When we finally put the plug in the jug, or the cap on the rig, or the… bill back in the wallet (?) we never believe that working the 12 steps will free us. We only know the pain and torture that we have felt for so long.
We look around at all of the happy faces in the rooms and hope that it will happen for us too. Until we start working the steps and getting solid, we can often feel crazier than before.
Let me make you a guarantee, it won’t stay like that forever.
When Depression Strikes
A majority of the people in the rooms of 12 step fellowships have struggled with depression, both in and out of sobriety. It just tends to be that way with us, we feel deeply, and we tend to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders, even if we are the ones who put it there.
So what happens when we are trying to stay sober, but still struggling with depression? It happens all the time, to thousands of clean and sober members, yet it can still feel really isolating.
Coming from someone who has struggled on and off with varying levels of depression in sobriety, here are tools that I have gathered both through experience, and the experience of others. I would like to mention that all of these tools are meant to be used in conjunction with working the steps, talking to a sponsor, and going to meetings.
As terrible and impossible as it can sometimes feel, what we often need most is to just talk to people. Despite all of the shame, the self-doubt, and the feelings of being a burden, we DO matter, and our friends DO truly care about us.
Maybe growing up your family didn’t understand your depression, but that’s okay. The beautiful thing about the program is that we are given an entirely new ecosystem of people who have felt what we feel, who have shared the experiences we have been through, and who have successfully gotten out the other side.
It can often be hard to even put words to what you are feeling when dealing with depression, but if you have one or two close friends who will listen, sometimes words aren’t even necessary. Try starting with:
- Come over
- Do you want to go for a drive
- I’m more than “just tired”
- Can we just sit?
If voicing something like this sounds cheesy or weak to you, ask yourself, “Is it only weird because I don’t like to feel vulnerable? Where has my inability to express myself gotten me in the past?”
A big part of living the program is being willing to change the things that are no longer useful. If walls and privacy have always been your thing, and you keep ending up in the same place, it might be time to try something new.
Try to Move
Mild depression is one thing, life can still more or less go on. Major and severe depression, the “I can’t even get out of bed” type of depression, is a little more serious. Something that I was advised to do when I was experiencing the Netflix all day and all night type of depression, was to exercise.
I don’t mean get out and do a triathlon, although hell, that’s a high all on its own. I mean anything from:
- Taking a walk around the block
- Riding a bike
- Lifting some weights
- Taking a yoga class
- Going for a swim
The key here isn’t so much to get a mean pump or to build muscle, it is more to get your endorphins flowing and some fresh air into your lungs.
Sometimes, even getting into the shower is the best we can do that day, and there is where the next tip lives.
Count the Little Victories
It is extremely common for addicts and alcoholics to struggle with perfectionism. That can look anything like being obsessed with something until it is done, to never starting at all in fear of failure. When it comes to depression, the nagging voices of “I’m not doing enough” can really start to eat away at us.
But you know what? Screw that. Be gentle on yourself and celebrate the little wins.
As was mentioned before, if you were able to actually take a shower today, that’s a win.
If you went out and got groceries, went to a meeting, or folded your laundry, that’s a win.
If you got together with another human and talked, that’s a massive win.