A call from my newly sober friend living in the middle of a dusty plain. She tells me that ‘this whole sobriety thing’ is going better. She climbed into her pick-up truck and drove 700km to consult a doctor who said she was too anxious for his liking and gave her three months’ supply of Ativan. She is two months sober and calm as a glacier, unruffled, content, at peace with everything. In contrast I felt very uncalm and agitated and murderous listening to this happy-ever-after story.
Sigh. I know from personal experience that if you go to your kind well-meaning family doctor and tell him you stayed up all night playing the Grateful Dead and smoked several cartons of cigarettes and called up two ex-lovers to find out what actually went wrong back in 1992 and fried yourself steak and eggs at 4am and set the kitchen on fire and then climbed onto the roof of your house to watch the dawn and fell off, your doctor is going to wonder if mood-altering substances are involved. So we don’t tell the GP what we do when drunk and disorderly. We say ‘I don’t know what is happening, I keep getting panic attacks’. Or ‘I can’t sleep and I keep throwing up from nerves.’ Or ‘I’m so depressed for no reason.’
No medical practitioner or psychiatrist or therapist will find it easy to diagnose what is wrong with someone embroiled in active alcoholism because the alcoholism masks whatever else might be going on. That is why friends in AA remind newcomers to get sober for a while before trying medications of any kind. If, after two years sober, you still can’t walk into a supermarket without hyperventilating or lie in bed weeping all day, there may be something that has a clinical name and needs attention. But for many of us, all kinds of troubling behaviours and insane symptoms clear up when we get sober.
So if we find ourselves taking little white or blue pills to help with the pangs of early sobriety, the chances are that we are not getting better, we are switching addictions. Yes, I know my friend pillowed, cushioned, floating on Ativan isn’t listening to me, but somebody out there might benefit from this. I have no general opinions of mood disorders or mood-altering medications administered in a responsible or monitored situation. But sometimes a small bottle of happy pills is just the slippery slope back to addiction hell.