Last night, I shared my story at AA for the first time. I don’t owe my sobriety to AA, however. I was one of those people who have a hard time with the God thing and the jargon when I took my last drink 30 years ago.
No, rather I dropped in and out over the years and began to reinvest in the program about three years ago. The fact that I am an Alcoholic had, in fact, become a side note in my battle with Major Depressive Disorder, the underlying condition I realized I had medicated with alcohol.
I shared that I had discovered in my research that the principles of the twelve steps actually ‘mimic’ the manner by which ancient spiritual teachings instruct an individual on how to lead a healthy, balanced life, how to find a new way of moving in the world through integrating deep inner work into external reality.
As Judith Lasater writes in Beginning the Journey: Living the Yamas of Patanjali:
“Significantly Patanjali gives the reader this set of ethical guidelines as he begins to list the steps of the practice of yoga, not at the end. While Westerners are often more familiar with another step in the “ladder” of yoga practice, the postures, or asana, the yamas are the first. It is surprising to some that the classical teaching of yoga actually begins with precepts about how to live in the world. (The next step in the practice of yoga is the “niyamas”, even more personal practices. The succeeding limbs become increasingly more personal.(1) But the practices of yoga are meant to be about the whole fabric of our lives, not just about physical health or a withdrawn spiritual life.”
I was hesitant to share my story last night because it is not about AA. Because there still are many in this program who believe depression is not a disease.
Yet, I was brutally truthful. I discussed my battle with my diagnosis ten years into my sobriety, how unfortunate it was that I had fought so hard, had been in denial for so long, about facing the extent of my mental illness. How my mental condition would not have become so intense had I addressed it head on when symptoms of depression emerged so intensely during my teens.
The theory of ‘kindling’, the concept that while a major experience usually precipitates the initial incident, the ensuing sensitization enables the triggering of subsequent events which can increase in frequency and intensity. When Peter Kramer wrote in Against Depression about the holes in the brains of people who had experienced MDD, I knew exactly what he meant. My mind at times feels like a loosely woven well-worn basket.
I spoke about the many books I have read on depression: Kay Jamison, Peter Kramer, William Styron, and finally learning about neuroplasticity with Norman Doidge’s The Brain that Changes Itself and neuroscientist Vilyanur S Ramachandran’s mirror therapy.
I admitted last night how still today I wake up every morning heavily blanketed in a state of deep despair. That I have to create my life new every morning. That I have learned that it is only by not giving in to this powerful lure, only by being mindful that I do have tools to use, that I can create meaning from nothing. That sanity and peace in my mind are within reach if I do what I know I need to do each and every day.
For me, maintaining a delicate balance in my life means accepting as reality there will be times during each and every day when I feel totally lost and alone. On the verge of disaster. Praying for oblivion. Accepting this as part of the journey.
Life for me today means maintaining a schedule which includes daily meditation, five yoga classes a week, four AA and one AlAnon Meeting, two daily hikes or brisk walks with my dog, and not allowing myself to isolate until after 8 o’clock in the evening. My support ‘team’ as I battle through the end stages to achieve a life with NO need for pharmaceuticals, includes a pDoc, a therapist, a nutritionist/pharmacologist, and an acupuncturist.
My diet is gluten free, extremely low in carbs of all types. Mega doses of protein, difficult because I am a vegetarian. My daily supplements include Dopatone, 3000 mg Complete Omegas, probiotics, 100 mg 5HTP, Gaba, Magnesium, Adrena Calm, and Progesterone Cream. I take l’theanine as needed. I avoid sugar. Dairy products.
Every night when the lights go out I do yoga in bed – Yoga Nidra.
And then I wake up again. To create another day.