I've struggled with depression for pretty much my entire life. Over the years I feel as though I've gotten better at managing it but I suppose the disappointing reality is that it still feels ever present and part of me wonders if I will spend the rest of my life feeling this way.
When I first became conscious of my depression I was 16. At that point, I didn't really know what I was dealing with. It was just apparent that something felt very wrong with me on a level that I found difficult to put into words. My world, once filled with joyful color had now become a seemingly endless gray abyss. It felt as if I had lost the ability to feel any sense of positive emotion and instead was limited to and dominated by pure overwhelming sadness.
As I finished my last year of high school I began to dabble in alcohol for the first time. I didn't think much of it at first. My depression had made me feel like an outcast and for some reason, I felt less isolated from the world when I was drinking with others.
It didn't take long for drinking to become an active part of my life, especially in the first few years following high school. Partying constantly gave me a sense of connection to the world that I didn't feel like I had otherwise. In the midst of the party is when I felt some sense of normality.
Like all things though, people changed, life changed and the party I once felt connected to had dissipated into nothingness. Being unwilling to give up my only sense of connection to the world, I continued to drink excessively, even when I looked around and realized I was by myself with not a soul in sight. It was just me and the bottle of whiskey sitting on a lonely park bench in the middle of the night, hoping to find some connection with the world around me.
But it never came.
As I continued to drink heavily and alone over the years, my relationship with alcohol became more complex. It had become my best friend but also my worst enemy. It was always there for me when I needed to escape my depression for a night but as time went on, the price I had to pay for such temporary relief grew drastically. Then there were times when no amount of alcohol could seem to drown my feelings and instead aggravated and intensified them to the point where I would become a complete and utter mess. In these moments I felt as if alcohol had betrayed me yet for reason I continued to see it as my only solution to cope with how I was feeling.
My life eventually reached a severe low point where I couldn't tell up from down. I couldn't separate the feelings I had as a result of drinking from the ones pre-existing it. My entirety of emotion and very essence felt so tangled and intertwined with alcohol that it seemed as if I had become one with it. Not in the sense that it and I were equal but rather that it had enveloped me completely and when I tried to stop myself from drinking, I realized I was powerless to do so. It was a defeating realization understanding that I had lost control.
It was at this point that I took a good look at my life and asked the question:
Do I drink because I'm depressed or am I depressed because I drink?
The more I thought about it the more I realized it wasn't necessarily that black and white but one thing was clear:
The drinking fueled my depression and recycled back all forms of negativity into my life.
Truly becoming aware of and understanding that statement was a moment of enlightenment for me. The more I drank to cope with my depression, the more alcohol brought me depressing people, circumstances, experiences, and patterns of thinking that would ensure I remained depressed until the end of time. It became clear that if I wanted any hope of escaping my depression that I had to remove alcohol as a method of coping with my life and the way that I felt.
So I did.
It wasn't easy at first. The thought of drinking was always on my mind but I had created a level of resolve within myself that was stronger than the will to drink. I started to train my brain to think of alcohol differently than I had before. When I wanted to drink and saw it as a solution, I reminded myself of the reality and nature of alcohol and the destruction it had brought me time and time again. Each time I resisted the urge to drink, especially in the moments when it seemed overwhelming, I grew stronger.
As the weeks went on, my drinking lessened significantly until it was virtually non-existent. I would not allow myself to drink if I knew it was a coping response and when I did drink in a social setting, I made a rule to limit myself to one or two. I knew if I let myself reach intoxication, there would be no turning back and so I ensured that I did not put myself in that position. Practicing this became easier the more I did it.
The less I drank, the more energy I had and the more my desire to drink weakened. I felt rejuvenated and clean. Although I hadn't necessarily escaped my depression, I felt my moods and emotions stabilize tremendously. Not being hungover all the time gave me the time, energy and will to do the things I enjoyed doing. Life became less about coping and more about living. I saw drastic improvements in my relationships and in my work life and these, in turn, recycled back more positivity and kept me motivated to abstain from alcohol.
I still live with my depression but it is operating at a fraction of what it was when I was drinking heavily. By absolving drinking as a coping method, I found new and healthier ways of coping that have actually made positive progress in managing my depression as opposed to worsening it. As well as that, I've also stopped recycling the negativity that comes with drinking back into my life.
If there is one thing I have learned for certain it's that if you have existing depression and see drinking as a solution, you will only guarantee more depression. If there is any hope for overcoming depression for someone who drinks, it is by breaking the endless loop that drinking and depression operate in. The first step is clear:
Stop drinking. Break the cycle. Now heal.