Perspective: Dually Diagnosed

by Rich A.

dandelionsOne of my earliest memories of using mind/mood altering substances was when I was about 15 years old. Beers were being passed around by the older guys and I took it as a rite of passage to manhood. It was an incredible experience. Alcohol transformed me from a shy, insecure misfit into a person who was confident, charismatic and worry-free. I fell in love with the stuff.

My teenage years were spent partying hard on weekends. Vomiting, passing out, and blackouts were common. I also began experimenting with marijuana and hashish in my late teens. After partying my way through university, I found I didn’t have a clue as to who I was or what I wanted in life. So I decided to take a solo cycling trip through Europe. It was in Prague that I had my first taste of mental illness.

It was a severe, full blown psychotic episode: I thought I was Jesus Christ, living in an Orwellian world where Big Brother was watching, and fearing the Devil and his agents were after me. I gave away all my money thinking I was too spiritual to need it.

Eventually I was literally dragged, handcuffed, into a mental hospital by the police. After two or three weeks there, I flew back to Toronto with a medical escort and was under the care of a local psychiatrist. He told me I must totally abstain from street drugs and/or alcohol or I would never recover. I complied because I was so frail and scared. The amount of medication I was on and the subsequent side effects were brutal. I was 23 years old at the time. After almost a year I was weaned off the meds and felt back to normal. I began drinking and drugging again.

Several years later I suffered from major depression, where I contemplated suicide. I went to see my family doctor and he prescribed me an anti-depressant. This cured the depression but pushed me back into psychosis. Once again, I was dragged into a mental hospital by the police. After seeing several psychiatrists, I was eventually diagnosed as bipolar and given medication for that illness. My mental health soon stabilized.

I made many attempts to control my using but they all failed, so I decided to quit cold turkey. I lasted a year, but eventually my disease tricked me into thinking that since I had things under control, I could successfully use again…and that was probably the dumbest thought I have ever acted on – I had awakened a sleeping monster and that monster was hungry. It wasn’t long before I was using almost every day, all day.

I was becoming empty and depressed, but I didn’t want to attribute that to using because that would mean I would have to stop. Instead, I made an appointment with a psychiatrist in the hope of getting an anti-depressant. She asked if I was using drugs and when I told her the truth she said I had so many drugs in my system that I needed to go to Narcotics Anonymous to get clean. If I stayed clean for six months, then she would see me. Reluctantly, I went to my first NA meeting. That was Dec. 17, 2006.

To my amazement, there were people there who seemed happy, grateful, and hopeful. I clearly did not have what they had, so I decided to do what they did. They told me “Don’t use no matter what, go to 90 meetings in 90 days, get a sponsor, get a home group, work the steps, read the literature and do service.” I did everything except 90 meetings in 90 days, but I did my best.

Things were hard at first, but I clung on to the hope that if I just stayed clean and did the things I was supposed to do, that things would get better. And slowly they did. When I had six months clean I saw my psychiatrist and she prescribed me more medication to level out my mood swings.

I subscribed to a magazine about living with bipolar disorder and took out a few books from the library about bipolar to educate myself about how to live with the illness. I also read a lot recovery and 12 step based literature and books about spirituality to try and improve my life. All of this definitely helped.

To look at me today you wouldn’t have a clue about my past. I am a very normal looking and acting man who operates subways for the TTC, who lives in a house with his wife and kids.

On Dec. 17 2013 I will be celebrating seven years clean and sober. I am grateful for the 12 step groups Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and Double Recovery. I could not have done this without them, and I continue to rely on them for my continued recovery and abstinence.

While I still have my depressing mood swings, they are relatively mild and manageable. Most of the time I feel grateful, serene and content. When you do your best it’s quite amazing how good being dually diagnosed can actually feel! My journey has not been easy, but it has been well worth it. If I can do, it so can you!

About the Authors

Renascent Alumni
Members of Renascent's alumni community carry the message by sharing their experiences and perspectives on addiction and recovery. To contribute your alumni perspective, please email