Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Trials of Life, Alcoholism, and Mental Illness…

I can remember back in the early nineties when I was first diagnosed as schizophrenic.  I was strangely elated.  Most people would cry in horror at being diagnosed with such a devastating disease of the brain.   We now knew what was wrong with me – the strangeness with what I had struggled with since I was a child.  The paranoia.  The delusions.  There was the hope for help with a solid diagnosis.  I had answers and not some nebulous accusation of lack of character or laziness for the cause of my problems.  Medication after medication was tried with little absolution to my problems, though.  It was a time before the atypical antipsychotics were discovered or were still in clinical trials.  I grew depressed and drank heavier and heavier – my hopes dashed.  Beer my soothing mistress for my mental illness addled brain.  My father says it wasn’t until we tried Zyprexa years later that I had a breakthrough – the drug that had so helped my mother’s schizophrenia.  I was able to work a stressful prestigious job and I got married.  There were terrible side effects though.  I couldn’t wait to get home from work to get in the bed and sleep until the next day.  Bed was bliss.  Bed was an escape.  I was constantly sleepy and morose.  I didn’t realize it then, but I was terribly, terribly depressed.  Next, we tried Risperdal.  The side effects went away.  The depression lifted, but I began to drink heavier.  The Risperdal was more conducive to this and didn’t interfere with my drinking like the Zyprexa did.  I wasn’t sleeping all the time.  My marriage then fell apart.  I lost my job.  My then wife just couldn’t take the chaos that was my alcoholism.  I ended up homeless losing everything in the divorce – signing everything over to Rachel in a fit of drunkenness in a lawyer’s office.  Homelessness was a disastrous time of constant drinking and severe cold.  I lived in a tent in the woods like some modern day alcoholic Thoreau.  I drank so much I couldn’t afford an apartment.  Drinking was paramount then. I would go days without eating because it would interfere with the amount of beer I could drink.

I tried everything to quit drinking once my mother convinced my father to let me live in my late grandmother’s house next to theirs. There were conditions to me gaining a home and that was to straighten up and get sober.   I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.   I went through detox countless times often driving hundreds of miles to hospitals for which Medicare would pay.   I tried AA and would go a few times, but would end up drunk a few days later.  I looked terrible.  I weighed almost 300 pounds from drinking thousands of calories of beer per day.  My eyes looked yellowish and dim and often red shot.  There were black circles under my eyes.  I will never forget pacing the floor of my den as I drank my seventeenth beer of the night realizing I was going to die soon if I didn’t do something drastic to quit.  I had to get serious.

It was about this time that dad decided he had to do something drastic or his oldest son was going to die from alcoholism.  He got power of attorney over me and took over my Social Security disability account.  The money was cut off and we went through a tumultuous time of severe withdrawal.  Dad and I fought like cats and dogs.  Nights would be spent screaming accusations at each other as I would plead with him for a drink.   I would do anything to get drunk.  I was inescapably addicted.  It was then that I discovered mouthwash.   I read an online article about a man named Listerine Gene who would get drunk drinking his namesake.  Mouthwash was only a $1.09 a bottle at Fred’s dollar store and it would get you just as drunk as whiskey or beer.  It was terrible to drink, but the urge to get drunk overrode any inhibitions about the nasty taste.  I would somehow manage to scrounge up a dollar a day to get drunk. Dad was at his wit’s end with me. 

The chemical harshness of the mouthwash was what saved me.  I could no longer drink it.  I would take a drink and throw up violently – my stomach protesting. My sister warned me that I would soon develop pancreatitis.  I went into an ever deeper depression when I realized I could no longer drink.  I had exhausted all options.  I had no money.  I couldn’t work with my mental illness.  I finally got sobered up, but it was a shaky stasis.  My father had finally won the battle with which he had fought with a bulldog like tenacity.  He never gave up on me despite all I put him through.  I was going to live and possibly sober for a change.    


Tokyo Biker Mommy said...

Wow, Andrew, amazing post.

I thought of you tonight. I went to a chip meeting tonight and got my 6-month chip. I feel ridiculously proud of myself.

It's so hard when the people we rely on don't understand the need for meetings. My husband is like your father - he supports me but doesn't quite get it and balks when i need to go to meetings and he has to stay home with our little son. But if it wasn't for those meetings i couldn't be a mother to our son at all so you'd think he'd give me the couple hours a week i ask for without complaining, LOL.

And meds, too, man, i hear ya there. I don't think i could stay sober without my meds. It was amazing after i quit drinking and really gave them a chance to work, oh wow, i didn't know you could feel that GOOD for no special reason.

You are right, it's the simple things that people like us often don't realize and need extra prompting to comprehend. Like trimming our hedges, and being happy. :)

Sharon said...

I'm honored that you're sharing your story with us. All I can think of as I read your words is that although you've gone through some very hard times, and although you still struggle, you're in a much better place than you were back then. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Irishcoda said...

Wow, what a powerful story. Andrew you've come so far. I could identify with one thing you wrote--the relief you felt at finding out what was causing your symptoms, the schizophrenia. I remember how relieved I felt when there was a label for my panic attacks and to learn that they could be medically managed. Over the years, I've had to try other medications too and I've had other diagnoses to add (bipolar, dysthymia, etc) but I've always felt relief about it. I think I might have continued drinking to manage my illness except for the fact that I was so scared I would be like my parents. I was scared if I had kids I would do to them what my parents had done to me. By the grace of God I was able to stop myself before any of my kids were born.

Lottie said...

By the time I finished reading this post, my face was wet with tears and I prayed and thanked God that you have pulled through on the other side of that darkness. I'm so glad that your father stood fast and firm and helped you get through the darkest time of your life. Your life story helps me to be more thankful and to "keep on keeping on". I admit that I have days that I just want to pack it in and give up on feeling good about life. But seeing you fight the good fight helps me to keep fighting, too. You are such an inspiration to many, Andrew. God has a purpose in all of this... to help others by sharing your story. It makes ALL the difference.

KathyA said...

Andrew, I think it's time for you to write your memoirs. You do a good job with posts, but I can't help but think it's time to get it down on paper and look for a publisher. Think of not only how cathartic this would be for you, but you'd be able to reach so many more people and perhaps help them overcome their demons. Think about it. Kathy