On August 11, 2014, Robin Williams committed suicide at his home in California at the age of 63. His death immediately became world wide news. Shortly after his suicide, his publicist commented that he was suffering from severe depression prior to his death. As so many, I was in a state of shock when I heard the news. Words like talented soul, brilliant, enthusiastic, energetic, and honest are just a few words that people used to describe him. It is hard to believe that 3 years has already passed since his death. How could this happen to someone like Robin Williams? Whenever I hear about someone committing suicide it makes me extremely angry, sad and confused. Something is happening in our society that is seriously wrong with our treatment of depression. So many outwardly successful men and women are choosing to end their lives due to not getting adequate treatment for their depression.
My Story Of Recovery From Depression
I have firsthand experience with Depression. I have struggled with my own depression for 20+ years. Over the years, I have worked with some of the best therapists, psychiatrists, and life coaches. In addition, I have read countless numbers of books on depression, and attended my fair share of workshops and seminars. While my depression did get better over time, it was always lingering in the background and I had many relapses over the years.
A few years ago I hit my rock bottom. I could not get out of bed. I would cry uncontrollably many times per day. My marriage was falling apart. I was not able to parent my children, and I was barely able to work. I have told many that I hated living, but was too scared to die. Out of desperation, I decided to look on the internet for other treatments for depression. I can’t tell you the number of times I have done this in the past,however, this time, I came across an article entitled “Is Depression Addictive?” that talked about depression as an addiction. Something I never heard of and never once considered. While I did not know much about addiction at the time, the one thing I did know was that the most effective way to work with addictions was the 12 Steps from Alcoholic Anonymous.
I immediately went to the library, check out the “Big Book” of A.A, and started to read it. Every time the word alcohol was mentioned, I just replaced it with depression. I had an idea that maybe a 12 step program for addiction could help me with my disease of depression.
From reading the Big Book, I realized that attending AA meetings was an integral part of the recovery process. So, I found a local AA group that was less than 1 mile from my home that met on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 7am. I was open and honest with the group that I was not an alcoholic but I struggled with depression. I could not find any local 12 step meetings in my area for depression and asked if I could sit with them. They graciously said yes. Since then, I have also been a member or a group called Self Sabotage Anonymous (SSA)/Misery Addict Anonymous (MAA) which is a phone based 12 step meeting based off the book, When Misery Is Company by Anne Katherine. I have found great benefit for both of those programs. Since then, I have also looked into other 12 steps groups like Emotions Anonymous (EA), Depression Anonymous (DA), and Co-Dependence Anonymous(CODA). However, I have found many of these anonymous programs either have very few or no groups in the area I live.
I slowly but surely started to work the 12 steps. The main difference I found in this program versus any other treatment method I tried for depression was this idea of a spiritual solution. The belief that no human power could stop my depression and only a power greater than me could bring me back to sanity. This was a foreign idea that I never heard of. What was a greater power than me? How does a higher power relate to my addiction to depression? How do I start to develop a relationship with my higher power? Many people who have worked the 12 steps have made the statement, “This is a simple program, but simple does not mean easy.”
I want to talk a little about what the 12 step program consists of:
Attending free 12 step meetings
- Finding a therapist (sponsor) who has worked the 12 steps
- Working the 12 steps
- Prayer and Meditation
- Reading from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous or other fellowships (i.e. G.A.,O.A., or S.S.A)
Personally, I spent many hours talking to my sponsor over the phone, meeting at a local coffee shop, and would come early before meetings to talk to the other members of the group. I worked the 12 steps as hard as I could and attended meetings (usually 5 or 6 meetings per week). Eventually, I found a connection to a higher power in my life. This spiritual journey did not come easy for me. At the beginning, the best way for me to get my arms around a higher power was to focus on anything that was outside of me. So, I focused my attention and listened closely to the people who attended the 12 step meetings that went to. I also asked a lot of questions and listened to what my sponsor had to say to me.
An Alternative Treatment For Depression
My definition of an addiction is, “Any behavior or thought that no matter how hard one tries to stop it on their own, you can’t.” I have a strong belief that the traditional treatment for depression is appalling. I have done a lot of research on what is considered the most effective treatment for depression and over and over again I find the same thing. The most effective treatment today for depression is a combination of talk therapy, usually Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and medication.
The Twelve Steps can be broken down into 3 parts. Steps 1,2,3 talk about admitting you have a problem, your life is unmanageable,and a belief in a higher power. I would call these first three steps the “Have” steps-Have a problem. Steps 4-9 talked about how to treat/solve the problem. I would call these steps the“Doing” steps. Steps 10,11, 12 are the maintenance steps or what to do on a day to day basis to decrease the chances of relapse. I would refer to these steps as the “Being” steps.
Major depressive disorder is one of the most common forms of psychopathology affecting more men than women. It is also highly recurrent with many people having multiple relapses over time. People with depression struggle with feelings of sadness, a sense of isolation, feeling like a burden, inability to enjoy life, and for thousands every year, suicide. The usage of Antidepressants has gone up over 300% the last 20 years. It is hard to believe, but 1 in 9 Americans over the age of 12 is currently taking an antidepressant and 1 in 5 Americans have tried antidepressants at some point in their lives.
My belief about alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, overeating and other addictions are that these are not the real addiction, they are the symptom,not the addiction-often referred to as “tool” addictions. So, what is the addiction? They real addiction people have is the inability and lack of power to control the feelings of anger, sadness, fear, guilt and shame. Since they are powerless-which to me means“do not have enough power” to deal with these emotions, they often turn to substances and other “tool addictions” to get away from and numb themselves from these feelings.
What’s Next And Why The 12 Steps
The traditional way depression is being treated needs a drastic overhaul. While it is effective for some, too many people are falling through the cracks. An alcoholic would say that no matter how much therapy they do and or much they process and understand why they drink,when it comes right down to it, this has little to no effect on an alcoholic picking up the next drink. I also believe this to be true for people who struggle with depression. In traditional therapy, clients talk about the past, process the past, touch old wounds, often recreate a more positive story for themselves, and accumulate as many strategies as they can to combat depression. However, just like an alcoholic, no matter how much talking, processing, healing old wounds, or strategies they might have, it makes little to no difference when depression strikes back.
It is my calling and mission to help the millions of people who struggle with depression on a daily basis. In A.A., a recovered alcoholic who has completed the 12 Steps is the most successful person to help another alcoholic. This is not by giving advice, but rather by sharing his experience, strength, and hope. I believe that same statement to be true for people who are struggling with depression. Many therapists today have become therapists because of their own challenges with depression. I think that licensed therapists who have struggled with depression and are familiar with the 12 step model-preferably completed the 12 steps in their recovery from depression are the best qualified to help people who are depressed. Currently, very few if any therapists are using the 12 step model as a treatment modality for depression.
I believe it is time as mental health professionals to start rethinking the way we are treating clients with depression. How many more of our loved ones need to die before we open our eyes? Can depression be seen and treated as an addiction? I say yes! I don’t recommend this 12 step recovery process for everyone who struggles with depression. It is for the individual who has tried everything over the years (talk therapy, medication, self-help books, and seminars) and is still relapsing into depression. It is for a depressed individual who has hit their “Rock Bottom” and is out of options. I often wonder if Robin Williams and the thousands of other men and women who lost their lives from untreated depression would still be with us today if they treated their depression as an addiction? One thing I know about depression is that it does not care who you are. And when it goes untreated, it is deadly.
What Life Is Like Today?
Not too long ago my soul and my spirit were dead. I saw no light at the end of the tunnel. I was dreading going to sleep at night for the fear of what the next day might bring.
Today I am living a life that just was not possible.
Today I have more gratitude, appreciation, and love for not only myself, but for the people who are a part of my life. Today, the words appreciation, gratitude,service, contribution, prayer, and meditation are words that I use many times throughout the day.
Today, if you are wondering if I still cry several times every day-I do. The tears come from a deep part of me that I will never quite understand. I cry while I am in the shower, while driving, at work, thinking of my children, and at random moments for no apparent reason. However, these are tears are of great joy, gratitude, and a deep appreciation for the life that my higher power has shown me.
Prayer has been an integral part of my day to day life. Every morning prior to leaving my house I get down on my hands and knees and say several prayers. Here are a few that I say:
The Set Aside Prayer
Dear God, please set aside everything I think I know about you, myself, and my brokenness so that I might have a an open mind and a new experience with you, myself, and my life today.
Step 3 Prayer
God, I offer myself to You-
To build with me
and to do with me as You wish.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do your will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of your Power,
your Love, and your Way of life.
May I do your will always!
And finally, the Serenity Prayer. To me, this is the most powerful prayer I know. I say it often throughout the day. I carry this token that says Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom on the front, and on the back, the Serenity Prayer. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.