Hang On: Suffering from Depression in Sobriety
BY: TAMI HARPER WINN
Under one coral rose bush, surrounded by bright colored petunias rests another piece of my heart. With every hole that is dug, and every box that is filled, I bury a little more of me every time. I’ll let you in on a little secret of mine - I feel like I am being buried alive. The grief is overwhelming and all around me are the shadows of death and loss. With each passing day I am drawing closer to my own conclusion to my life story and that fact is soul-searing. I am pierced with reality at every turn it seems. Within less than a year I have now buried three very important pieces of me.
On July 5th, 2016 another part of our family was laid to rest. Our family pet, our pound puppy, was put to rest in the loving arms of his family that surrounded him at home, under the shade of his favorite tree. He, like my parents, lived a long and very full life. He was loved no doubt, which makes him as equally missed and is equally as painful.
Even though each of those that I loved had lived long lives, it doesn’t ease the pain or comfort me. I try to find the blessings through the haze of tears and heartache. It is almost too much. I am once again sober through this. No drug or drink could fill the hole that is permanently carved in my heart. Yet, I want out of the pain still. That has to be a normal response. But today, I do not have the options I once had to temporarily disarm the torturous thoughts that invade my mind. Why? Because I frightfully abused them. I took them away from my own self. So now tell me, what is a person to do when faced with such life altering moments now that the drink has been taken off the table? I don’t have the answers.
Let it be known that getting sober is the easy part. I have done it a hundred times or more. I have sworn off liquor night after drunken night. The hard part is staying sober – getting long term sobriety. Living life on life’s terms is the most difficult thing I have ever done. I am so ill-equipped to handle such tragedies and misfortunes. I was never given the tools. So, imagine how lost I must be in a world I am just now learning to live in.
I want to get real honest here. Honesty and a power greater than myself is the only thing that is going to pull me through this. So, here is the truth my friends - I am still a suffering alcoholic today. It took the loss of my family pet to see that I had slowly been slipping into a depression. Since my parents’ death this last year, I have done everything in my power to stay busy, focused on others, and avoid the pain I didn’t want to feel. I overcommitted to the point of near breakdown.
I cannot deny it anymore. I have to face this and I don’t want to. I am riddled with fear. I’ll let you in on another secret of mine; I’m so afraid to love anything or anyone right now for fear of them dying that I am pulling away from the very ones I love and need the most. That was a smack in my face when I saw that. Here is some of the signs that I uncovered that told me I was in a full-blown tailspin of depression:
1. I began sleeping – A LOT
2. I stopped calling my friends and family
3. I avoided calls and interactions with others
4. I began to dread waking up
5. I began to hate the job I loved
6. I cry almost constantly
7. I stopped doing the things I loved most, like spending time with my family, writing, doing my podcast, etc.
8. I no longer cared about my appearance
9. I began to not eat properly, for example either not eating or eating too much
10. I began feeling hopeless and fear-ridden and I didn’t tell a soul
11. I stopped praying and asking for help
So, here I was, pretending to have superhuman powers and the whole time I was lying to everyone, most importantly to myself. Then in one swift moment, as the dirt fell on another box, I fell to my knees crushed, completely annihilated emotionally. I couldn’t run another step. I couldn’t speak another word. I couldn’t find another rational thought. I was void.
The truth that I was not superhuman after all was devastating. I really believed I could conquer anything, all the while wearing bright colored bows and pretty shiny bells. Now, I couldn’t even yell for help. I had lost my connection to the power that had carried me this far and I had never felt more alone in all of my life. Where was this power greater than myself? I couldn’t feel it anymore and the truth is, I had lost hold of him after the first parent died. He went missing. I went looking, but I couldn’t find him.
This last week has been hell on earth for me. Who am I kidding? This last year has been hell. Facing my truths is something I don’t like to do. It’s tough. It’s ugly. It’s brutal. I try to rely on the things I have learned and experienced as a result of intensive step work in my recovery. This small grain of hope is all I have left in my pocket to hang on to.
Depression is a scary thing. It feels like this will never end. But I have to believe it will. In that very moment that I fell to my knees in my backyard, I heard a still small voice within me say, “The teacher is always quiet when the student is testing.” I remembered something I had read recently that said, “The most difficult roads lead to the most beautiful destinations.” There in the shade of that tree, I prayed for the first time in I don’t know how long. It was uncomfortable, not physically. For the first time ever, I felt like there was no one there on the other end of the line, like I was talking to nothing. I got scared, but I prayed anyways.
My daughter was falling apart with me. I had to hang on. I’d look at her and see the loss and devastation that she was experiencing. I would try to fake it until I made it. But, how could I (who had been rendered defenseless to depression myself) be able to help her through this too? That fact just added to my already bruised idea of my superhuman strength. We were falling and falling fast. I had to show her how to make it out of this evil forest of death and loss. My life depended on it, and now possibly hers too.
When faced with all of this what was I to do? Well, I got real basic, as basic as it gets. I had to make it simple again. This is what it looks like for me today:
1. I went to the doctor and got on antidepressants
2. I asked my supervisor at work for help, and was directed towards a counselor
3. I pray each day, even if I don’t feel it or believe it just yet. I act “as if”
4. I get cleaned up for the day
5. I make a stupid gratitude list J
6. I call at least one person and let them know where I am at emotionally for that day
7. I force myself to go to the gym
8. I force myself out of the house at least once a week
9. I suit up and show up for my responsibilities no matter how much I’d rather not
10. I find one reason to smile each day, with hopefully the result of a moment of laughter
11. I write
12. I just don’t drink or drug NO MATTER WHAT
These aren’t drastic things. They’re not even guaranteed to work. These are probably even common sense things that people do on a regular basis. But, for someone suffering from depression - these are major feats. I wash, rinse, and repeat the same things every day.
I have to believe that somewhere deep down inside me, Tami still exists and so do her dreams. So I continue to write no matter how painful it is. Somehow, someway, I will find my way out of this forest. I tell myself that when I do, I’ll be able to turn around and see the forest as it really is. I hope it’s beautiful. I hope this most difficult road back to happiness leads me to the most beautiful destination.
“Oh yeah, and God, I had better get an “A” on this damn test when its done.”
I’ll admit it - I am still an unrecovered perfectionist. (dang character defects)
In all fairness to me (I’m a great deflector of my truths), what I really hope for…is that I’m still not lying to myself.
Light and love to those still hanging on with me. I still need you.
~Tami Harper Winn~
The story written here is solely the work of the author’s. Any use or reproduction of this article is prohibited without written consent of the author or credit to the author through works cited.