My Experience with Mental Illness and the A.A. Program

Alcoholics and Addicts in 12 Step Programs sharing their personal recovery stories with hope to help others who alcoholics and addicts who want to recover using the 12 Steps.
garden variety
Posts: 750
Joined: Fri Aug 04, 2006 7:39 pm

My Experience with Mental Illness and the A.A. Program

Postby garden variety » Tue Jun 09, 2009 2:40 pm

I saw comments on another thread about this so I don't want to hijack that discussion. This is only my personal experience, so take from it anything you find helpful, and don't regard it as representative of AA as a whole.

I mentioned that I had a mental disorder that onset when I was 9. I never had that condition analyzed because I was ashamed and afraid. I thought it was my fault, and that with the "right connection" to God and A.A., I should be overcoming this. I was wrong. A.A. wasn't designed to treat a mental disorder, plain and simple.

I was sober for 6 years. I was no longer "in the fog". Working the program did not eliminate my mental illness. But it was A.A. sponsorship and members that brought my condition to my attention, and they suggested that I seek "outside help" from a professional. They could help me to stay sober and help others to achieve sobriety, but they could not help me with my mental disorder which was obvious to them.

They understood, that although the program is a design for living that works, and certain mental conditions clear up after working the steps and living the program, there were still limitations of A.A. They suggested I arrange to visit a clincal psychologist - specifically. They didn't say see a "psychiatrist" or a "counselor", or a "social worker". They specifically said to see a clinical psychologist who could give me tests to determine what was causing my "episodes".

They didn't say "keep coming back" or "you only have 5 years, the fog is just lifting". They didn't give me wishful thinking or hype. My condition was out of the A.A. "league", and they weren't afraid to tell me the truth about it. They didn't make me feel guilty because there was something wrong with my mental state, and they didn't joke about my mental state, either, or blame it on me or my drinking or my so-called self-centeredness.

What a thoughtful and caring bunch of guys, huh? Just regular AA's that had enough insight to see that something was not right in my mental landscape. And they suggested the exact thing I needed, which was outside the bounds of the program. They knew enough to understand what A.A. is, and what it is not. They were also thorough and dedicated to helping another alcoholic so much as to discuss the matter among themselves to figure out what specific kind of "outside help" I needed.

I did what was suggested and had a mental health assessment, and attended several sessions with a clinical psychologist. He gave me his clinical assessment and suggested that I talk it over with my psychiatrist to determine if medication would be appropriate.

My primary care physician referred me to my psychiatrist a few years earlier because I had clinical depression symptoms and I also have alcoholism. I didn't know that the psychiatrist I would visit specicalized in chemical abuse treatment. So my first assessment was with the psychiatrist about 18 months being sober. He diagnosed me with clinical depression and adult ADHD, like Tim-one said he was diagnosed. My shrink prescribed an anti-depressant, and he also prescribed a DEA "schedule 2" narcotic (amphetamine) which I currently use for ADHD.

I struggled with that at first because some folks in A.A. made the incorrect assumption that because I was alcoholic, that I would naturally abuse "pills". But I was never addicted to pills or drugs in any form. In my early sobriety, I worried that I could become addicted to amphetamines. I was sober and thinking clear-headed taking the prescription drugs, but some careless and harmful attitudes of AA's "playing doctor" had me worried about my sobriety date and becoming addicted to drugs when that never was an issue before.

Looking back, I see I gave into pressure to stop using my prescriptions by other long-timer AA members who really didn't understand mental illness. I didn't have enough confidence in my own sobriety, and still held onto shame about my mental illness, so I tried stopping amphetamines cold-turkey. I figured if I was "addicted", I would have some kind of withdrawal, and if I did I would have to change my sobriety date.

Folks - this is not the way to treat a newcomer who needs prescription medicine. Guilt. Pushing the guilt buttons. That is not helping anyone to stay sober or achieve sobriety. That is cruelty. It's also probably practicing medicine without a license.

Well I stopped cold-turkey. Nothing happened. No withdrawal. No side effects. Of course the ADHD symptoms returned which they do after the drug wears off (about 5 hours). But I wasn't addicted which relieved my worries. Of course my psychiatrist who specialized in treatment probably wouldn't have prescribed the pills if he thought my sobriety was in danger.

After all of the needless worry and gyrations about taking narcotics and changing sobriety dates, I found out that a person with my brain and body chemistry reacts in an opposite manner when using amphetamines. We don't become "addicted" - we can take prescription "speed" for years and stop one day, and the only thing happens is we have ADHD symptoms to manage which were always there.

"Alcoholics Anonymous is a program for alcoholics who seek freedom from alcohol. It is not a program against drugs." (See conference approved literature "The A.A. Member - Medications & Other Drugs")

I went back to my psychiatrist with the clinical psychologist's assessment. In the interim, I was searching for an herbal supplement that would relieve migraines. In this quest for curing headaches, I found a supplement that seemed to hold these anxiety "episodes" in check. Talk about "serendipity"! I brought this up with my psychiatrist.

In that session, he asked me how many A.A. meetings I attend. I told him 4-5 per week. He smiled and said that A.A. is working for me, he could tell because he could see "improved mental health" over the years he had been seeing me - he said he never saw me in a better mental state. I no longer lived under the cloud of clincal depression and had stopped taking anti-depressants.

Then he said "I could give you a prescription for this (the the mental disorder I had since I was 9), but I don't think it would be any better than what you're taking now without a prescription. And it would have side effects. What you're taking now seems to be doing a good job without side effects. Keep doing what you're doing. I think you have a good handle on your condition."

I asked him then is that all you're recommending?

He said "There is one more thing. It's a book called "Brain Lock". I tell all my patients with your condition to read it. It's great. Read it."

I read "Brain Lock" which was great. But what was so great is that it gave "4 steps" to use with my condition, and those "4 steps" were already included in the 12 steps.

Dallas mentioned about online forums that could help alcoholics with mental disorders. I visited a couple forums for folks with my mental illness. Of course, "Brain Lock" was mandatory reading, and it helped many folks with my disorder. But I was already working the 12-steps, and I had been transformed by spiritual awakening, so the "steps" in Brain Lock were already being used in my life.

The thing I found discouraging about the other forums was that it seemed all hope was staked on reading "Brain Lock" or finding the "right counselor" or shrink. Forum members were mostly not hopeful (understandably) and lots of times negative. Yes I have the same mental disorder since I was 9, but I guess I prefer the hope I find in this forum and in the rooms of A.A.

My mental illness was not "cured". I don't even know if it goes into remission. I found out that even though there are a handful of anxiety disorders which are unique, all of us who have anxiety disorders, in one form or another, will probably share a handful of common symptoms that never really go away. We either learn how to manage our mental illness one day at a time, or we try avoiding it which makes us miserable in the long run.

So what I'm saying is the 12 steps keep my disease of alcoholism in remission without a doubt. The steps also give me a realtionship with today, my recovery, my fellow man and woman, and a God of my understanding. These relationships that spring out of sobriety help me in BIG ways to manage my mental illness.


That's how it works for me.

Thanks for letting me share.

Peace and Love always,

Site Admin
Posts: 4830
Joined: Thu Jul 28, 2005 9:05 pm

Postby Dallas » Tue Jun 09, 2009 5:17 pm

Hey Paul! Thanks for your great sharing and your insight!

Those experiences well explain what I was trying to explain in the other discussion thread.

Paul wrote:Working the program did not eliminate my mental illness. But it was A.A. sponsorship and members that brought my condition to my attention, and they suggested that I seek "outside help" from a professional. They could help me to stay sober and help others to achieve sobriety, but they could not help me with my mental disorder which was obvious to them.

AA is not about curing problems or treating anything other than alcoholism. And, we can learn some valuable lessons from those that suggested that you seek the professional outside help. That may have saved your life!!!

Paul wrote:Looking back, I see I gave into pressure to stop using my prescriptions by other long-timer AA members who really didn't understand mental illness.

That's another point that I was talking about. AA's have no business discussing prescriptions, professional treatments or illnesses with each other. The same reason that we don't discuss religion and politics! :lol: :lol:

Now... wait a minute... I changed my mind! :lol:

"If" the two AA's share the same politics... they could have beneficial discussions talking about it with each other outside of AA. Maybe, PA! Politics Anonymous!... or DA... Denomination-specific Anonymous. Where their primary purpose is to help each other with politics or religion. That could be good and helpful to them. But, in AA... that kind of help could turn into a knock-down drag-out brawl! :lol:

Alcoholics know how to drink! That's our specialty! In AA we know how to stay sober -- that's our specialty!

Alcoholics also know how to fail! That's one of our specialty's that we don't talk enough about! :lol: :lol: And, we're expert on giving advice to others... for stuff that we have zero experience with! And, they could end up dead or in trouble... or failing... if they listen to us rather than getting the help they need!

I think that's the point that pamphlet is trying to make: "Keep medical and mental health discussions in privacy with your doctor -- or, in group therapy... Discussing it in AA will just get you screwed up -- and screw up those that think they can help you!" :lol: :lol:

Down at the club we have a couple of professional mechanics... neither one has a car and neither one of them drive... but, they know it all when it comes to cars and driving. :lol: :lol: I was listening to one of them giving legal advice to one guy and medical advice to the other! :lol: :lol:


Return to “12 Step Addiction Recovery Stories”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Baidu [Spider] and 0 guests