Friday, June 19, 2009


I remember a few years ago when I was about 15 years sober, I was traveling on business to New Jersey as I did several times a year. It was an entirely un-remarkable trip. I had an intention that I would check into my hotel and head out to an AA meeting in Red Bank that I got to occasionally. I was feeling sort of down but that was not unfamiliar with that in that I was overwhelmed and feeling inadequate in several areas of my life.

As I unpacked and changed in preparation for heading back out to my meeting, I turned on the TV and what happened to be on was an ad from a hospital chain (Charter?) that talked about "chronic depression".

The impact of that ad on me was profound! At long last, I found that these folks really, truly understood me. It was absolutely clear to me that I was "chronically depressed" and that my life would only make sense if I could cure that malady.

I still remember thinking: I have to call my wife! I have to call my AA sponsor! I need to check into this hospital immediately! This was truly a wake up call and immediate action was demanded!

Then, I had another thought...

I knew that this particular program on the TV was quick to hand out Prozac and other pills - that I'd known folks and sponsored folks who struggled with dealing with balancing medication and a spiritual program of action. I looked at where I was in my life and realized the fears that were causing my depression were selfish and familiar - my sponsor and I had been discussing them for a number of weeks.

So, I went to the meeting and had a good laugh at myself.

I seem to have a stable of sponsees and AA friends now who are enmeshed, to various depths, with depression and despair. I can't think of an area of our program where I feel more inadequate to share my experience or offer advice. I just make it clear to sponsees that:
  1. I'm not a doctor - the only worse medical advice they'll get from what their head offers them is proscription from "Dr. Ed"
  2. There are sometimes real, medical and biological reasons for depression that can and should be treated medically
  3. Regardless of whether they are on medication or not, if they are alcoholic of my variety, they need to plug into AA (or some other solution) to work on the problem of alcoholism.
  4. Life on a spiritual path is not always about feeling wonderful - but that a wonderful life is available, regardless of how you feel
It's been my experience and observation that healing from alcoholism is not necessarily evidenced by absence from depression or emotional (or physical) pain. We have our co-founder Bill's experience to support us on this assertion.

To AA friends (not sponsees), I will often just listen and possibly share my experiences. I try to steer clear of any advice other than "...have you discussed this with your sponsor and, possibly, your doctor?"

I have been advised by lots of folks that are in and out of AA to see a psychiatrist about my depressions (sometimes they get pretty bad). I've gone to therapy a few times in my 25 years. Sometimes, my therapists/doctors have suggested medications. When I discuss my reluctance to take medication at that time (I've never said I'd never take any medications - I think that would be silly...), they've appreciated my concerns and have been willing to try something different.

I think I might always struggle with depression. A few years ago, the cruelest thing a sponsor ever said to me was "...Ed, have you ever considered yourself as someone who doesn't have depression?" It seemed cruel at the time because I had, in fact, taken my depression on as an identity. Today, every day, I have to remind myself that God can heal my depression and that, some day, I might not have depression in my life.

That's not today, but I do have hope...


Scott W said...

I hope you wake up one day and never have depression again. In high school I had a migraine every day. I wondered if it would ever go away. One day I realized it was gone. Keep going, miracles do happen.

Syd said...

I agree that there are those, like my mother, who had a biological depression. She needed medication and ECT. I am glad that I found the program which helps me feel good about myself. I don't want those genes of depression taking hold in me.

Carol said...

Even before I became involved in alcoholism I was interested in the correlation w/depression. There is a lot of it in my family and I was diagnosed/treated on and off in different decades of my life. The answer for me has been spiritual. Plus the steps and general program advice such as get involved/avoid isolation etc reinforce the good advice that any therapist would give me. I hope that I'm set for life as long as I keep going to meetings and talking to others.


Steve E. said...

I'm not depressed--today!

But I do have compassion for those who suffer so. And Ed, as you also, I do not have the answer for anyone. Not even for me.