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Mental Illness & SUDs Go Hand-in-Hand: A Personal Story

The definition of the word recovery is “a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.” 


For as long as I could remember, I had never been in a normal state. I grew up with depression and intense mood swings. When I discovered drugs and alcohol I used them to numb my symptoms and escape depression. For seven years I made no attempt at achieving any kind of mental health. I simply controlled my feelings with substances. When I was in pain, I avoided it. 


After my substance use became unmanageable, I was able to get sober through the help of AA. My debt melted away, my housing situation stabilized, I advanced in my career, and rebuilt relationships. Although my situation undeniably improved in almost every way, I was still in deep pain. In the early years of sobriety, I resumed feeling the mental illness I had been covering up for years. Recovery for me was not to a normal state of health, mind, or strength. 


Eventually I sought therapy. I did everything they said. I wanted so badly to feel ok, to not slip into depression for a month at a time. I worked so hard and developed a lot of great coping tools. I did EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy which helped me accept and move through trauma from my past. While my symptoms were more manageable, I still felt like there was something wrong with me. 


My therapist sent me to a Psychiatrist, and I was diagnosed as Bipolar 2. Since then I have done a lot more therapy, been properly medicated, and learned how to identify actual feelings versus my symptoms. I feel like I am finally in a great state of mind. 


Although this is my story, it is not unique. So many people develop substance use disorder in a quest to escape experiencing the symptoms of mental illness. When we remove the alcohol or other substances we often go back to the miserable place we were in before we got sober. We need access to medical care and a support system to not just recover, but to improve upon everything we’ve ever known. This is why it is so important that organizations like First Call exist. 


I do not know what my first couple years of sobriety would have been like if I had known about First Call. I believe that a First Call Recovery Advocate trained in Mental Health First Aid would have seen that I needed help and got me on the path to medical intervention faster than I found it on my own. Luckily, I found First Call at six years sober, and it has become a big part of my journey. I started off volunteering in the Speakers Bureau and am now the Chair of the Emerging Professionals Board. I get to help spread the word about First Call and connect people like me to resources I didn’t have.


My mental illness and my substance use disorder went hand in hand, but solving one did not solve the other. If you fix one thing and still don’t feel right, I urge you to keep searching and advocating for your mental health - and use the resources available to you!

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