I am bipolar and I am a drunk. Through over 20 years of being in and out of recovery—and psych wards—and off and on various medications, I have come to realize that I must treat both illnesses in order to recover from either.I experienced major depressions throughout my young adulthood, making it impossible to hold down a job, show up for friends and family, eat properly, or even bathe regularly. I stayed in bed for weeks at a time. I once took a razor blade and chopped all my hair off. I scratched myself so hard with bitten fingernails that my face was bloody and scabbed. Drinking was the only way to numb the pain.
But the manias were even worse, tornadoes racing through my life and the lives of everyone around me. I had multiple psychotic breaks, including a particularly disastrous episode in the south west 16 years ago.At the time, miserable with a year sober, I concluded that New York was the problem so I moved to a small town in Northern New Mexico. At first it was idyllic—beautiful sun-swept canyons and desert, big crystal blue sky and breathtaking horizons. I was happier than I’d ever been. I drove along gorgeous desert highways with my dog in the back seat, feeling a sense of excitement and joy. I had no idea I was entering the realm of bipolar mania. I just thought I was finally in a good place, after so many episodes of depression.
It really started the afternoon I caught my boyfriend having sex with another girl in my own bed. I walked out of the house, got in my car, and burst into hysterical laughter. Doctors call this type of reaction “inappropriate affect.” I drove all the way to Santa Fe, laughing until my sides hurt, and sat in my car in the Walmart parking lot for several hours, unable to think clearly enough to come up with a plan. Finally, all I could come up with was to return to New York.