By Megan Krause
I was at a 12-step meeting in Portland, Maine, when a man piped up from the back of the room, “If you’re doing this deal and you’re still miserable, you’re doing it wrong.”
These are dangerous words.
I was young at the time — 23 or 24 — and in hindsight, appropriately miserable for an alcoholic who hadn’t surrendered. I panicked; I was doing it wrong. Oh, shit. I knew I couldn’t do this. I suck at everything. I’m such a failure. Now what?
One thing I’ll say for booze and drugs: They sure do shut up an overactive brain. And that’s the route I went, for many more years.
Twenty-something years and one final surrender later, I still see this mentality in the rooms. If you’re depressed, you’re doing it wrong. Or, if you’re on meds, you’re not really sober. I’m not knocking the 12 steps, by any means; they saved my life. But on the heels of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Chester Bennington, Avicii, Chris Cornell, Verne Troyer, ad infinitum, it’s important to say:
You can be sober and unhappy. That’s your humanity. You’re not doing it wrong.
And you’re not alone.
Laura had been sober 16 years when a series of deaths left her grief-stricken and despondent. First, one of her best friends was hit and killed on his motorcycle. Then she sat at her terminally ill sister’s side while she passed. Finally, a close friend was murdered.
It was too much.
“I’ve always considered my program to be solid — I go to meetings, apply the principles in my daily life and have a strong connection to my higher power. But for the first time in my life, I thought of committing suicide.”
Laura didn’t talk about her feelings. To anyone.
“My brain kept telling me I was being ridiculous. With everything I have been through, now I’m suddenly being a baby? I was afraid everyone would pity me, or tell me I was overreacting and to quit being a sissy pants.”
By 2017, Laura reached a breaking point. It became a struggle to get out of bed in the morning. She stopped taking care of her home. She obsessed over how she would end her life.
Finally, Laura saw a doctor, who prescribed medication, and she opened up to those around her. “I started being honest and asking for help. No matter how scared I was to let people into my darkest moments… I did it. And the more I shared about how I was really feeling and what I was going through, no matter how hard it was, I started feeling better. I stayed in the solution, not the obsession, five minutes at a time.”
Things have improved dramatically for Laura. To those who are struggling in sobriety, Laura says, “Seek outside help if you need to — some of us need more than a 12-step program, and that’s OK. And open up your mouth. Whether you’re new to this or you’ve been here for a few 24 hours, remember, we need each other to succeed. This life is worth it, every day.”
Gwen has suffered from depression since childhood.
“I was raised in an abusive home where I wasn’t allowed to feel anything. By the time I got sober 19 months ago, I was so angry at myself for having feelings that I wanted to die.”
Gwen moved into sober living, got a sponsor and worked the steps, but the darkness didn’t go away. “Depression and suicidal ideation has been my default setting for over 40 years,” she says. “It was like a favorite pair of shoes.” She finally admitted to her doctor that she needed help.
Her doctor prescribed antidepressants, which she combined with her new 12-step life. “I continued going to meetings, and I started sharing my experience with others. I meditated and prayed. I stopped talking down to myself. I gave myself permission to feel. Before I knew it, I felt hope.”
She also had to make some drastic decisions about walking away from a family that was still abusive. The road has been tough, but it has been worth it.
“I share my experience, in the hope that I may help someone else who feels isolated and alone. People care. I care. If you’re in that dark place, don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
Sober since 2012, Jeffery has struggled with suicidal thoughts both in and out of recovery. He finally got to a point where he knew he needed help outside of a 12-step fellowship.
“It’s OK to admit that you’re not OK. It’s OK to seek help with mental health. If I hadn’t sought outside help, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I’m so grateful for the resources that are available to me today.
“I hope whoever is reading this and recognizes themselves reaches out for help before it’s too late.”
How to get help
“We are convinced that a spiritual mode of living is a most powerful health restorative… But this does not mean that we disregard human health measures… though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist. Their services are indispensable in treating a newcomer and in following his case afterward.” p. 133, Alcoholics Anonymous
If you’re thinking of hurting yourself:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
- For local resources, visit To Write Love on Her Arms
- Contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741
- Visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
- Tell your doctor
- Tell your sponsor
- Tell a friend
Life can be beautiful again; we promise.