Out of the Darkness - Depression, Anxiety, and Suicidal Ideation in Sobriety

In this episode, we will hear from Matt, as he shares his experience with sobriety, anxiety, and depression, and his inspirational story of recovery.

Scott Webb: The journey out of the darkness from depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation brought on by the struggle to overcome addiction is more than a little challenging. I'm joined today by Matt, who's going to share his experiences and insight and inspirational story on how he found his way out of the darkness.

This is My Miracle Radio by Sierra Tucson Alumni Relations. I'm Scott Webb. So Matt, thanks for your time today. This is going to be really sort of, as I was saying, you know, a bit of an educational conversation for me to learn your story, what you've been through, how you've sort of come out of it, you know, on the other side. So, as we get going here, what led to your relapse into depression, anxiety, and ultimately suicidal ideation?

Matt: Yeah, basically, I was in Sierra Tucson in July of 2012. And honestly, when I got out, I mean, people were calling me Johnny AA because I just took to AA in the program and everything that I learned at Sierra Tucson and I was on like a great trajectory in terms of how my life was going. Things at work were going fantastic. My marriage at that point was improving. So, a lot of things were going my direction.

And then, you know, about seven years in, a lot of things kind of went on in my life. One was I started going through a divorce, got into another relationship. I ended up having to sell the family home, you know, deal with the kids in the best way the two of us knew how. And then also, I had a job for 21 years. It had gone really well, but I got another job offer with a guy that I worked with before, and I decided to take that job. And I think that was the real impetus that kind of got me moving into a bit of a depressive spiral, because I thought I'd made a mistake kind of right out of the shoot. And then all these other things that were kind of nipping away at me really started to send me in a spiral that I can't really explain as to how I got into it.

But part of it too was, while I was going through the spiral, I started doing all the wrong things. So, they tell you about when you're in rehab and you're in AA, like you need to kind of really delve into the program at that point. And I started kind of getting away from it. You know, I stopped going to meetings. I quit calling my sponsor. I quit reaching out to talk the people in the program. And that kind of set me off, like I got very isolated. And so, I was trying to make all these big decisions in my life and didn't really have the program behind me at that point to help me out and that's really what started the spiral.

Scott Webb: Yeah. And I'm sure that that's natural. It makes me wonder, were there some alternative treatments that you tried and were any of them effective?

Matt: Yeah. So in November of '19, I went to the acute care unit, the ACU, at Silver Hill, which is located in Connecticut. And during that time, I went through some ECT, electroconvulsive therapy. And I don't know if you know much about that, but it felt very Frankensteiney in nature. You know, it's basically like you go into the room--

Scott Webb: It definitely sounds like it. Yeah, for sure.

Matt: Yeah. You go into a room and they put you out and they put all these electrodes all over your body. You know, and basically, they just send these convulsive signals to your brain and it's almost like a jackhammer, like trying to just rejig your brain. And that was a 12-treatment process. And it took me about until the eighth treatment, but I actually started feeling better and I had been in a real like massive depressive spiral. And all of a sudden, like I'm starting to kind of feel like myself again. I'm like, "Wow, maybe this is going to be the answer." and my wife, I came home after the eighth treatment and she was like, "Wow," she actually went to the bathroom and started crying. She's like, "He's himself again."

And so, there was a lot of hope with that. And I came out of the ACU and I was feeling a lot better. I've taken some time off of work. And then slowly, you know, I wasn't doing the other things I needed to be doing, I was still wasn't going to meetings, I still wasn't calling my sponsor, still wasn't working the steps, you know, and I still wasn't reaching out to people in the program. And then, I went back to work, which was a very stressful situation for me. And over a relatively short amount of time, probably three to four months, I started slipping again and kind of went back into that depressive spiral that I'd been in before. And basically, I got back to where I basically started. So, that was a really tough one in terms of the fact that I felt like some light at the end of the tunnel and then it kind of backfired and kind of put me right back where I was.

Then, another treatment that I tried was ketamine, which was in the summer of '21. This was during the second depressive episode that I went through. And that was a one-week treatment that I tried and that did not work in any way, shape, or form. And that was also very disheartening to me because I was really hoping that-- you know, I'd read a lot about it and its effect on depression. And there had been some pretty positive articles that I'd read, and I was hoping that that would kind of at least put me in the right direction. But I felt absolutely nothing from that. So, very disheartening from that.

So, those were the two major ones that I tried. And I would say that the ECT had some short-term effects, with the ketamine not having any whatsoever.

Scott Webb: Yeah, I see what you mean. And it sounds like it's one of those situations where it's like, you know, one step forward, two steps back, whatever the expression is. But, you know, you start to feel optimistic and positive and, you know, your wife was sort of celebrating and emotional about it, and then you kind of get knocked backwards. And I really do appreciate your honesty today. And I guess I'm wondering if you could describe, you know, what's bottom like? When you get to the bottom, how does it compare to your sort of the alcohol bottom? If you wouldn't mind maybe just share with us what does the bottom feel like? What do you go through?

Matt: Yeah, both my alcohol and my bottom in sobriety were probably equally bad and possibly the one in sobriety was possibly even worse because, you know, basically, I couldn't figure out why I felt so bad. I was certainly being a dry drunk at the time and that wasn't helping any way, shape, or form. But I just felt like there was a 24/7 feeling of like my head being squeezed. I couldn't really entertain a conversation. And I was just trying to figure out what on the outside was going on that was keeping me from being the person that I knew that I had been and definitely could be.

And so, this is kind of embarrassing, but I started getting this thought in my head that I'd been given a lobotomy while I was given the ECT. And like, all of a sudden, it just seemed to make sense, which is obviously insane because I don't know that one's been performed in probably, what, 50 years or something like that. And all of a sudden I was like, this is what happened while I was put under for ECT. And so, I addressed my wife about it and obviously that obviously freaked her out in a very major way. And it ended up a situation where she called my therapist. My therapist actually called the police, and the police came to my house and they didn't arrest me or anything like that, but they certainly made sure that the situation was calm and it wasn't a calm situation, but it was a situation where I'd calmed down to some degree. But if you just think about like, where my brain was to have that type of thought, I mean, it's a pretty low bottom. And I could talk a little bit about this more, but I went to two different inpatient scenarios during this three-year period, let's call it, and this was my second one. And it really led to my bottom, which was pretty bad, obviously

Scott Webb: Yeah I mean, as you say, they haven't actually, at least from what we know, haven't done lobotomies in such a long time. But for you to have been feeling like that, for it to have been that bad, that constant feeling of just your head being squeezed, it's not hard to see or understand how you got to the bottom. And you mentioned there, dry drunk. I've heard that expression before. Maybe you could explain what that means exactly. And how does that compare to active alcoholism?

Matt: I'm sorry I didn't answer the question about during my active alcoholism and the spiral that went on there. But that was a situation where I tried to stop for six months, and I was able to. But once again, I was a dry drunk at that point as well, and I was like, "If this is what sobriety's like, I don't want any part of it." And it led me to a spiral that sent me down and drinking again and to my bottom, which was pretty low in terms of like staying out all night, not coming home, doing drugs, and really wanting to die. And so, they are pretty comparable and the bottoms I had both in sobriety and when I was an active alcoholic.

But in terms of being a dry drunk, you know, I would say that like there's probably nothing worse on the planet from my perspective. You know, it's a situation where you're not drinking, but you're not doing anything else in terms of trying to help yourself. You know, basically, I would come home from work, I would be completely ineffective at work. I would come home from work and I would sit on the couch and I would sit there and watch any sport I could find. You know, like it could be women's softball, it could be anything. I'd do anything just to be able to sit there and watch sports and be left alone. You know, all I want to do is be left alone. So, it's a situation there where, once again, you're not doing the things you need to be doing to consider yourself in active recovery. So, I wasn't going to any meetings. You know, my sponsor had kind of left the program. He wasn't drinking, but he was basically playing paddle versus going to meetings. And so, he was ineffective to talk to. You know, I wasn't talking to other people in the program. I wasn't working the steps in any way, shape or form. And I was just being a complete curmudgeon at home and pretty miserable to be around.

So, I would say that like, at least when I was drinking, like I would have those moments where I was actually enjoying myself. Like, I'm sure I was making the idiot on myself at least half the time.

Scott Webb: But you were having fun, right?

Matt: But at the same time, yeah, I was having fun. I was able to forget about things for a little bit. When you're a dry drunk, there's nothing to forget about,. And I just sat there and wallowed in my misery and it was a pretty tough, it was a pretty tough way to be.

Scott Webb: Yeah. I'm sure it was and, you know, the time we got to spend here before we started recording today, and the time, you know, talking to you and listening to you today, you sound like you're doing better anyway. I'm sure every day is a bit of a struggle, but you sound like you're headed in the right direction. So, maybe you can take us through ultimately how you got yourself out of that spiral.

Matt: So in the last week of December of '21, so we're just talking a year ago, my kids got together with my therapist and basically had an intervention on me. And you know, my kids right now, I have a 22-year-old and 19-year-old and a 17-year-old, and they basically sat down with my therapist and sat down with me and said, "We're not going anywhere until you agree to go to the emergency room of Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut." And I pushed back because I didn't want to go and I knew what it was like to be in the acute care unit that I'd been in before, like two years before.

But finally, I relented just because my kids were so on me about the whole thing, and they weren't going anywhere until I made the decision I would go. So, I went there and pretty quickly they made the decision to put me in the psych ward at Norwalk Hospital. And that was a pretty eye-opening experience. I was basically eating on Christmas day of last year, you know, I was supposed to be with my kids. I was there eating pasta and coloring pictures of gingerbread men, you know, and meeting with doctors. And if I wanted to take a shower, they would lock you in the shower, like it was very confining and very depressing, I would say, but during that time, it gave me some perspective that I needed, I think, because I was getting to the point where like, "Is this the way the rest of my life is going to go? Am I just going to be in and out of these treatment centers and going insane?"

And so, I don't know what happened there. I really don't. I just know that a switch kind of turned for me at that point in time. And when I got out, which was on New Year's Day of 2022, my wife just noticed I immediately had a different outlook on things. I was being more helpful. I was asking to help out with stuff I hadn't done in years. And the one thing that I think helped me initially at the very least, was I decided like sitting on the couch and staring at the TV was not a way to live a life. And so, what I did was I signed up for some triathlons. Now, I had done triathlons back when I was an active alcoholic. And it was one of those things that would keep me from drinking back then, at least keep me from going off the rails, which I was prone to do. So, you know, that got me off the couch and gave me something to work towards. And that was kind of the first step. And I started actually slowly but surely starting to feel better about myself just by getting to the gym, going swimming, getting on the bike, going running, you know, all that really started helping out.

And then, as I started feeling better in that respect, I started going to meetings again. You know, I got a new sponsor, I started reaching out to people again. And this isn't like in a week process. We're talking probably over a four to six-month period that I started working towards several of these things and, honestly, like really felt back to my old self probably by June of '22.

And that's kind of been my story going forward, is I've been successful about going to meetings. You know, I've been in touch with my sponsor. I got a new sponsor and he's a great guy. And he sponsored 17 other guys, but he makes a dime for me. And I stay in touch with him on a multiple day basis during the week. And I hit these really good meetings that are really helpful for me and allow me to open up. And I've been more effective at work. And it's just a situation where my brain, for whatever reason, shut down. And the process of just, you know, putting one foot in front of the other kind of just got me back to being my old self.

As I've learned, it's a one-day-at-a-time process for me. And it's something that I have to take very seriously because I've seen what the ramifications are when I don't. And I don't know that everyone's like that, but I think that most people find that if they're in recovery and they're not doing the right things, then it can lead down a path. I think mine may have been a little bit more extreme than others. But at the same time, I think it's a path I had to go down. You know, I think I learned some really valuable lessons. And you know, my relationship with my kids was fantastic. I have a 22-month-old, so I've got a 22-year-old and a 22-month-old, that's been fantastic. You know, at first, she was colicky as I was in my kind of my deep dive. But she's been a real joy in my life. So, you know, it's really about perspective and about looking at things a certain way that I wasn't able to do before. And, you know, thank God, it's just really put me on the right trajectory and moving to the right direction.

Scott Webb: Well, I really appreciate your honesty today. Just being so open and honest and talking about, you know, what happened to you when you hit bottom and how you found your way out. And it's just so inspirational, Matt. You know, I can hear that you feel like yourself, your family's glad to have you back. And even though it may be one day at a time, it sounds like you've got a really good handle on things. So, thank you so much. Keep fighting the good fight and stay well.

Matt: Will do. Thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

Scott Webb: This has been My Miracle Radio by Sierra Tucson Alumni Relations. For more information, please visit sierratucson.com and thanks so much for listening. I'm Scott Webb. Stay well.