Sex, Drugs, & Alcohol

Today, I was asked for the first time if I’ve ever had thoughts of suicide. I had a new-patient appointment with my doctor, and it was the first time I’ve talked to anyone about the depression I’ve been experiencing for the last six months. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder not quite a year ago and was asked to write about that experience for the 7 Billion Ones project, here. I am much further along in learning to cope with my anxiety, but depression is a whole new arena for me and I’ve found myself woefully unequipped to combat it. Truth? For the last few months I’ve been drinking. A lot.

When I told my doctor that I’ve been struggling with depression, I was prepared for her to ask me if I’ve thought about suicide. I’ve been thinking about this question since I made the appointment a couple weeks ago, knowing that I’d ask her to help me figure out a new course of medication, as mine has been failing me for some time, and counseling, of which I’ve had none of the non-Christian variety. When she asked the question today I told her the truth: I have not had the impulse to take the action myself, but I finally understand why people do. I’ve repelled into that headspace and understood, This is that seductive darkness where people let go.

7billones

Alcohol has been my constant, my sigh of relief. Anxiety meds from the morning seemed to wear off right around happy hour, and I took it as no coincidence. Drinking passed the nights away, the time I feel most vulnerable and alone, and then helped me fall asleep; it gave me something to look forward to, and every bar became a place I belonged. It let me feel sexy when I gained weight or was particularly self-conscious; it lowered my standards for the person I was with, making a relationship on its last leg appear to be keeping its balance. It helped me to be honest about my thoughts and gave me confidence to stand up for myself when I was being stomped on. That is, until it landed me with my head in the toilet. Until it had me drifting over the center line. Until it had me unable to remember whether I’d even kissed the man I’d had sex with the night before. Until it had me calling that one love I couldn’t seem to let go of and finally having the conversation I’d been waiting over two years to have, only to remember just one detail of that conversation the next day—me asking, Do you still love me, and him saying, No. Not at all.

I talked about alcoholism with someone recently, someone I feel a connection with and a kinship to, and it forced me to think about a couple things I’ve been intentionally ignoring. The first is that alcohol reduces the effectiveness of anxiety and depression medication. I’ve known this and yet continued to drink rather than seek professional help for a more effective course of treatment. The second is that the freedom I feel from my problems when I drink is an illusion, a mind trick, and everything will be exactly the same—if I haven’t managed to fuck it up worse during my drunken stupor—when I wake up.

What prompted me to write this post wasn’t my doctor’s appointment or a reflection on a recently unprecedented four days of sobriety, it was a mass email I got today from a new colleague about mental health. It was earnest and heartfelt; she said that last year she had a student whose brother committed suicide just before the semester began and another student who attempted suicide during the semester. She also shared a deeply personal story related to the subject. She implored us to include a section about our university’s mental health services in our syllabi and twice used the phrase stigma attached to mental illness, something I discussed today with my doctor—who, when I said a student of mine once wrote in a paper that a third of people struggle with some form of mental illness, said she suspects the number is far greater.

My colleague’s email reminded me that I’m not just fighting this battle for myself, and I’m sure as hell not the only one fighting it. And neither are you. I’ll end on this thought, something a friend shared with me a handful of months ago: People who commit suicide recognize the absurdity of life, and it takes more courage to live in the face of its absurdity than it does to leave it behind.

 

*Photo credit: Randy Bacon Photography for 7 Billion Ones

12 thoughts on “Sex, Drugs, & Alcohol

  1. Such a great read! I really enjoy when people are so honest and brave about themselves. Congratulations on not being afraid!

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  2. This is a beautiful post. I find myself looking at Instagram or Facebook wondering if I ever felt as lonely as when I look at others living such perceived happiness. It is tough these days, and as a fellow young academic, I think our line of work is also lonely. There are so many expectations and so much judgement, most of which is self-induced. Thank you for sharing your heart.

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    • HI Lauren–
      I people-watch a lot, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out at a coffee shop and just stared at a family or a couple or some friends together and wondered what is wrong with me that I so often choose to be alone, or that I hadn’t yet found my person or my tribe. I try to have grace for myself, though, and I hope you do too. There’s so little satisfaction in trying to pretend to be what you’re not and investing in relationships without that staying power. Sending you some major introvert love tonight ❤

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  3. Brenna, I am a big fan of your blog, and even your captions on Instagram. You are a great writer. I just wanted to say hi and say that I know how it feels to rely on alcohol to make up for feeling pretty fucking shitty (physically, emotionally, mentally). I’ve been on an antidepressant and adderall for about 6 months now and I feel much better. I don’t think I’m 100% me yet but I’m getting there. I don’t struggle to get out of bed every day or crawl back into it the moment I get home. I ended up quitting drinking completely for a month, that turned into two months and now I think I’ve had at the most 10 alcoholic drinks since Christmas. I didn’t think I had a problem until I stopped and realized how much better I felt. I made some other big lifestyle changes in the food I eat, exercise, socializing (this is a tough one for me that I’m still struggling with), and practicing self love. I don’t tell the people I work with that I’m on antidepressants because they’re 99% men and they seem to equate depression with insanity and I become just a crazy girl to them. I hate that stigma. I want to change it within my industry but I don’t know how to do that yet. It might be lame to say “it gets better,” but it does. Asking for help is the first step! I wish I had realized that years ago, I suffered for a long time and it became normal for me to feel so miserable. I realize now that life isn’t like that, it doesn’t have to be like that. Anyway. This was pretty much just me rambling haha. I just wanted to say I know how you’re feeling (in my own way) and it sucks now but it gets better. Oh and if you do go on antidepressants, the first few weeks were really awful for me in terms of mental state. They warn you that your depression can get much worse as your chemicals balance out. It doesn’t seem to happen to everyone, but man, those were a rough few weeks. I’m glad I had work 7 days a week during that time because if I didn’t have a reason to get up every day I might not have left my bed for 3 weeks. Well, good luck with everything and I’m looking forward to your next post! Steph
    >

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    • I’m so sorry to hear that you can’t be open in your workplace because of the stigma attached, not only to mental health itself, but to mental health in regards to women–ugh! You have so much good to say, and I so thoroughly enjoyed reading your comment. Thank you for sharing your own struggles and experiences and for offering me that encouragement. I appreciate you, Steph. Sending love your way ❤

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  4. I found out I had major depressive disorder two years ago and it took me awhile to come to terms with it. I avoided medication and therapy because I knew as soon as I accepted it, it became real. No one wants to admit that there’s something wrong with them, but it takes a strong person to speak out about it. I can’t tell you that it will get better, but I can tell you that it gets easier.

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    • It is so hard to admit at first, isn’t it? Our society has so stigmatized mental illness and attached to it this deep shame that is such a hurdle for many to get over — and many don’t and just suffer in silence, self-medicating. It’s a terrible situation, but my student who wrote the paper I mention in this post said something wise: The only way to de-stigmatize mental illness is through education and awareness. (I tell you, her paper brought tears to my eyes.) I think we just have to keep talking about it and being open with our struggles. I’m sure there’s someone near you who is just as unnerved by their own disorder as you were with yours, but maybe they won’t have to suffer those same years because of you ❤ Thank you so much for your comment.

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  5. My mother has depression on and off, though now I’m starting to believe that there may not be an on/off switch. Maybe just some days she handles it better. I don’t know.
    Your writing is beautifully honest and it helped me realize that sometimes I may be hard on her, thinking that I’m only helping.
    Thank you.

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  6. Your openness and honestly about your own personal struggles and demons is so inspiring and so courageous . As a life long health care professional , I’ve seen the struggles first hand and the stigma that all types of mental illness can bring to those already struggling to thrive in this messed up world we live in . Your openness and willingness to recognize your own personal demons will serve you well Brenna. You have such a gift with words , and through that , an avenue to connect and help so many others struggling with their demons as well. Hopefully that gives you a great sense of pride .. Not many people have that Gift:). Keep sharing your story ❤

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  7. This post really spoke to me as well. As someone who began seeing a therapist I really connected with for over two years now, and taking an anti-depressant for about a year and a half, I get it. It took me a long time to seek out therapy, but it’s the best decision I ever made.
    What I really connected with was what you wrote about drinking. I never thought I had a drinking problem but it was always in the back of my mind because so many people in my family do. Like you, I enjoy good beer, but several months ago I had an epiphany. I hadn’t planned on drinking too much, but of course I over did it. It was actually a really fun day with a bunch of people, but in the end, home alone in bed, I found myself hysterically crying, freaking out, texting my crush and my ex, and feeling awful. I realized that I don’t like the way drinking makes me feel and that in many cases, I can’t have just one or two drinks if everyone else is going full force. I decided I was not going to drink anymore but the thought of labeling myself an alcoholic seemed so permanent and scary. In the last 5 months I have had 3 drinks and I think I am proving to myself that it’s okay for me to drink as long as I’m aware of what I’m getting into. I never want to lose control and I never want to get that good feeling that makes me drink more again. I find that it’s difficult to explain to people and it almost makes me feel weird, but I’m also not very social so I’m not put in too many difficult situations.
    This was longer than I wanted it to be, but I wanted to share my story.
    I’ve been following your Instagram and I love your blog. I was an English major in undergrad which is the main reason I love what you post, but I also love your style and tattoos. I am currently getting my MSW and plan to become a therapist; this is a decision I made based on my positive experiences with therapy and wanting to give that back to others. Thanks for reading!

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