Dual Diagnosis: My Lightbulb Moment

I quit drinking long before I got sober. Don't get me wrong–I will always be proud of the day I made the decision that I had had my last drink. But the day I connected the dots between my drinking and a diagnosis of bipolar...that was my lightbulb moment. That was when I began my true journey of sobriety.

In my world, the simplest way to describe bipolar is that my "highs" are higher and my "lows" lower than that of the average person. Take for instance my excitement when I got an unexpected bonus for going above and beyond during an unusually busy period at work. What did I do? I celebrated, of course!

But I didn't simply go out and have a fancy steak dinner with all of the trimmings...oh no, not me. I went out and bought a new car! That's right. I got up the next day, did some cursory looking on the Internet and decided that I wasn't coming home that day without a new car. And of course, I kept my word. (It was a brand new 2006 Honda Pilot ES, in case you're wondering!)

Or what about the time years ago when my parents were entertaining me and my boyfriend by showing the family's home videos. I was so embarrassed by the one of me learning how to drive a stick shift that I ran away sobbing and locked myself in my room not to emerge until the next day. Needless to say, the boyfriend was long since gone. *Sigh* Was it really that bad?!?

Hindsight is 20/20

Both of these instances occurred long before I was ever diagnosed as bipolar, but in hindsight it's easy to see that my internal compass wasn't always set quite right. Looking back I see a pattern in myself; somehow I felt that drinking helped soothe the pain and make me feel more "normal,"more able to cope with my natural reactions, evening out those highs and lows.

Flash forward to today. By the grace of God I am 2,277 days sober. For those of you who hate math as much as I do, that's 6 years, 2 months and 24 days (I think?!). And I have so many people, places and things to be grateful for in bringing me to this very moment. Although all of them are very important, I am most grateful for coming to terms with my dual diagnosis of bipolar alcoholic. How can I be grateful for such a thing, you ask? It's simple: the realization of how these two things exist together and how to manage them in tandem are critical components of my sobriety.

My Key to Success

You see, recognizing when I am behaving in a way that is not quite right-sized for the circumstances is the single most important practice in my life. And as they, say, it takes a village. I have learned that I have to trust my family and friends when they remind me to check myself even when I don't want to hear what they have to say. Secondly, when I realize something is "off," I have to do something about it. Keeping my side of the street clean so that I don't act or react inappropriately is crucial (translated: don't drink about it).

If you or someone you know can relate to my experiences, don't let another moment go by without doing the next right thing. Talk to someone–a family member, a friend, a healthcare professional–anyone you trust with whom you feel comfortable opening a conversation. That one simple step is all it takes to get moving in the right direction.

Brooke Lyn Harper has been a senior leader in the healthcare industry for over 15 years, specializing in healthcare compliance and privacy. Having overcome the life challenges of addiction and mental illness, her desire is to "pay it forward" by sharing her own experiences and expertise in hopes of touching others in an informative and engaging way. "Brooke Lyn Harper" is a pseudonym.