Hello, my name is Steve T. and I’m in dual recovery. My diagnoses are bipolar disorder, obsessive/compulsive disorder and alcoholism. I’m also a therapist in a mental health rehabilitation facility. One of the best therapeutic tools I have at my disposal is my own experience with 12-Step recovery. I am a grateful member of Dual Recovery Anonymous.
My first psychiatric prescription was at the age of nine. I continued taking different psychiatric medications as needed and as were made available by the drug industry into my twenties. It was in my early twenties that I also discovered alcohol and street drugs.
I soon stopped taking my prescribed medication preferring to self-medicate with substances that had euphoric side effects instead of the lethargy, dry mouth, impotence, and muscle spasms of the legitimate drugs. Unfortunately, the drugs and alcohol were not as effective in managing my symptoms and eventually began to exacerbate them.
The worst outcome of self-medicating with alcohol was becoming addicted to it. At first I was a binge drinker. I would drink on the weekends to the point of unconsciousness or a black out (no memory). It wasn’t long before my weekends extended from Friday noon to Sunday night and this began to make it more and more unlikely that I would attend school or work on Mondays.
Incredibly, I was still able to attain a bachelor degree in psychology, although it took me seven years to do the work of four. I got a job in a day treatment program and worked at that until I decided to go back to school for my master degree.
Graduate school was anxiety provoking for even the non-dual disordered and I became a daily drinker. I remember carrying a liter of tequila in my backpack and drinking in the restroom between classes. Only one professor was on to me. He had an alcoholic daughter and knew the signs. He told me he thought I had a problem and I dropped his course.
My first master level job was as a manager of a work rehabilitation program. By that time, however, my drinking had progressed from daily to all day long. Soon the pressure of trying to do the work required in such a compromised state resulted in an inevitable draw between leaving or being fired and I chose to leave.
For the next few years I was too ill to work, spending my days in a drunken stupor. Alcohol would no longer have a sedating effect on me so I couldn’t even pass out and sleep. I remember, at this time I would machine roll forty marijuana cigarettes in the morning and had them all smoked by the end of the day. I grew my own indoors hydroponically and so supply was never a problem. I became extremely paranoid and spent my time inside with all doors locked and curtains drawn except when it was necessary to run to the corner liquor store.
This extreme state of alcohol and marijuana dependent disability lasted the better part of five years; during which time I relied on relatives for financial support. Rent was always a secondary consideration. Number one was staying in a stupor. I drank a liter of vodka a day plus wine with dinner and often dessert drinks.
Between all the calories from alcohol, the increased appetite from the marijuana and lack of energy to do any physical exercise, I gained a lot of weight. Somehow I managed to start attending Overeaters Anonymous. I was immediately enamored with the Twelve Steps. I had suffered a loss of my childhood faith and had been shopping around for a religion or philosophy on which to base my life and the Steps fitted my needs perfectly.
Even without admitting that I was powerless over alcohol and other intoxicating drugs, my dependency for them began diminishing just by working the Twelve Steps around my issues with compulsive overeating.
One day a fellow O.A. suggested that I attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting “to further my understanding of the Twelve Steps” and she gave me several pamphlets to read. (She later said that she had often smelled alcohol and marijuana when she sat next to me.)
I took the A.A. pamphlets to my favorite bar and laid them out to study as I drank! It still had not occurred to me that I had a problem with alcohol and marijuana. One of the things she gave me was a schedule of local A.A. meetings and I chose one to attend the next day.
The first meeting I attended was in the days before the end of smoking meetings and one could just barely see the speaker for all the smoke. His words were crystal clear, however, and I left the meeting knowing I was an alcoholic. I drank and smoked marijuana one last time that evening and the next day began my new life of sobriety!
I took a job in the mental health field that was below my educational level because I had doubts about my ability to handle stress in early sobriety. The further I got from my sobriety date the more dysfunctional psychiatrically I became and it wasn’t long before my psychiatric symptoms started interfering with my work. It became evident that I had been unconsciously self-medicating my symptoms with drugs and alcohol.
Finally I could not deny my mental illness any longer and on the advice of my family physician went to see a psychiatrist who prescribed the first psychotropic medications I had taken in almost twenty years. I was diagnosed with bipolar and obsessive/compulsive disorders.
My mood swings are from normal to manic; I rarely suffer depression. My manic symptoms are very disrupting and in the last thirteen years that I have been diagnosed, I have had four major episodes that required time off from work.
I am fortunate to have found work as a Dual Recovery Specialist at a major psychiatric rehabilitation center. The administration is very understanding and works with me when I am symptomatic. As I said in the beginning, my own experience with a dual disorder helps me relate to my clients.
In late 1993 I started therapy groups based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous but we applied the Steps to our psychiatric illnesses. In my search for resources, I found a book that had a suggested format for a Dual Recovery Anonymous meeting. I recognized immediately that this was the answer to what I had been looking for.
I contacted the DRA Central Service Office in Kansas and received additional materials for personal and meeting use. In 1994 we held the first Dual Recovery Anonymous Meeting in our city and five years later we had grown to fourteen meetings a week. Personally, I am proud to say that I am a grateful recovering member of Dual Recovery Anonymous.