Recovery: Bipolar & Substance Use

By Pauline



Bonjour, I’m Pauline. It’s a privilege to offer my experience to your understanding of bipolar and dual diagnosis with substance abuse. I once self medicated with alcohol but now have 11 years of sobriety. May I begin by respectfully acknowledging the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations on whose traditional and unceded territories I live, work and play.

I’m a 55 yr old mother of 3, Nani-Ji to a half Punjabi Grandson, I’ve spent 35 yrs being the wife of a saint. I’m a daughter, sister, friend, teacher, mentor and colleague. Many people are affected by my having this soul sickness. Besides social dysfunction I have suffered from denial which presented a barrier to accessing care and finding interpersonal healing.

In the last 16 yrs I’ve been on 10 meds, now fine tuned on 3. Honing my insight I’m at my healthiest yet with the expertise of my psychiatrist and psychologist.
It was far easier to relinquish alcohol and gain a clear mind than give up the highs of mania. I had resisted adequate treatment fearing “a root canal of my soul”. To compound denial my eccentricities were encouraged by all but those closest to me. I was lauded for my flamboyance, generosity and humour.

Coercion to step up treatment occurred in 2014 when for one day I found myself psychotic after many sleepless nights in pain. I was rescued by my family and kept safe in 5 point restraints over night. This, my only hospitalization, lasted 1 month. Besides avoiding hospitalization the imperatives to accept aggressive treatment also include avoiding depression and dementia both associated with brain burnout from highs. Less ups means less downs. Depression is waking to the disgust within the nostrils of my rotting body. It is the compulsion to take all my pills and slip under the bath water, a profound inertia confining me to days of indecision and bird watching from the sofa. Where can one find hope? In the words of Tagore; “Hope is the bird who feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark”. For patients suffering mental illness hope is the gift that treatment extends into the darkness. To the many scientists and clinicians who have played a part in this miracle of healing I give my deepest gratitude.

Treatment resulted in dampening my inner world of symbols and connections. Purpose and significances I now share with others. I am abstinent of spirituality; which has been replaced with reasoned atheism and measured forays into transcendence. I still write poetry but much less prolifically. And I am more objective about their quality.

POSITIVE trends with medications, exercise and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy);

Ecstasy is replaced with peace
Unpredictability becomes constancy
Impulsivity is stayed with pause
Multitasking concedes to completing one
Irritability softened into patience
Restlessness is answered by acceptance
Overconfidence yields to humility
Bragging surrenders to confidentiality
Interrupting quiets for listening
Over-sharing is set aside for curiosity
A monologue of opinions opens to dialogue Gregariousness settles in self contentment
Flirtation returns to loyalty

*Which brings me to an awkward taboo; dark secrets of affairs and a high divorce rate associated with bipolar. In desperation at age 45, I persuaded a gynaecologist to remove both ovaries (the source of testosterone) in order to tame my libido. AND I am ever so much better behaved now that I’m an “it”. Where were we in the transformation?

The clown bows to equanimity
Extravagance levels into moderation
Risk taking is tempered with caution
Selfishness imbued with empathy
Insomnia crushed by sonorous coma

I don’t miss drinking whatsoever but I do miss my highs.I doubt myself when I am feeling good to better, worried I’m escalating. Rebuilding self-trust is by one deserved day at a time. I am grateful to have got a grip before I lost everything I cherish. I am thankful for effective treatment, for wholeness and the chance to renegotiate my identity and rediscover my soul.

2 responses to “Recovery: Bipolar & Substance Use

  1. Thanks for sharing your stories!I;ve been clean &sober over last 8yrs!Feel so much better when not self medicating with alcohol &meds!Depression is much easier to deal with!First time in 46yrs!Apreciate life &living &others!For Moi Recovery will be rest of my life &that’s totally O.K.!We R what do eat &drink!

  2. My daughter was drugged to death by Canadian psychiatrists. She is buried with her Great Grandmother Valentina and Great Aunt Alice. Alice was misdiagnosed as mentally ill after committing an indiscretion in 1932 (calling on a suitor at his home). She was committed to Essondale to the horror of her parents whom she was supporting financially. She worked at the Hudson’s Bay as a clerk. Her parents didn’t speak much english and were unable to have Alice released and sent home to them. They started insulin shock therapy and after a particularly long coma, Alice could no longer understand language or speak. She spent the next 16 years in camisole (in a straight jacket) mostly in isolation before dying at age 40 in 1950. My daughter was also misdiagnosed as mentally ill and drugged with SSRI’s and sleeping pills. She had to take all these sedatives to keep her “supportive” housing. Unable to function, she slept and struggled with self care. The psychiatrist sent her back and forth to the psych ward for “decompensating”, drugging her with stronger and stronger drugs. Finally she put her on extended leave with conditions and she was forced to have depot neuroleptics. She had been recruited in a pharmaceutical funded drug trial of Abilify Maintena. She stopped talking and slept 18 hours a day. If she didn’t show up for her monthly injection, the psychiatrist recalled her with a form 21. She was never psychotic a day in her life. But she wouldn’t release Lucie. Even with Lucie’s power of attorney, I could not get her released from this. Only when she became pregnant was she able to stop all the medications. Once off all the psychiatric medications, she was able to attend school and take care of herself for the first time in 6 years! This experience taught me that it is not the mental illness that needs to be treated with drugs. It’s the drugs that cause mental illness. The side effects of neuroleptics are in fact the “negative signs of schizophrenia”. People that hear voices often say that they still hear them on their “anti-psychotics” but they are just too tired to do anything about them. People need many things to be well: meaningful work, meaningful relationships, healthy food, sleep, exercise, purpose. My daughter was told: “you wouldn’t feel that way if you’d take your meds”. You’d be able to function if you’d take your meds. Sedatives and stimulants don’t help people to be well. Psychiatric medications and psychiatrists caused my daughter years of suffering and ultimately they killed her. Lucie is buried with her great aunt, Alice. There are many psychiatric survivor stories but let’s not forget those who don’t survive. Lest we forget.

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