There is a growing awareness of individuals who suffer from a substance related disorder as well as a psychiatric disorder; this is classified as co-occurring or dual diagnosis. Bill W., Co-Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous suffered from depression and alcoholism. Bill was helped by psychiatrists for his depression and could find relief through attending a Twelve Step program through AA that he and Dr. Bill developed. In the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, My Name Is Bill, he states that he was always on the outside, looking in: that having a drink allowed him to feel at ease with others, or gain confidence he otherwise wouldn’t have had if he didn’t drink. Bill found that reaching out to others gave him purpose, meaning and the ability to help others who struggled as he did.
In the book, Terry: My daughter’s Life and Death Struggle with Alcoholism, tells about a young woman, who painfully struggled with depression and alcoholism. Terry persisted through many AA meetings, hospitals, detox facilities and counseling sessions all in the name of getting better. In the book, it speaks of Carl Jung; the Psychiatrist who spoke about his belief that alcoholism is nothing more than a craving of the soul that in the end only needs to be redirected by a stronger force that is what is meant by when AA speaks of a higher power. “Alcoholics do not abuse drugs because they want to become addicted or even necessarily to become high for the moment. They hope to find in chemicals a way to feel better – just to be normal like other people” pg. 175.
Terry wrote in her journal about the need to overcome her addiction and her need to feel loved; she concluded that she wanted someone to love and protect her. This is a perfect account of how some depressive individuals feel but instead of turning outward to family, friends, or a support group, to connect and feel seen, they are at times rejected or feel alone; they instead, turn inward, towards themselves.
Terry turned to alcohol to numb the pain of loneliness, sadness, and loss of connection. Terry wrote, “I had come to depend on alcohol for my confidence and self-esteem. I tried many times and many different ways to quit, but fell back repeatedly. It just seemed too difficult considering most of my friends drank; most social situations revolved around drinking. After years of struggle, I finally reached a point of acceptance that I could not drink and had to change my life in significant ways to assure that” pg. 117. Terry’s family wrote that Terry was very good at explaining her difficulties away that is it was easy to overlook that alcohol played any role in her life.
What Terry and so many others suffered from was a deep need to connect, to feel seen, to feel heard, to wake up in the morning and know that they have something to do; their lives had purpose. Bill W had the desire to connect with others and share his story. In doing that it provided him with a sense of accomplishment and willingness to serve others.
When people feel pain – there is a hole and it is a natural response to avoid, ignore or simply, pretend that it does not exist. Unfortunately, that is only a band aid, a temporary response to a bigger issue (i.e., bullying, anger, low self-esteem, anxiety, grief and depression.) What folks need is change! Doing something different – taking a new path, reaching out to others for support. And realizing that speaking up is a first step to saying, “I need help.”