Mental Health and Addiction by Kirsten Solberg
If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. – Psalm 94:17
I’ve never felt at home in my own head.
At 33, I could barely get out of bed. Things that used to bring me joy only fueled my anxiety. I couldn’t talk about it with anyone, couldn’t fathom a solution.
My brain couldn’t even process words on a page. My whole life had been highs and lows, and this was the lowest. I wanted to disappear.
I fantasized about going for a walk and never stopping, never coming home. I felt isolated from everyone. I was angry at God for making me this way.
I thought about drinking again — giving in to my addiction and ending over a decade of sobriety in a last-ditch effort to numb the despair.
“I love you, but I can’t be your therapist.” My husband had only said this one other time.
The first time he said it, I was 22, and my drinking which I had used to cope with my ups and downs since I was 15, was at its worst.
Alcohol wasn’t really a part of my family’s life, but it wasn’t hard to find. I got people to buy it for me, stole from liquor cabinets at friends’ houses. I had frequent panic attacks, which fueled my drinking even more.
The most frustrating part was that I didn’t see a reason for the way I felt. I had a happy and relatively healthy childhood. I had never been abused.
My parents were strict but kind. We went to church and seemed to do and believe all the right things. We weren’t perfect. My parents had their quarrels, but even when we were at our best, I felt like I was sinking into a bottomless ocean.
As a teenager, I had bouts of extreme euphoria and productivity. I had tons of friends and was a good student, even with undiagnosed ADHD and dyslexia. But those highs would always crash in spectacular fashion, resulting in half-done projects, shattered ambitions, and a long, dark season of depression.
Two years into my marriage, it was on the brink of ending, and I went to counseling at my husband’s insistence. The therapist asked if I drank alcohol. I didn’t want to answer, but I did. And, for the first time in my life, I was honest about it.
She made me an assessment appointment (called a Rule 25) on the spot.
As ashamed as I was to tell my family and colleagues that I was going to treatment, I was shocked by my boss’s reaction. “Do what you need to do,” he said. “Your job will be here when you get back.”
People in my office offered enormous grace and understanding. One of my co-workers became my AA sponsor. I felt hope for the first time in years.
When I got out of rehab at 24 years old, I was determined to do everything right. But the antidepressants I was on started making my depression worse, and I went into the darkest year of my life.
I cynically clung to sobriety as a “dry drunk” — someone who acts in sobriety the way they acted while drinking. Which, for me, meant anger and emotional and verbal violence toward my family.
For the next ten years, I tried every coping mechanism in the “sober” book — medication, exercise, diet, meditation, bible studies, video games, having a kid, quitting my job, running my own business — anything to get my mind out of the despair that was always lurking.
Finally, at 33 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I wasn’t happy about it at first. Bipolar is a mental health disorder that affects every aspect of life and requires medication and therapy indefinitely.
I complained about this to a friend, who said, “Kirsten. If you had cancer and there was a pill you could take every day and be fine, you’d jump for joy.”
This off-hand comment changed my entire outlook on the spot. Looking back, I see so many threads of hope in my past, people God put in my life to lift me up when I was in my lows, mentors, and friends to keep me grounded in my highs, and a husband who stood by me all along with wisdom and grace.
I have to live with this mental health disorder, but I don’t have to be a prisoner to it. I believe mental health and addiction are a part of the spiritually and physically fallen world we live in, but they don’t have to rule us.