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Reflections from the underground, part 1

Bipolar Alcoholism

I once self-medicated with alcohol but now have 13 years of sobriety. I’m a 57 yr old mother of 3 with 2 grandsons. Thirty-eight years have been spent as the wife of a saint. I’m a daughter, sister, friend, teacher, mentor, and colleague. Many people have been affected by my soul sickness. Besides social ineptitude, I have suffered from denial which presented a barrier for many years to accessing care, sobriety, and finding interpersonal healing.

In the last 18 years, I’ve been on 10 medications, now fine-tuned to 3. Honing my insight, I’m at my healthiest yet with the expertise of my psychiatrist and psychologist.

It was far easier to relinquish alcohol and gain a clear mind than give up the highs of mania. Its short premium on my life proved too tantalizing. I had resisted adequate treatment of this experience called Bipolar fearing “a root canal of my soul”. To compound denial, my eccentricities were encouraged by all but those closest to me. I was lauded for my flamboyance, generosity and humour.

Coerced to step up treatment in 2014 when for one day I found myself psychotic after many sleepless nights in pain. I was rescued by my family and kept safe in 5 point restraints overnight in the Emergency Department. I don’t recommend it to anyone, but it feels like what was necessary at the time.

This, my only psychiatric hospitalization, lasted 1 month. Besides avoiding incarceration, the imperatives to accept aggressive treatment also include avoiding depression and dementia both associated with brain burnout from highs. “Less ups” means “less downs”. 

Depression is waking to disgust within the nostrils of my rotting body. It is the compulsion to take all my pills and slip under the bath water, a profound inertia confining me to days of indecision and bird watching from the sofa. Where can one find hope?

Children, Save Alcoholic Mother

A sincere shout out to all those compassionate souls who undergird us during recovery.

I first got sober 13 years ago for my children’s sake with no thought at all that one day I would be grateful for myself. For YEARS I moved from one bottle to the next with paper notes taped by my concerned teenaged daughter.

They recall me selfishly breaking promises to cut back and offered their own expressions of suffering; sadness, worry.

How could a mother ignore these pleas?

Alcoholism is a soul robbing disease. Through the fog I knew the notes were important but denial had me hoodwinked. But for the brief moment I re-taped them to the next bottle, sometimes several times a day. My adult daughters, one now a mother, one a psychologist, will never have their carefree childhoods restored.

They insist they are stronger and wiser and they take due credit for saving my life. Recovery is formative for all those around an alcoholic.

“Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to find other people or even know they’re alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of.

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD

2 thoughts on “Reflections from the underground, part 1”

  1. this is a powerful story. thank you for sharing. so glad that the kids wrote the notes. they’re sad to read but they eventually helped.

    my dad was an alcoholic and it took him from us. i wish i could have done more, seen it for what it was while it was happening, before it was too late.

    “alcoholism is a soul robbing disease.”

    for anyone reading this, who’s struggling with alcohol, or knows someone struggling with alcohol, please make the decision to reach out for help! anyway you can.

  2. dear Bell,

    Thank you for your share. Your connection to this experience is palpable. We’re holding you and your inner child with care, and grace.

    Difficult life experiences, especially those from our childhood, are hard to reconcile. It’s often an elusive task to make meaning of them, but sometimes we get a welcome surprise in the form of insight.

    Thank you again for opening up. Blessings, fellow traveler.


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