Sunday, September 29, 2013
Depression, Booze, and Second Chances
I apologize for the length of this blog, I had just made a vow to myself to write shorter blogs but I've sung that tune before, haven't I? I am reading a fascinating book right now written by Howard Storm titled, My Descent Into Death: A Second Chance At Life. In the book, Mr. Storm describes how he, an atheist, fell very ill and then "died," and it details his experiences on the other side, but also the changes in his life since he "came back." I'm finding the material of the book exciting on many different levels and I think it is important reading even for those of you who don't believe in life after death, maybe even more important. I thought some of you guys might find what he had to say about his drinking and how it changed after his "after death" experience interesting.
I was very weak for seven months following the surgery. When I eventually returned to work in January 1986, teaching my art classes exhausted me. During this time of recovery, I thought, studied, and prayed. My life had been lost and given back. Physically and spiritually I was born again. This rocked the foundations of all that I had previously believed, demanding that my entire life be rebuilt. I had a myriad of critical questions that I needed to answer, such as: What had really happened to me? Why me? What was I going to do? How did I know it was not a dream or hallucination? Was it real? All my life I had had dreams, but this experience was not a dream. When I had a nightmare, I would wake up. The experience in hell was far worse than any nightmare, but there I never woke up. My dreams had always had a sense of the surreal, but what I’d experienced after my “death” seemed more real than being awake.
Rather than surreal, it was super-real. During that experience, my senses increased from above-normal to levels of sensation that are beyond explanation. I was more alive in every meaning of the word than I had been before or have been since the experience. There is no comparison between any dream state I know and my Near-Death Experience. Could this have been a psychotic episode brought about by the extreme physical trauma of dying? I became obsessed with this question until it was resolved by several facts that collectively refute the explanation of trauma-induced hallucination. Before the experience, anxiety and depression had spoiled my life. I justified my melancholia by convincing myself that this was the only state of mind a realist could have. I had believed there was no God, no heaven, no hell, no Christ, no angels, no miracles, no life after death, and no ultimate meaning to life. One is born into an utterly random universe; one struggles for survival and pleasure, then one dies. What was the point of living? There is none. Why not die? Too afraid to die, I kept on living. Many times I had considered ending my life, but I always chickened out before I did it. Driving down the highway at ninety miles per hour late at night, thinking: just head into the bridge piers and it will all be over in a second, oblivion! I could never quite do it. Maybe one day I would have the courage. There was very little joy in my life. In order to be happy I drank alcohol. At every social occasion, drinking was the means to a good time. The more you drink, the better you feel. The more you drink, the more you need to drink to get that high. Booze was happiness and lack of booze was melancholy. Alcohol use is encouraged in our society. In the circles that I ran in, one was expected to drink at social occasions. A party, going out for the evening, getting together at someone’s home, going on vacation, visiting relatives, having dinner, sporting events, and other occasions were all accompanied by drinking. The only time one was supposed to not drink was at work. After my experience, I quit drinking. The primary reason was I was happy and knew that alcohol would rob me of my happiness. Alcohol is a depressant that depressed people take to anesthetize themselves from their depression. I don’t need it because I have a joy in my life that I want to keep. Alcohol degrades that sense of well-being with a counterfeit sense of well-being leading to depression in a vicious cycle. My experience didn’t frighten me out of drinking. It removed the need to drink. What kind of hallucination heals the soul?
Storm, Howard (2005-02-15). My Descent Into Death: A Second Chance at Life (Kindle Locations 1411-1420). Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
I have always considered myself very fortunate to have never suffered from clinical depression, and I know some of my sober friends still struggle with the horrible disease, even after years of sobriety, so I know quitting drinking doesn't end all depression. But I am active on several message boards where people who are still drinking frequently post about their struggle with depression and I remember very well a night in a bar a couple of years ago where I sat listening to a couple of friends of mine as they talked about their antidepressants meds at the same time that they downed bottles of beer. Alcohol is a depressant, we all know that, we all continued to drink when we knew what it was doing to us. I guess I am just here to give a testimonial. I have never been diagnosed with clinical depression but I regularly ingested a depressant for 30 years. How could I not have been depressed? I was, but didn't know it. It didn't take long after I quit drinking, I'm talking days, before I started to feel better, happier, calmer, more joyful. Those feelings have only increased as the two years have gone by. I can't believe I walked around in that fugue state for years. I didn't know I was. Not until I quit drinking.
So if you're drinking and you're depressed, stop drinking. At least for a little while. Give yourself a chance to get back to normal and then see how you feel. If you're still depressed, at least your medications will have a better chance of working.
Drinking is not worth it.
It really isn't.
I didn't have to have a near death experience to find joy, neither do you.