All of us have our ways we try to escape from our problems. Some do this more often than others, but I feel most people can relate to this in some way. My escaping techniques or ways I’ve numbed my feelings have included smoking, drinking, eating, spending, love, work, and social media. For others it is television, role playing games, gambling, or drugs. No matter what it is, we use it as a way to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions or disconnect from reality. It is a way to anesthetize, a distraction, a temporary exit from life’s problems. When you are trying to escape from depression, things can get out of control. Addictions and mental illness go hand and hand.
As I child I turned to food for comfort. Junk food became my friend when I was lonely or sad. I would overeat when I was alone and bored. I would plow through a bag of Doritos while I watched tv. I would eat huge bowls of sugary cereal and boxes of cookies or cupcakes. When I was dealing with anxiety and not able to sleep as an adult, I would eat loads of cookies or granola bars. I would make special trips to the convenience store for sweets or a fast food drive-thru and eat secretly in my car. I would obsess over food. I would wake up thinking about what my next meal would be. I was eating my feelings and I still struggle with it somewhat today. If I try to restrict myself too much, I end up bingeing on unhealthy foods. At the end of a strict diet last year, I went straight to a fast food restaurant for a hamburger and fries then to the gas station for packaged cupcakes. I would pay for this junk food with a credit card that my husband didn’t know about because I was ashamed of what I was doing. I would feel incredibly guilty after a binge and beat myself up over it. I was a certified health coach who clearly didn’t have my diet under control. These unhealthy habits increased when I tried to quit one of my other addictions like smoking. I was trading one for the other.
I started smoking when I was in high school, but I never really considered myself addicted to it. I didn’t smoke every day. I mostly did it when I drank alcohol. That all changed after my first psychotic episode. I became severely addicted to it. I smoked up to a pack a day when I was dealing with high stress and anxiety. My life revolved around it. All I could think about was my next cigarette. Chad hates it so I would hide it from him. I was constantly sneaking around and feeling guilty. I finally decided to quit this year when I was told it could be affecting my fertility. It took a couple tries, but I can thankfully now say that I have been off smokes for the last month. Trying desperately to keep it up while not letting myself eat everything in sight.
In my twenties it was drinking and love. I was a weekend warrior. I would binge drink every weekend night. When I was single, my nights were spent in downtown drinking up to 10 vodka and sodas a night along with a couple shots of liquor. I would often leave the bar with strangers and stay up all night partying. Needless to say I put myself in some seriously risky situations. During one of these drunken nights, I met a man 12 years older than me and began a long, unhealthy relationship. He caught me as I was ending a serious relationship. I was super vulnerable and he preyed on my insecurities. One minute I was the love of his life and the next he would be sleeping with other women. He was a serial cheater and I was putting myself in some serious danger, but I stayed because my self-esteem was so low that I convinced myself nobody else would love me. He lied to me about a lot of stuff including his two divorces. We were together a year before he told me about these marriages. I finally decided to end it when he told me he would never marry again or have children. My desire to have children was stronger than my need to be loved by him. Later I found out some super scary things about him. I seriously dodged a bullet.
I’ve also had my issues with spending. When I was manic I would overspend on food, booze, and clothes. I racked up some debt on credit cards in my twenties that took me about five years to pay off. I shopped at expensive stores with money I didn’t have. I would go out to nice dinners with friends and spend some serious cash at the bar. I would use my credit card or my father’s. I had no concept of money. I took vacations I couldn’t afford. If it wasn’t for my dad, I don’t know how I would have put a roof over my head. I have to watch myself still. It helps that I have a husband who is a saver. I still have my moments, but I have come a long way.
So how do you avoid getting caught up in addictions? I am still trying to figure that all out, but I think the answer lies in facing your problems head on. I call this Sitting in your Shit. Sitting in your pain, feeling your emotions no matter how much it hurts. When you stop escaping, the pain can be intense, but you have to work through it to move on. I’ve found that meditation, reiki, and exercise can be helpful, also having a good support system. NAMI support groups were very beneficial to me. I sometimes would just sit and cry through the entire meeting which helped me release some of my negative emotions. If you are struggling with bipolar and substance abuse, check out this free resource: www.drugrehab.com/co-occurring-disorder/bipolar/ www.advancedrecoverysystems.com/treatment-overview/co-occurring-disorders/.