Six years ago yesterday, I came to in a glass-walled observation room on a psychiatric unit of a hospital, faced with a choice: get myself out of there so I could kill myself, or make a change. A big change.
My life by that point had disintegrated into hopelessness, despair, alienation, and overwhelming emotional pain— most of this, I couldn’t see then, arising from my fourteen-year relationship to the mental health industry. Countless “professionals” had taught me to see myself as “sick”, as a broken brain with a lifelong need for “meds” and expert intervention who’d never be fully human. A life sentence of “serious and persistent mental illness”… what a perfect recipe for suicide, I now see.
Booze, by then, had become the one thing keeping me from killing myself—after all, drinking yourself into oblivion on a near-daily basis is a pretty effective way of forgetting that all you really are is a defective mental patient. But it also, as one might guess, had become a bit of a…. well… problem. And so on that morning in the psych unit, as I lay there wracked with a hangover and my typical morning-after despair, something deep within me—my human spirit, I now see—made me realize it was finally time for The Bottle and me to go our separate ways.
For a long time afterwards, I thought of myself as an “addict” or “alcoholic”. After all, I’d been indoctrinated into a labeled existence where every painful emotion or scary thought or problematic behavior could easily be defined as a “symptom” of something, whether that be “bipolar disorder”, “borderline personality disorder”, “major depression”, “eating disorder”, or “anxiety disorder”. So “alcoholic”? Totally, I was an alcoholic. Met the criteria to a T. Throw it right down there on the list. It would take me nearly three years—long after I’d left behind my mental patienthood—to realize I was still boxing myself into just another category of “other”.
It’s been a long time since I’ve thought of myself as an “addict” or “alcoholic”, and even longer since a psychiatric label has enslaved my identity. I still choose not to drink today, but it’s not because I think I “have a condition” or “am” some “illness”. It’s because I spent enough years saturated in psychoactive chemicals—most of them called “psychiatric medications”—and it feels pretty damn good today to just be. To be in my body, in my mind, in this world. Don’t get me wrong… To be can really hurt—holy hell, can it really hurt—but in life beyond the mental health industry, I know now that the hurt in being human is nothing to be gotten rid of, whether through a shrink or a pill bottle or a bottle of booze. It’s something to listen to, to explore, and to celebrate, because I’m alive. I’m fuckin’ alive.