Seeking Outside Help When Nothing Else is Working

While AA is an incredible gift designed by Bill Wilson and the early writers of the Big Book to treat alcoholism and the disease of addiction, it tends to focus more on mental and spiritual recovery, not so much on how to address the unresolved physical issues left in it’s wake such as depression, anxiety, or other mental health ailments.

I use the term physical when relating to mental health issues because often times mental problems such as depression are related to chemical, PHYSICAL imbalances that no amount of meditation or positive thinking can touch.

Bill Wilson was a very, very smart man. Even back when he was helping to create the Big Book, he understood that not all of an addict or alcoholics needs may be met by AA alone, and this is why the Big Book carefully avoids taking a stand on medical issues, stating that “AA has no opinion” on “outside issues”. In fact, Bill W. urged members to “seek outside help” when necessary. And thank goodness he did.

Did you know that an overwhelming majority of those with substance abuse issues also suffer from one or more mental disorders? It is actually surprisingly rare for one to occur without the other. Many believe that in referring to ‘character defects’ Bill W. was actually alluding to the numerous mental health issues that can plague addicts whether they are sober or not. 16% of the US population suffers from substance abuse problems, and in people with mental health disorders the number is almost twice as high at 29%. Almost 80% of alcoholics report experiencing depression at some time in their lives, and 30% meet the diagnostic requirements for major depressive disorder. As many as one-third of people entering treatment for substance abuse issues also meet the requirements for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A lot of people self-medicate because drugs and alcohol seem to calm the symptoms of their disorders.

So what happens when we get sober, and those drugs and alcohol are no longer there? What if even with meetings and treatment and sponsors and support groups and doing the steps you are still feeling sad, depressed, exhausted, suicidal? Then it’s time to seek outside help.

I’m a great example of someone in sobriety who also needs the help of outside resources. I see a therapist weekly because I strongly believe in the power of talk therapy. Like many other addicts or alcoholics who have lived through traumas, I have PTSD and without therapy would not cope nearly as well. I also have a psychiatrist and take a low-dose antidepressant, because even with working the steps and living a good clean and sober life and doing all of the things that we are taught by AA to do, I can not correct my chemical imbalances on my own. It’s just how I am genetically wired, or how my brain has come to be wired because of past traumas. Without outside help, I would not be able to be so well functioning, I wouldn’t be able to ENJOY life in the way that I do today. Sure, I would probably be sober, but a life that is filled with anxiety and fear and sadness is no way to live.

I know that there can be stigmas attached to mental health, to having depression, or taking medicine. That is why I wanted to share about this with others, to break the stigma and the silence, to say that it is okay to need outside help and that seeking it does not mean that you are not good enough or that you haven’t done AA “right” somehow. Even Bill W. sought vitamin therapy for his depression (outside of AA).

So, if you are having a hard time, feeling sad constantly or very tired, or if life just doesn’t FEEL good most of the time. perhaps it’s time to be proactive about your life and ask for some help. Therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists. There are a myriad of people whose job it is to help you, all you have to do is make yourself available to their guidance. Even the best of us sometimes need some help. Don’t think that you can just “tough it out” or “grit your teeth and take it”. Life is not mean to be lived like that.

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