Alcoholism and Depression

By Galen T. 

The first time I became clinically depressed I was in graduate school and it happened overnight. I had been drinking for several days. I went to bed on a crisp fall Saturday night, intoxicated but feeling otherwise normal. Upon waking Sunday morning, I sat up, swung my feet to the floor, and knew immediately that something was terribly wrong. This was not just a hangover. The room spun around me and I was clutched by a feeling of dread unlike anything I had ever before experienced.

Panicking, I grabbed Saturday’s newspaper. The words pulsated into an indecipherable muddle of ink. I stood up in my small room and needed to clutch the edge of the mahogany bureau to support my trembling legs. My heart beat rapidly, as though it were trying to pound its way out of my chest. I sat back down on the bed for several minutes, hoping these awful sensations, especially the dread, would subside. When they didn’t, I again lurched to my feet and out the door to the corridor, where I spent the next several hours pacing back and forth. At times the anxiety reached a crescendo of terror. After spending half a day pacing the halls, I used the pay phone on the ground floor of the dorm to call my fiancé. I tried to describe how I felt. She didn’t understand what could be wrong with me. I didn’t either, and it would take me some time to find out.

During the coming weeks and months my condition remained unchanged. I desperately managed through the final exams of this last semester of my Master’s program, got married shortly thereafter, and embarked on a surreal skiing honeymoon in New Hampshire. I drank heavily to blunt my extreme psychic pain. I was so loaded up with Smirnoff vodka on the day of my wedding that I swayed from side to side as I proceeded down the aisle of the church. Drinking only masked my symptoms. Later in the day, or the next day, I felt worse. I wanted to die, but lacked the initiative and mental acuity to form a plan.

One day in February the symptoms abated, and within two more days had vanished. I had emerged, inexplicably but wondrously, from what Winston Churchill called “the black dog.” Not at that time having a name with which to christen my malady, I thought it was “one of those things,” like a rare, malign intestinal ailment. Within a couple days of my return to normality I celebrated my liberation with a couple pints of vodka. My rejoicing was premature.

Three years into my first regular job out of school the second episode hit. I did not yet know that a single bout of depression makes it likely that another will follow. This is partly because the now famous “neural pathways” in the brain become vulnerable to the brain chemical instability that is a hallmark of the severe, clinical depression.

This time I went to a local counselor and was formally diagnosed. My therapist emphasized the clinical nature of my condition in order to distinguish it from its less agonizing variant, situational depression. I needed major help, he announced portentously. More of it than he could give me, it turned out.

When three months of his ministrations were unavailing, he sent me across town to a psychiatrist. This inaugurated my adventures with antidepressants. Prompt relief, I was assured by the doctor, who was kind but terse, lay just around the corner. After several frustrating months of trial and error the depression subsided, vanquished, apparently, by the newest drug just come onto the market. The psychiatrist assured me that with my condition stabilized I could gradually wean off the drug. Weaning off did not work and neither did weaning back on. Instead, I would spend the next 30 years experimenting with more than a dozen prescription drugs, sometimes singly, and then in shifting combinations.

During these three decades I have had about 12 attacks of severe depression. The majority have lasted several months, arriving without warning or an identifiable precipitating cause. Most recently, I was severely depressed for nearly a year, ending in March of 2015. Every bout has been agonizing and a few disabling. Several apparently responded to new medications or novel “cocktails,” while others abated according to their own inner timetable.

As I gradually educated myself about the disease I learned three fundamental facts. First, the more depressions you have, the more you are likely to have. Second, among the vulnerable, depressions can come and go without discernable cause. Third, and most important for me, depression and alcohol are intertwined, genetic fellow travelers. The precise nature of this diabolical relationship has not been scientifically pinpointed, but many drunks are depressives and vice-versa. Both ailments are heritable and thus run in families. They likely share similar genetic and brain vulnerabilities

Learning about the dangerous relationship between depression and alcohol during my second episode did not throw me off drinking. After my initial bout, I stopped imbibing when I was depressed. Once recovered, I celebrated with vodka and continued on my merry way. And so it went. This behavior makes no sense to me today, but with each remission, I considered myself cured forever and as invincible as ever. So, for eight more years I continued drinking, with increasingly dire consequences, not stopping until life crashed down around me. By the time I stopped for good 20 years ago, it was too late to stabilize my confused and discombobulated neurotransmitters and depression continued to plague me.

Brains vulnerable to alcoholism often carry the same susceptibility to depression. But neither science nor pharmacology knows as much about the causes of depression as they often claim. In the 21st century both alcoholism and depression are labeled diseases of the brain. How much the disease model accurately characterizes alcoholism is for another article, but it is certainly true of depression. Depression is characterized by brain chemicals run amuck. The problem is that this does not tell us as much as we may think.

blackdogfinalThe loudest voices in the discussion, the pharmaceutical industry, and most psychiatrists, tell us about brain chemical imbalances and about neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine in short supply within the afflicted brain. It may not be coincidental that both Big Pharma and psychiatrists make billions of dollars from the production and sale of medications said to increase the abundance of these slacking chemicals. But the chemical imbalance explanation of depression has not been proved and it demonstrates correlation rather than causation.

What causes neurotransmitters to get out of whack to begin with? Does a cog in the brain mysteriously malfunction? Does emotional stress throw our brain chemistry out of balance? Does the fault lie elsewhere, such as in our gut, as recent theories suggest? Billions of dollars in profits hang in the balance, depending on the answers to these and other questions. But the answer lies in the mysterious realm of multi-causality. Depression, like alcoholism, has a host of causes, the exact mix for any one person depending on a host of factors.

We do know that what is called clinical depression has a strong biological component. Hence, anti-depressants work sometimes for some people. How many? Perhaps 30 or 40 percent, depending on who is doing the counting. Researchers outside the pill manufacturing and dispensing industries point out that pharmaceutical companies have the luxury of selecting the clinical trials they submit to the FDA. Failed trials, and there are many of them, are buried in-house. And even when antidepressants do work, they are accompanied by often intolerable side effects and are eventually subject to the “poop-out” factor, meaning they stop working.

In both depression and alcoholism, the complexities of brain chemistry likely precede and accompany the experienced affliction. Actual causation is more complex and in both cases the biological disease explanation has limitations. Empirical evidence tells us that for both ailments psychological and environmental factors combine with inborn vulnerabilities that parse out differently for each person.

In the fields of both alcoholism and depression, the multi-causal explanatory model leads to the question of psychiatric and psychological comorbidity. In my case, psychological vulnerabilities likely came into play.

My visit to the counselor during my second depressive episode commenced many years of therapy, much of it useless. I doubt these hundreds of talking sessions, many of which took place in sobriety and some of which were illuminating, did much to alleviate either my alcoholism or my depression. I already knew that I grew up in a stable family environment. My parents were kind, educated, well-intended, and responsible. In school I was athletic, mostly well-liked, and, eventually, a good student.

I did recall in the course of therapy that when I was seven years old and my younger brother entered the picture, I did not welcome him into the household. Instead, I was fiercely jealous. His first night home was nearly his last, as I tried to smother him in his bassinet, coming to my senses just in time to lift the pillow from his head and creep back into my own room. In response to my hostile reaction to my brother’s arrival my parents decided to divide their attention in what seemed like a logical manner.

My mother focused on my brother and my Dad on me. Thus, my mother disappeared from my life, which only exacerbated my anger, and I was stuck with my father, who at that time loomed as an intimidatingly austere and demanding figure. Perhaps this at least partially explains why I evolved into a boisterously defiant teenager who as an adult learned that in order to excel I needed to hide my anger, and along with it all my other feelings.

As an adult, therapists suggested to me, I had learned to sublimate and repress my anger and other feelings. In an ironic reflection of my professor father, I learned to get along and get ahead in life at the helm of my analytical mind. This was fine up to a point, that point being my relationships with other people. These relationships were congenial, to be sure, but superficial. I thought of myself as kind and compassionate. But these were mostly operating principles I had adopted rather than genuine impulses in the direction of healthy and contented living. Beneath these superficial principles swirled a cauldron of sublimated and projected angst and hostility. I was once diagnosed by a workplace psychiatrist as “defiant.” I indignantly informed the psychiatrist that he was flat out wrong, not seeing the irony in this reaction until years later. By then I had gained a modicum of self-awareness, but therapy never helped me to leverage this glimmering awakening into substantive change. For me, psychic and emotional repair was long in coming.

Was the anger that I gradually directed even at myself the cause of my twin ailments? If not the cause, then they certainly formed the root out of which they grew. And observing my brothers and sisters in recovery two things are clear. First, in looking back most of us can identify pre-morbid psychological conditions and environmental factors such as childhood abuse that predated and fed our alcoholic tendencies. Second, upon embarking on sobriety we discovered that these issues had not vanished. To the contrary, drinking and drugging hard-wired them into our psyches and our lives.

Mere abstinence is no magic elixir enveloping us in an idyllic life the day after our last drink. We need to recover. This takes much longer than we think it should and want it to, partly because our psychological wounds and vulnerabilities become more rather than less obvious and intrusive. Their tenacity can befuddle and demoralize us, which is one reason why the embracing and curative fellowship of recovery is so essential to our unfolding well-being. With this support, we can bravely face our emotional wounds and psychological challenges and evolve into new beings and toward hopeful futures.

Each of my relapses occasioned further psychological evaluation and self-examination. I was cautioned by more than one psychologist to watch my tendency to isolate myself from others. The most astute among them noted my proclivity to intellectualize and tried unsuccessfully to ferret out emotions I didn’t feel. I responded by thinking yet harder about my intellectualizing proclivities. While fiddling with my medications, psychiatrists confirmed that although sobriety did not halt my depression, a resumption of drinking could prove catastrophic. With this knowledge firmly implanted, I was never seriously tempted to drown my pain in further vodkaholic indulgences.

Meanwhile, some medications–or combinations of medications–were effective, but never for long. In the last five years, before the recent depression I referred to earlier, I had three relapses that first interrupted and then rendered impossible a return to graduate school in preparation for a career change. Over the years I have been hospitalized twice for complicated medication overhauls and once to protect me from suicidal ideations and impulses.

raindepression_edited-2Speaking of suicide, no serious attempt is a cry for help. It is a desperate effort by a person to remove him or herself from severe and unremitting pain. Clinically depressed people are uniformly frustrated by the impossibility of describing what the condition feels like to those who have never similarly besieged. The state of major depression has no analogs in ordinary reality. It is not like being sad, but very sad. It is not like being down, or having the blues, but more so. Depression cannot be seen by the naked eye or measured by the armamentarium of modern medicine.

This makes its agony all the more isolating and suffocating. It throws its black cape over the whole of external reality, eviscerates the brain’s capacity for thought and the ordering of experience, and it swallows the soul, leaving its victim without a shred of initiative or voice. The best description of depression is probably novelist William Styron’s slim, autobiographical volume, Darkness Visible, in which he characterizes “depression” as a wimp of a term for so ferocious a condition, one that is more akin to “a storm in the brain.” It is a storm soothed by nothing except, for me, slightly, by the withdrawal into pure aloneness, inaction, and physical blackness. During my last, lengthy bout I could find a small measure of solace by lying inert in bed, my eyes closed, heavy covers enfolded over and around my head, mutely mulling over methods of killing myself. Every day I would eventually decide, “I won’t do it today,” while reserving the possibility for tomorrow.

Being around people hurt. The more people, the more movement, the more physical stimuli, the more pain. It felt like a relentless and unyielding kaleidoscope of torment, fear, and runaway anxiety. I was raised in a Christian household in which I was taught that suffering was redeeming, that it had meaning. I never sensed meaning in any of my depressions, nor did any revelatory light dawn in its aftermath. Depressions were a predatory blight on the self, blotting out any semblance of normal consciousness, and leaving me barren of insight. I never thought of God, or felt a drop of spiritual solace.

Seven months into my most recent depression and at the urging of my psychiatrist, I tried electroconvulsive therapy. ECT helps some people who are beyond the reach of therapy and medications. We don’t know how it works, but the guess is that the electrical current coursing through the brain rearranges its misbehaving brain chemicals in an ameliorative manner. I had 15 treatments, nine as an inpatient and the remainder as a commuter, though I was driven to and from the hospital by a compassionate and loyal friend in recovery. A “behavioral health” unit is not a suitable or reassuring environment for the mentally afflicted. ECT is scary and disheartening. The operating rooms in which the procedure is administered are white and sterile to the point of appearing sinister. The medical personnel rarely cheer things up. Aside from the random kindly nurse, the patient is processed efficiently to clear space for the next sufferer. The anesthesiologist may crack an unintelligible or macabre joke. After coming to in the recovery room, it takes a number of unnerving minutes to realize where one is and what has just happened.

The cheering and optimistic advertising featuring the grinning cured notwithstanding, ECT doesn’t work for many people, and it didn’t work for me. It did leave me, as it does others, with short- and long-term memory deficits from which I doubt I will fully recovery.

Emerging from ECT none the better magnified my despair. My psychiatrist, a caring woman, threw up her hands. After research, I switched to a physician with 30 more years of experience, a thirst for staying current with the latest research, and a welcomed compassion for her patients. She tried several new, finely-tuned concoctions and the third one worked. I have been largely well since and return to her for minor adjustments and periodic check-ins.

There have been occasional flickers of the “demon,” as Andrew Solomon calls it in his magisterial volume on depression, The Noonday Demon. But these flickers have been relatively brief and mild and I can usually track down and address a precipitating trigger. I now learn and even grow from these stumbles. And the prolonged blackness of this last episode has invigorated me to undertake a comprehensive revamping of my “lifestyle,” which now includes running most days of the week, a healthy and green diet, meditation, a dedication to spiritual principles, and an even increased involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous.

The wondrous part of this story is that over these months my life has changed. Feelings, real and vibrant feelings, have flooded in. The full collection, including happiness, sadness, palpable anger, and joy. Relationships are being transformed, opening into new vistas that I had only glimpsed before. I have discovered within myself reserves of (dare I say it) humility and an eagerness for self-awareness, nurtured by my incomprehensibly loving and acutely perceptive wife.

Today I ask myself, “What has happened here?” And, “Being 63 years of age, in AA for 25 years, sober for 20, and of at least average intelligence, what took so long?” And finally, “What, exactly, has brought this about?”

I don’t have answers to these questions. My questing analytical mind tells me I better damn well come up with some. My recovery fellowship tells me to quiet my mind and tame my need for certitudes, to relax into and to luxuriate, for the time granted to me, in the new life I have been given from a source that defies comprehension and description.

Shortly before I finished this article I sat in a meeting with 40 or so of my fellow alcoholics and addicts. We were discussing the broad topic of how we have recovered from a lethal disease. We said and heard many of the usual things. Yet, half way through the meeting tears came to my eyes and stayed there for the remainder of the hour. It came to me that I felt love for each person in the room, including those who sometimes annoy me, and that many of them love me. I also realized that this love is woven into the hope given me by my recovering community, the hope that sustained me through the worst of my depressions, and which I know will hold me in its arms through whatever comes.

About the Author, Galen T. 

Galen spent most of his career in the ministry, and in mental health and career counseling. He has published numerous articles as a career consultant. He is now an independent writer focusing on the application of personal narrative to addiction recovery and life generally. He has been sober since 1995 and is active in several of his local AA groups.

Audio Version

The audio story was narrated and recorded by Len R. from Jasper, Georgia. Len is interested in starting a secular AA meeting in his area. If you would like to join him, you may reach him by email at

This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Bill P.

    Fine article. Alcohol itself is said to be a depressant. In addition it probably does not work efficiently if the patient is drinking at the same time. Tinkering with brain chemistry is dicey enough. Trying to do it while a patient is drinking must complicate the process immeasurably. Same thing for excessive use of tranquilizers, often called “benzos”, helpful if at all only to alleviate detox side effects and that for a limited time. I once had a psychiatrist prescribe 100 Xanax p.r.n. with two refills, 300 in all.

  2. Jo-Anne K

    Galen thank you so much for your informative and beautifully written article. As they say “I can so relate”. I have been sober for 30 years and have suffered from depression for all of those years and all the years prior. Throw in anxiety and PTSD and it is quite a life. For the most part I am aided by medication, though as you point out…the effects seem to peter out and I then need to find another. I have pretty much resigned myself to the idea that this is my life and most of the time it is a great life, except when it is not. I was touched with your description of what can be found in the room: love. It is the care and concern of my fellows that supports me when I am in pain. It is not the smothering kind of love but just this sense that They are there and I am loved and accepted.

    Thanks for shedding light on this often misunderstood malady and it’s connection to our other disease. All the best in your journey.

    Jo-Anne K

  3. fylgja

    Great article, thanks!

  4. life-j


    Thanks. I had a couple of rather severe seasonal disorder episodes in my late teens, and have had perhaps 3 or so relatively mild episodes of depression in my adulthood for which a few months of zoloft or something seemed to do the trick. So I’m at least not entirely unfamiliar with it.  And yet I find it difficult to relate in the same way non-alcoholics relate to us, or for that matter, how I myself relate to drug addicts. They have weird haircuts and steal your shit.

    All the more important to read a story like yours, because on an intellectual level you do manage to describe the affliction very well, I can almost understand on that level.

    And well enough to where it is obvious how wrong groups like the Trudgers are that if you only work your program hard enough all your problems will disappear.

    (by the way, googling trudgers AA I found that a number of actual trudgers groups are listed on AA schedules, mostly in central and southern parts, but that’s for another day)

    Here in the US where public health care has historically been wanting, and is probably about to get worse again, alcohol has been the medication of choice for most mental health problems, and there are probably few alcoholics who simply drank for the fun of it, even if it did allow us to have fun, at least for a while, in a way we never had.

    It’s hard to not get political about it, but i guess we’d better not do it in here.

    Anyway, thank you for your account of it. A person dear to my heart suffers with multiple mental issues, and there is no end in sight. She has made considerable efforts to quit drinking, but it is made difficult by the fact that none of all the medications she has tried over the years work anywhere near as well, or without immediate side effects, like alcohol. I believe her. Trouble of course is, and we both know this, that while she is able to have just a couple of drinks on most of the days when it feels bad enough to where she feels she has to, there are also occasions where she will suddenly drink out of control, and that often ends up in the emergency room. That’s of course why she keeps trying to quit.

    We need a lot more recognition of the role mental health problems play in people’s alcoholism

  5. Erich S

    Galen, thank you for sharing your beautiful, passionate, and helpful article. You have given me a glimpse into a condition that I have never before been able to visualize. I send you all the good wishes that I have.

    Erich S

  6. Oren

    Thanks, Galen. I’ve never before read such a clear (and frightening) description of clinical depression. I have had some mild to moderate mood issues since I got sober in 1973, but nothing like that which you have suffered. I spent 31 years post-drinking as a clinical social worker, and came in contact with countless depressed clients, but your description leaves me feeling shaken! I am happy–relieved, actually–to read that you are finally having a contented recovery. Thanks again for sharing your story, and I send you my best wishes.

  7. Gerald

    I can relate. The problem, it turned out, was AGRICULTURE. Most medical doctors & psychiatrists don’t look at agriculture as a possible cause of our mental illness. Our world religions are all agricultural religions … Most of what most people eat most every meal is mostly an agricultural invention, foods that were foreign to our species …

    In year 16 of my AA sobriety I was completely cured. I have not spent one moment “depressed” in seven and a half years.

    I have been “returned to myself.”

    I am no longer that “sometimes up, sometimes down” kind of sober AA member.

    Let me make this clear: I have zero food allergies. I have no compulsive behaviors with food either. I simply do not possess the ability to thrive off of an agricultural diet. I am convinced that there are many alcoholics with this condition.

    Check out the various Paleo diets out there. The GAPS diet is basically Paleo, too. I follow an ultra-low carb GAPS diet (neurologist Dr. Campbell-McBride.)

    “Situational depression,” yes, responded to AA’s “spiritual” and “moral psychology” approaches.

    But the kind of “depression” that I remember from age four, you know, ten years before my first drunk, was bodily in nature – intestinal, it turns out. The disordered digestion of agricultural carbohydrates is what messed up my brain chemistry! and my life!

    I am entirely free, now. I yearn to share my experience with fellow “depressed” AA’ers.




  8. Glenn

    You nailed the description of what it’s like to have clinical depression.  The out-of-the-blue arrival of episodes, the search to determine what’s happening, the treatments that don’t help and the toll it takes on one’s life.

    Some members of AA have been extremely understanding and helpful, while others have been downright toxic, suggesting the answer lies in doing more 4th Steps to reveal the hidden character defect that is the root of the problem, “fixing  my relationship with God” and asking him to removed the problem in prayer–afterall, if spiritual principles can relieve alcoholism, they can be applied to anything, right?  Wrong; mystical faith healing and superstition do nothing.

    Antidepressant meds made the problem 10 times worse–at times, I felt that doctors were just guessing at what to prescribe next. The meds drove me into panic attacks and resulted in ever higher doses until I no longer felt anything and planning suicide seemed as emotionally neutral as getting the mail. 

    What helped me was saying NO to anymore meds–it was hard to detox from them, but it was the right thing for me because they were part of the problem. I also refused to listen to any mystical nonsence and to drop the AA toxic people and their implications that I was to blame for my condition.  I learned to live one day at a time and accept that I will always have this condition. I dropped all expectations of having a “normal” life–whatever that is.  I simplified my life and removed every stressor I could find, including people, places and things.  Then I took as best care of myself as I could. l practice Buddhist and Stoic philosophies as much as possible.

    I think what has kept me OK after years is getting rid of expectations, the “shoulds, have to’s, and musts”, sticking with compassionate people and just staying in the moment, away from the fears of the future and experience of the past. I also don’t drink and limit caffiene  and sugar. Sitting meditation has done wonders to quiet my fears. This is my practical solution that seems to work for me today.

    May you and all beings have peace and be free from suffering.


  9. Hannah

    I had my first psychiatric hospitalization at 13 after a suicide attempt left me in the ICU for over a week. I had 15 more psychiatric hospitalizations by the time I was 18.

    I didn’t start drinking until I was 20.

    I’ve had luck cobbling together bits and pieces of therapy and medication and exercise and hobbies and sobriety and what-have-you into something that approximately works for me, some of the time. A large part of where I am today is just acceptance that I am always going to be a bit off, that it’s okay to work with what I have.

  10. Bill P.

    I’d like to leave a P.S. to my earlier comment. What about animals? Dogs (particularly effective), cats, horses, birds. I confess myself a dogaholic and it works! See the late Caroline Knapp’s wonderful book “Pack of Two” about how, after recovering from alcoholism, she became addicted to her dog. So it is with me. Four English Setters and now one English Cocker. The latter I refer to as “fur covered Prozac” and he (my “higher [lower?] power”)is a particularly effective psychiatric counselor. Consider forming an AA group consisting of a room full of dogs with a dog leading each meeting.

    I also share an enthusiasm  with Daoism and Buddhism.  Many cliches of AA

    were known to the ancients (“one step at a time”, “persons, places and things [cf. Daoism’s “Ten Thousand Things”] The list goes on an on.

    Bottom line. Get a dog and read the Tao Te Ching,etc.

  11. John S

    Mental illness has devastated my family. My mother committed suicide as did her father before her. My brother is severely mentally ill and is currently locked in his apartment, delusional. His son, my nephew has been hospitalized a few times and is currently being treated with anti-psychotic medication and is stable. I am treated for clinical depression and see a psychiatrist regularly.

    My greatest fear was that I would turn out like my mother, and maybe that would have been my fate had I never found AA. Drinking would have eventually killed me. It got me pretty early on in life. Alcohol was probably medicine to me, it changed the way I felt, it numbed what I felt and I needed that. I needed it until it was killing me.

    I spent a good ten years in AA praying to God to remove my depression. This is what I was told to do. I had sponsors and others who I respected who told me that my problem was that I needed to get out of myself. They were partially correct, but not totally.

    Finally, I sought help. I went to a therapist with a masters degree, then a psychologist with a doctorate. I went though group therapy for about five years and actually benefited from that a great deal.

    I managed well enough in sobriety. My life was getting better all the time. I got two college degrees, increasingly responsible positions and I had an active social life. I would say that I had a manageable life, a good life. From outward appearances, I was normal. I just didn’t feel that way.

    In 2004, I must have been experiencing a prolonged depression because that’s when I started taking antidepressants. I took the same medication, under the same dose, prescribed by the same doctor for the next twelve years. Then my doctor got sick and had to retire, so this past year my new doctor talks to me about reducing my dosage. We cut it back by 50% and I feel fine. I’m thinking about talking to her about taking me off completely.

    Not sure what I am saying here. When I read Galen’s story, it occurred to me that I never had depression as bad as him. My current doctor describes people with clinical depression as not being able to function. They would be like my mother, unable to get out of bed for days.

    So, I am coming to realize that maybe in my case, the genetics bypassed me or maybe I’m just not the carbon copy of my mother that I had always assumed. I feel pretty stable and happy and I think that I will work with my doctor to see if maybe I can come off of these pills.

    The thing about depression with me is that it creeps up on me subtly until it grabs me. Once it has me, I feel confused and hopeless and desperate. I haven’t felt that way for a long time. Maybe it’s the pills that I’m taking at the current dose. Maybe it’s because of the things that I do and the people that I keep in my life. I don’t know.

    The thing that I would say to anyone who is suffering from depression and is in AA. Educate yourself and seek help. Seek help outside of AA. Seek professional help.

  12. John L.

    Galen, I am so sorry to hear of your suffering.  I think much of it was not necessary.  I am appalled that psychiatrists/doctors/therapists would prescribe psychiatric drugs to an alcoholic who was still drinking.  I’m also appalled that one of your psychiatrists, a “caring woman”, would order electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which is  sadistic therapy.  It was hell for you;, and may have caused brain damage.  ECT should be outlawed, and its practitioners convicted of malpractice.

    In my 48 years of sobriety I have had severe depression a few times.  None lasted for more than a few weeks.  One kind of depression seemed like anger turned inward against myself.  I would feel like lying down on the floor and never getting up.  But the antidote for this kind of depression is exercise — the last thing in the world you feel like doing.  After forcing myself to exercise, I would feel a sudden burst of energy and repressed anger surging up.  After exercising to the point of exhaustion, I would rest, feeling tired and serene.

    When I was living on Cape Cod I suddenly experienced overwhelming depression.  For two days I felt like death, — and then I developed a fever, muscle pain, etc., and I said to myself, “Thank goodness, it’s not depression, it’s just the flu.”  And then I was good and sick for a week and then got better.  So, my point is that sometimes depression has a physical basis.

    I have hypoglycemia, which means I have to watch my diet: no sugar, and very little simple carbohydrates (white flour products, etc.)  When I’m on or close to this diet, I feel fine.  When I get away from the diet, I gain weight; my blood pressure goes way up; I feel groggy, tired, and miserable.  James R. Milam, author of Under the Influence, claims that a majority of alcoholics have some degree of hypoglycemia.

    For me, walking is the best prevention against depression.  In Provincetown, there are wonderful nature walks; I took one almost every day, around the year, except when it was raining or snowing.  Here in Boston, I walk in the Arnold Arboretum or in Boston (a good walking city) or ride my bike on the bike path around Dorchester Bay.

    I have never taken a psychoactive drug in sobriety, and indeed am one of the small minority of Americans who takes no drugs of any kind.

  13. Some C

    I stopped anti depression medicine many years back. Now I use “MEDICINE” as per following.

    M- Meditation

    E- Exercise and Walking.

    D- Doing the next right thing.

    I – Into sunlight

    C- Connection

    I- I am responsible.

    N- “NO’ to toxic people,places. circumstances.

    E- Evaluation. ( My condition).

    Somen C

  14. Grimpeur

    Galen, may I add to the chorus of praise and thanks for a moving and informative piece?

    Observations from one who has been dealing with serious levels of mood and mental disorder his whole life, and intermittent involvement with the mental health system for nearly forty years…

    Your opening two paragraphs intrigue me. If I were to have read them as a stand-alone bit of writing, it would never have occurred to me that the author was describing depression. Rather, I would pronounce them as an almost perfect description of how a severe panic attack can be experienced. I draw no conclusion from this, I just find it interesting and wonder what it means.

    I diffidently suggest considering the possibility that autism spectrum disorder might be playing a role in your life. The diffidence comes from being not in the slightest bit qualified to make a diagnosis. But I do suggest it because ASD (as well as the often co-morbid depression and anxiety) is something that has affected me my whole life, and there is much in your writing, both in style and content, that strongly struck some familiar chords.

    The ASD diagnosis is not something that would have come up in our (yours and mine) youth and young adulthood simply because the diagnosis did not exist. By the time someone affected by ASD has matured, coping mechanisms have been developed, for better or worse. An intelligence above the norm, such as yours, facilitates the speed and ease by which one can adapt to prevailing expectations. So a mental health professional wouldn’t likely see symptoms (overt or covert) now unless they trained to look for them. The number of professionals who are interested and trained in dealing with this somewhat amorphous subject (I  am becoming less inclined to see it as a “disorder”, preferring “difference”) is, sadly to say, vanishingly small.

    There are several online tests for Asperger’s, which, though not conclusive, can help one decide if this is worth further exploration. One good one is the AQ test

    There are several reasons why the diagnosis could prove helpful. Importantly, the autistic brain can react differently to psychotropic drugs, making the issue of treatment for depression, anxiety, etc., that much more difficult; this is something that is not generally known. More importantly, behaviour and thought initially perceived as problematic become understood as natural approaches that can, under certain circumstances, be seen as rare strengths. In other words, one can stop trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

    I look forward to reading more from you here!



  15. Zoe Southcott

    Love your writing, and to see the support in the comments. 🙂

  16. Abdul aziz

    Alcohol and depression are like a crime partner, if they join together then it will be big trouble for our health, keep doing this great work and keep sharing with us


  17. Joel P.

    Hi Galen. I just wanted to thank you for this article. I have also dealt with recurring episodes of depression. This was a great find for me at this moment. Sober 18 months, and been through a few ups and downs, and right now seems to be a down. Thank you again, and I hope others can find this too in a time of need.

  18. Dustin

    Hey galin. Great article and thanks for sharing. I felt it was a little bit of a teaser though. I’m very curious what worked with the new therapist. Was it new drugs or techniques. I’m very interested in seeing if it would help with my anxiety and

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