The life changing decision I had to make
I didn’t enjoy drinking much in high school, but when college hit I was drinking at least three times a week. I didn’t enjoy beer so I was heavily imbibing hard liquor and getting drunk every time I drank. I made a great group of friends freshman year and we became a tight knit crew all throughout our years at The University of Iowa. My girlfriends and I had incredible memories together, many of which involved partying and getting out of our minds. Drinking was fun and made me feel confident during a time when I felt pressure to fit in. Around this time is when I started gaining weight, feeling more anxious, and hitting the gym less.
My first experience with weed was at a party – my young curiosity couldn’t resist. We passed around a joint in a dimly lit room. I took a couple hits and it took me straight to a high I had no idea could be THAT much fun. I was higher than the sky and without a worry in the world. What a relief and welcome change from my anxiety and increasing depression.
Any chance I could get after that, I smoked weed. I never bought it because I thought that meant I was an official stoner, but I sought it out the best I could. After a paranoid high where I felt as if someone was watching me for hours, I decided to take a break from it. For about a year and a half, I didn’t smoke. I was still drinking though. My wild nights of partying would result in me feeling sick to my stomach and lethargic for the next day or so. My physical health was put on the back burner so I could be social and avoid my increasing anxiety.
I picked it back up
When college ended, I moved to Baltimore for an internship. I didn’t know anyone at first but I finally made some friends, and we would hang out most weekends. One night we met some people who had weed and I took my first hit of green since the paranoid high in college. Again, I was struck by how perfectly amazing I felt. My loneliness, my lack of self-esteem and my depression all seemed to go away. Everything in my life felt so new and exciting and sparkling again. I knew I needed this in my life again. From then on, I smoked most days sometimes multiple times a day. If the depression or anxiety started to creep back in, I’d smoke. If I felt lonely, I’d smoke. If I was depressed, I’d smoke. And the drinking acted as my depressant and kept me from getting too high up.
Which led to my manic episode
The weed and alcohol appeared from the outside to be taking care of my mental instability until finally, I broke. The pressure, the negativity, all the things I kept repressing came bubbling up and I landed myself on the locked mental unit at Johns Hopkins for 9 days. I was down to 102 pounds from my usual 120. I was higher than high up and felt I could read people’s minds and feel their spirits. I couldn’t leave the unit unless to go on a supervised walk. I couldn’t bring much into my room with me. After hours of evaluating and talking to psychiatrists, the doctors sat me down and informed me I was having a manic episode and that I have bipolar I disorder. They insisted that I could never smoke weed again…that smoking is one of the worst things you can do having bipolar because it creates an unstable mood which could potentially land me in one of two scary directions. Also, the THC build-up in my system could lead to another manic episode. I heard them, but didn’t think it possible for me to quit.
I went back to weed
Two weeks after discharge, I had refrained from smoking but I was right back to drinking. It was a difficult time for me accepting my new diagnosis and all that came along with it, accepting that I no longer had a job, and trying to figure out who the hell I was. I decided to go back to my old friend Mary Jane and yet again used most days. I will say that for a good period of time, I felt fantastic because weed was covering my depression and the lithium was keeping me from mania. But my mood would take serious dips once the high wore off. As soon as I felt depressed again, I would smoke. And when I smoked I felt invincible. I would never allow myself to get “too high”, fearing another manic episode.
I had to make a radical decision
After awhile of trying this lifestyle, my world didn’t look the same to me. Nothing had changed in my external circumstances, in fact, things were going great considering my great job teaching boxing and the love I felt from family and friends. Yet the job I once adored was now becoming difficult to go to. My relationships were becoming tenser. I loved being around others, but now all I wanted was to be alone. The marijuana was no longer “working.” The lithium I was on had not been enough to keep me from dipping low. This was the point in which I decided to try a radical change. I decided to become sober for 30 days – alcohol and weed free.
Bipolar depression is brutal
I was sober for 3 weeks before reaching the extreme opposite end of my bipolar spectrum, which I had not yet seen quite like this. I no longer saw a point in living. I was sobbing every day, lashing out at those I loved, and getting out of bed felt like the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. I felt like I was carrying a 200 lb sandbag. I went in to see my psychiatrist who told me that I needed to try something different. She suggested another medicine called Lamictol and recommended I take time off work to participate in the Intensive Outpatient Program. I left there crying and feeling defeated. “Why could I not handle this on my own? Wasn’t sobriety enough?” I remember feeling like there was something so off with me and that I was unlovable. That day changed my life when I decided through tears to try both options.
Change is necessary for growth
In 4 weeks’ time, I felt like a new person. I was caring for myself. I loved myself. And for the first time in a long time, I felt I could see things clearly without an emotional bias. I hadn’t felt this good since I was in high school. Sobriety for the first few weeks felt damn near impossible. But it felt impossible because for so long I had been using both alcohol and weed to comfort me and take away my problems. I was self-medicating and doing so for years. I had to find healthy ways to cope, and I did.
I love myself again
Now that I have my life under control with the right combination of prescribed medicine and a great team of doctors and therapists, life feels so beautiful. I feel beautiful. My relationships are beautiful. My physical health has improved in so many ways and I am back to a healthy weight. And nothing that significant has changed in my external circumstances – it was my chemical balance, behaviors and perspective that changed.
Sobriety is both doable and beautiful
Going back to smoking or drinking doesn’t even cross my mind anymore because I’m enjoying life so much that I know nothing can really make me feel better than what I feel right now. What I worried about when first becoming sober was how my social life would be affected. To those with similar worries, your relationships will blossom in sobriety in ways you may not have known and for those who don’t understand or make you feel uncomfortable, it’s a good time to find people who truly love you for you. Sobriety is much easier when you have people who support you in it. Sobriety is also much easier if you identify healthy ways to make yourself feel good – like reading, writing, taking a bath, exercising, etc.
You can do this too!
I want to emphasize that becoming sober is not an easy process, but it is so worth it. It can be done and if you are working on developing your mental and physical health, it’s a really great option. For those with bipolar, I now believe sobriety is a necessity to feel balanced and even-keeled. If you are struggling with this idea, know that I once was in your shoes and change is possible but it must be your decision. As much as my psychiatrist warned me not to smoke weed, I had to come to this conclusion on my own. I am not saying that you need to be sober, I am letting you know that it can be life changing.