My Depression Almost Stopped Me From Getting Sober

By Melanie Buer 09/13/16

If not for the therapy and anti-depressants I took for the first year of my sobriety, I would not be alive today.

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Woman looking out steamy window.
Depression is an odd thing.

The early morning sunlight slipped in through the closed blinds, illuminating the dust in the air and landing on the armchair right across from me. My therapist, a short, amiable woman, sat casually in the armchair, clipboard resting on her lap. She waited patiently for me to say something, her eyes looking at me with concern. 

I couldn’t meet her eye. “I’m sorry, I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to be saying right now.”

She nodded, jotted a few things down on the clipboard, and brushed a stray hair from her face. The lamp sitting on her desk seemed to grow brighter in the silence. I rubbed my eyes and fought the urge to yawn. I hadn’t slept in nearly three days. By then, it was normal for me.

Depression is an odd thing. I had been living with it for so long that I failed to notice the symptoms anymore. The constant fatigue was a part of my make-up, the dark circles around my eyes a regular occurrence. I spent my nights awake, staving off the uncomfortable despair by binge watching documentaries and drinking my thoughts into silence. After spending nearly half of my teens in a fog of untreated suicidal ideations, the discovery of alcohol as a solution to my dangerous melancholy seemed to me to be serendipitously welcome.

When I moved from my Midwestern hometown to Denver, Colorado for college in the fall of 2010, the night-caps were already a part of my routine. It was easy to sneak bottles of cheap whiskey past my RAs and walk to class in the morning with a carefully spiked coffee. The small campus was full of people like me—hyper-intelligent insomniacs who finished their homework before 7 p.m. and left the campus in droves to attend one of the many parties held in the neighborhood each night.

I didn’t stay there very long, though I wished I had. When I left that college after only a year and transferred to a larger campus down the road, I suddenly found myself with far more freedom to do what I wanted. The lack of structure and accountability from my friends created a vacuum that I quickly filled with drugs and alcohol. I often skipped classes and failed out of that second college after a year of avoiding responsibilities and shutting myself up in my room.

After that, the darkness that surrounded me grew. I dropped out for a year and in that time nearly destroyed myself. I chose the right kind of company that wouldn’t look twice at the amount of drugs I was taking. They were a ragtag group of 20-somethings who spent every day under the influence. We talked about nothing and scraped pennies together to get dollar menu burgers from the food joint down the street. None of us had jobs.

I was 19 years old and I hated myself. I spent hours in the shower after each night of hard partying, scrubbing my skin until it was angry and red—trying desperately to scrub away the grime that had attached itself to my being. Many times I sank to the floor of the bathtub, my tears mingling with the water as it rushed down the drain.

At that time, I took a swan-dive into chaos. The chaos fed upon my instability and made it easy for me to walk into life-threatening situations without blinking an eye. In the winter of 2012, I was raped and assaulted by my then-boyfriend while drunk, while my best friend watched in horror. He would tell me later that he was too drunk and too afraid to intervene. Sometimes, I’m grateful that those memories are framed in the fuzzy outline of a near-blackout. 

I coped with the trauma of that experience by drinking. The darkness surrounded me, and yet life continued. Each day was a new exercise in survival and I welcomed the blackouts. Nearly a third of 2012 was one continuous blackout; I remember nothing. Brief periods of lucidity were followed by two, three, or four days in a blackout. I would wake up in a different part of the city (or completely across the state), surrounded by people I didn’t know, and wait for the moment when the darkness consumed me once again.

When I finally got the courage to leave that relationship, I tried to get sober and go back to school. I managed to keep away from drinking for three months, but it wouldn’t stick. I went to school every day. I worked two jobs and paid my bills. Every moment of my life was filled with this interminable sadness. It was like a chasm had opened up in my chest and dragged at the edges, threatening to pull myself inside. Everywhere I looked, there was darkness. It wasn’t long before I returned to the same solution that had helped me so many times before. 

I remember very clearly a period of three months back in 2012 where I would sit in my empty dorm room surrounded by alcohol bottles, screaming at the ceiling, begging whatever was out there to help me find peace from the chaos that was ripping through my life. The tears came easily and without warning, no matter where I was. I surrounded myself with more people who liked to drink as much as me, and hid alcohol under the sink in my bathroom to take swigs from in privacy. I was consumed by presenting this appearance of the happy-go-lucky stoner girl that most knew me as.

The reality was that I was dying. I could feel myself dying with each pull from the endless stream of liquor bottles passing through my hands. The vicious cycle continued for another year.

After nearly three years of drowning myself in alcohol, I woke up one morning after leaving the bar in isolation at a detox center. I was informed that I had gotten a DUI the night prior and broke a bookshelf at the detox they dropped me off at. My BAC was .197 when they brought me in. I remembered nothing, but apparently lost 45 minutes of time before I crashed my car into the back of a gas tanker unloading fuel at the 7-Eleven four blocks away from the bar. My apartment was next door.

Within a month I left Denver, moving all my stuff into storage and going home to Nebraska to live at my mom’s and sort myself out. It was December 2013. The first month I was home, I never slept. Every night I sat awake in my bedroom, staring out the window at the snow flying outside. Afraid that the darkness might consume me once more, I waited until the sun rose before catching a few hours of fitful sleep.

I knew deep down that the only way that I could begin to right the mess I had created in my life was to get sober and try to start again. The nightmares and melancholy prevented me from finding the courage to take that step. It wasn’t long before I started going to the bars, searching desperately for a way to quiet the noise that filled my head. Convincing myself that I would only be gone long enough to get one beer, I would return home at 3 a.m. completely obliterated and collapse in a heap on my bed. 

At the behest of my exasperated mother, I started going to therapy. For a year after that, I went twice a week, every week. It took me nearly three months of seeing a therapist regularly before I could bring myself to walk into a 12-step meeting. I had become so accustomed to drinking away my depression that any other solution was either too terrifying or not convincing enough for me to try it.

If not for the therapy and antidepressants I took for the first year of my sobriety, I would not be alive today. Either my alcoholism or my depression would have killed me swiftly if I had not gotten the help that I needed. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I don’t have all the answers to my problems, and that I needed to ask for help if I wanted to continue living.

I learned new coping mechanisms for my depression, and learned how to process my emotions without letting them overwhelm me. Today, I spend my days writing about my daily experience, remaining open with my friends, and I’m still sober. I’ve experienced tragedies in the last two years, but I didn’t have to return to drinking in order to work through them. I’ve forgiven my ex, and while I may not be completely over my assault, I’m making progress every day. I’m able to enjoy loving relationships with my family and my boyfriend, and I live a life I would have never had if not for the work I did with my therapist in that first year.

I often think about those first few weeks sitting across from my therapist in her warm, welcoming office. Never once did she judge me for my silence, my anger, or my unending despair. She listened to me without comment, and after a while I trusted her. The first time I opened up to her about the horrors I had witnessed while in Denver, the sun was shining like it always did through her half-closed blinds.

She pulled her hair away from her face and cracked a joke about her car not being able to start earlier that morning. “Nebraska weather, right?”

I nodded, smiling slightly. The silence filled the air again, as it had for the previous few weeks. I looked out the window, watching the clouds turn in the sky. “I’ve done a lot of living in the last few years, that I don’t wish upon my worst enemy.”

She nodded as she always did, making a comment on her clipboard. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”

So I did.

Melanie Buer is a freelance writer and university student based in Omaha, Nebraska. She spends her days buried deep in research for her thesis and writing poems about her cat. Follow her on Twitter here.

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