James' Story

I wish you well with your dual diagnosis recovery: it can be challenging in the early days but it is well worth it!
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James' Story

Dual Diagnosis Recovery Story
I wish you well with your dual diagnosis recovery: it can be challenging in the early days but it is well worth it!

James’ Story:

TW: Suicide attempts

I was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at 18 after someone put a fast-acting hallucinogenic in my drink, although it wasn’t my first experience of mental health problems.

Long before I developed my most serious mental health problems, before I’d even started drinking and using drugs, I was broken. I was 14 years old and had suffered multiple traumas.

Alcohol and drugs gave me a brief respite from the pain caused by the traumas.

The first time I drank, it did for me, something that I don’t believe it does to normal people.

It filled a deficit that I felt I had in myself. It helped me to be able to speak to girls. It helped me to act like a hard man and put up a front. It felt like I needed it to be able to have fun and to be closer to the way that I wanted to be, feel, & act. It enabled me to act with confidence. Alcohol gave me that ‘ready brek glow’ that enabled me to feel protected from being harmed again.

It enabled me to act without fear for a long time, and that feeling was magic.

Every time I drank between the ages of 14 and 16 I became so drunk that my family had to stop me from choking on my own vomit. I had no off switch with my drinking even then

After my 17th birthday, I started drinking every day. I also pretty quickly started drinking in the morning. Alcohol became my sole coping strategy, albeit a very unhealthy one.

I started trying to get the education that I’d missed out on because I couldn’t handle going to school when I was younger.

I stopped drinking for a bit and stuck with the cannabis. I was progressing and learning quickly in the subjects that I wanted to learn about. I did a lot of work on my own as I’ve always found that as an easier way for me to learn as it doesn’t involve being around people and the distractions that they bring.

I started drinking again. Minimal levels compared with other times, but one night, a couple of my ‘mates’ popped round to see me. One of them passed me a beer, which I drank.

As the last of the beer went down my throat, I felt the sensation of something else in the drink going down the back of my throat too.

I’d been spiked with a fast-acting hallucinogenic and five minutes later my parents were banging on the toilet door that I was locked in trying to slit my wrists.

I ended up in A&E and was then admitted to a psychiatric unit. I talked for what felt to me like hours with a psychiatrist about what was going through my head.

They let me out eventually, but the medications I was prescribed at the time were less than ideal for me and I quickly slipped into drinking regularly again to self-medicate the fear and paranoia.

At 19, I ended up in a psychiatric unit for the second time but luckily for me, it had an addiction treatment programme within it. This introduced me to a means of addiction recovery, the 12 Steps.

Over the years, I’ve had some periods off of alcohol, and sometimes for several years at a time. However, for various reasons (usually to do with stopping or reducing my meds), I always ended up going back to drinking.

I had a lot of problems with having to take medication in addiction recovery.

Occasionally, someone would say within my hearing range that I was abusing prescription medications (which I wasn’t) or that I didn’t need to be on medications at all, which I now know to be untrue, misleading, and extremely unhelpful.

When I was in my early thirties, I was introduced to self-help groups specifically created for those with co-occurring mental health & addiction issues, called Dual Recovery Anonymous. It was there that I discovered that I am one of the many who have to take medications as part of their recoveries and that that is OK. I made life-long friends there and for that, I will always be grateful. But yet again I decided that I didn’t want to have to take medications (I’ve never liked the weight gain that the meds cause).

I count myself as lucky, in that because my mental health problems came first, I have never been turned away from mental health services because of my alcohol abuse, but I have seen and heard about this happening to other people.

People who require medication and who are in recovery from addictions sometimes get a hard time in traditional recovery support groups, in my experience. Whilst this has improved a little over the years, it’s still very hit-and-miss, depending on the individual support groups someone attends. (Thank god for Zoom! ;)

I want anyone reading this with severe mental health challenges to know that although early recovery is often hard work in many ways (it can take some time to settle down), getting into recovery was the best thing I ever did.

If I had to give my top 5 bits of advice for people with schizophrenia, I’d say this:

- Don’t stop taking your meds without speaking with your psychiatrist - whatever anyone says to you! And if your psychiatrist agrees and you try to stop them and it doesn’t work out, then don’t give yourself a hard time. I now know that I will always have to take medications for my mental health, and I’ve learned to be ok with that.

- Do seek out additional support for your mental health. Preferably people who have a similar diagnosis to you and if they’re in recovery from addiction too, then even better! It’s essential that you find ‘your tribes’; places where you can talk openly and get support around your mental health.

- If, like me, you’ve suffered trauma in your life, find a counsellor or therapist who is trained in and specialises in, the type of trauma you experienced, and get it out. 12 Step sponsors are great, but they aren’t usually trained in helping someone process trauma.

- Find a sponsor who isn’t anti-medication and who doesn’t try to play the doctor. In recent times, I’ve picked sponsors who either have their own mental health challenges &/or are humble enough not to try to pretend that they know anything about mental health and who leave the mental health-related stuff to a mental health team.

- And finally, find like-minded people in addiction recovery who are fine with you having to take meds, and this is especially important if you’re doing 12 Step stuff and are looking for a sponsor.

The best sponsors know that there is a lot outside of their work with you and that you’re going to need additional and specialised support.

It’s worth asking a prospective sponsor what their views are on mental health and medications before asking them to sponsor you. If they don’t agree with you being on the medications that you need, then I recommend finding someone else who is more suited to your needs!

Finally, I don’t think anyone likes being on meds. With some mental health problems like schizophrenia, being in denial about even having that diagnosis and/or needing medications is a common symptom. So, if, like me, have a mental health diagnosis that has that symptom, I recommend following your psychiatrist’s advice, especially if they think you need to be on medications.

What is my life like today?

When writing this, I am just over 30 months sober again.

I do a variety of 12 Step Fellowships, including Dual Diagnosis Anonymous & Dual Recovery Anonymous. I’ve also started attending SMART Recovery meetings as you can never have too many tools available to you in recovery.

I am more stable with my mental health than I have been in a long time. I have been through the Steps and live a more comfortable life than I’ve ever known before. I am more contented in my life than I ever thought was possible. By working on the Steps, I have started the process of putting right as many of my mistakes as I can. I no longer have any secrets and no longer have to internalise all of my problems, thoughts and emotions.

I am gradually starting to process and let go of my resentments around my trauma. Most of the time, I am free from fear and most of the paranoia. I am free from resentments most of the time, and have the tools to deal with them when they crop up. My relationships with my family are no longer a cause of stress and frustration for me. Today I am a more useful member of society. I am doing things now that I always wanted to do, but that either fear of failure or my mental health would get in the way of. I can now give something back to society, and that feels good!

Finally, I wish you well with your dual diagnosis recovery. It can be challenging at times in the early days, but it is definitely worth putting in the effort to develop insight and learn as many tips, tricks, and recovery tools as possible: the rewards and benefits for doing so are enormous!


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