Getting sober is hard, getting sober with bi-polar disorder is doubly hard. Like many people in recovery Rick Bernhisel bounced around trying to get help quitting alcohol, only to relapse because of manic episodes. Today he is sober and stable because of the spiritual program he works and the medication he takes. he blogs about his experiences at www.adoubleshotofrecovery.com.
1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
I knew relatively early on that I had a problem with alcohol. I had drank the fun out of drinking by the time I was twenty-eight which is when I attended my first Twelve Step meeting. But I was stubborn and considered myself the smartest person in the room. So there was no sponsor and no recovery. For the next fourteen years I was in and out of the rooms.
Those time that I did get sober (or dry) I frequently slipped into bipolar manic episodes that left me shame-filled and depressed on the backside. So after each bout of mania I once again sought solace in the bottle.
My last year drinking was really my bottom. I had one of two prayers. One was to win the lottery so I could reboot my life… that was prayed on my good days. The other was a prayer that I not wake up… that was one most days.
My last bender was like so many before. But when I came slinking home Sunday night to get ready for the workweek I couldn’t stop. For the next three days I got up to go to work, but was drinking heavily before I was scarcely a mile from home.
Though I had given up on Twelve Step recovery for the two years prior to my last bender, I dragged myself in to a meeting and this time I finally stayed.
2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
Foggy, but committed. I finally got humble enough to ask for help and got my first sponsor in fourteen years. He had been a habitual relapser who had finally got sober. That gave me hope. I just couldn’t identify with the people who got it the first time.
He stressed step work and we got right into it. I was writing out a fourth step when I was still pretty foggy. My sponsor just told me to keep praying that what needed to be one there would make it on there.
I was making a meeting every day and even though I struggled with comprehension, I read the literature every day.
In the past I was always so eager to share at meetings to show everyone just how well I was doing. This time was different. I kept pretty quiet and just tried to absorb what was being shared. I finally was released of the need to show off just how “healthy” I was.
3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
Every aspect of my life has changed. I’m a contractor and I have found that at the end of contracts people want me back. I don’t disappear.
My two daughters want me around and I am a part of their lives and the lives of my grandchildren.
I remarried to a woman in recovery and we have a loving and supportive relationship. Well, that is almost always true but there was a time when I derailed that.
Four years into recovery I bought into the bull crap sometimes mentioned in the rooms about not needing psychiatric medications. If you trust God, trust Him to cure you… bla, bla, bla. I went off my medication for bipolar I and went bat turd crazy.
Fortunately I didn’t drink and I got back on meds after a little incarceration. I blog about the miracles that have happened coming out of that. It was a learning experience, but now I am pretty quick to let others who face a co-occurring disorder (addiction and mental health issues) to ignore the nonsense and stay on their meds.
I’ve found that the whole experience has enabled me to assist others with similar issues.
4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
“Get humble, ask for help.” I wasn’t a low bottom drunk. I had the house and cars and pool. I made better than average money. My paycheck and the title on my business card told me that I was better than. That attitude kept me sick for a long, long time.
5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
I don’t have to do everything alone. I was raised with a Protestant work ethic by two depression-era parents. I thought it was up to me to fix all that was wrong in my life.
In some ways, that’s a good thing. But recovery is about the “We” not the “I.”
In those fourteen years that I was in and out I didn’t listen. I was too busy thinking up something clever to share instead of listening and learning.
Now I draw my strength and hope from others. Whether old timers with wisdom or newcomers who are just starting to have “aha” moments… I need others.
6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
My wife recently had to go through a lung transplant. For three months I got to be her primary caregiver as she regained her strength and learned to care for herself.
It got me out of selfish mode and was an enriching, bonding time like no other. If I had been drinking, I may have been there physically (or not) but definitely not there emotionally.
We are closer today than ever before.
7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
The root of my problem is self-centered fear. For that reason I particularly like: “Instead of telling my God how big my fears are, I tell my fears how big my God is.”
Life still happens. If I let up on the maintenance of my spiritual condition I can get into fear. When that happens I just have to remember to get quiet, look within and find that inner guide.
I also like what my wife frequently shares: “Keep sobriety your priority.” I see too many people who get “cured” and then let up on a program of spiritual action. That never ends well.
8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
For half my life I was always trying to “fill the void.” But no matter how much I drank, shopped, zoned out in front of the TV or what have you the emptiness was always there.
I don’t remember when it happened, but sometime during my second year I realized that I could be alone and quiet and not go crazy. I’m not talking about isolating–I did plenty of that when I was drinking—I am talking about quiet times with no digital distractions. The phone is off, the Kindle is off, the TV is off and I am just fine being me.
I’d be lying if I said the emptiness never returns. Sometime I let up on doing what works. But it happens with less frequency and I know what to do to get through it. It’s a much better way to live.