I’ve been around people in recovery for about 17 years. I’ve been in a lot of recovery meetings in that amount of times, and I’ve heard plenty of people talk about depression in these meetings. There are some polarizing views on this subject, some of which can prove to be pretty harmful to those of us who are alcoholics or addicts and suffer from depression.
I am not a doctor. It’s likely that your sponsor is not a doctor, and, if they are, it’s likely they are not your doctor. The Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous) talks about seeking outside help for outside issues. Depression is an outside issue that needs outside help. That might be talk therapy; it might be medication (short-term or long-term); it might be animal or music therapy; it might be something newer to the therapy world like EMDR (which I’ve done, and it helped me immensely). Whatever it is that will work for you; depression is not something to ignore, hoping it will go away. It’s likely that it will not until you address it.
A large majority of people who, newly sober, are also depressed. Alcohol and many drugs act as depressants on our nervous systems. We cause a lot of life damage when we are using. We hurt relationships; we lose jobs; we cause financial hardships; we tell lies; we end up in legal trouble; we believe we are hiding our addiction, then we don’t care; we create an enormous amount of wreckage. When we get sober and have to face all of this, it can be overwhelming and depressing.
Some of us are victims of childhood traumas or terrible distressing crimes which can seem to propel our addiction. Some of us turn from victim to perpetrator in the name of victimhood. We are angry, hurt, confused, hateful – sometimes we don’t know why.
At times, depression will lift after being sober for a period of time. Once you have had some time to clear your head and clean up some of the mess you have created leading up to getting sober. The weight of your addiction and suffering is lifted, you are given hope, life circumstances change, and you are given a second chance at life. With this, the heaviness in your head and heart are lifted, and you no longer feel so miserable.
Others will not be so easily relieved. In my own case, I have been on anti-depressants for the majority of my adult life. They, of course, work much better when I am sober. I have accepted that I will more than likely have to take them for the rest of my life, and I am alright with this. They are not mind-altering, they don’t make me black out or make really poor or dangerous decisions. In fact, they do the opposite. They help me stay grounded and keep my head straight. They allow me to be a functioning member of society, who can show up for others, act unselfishly, and contribute to my family and friends on a regular basis.
I’ve heard some people with long-term sobriety, and some with not so long-term sobriety, have some strong opinions about taking medications, and they are entitled to their own opinions. However, I’ve read in the Alcoholics Anonymous ‘Big Book’ and other recovery literature, and spoken at length with others in recovery, as well as my doctor about this. My doctor knows me well and knows that I am in recovery. I have clinical depression. Acting ‘as if,’ or pretending that I’m alright are not going to make it so. I know that for myself, taking medication is a necessary part of my recovery program – just like prayer, meditation, meetings and working with others in recovery.
Many of us in recovery self-medicated because we didn’t want to feel the way we were feeling. Many of the people that I know in recovery learned that one of the issues that they were self-medicating was depression. They all had to deal with their depression before they could move on from it. It’s not as scary as it feels before you start. It’s not as painful as I thought it would be. In fact, it was a lot more painful to not deal with it.
Making the commitment to deal with depression, to be honest with your doctor and to keep your sponsor or other people in your recovery who are supportive of your efforts updated on how you are doing with your depression will go a long way to working through depression and helping you to feel better all the way around. Depression doesn’t have to be what stands in your way; you can learn to overcome it and live a happy life in spite of clinical makeup. I am living proof of that.