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The Downside of Being A Bipolar Functional Alcoholic
I officially became an alcoholic when I turned 40. I had begun drinking at the age of 11, stealing alcohol and trying to make my own wine in the refrigerator. Going to parties with people who thought I was much older and coming home tore up from the floor up on a regular basis. While my mother never seemed to notice, my sister clearly did and was waiting for me to get home at night fearing for my safety. Good times.
Somehow, I managed to get into college, they put me in a therapy group to help me stay there long enough to graduate. I failed pottery and missed my graduation by one point. I quickly married another in a marriage that lasted 15 years. During that marriage I began a civil service job with the city and hung out with other alcoholics.
I was chosen as part of a cadre of caseworkers to go to grad school on scholarship. I was able to get things because people believed since I showed up every day and worked all day I had no problem. One of them said to me "with your personality you need to take every civil service test you can and learn to do jobs nobody wanted." This proved to be true. Despite sending out over 100 resumes not one answered. During that time, I graduated but I can't tell you what I learned in the two years I was there. I went back to my regular job. Shortly after that my husband died and I was tapped for a director position in the financial department. This I should say is a direct result of my alcoholism, I know nothing about finance. Nor am I even interested in learning about it. I liked the money. So, I lasted about a year before they sent me back to my home office. After the fellow drunk man I was dating dumped me, I crawled into the famous 12-step program and got sober.
What people don't tell newbies is that there's a difference between not drinking and being sober. Especially when one turns out to be dually diagnosed as I am. I could go to work and accomplish tasks that are requested and stay all day, but I cannot work in a stress environment-- it brings out my fear/ rage, my paranoid voices get loud. I had lots of experience hiding behind my snarky intellectual attitude. I never even noticed that I didn't have close friends because my focus was entirely on me. I bought clothes I couldn't afford, went on vacations I couldn't afford, juggled money and bank fees over and over. I had stopped drinking but in no other way had my behavior changed.
But that one day at a time should work for me. All I had to worry about was where my feet were right now. And when the clouds cleared, when the fog cleared it showed me an anger that was so deep it frightened me and people around me. I will remember things that had happened 10, 20 or 40 years ago and be shaking with anger as though they happened this morning. I nearly broke out in a fist fight with my first therapist who tried to point out to me that I kept choosing the same kind of sociopath dysfunctional man over and over even in sobriety. After people who repeatedly tried to help me got silent, as they watch me go through my dance yet again and again and again. Finally my new therapist pointed out to me that all the people that I was talking about were dead years ago. I was tested and I was bipolar one. When I looked at the specs-- apparently I had always been bipolar one, even as a child. I had an incident for every bullet on their list. I went on medication. So now I was a sober bipolar alcoholic. In the 12 step rooms full of whatever dregs of humanity drag in there, you would've thought I would have found a place. Well let me tell you there's nothing worse than being bipolar alcoholic, having advanced degrees and people resenting you because somehow you avoided the street corner or the crack pipe.
I have even had people walk up to me and say I don't think you're really an alcoholic, you got a graduate degree, you have the job [thank God for civil service tests]. One sponsor turned to me and said did you ever really drink that much? To top it off I was a churchgoer all the way through this so the combination of one of my personalities--the church going hard working social worker--directly conflicted with the alcoholic bipolar person continually enraged with literally no moral compass at all and no problem doing whatever passed through her demented mind in any given time; to try to reconcile that into a recognizable human was daunting.
Five years in, I was diagnosed as bipolar alcoholic with psychotic influences and dissociative tendencies. What all that psychobabble means: I really have problems remaining emotionally present, and paranoid and angry a lot of the time. I could start a fight in an empty room. When I stopped drinking I lost what friends I still had, it might have been because they didn't think I had a problem. Or being the life of the party, or it was it the raging behavior that could flash at a moment’s notice that I didn’t remember the next day. Who knows.
I thought my drinking was secret or at least more much more private than it was. Women who had supervised me during my career congratulated me and could not believe I had stopped in staff meetings. My best friend stopped speaking to me because I didn't want to go to places that serve alcohol.
I had fooled no one. Not my coworkers not my doctors not myself. Sobriety for me was literally the last house on the block . I had no plan B. Getting sober, I could not believe how much I did not know about being an adult. Everything from how to use my paycheck to pay bills and not always bounced checks to not hanging out with toxic people, begging for their attention to validate me and the pain of knowing that many people that I spent time and energy and money on did not care about me when I got sober and broke. If somebody would have told me I can never drink again I think I would have shot myself on the spot.
When you stop at 40, there is a whole section of human behavior and interaction that you've missed. Like I don't have to go to bed with everyone who asked me. Or I don't have to say everything that goes through my mind. When I don't pray and meditate, I have a group of people murmuring in my head some of which were very paranoid. And some part of me want to answer people back in the worst way possible. I have learned to ask somebody before I decide to take an action especially if it's around money. shopping has become my major addiction. On some level my friends and acquaintances and relatives thought that I was doing what I was doing on purpose whereas I was trying to learn to live with the disease that had been masked by lots and lots of alcohol as a sedative.
I have learned I have to say to someone: "I have upset you and I don't know why. please forgive me and please help me understand why I upset you." And be humble about it. I was reckless to a fault when I was drinking and couldn't care less. Now I learned that there were people in my life who were just waiting on the side for me to get it together and new people who love me for who I am. Both of my diseases are simple facts. I’m not doing it at you, I’m not doing it for you, I’m not trying to get better because I want to impress you. I’m just trying to live on the planet and not self destruct with the help of God. I can do this or not and I’ll just keep trying. There is still no plan B.
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