attitude toward alcoholism than it does towards depression, and if I could magically trade my depression for alcoholism, I would have much more sympathy, support, and treatment options.
Charles N., thank you for sharing from your experience as a friend and caregiver. And thank you for your concern for Charles B. I’m sure he’ll respond. In the meantime, he has not decided to become an alcoholic. I’ll leave it to him to respond. In short, my reading (while he was typing it near me) of it was an attempt to compare depression with other disorders/diseases considering things like the levels of social acceptability of some and magnitude of stigma. Actually, today, we too discussed persons with dual diagnosis.
Contemplating becoming an alcoholic
Your struggles are real.