Addiction and Mental Health | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Addiction and Mental Health

By Michele McCallister

It seems like my entire adult life I’ve been addicted to something. I started off pretty good but my second marriage ended with an epic mental breakdown.  Somewhere between doctor appointments, cheer leading practice, fundraisers, PTA meetings, cleaning, owning an insurance agency, three kids and a husband. I became overwhelmed and I lost myself and my identity. I lost me.  

That’s when my first battle with addiction began. I had tried therapy and antidepressants but nothing in my environment was changing. I didn’t have a support system at home to deal with my feelings of being overwhelmed. I was introduced to meth and it seemed to be the answer to my problem. There were more hours in the day, I had all the energy in the world and my house was insanely clean all the time.

It didn’t take long before my life quickly spiraled out of control and I lost everything. Being overwhelmed was the least of my problems. My meth addiction cost me my kids, my marriage, my home—my life!  On March 13, 2005 I found a letter in my husband’s briefcase that said “Dear Michele, I’m sorry it’s come to this but I’ve taken the kids and filed for divorce” along with the divorce papers. I carried this letter in my wallet for nine years as a reminder and as a punishment to myself for my actions.

For the next two years I used meth to block all emotions. I was out of control during those 24 months.  Anytime those nasty emotions like guilt, shame or anger rose to the surface all I had to do to make them go away was get high. Then everything was ok. It was the only coping skill I had. I was emotionally unavailable. I was so wrapped up in the misery of my addiction I couldn’t see the pain and the damage I was causing to the people in my life who loved and cared for me. Especially my children. Every time they came to visit all they saw was me and my mom constantly fighting. I became an angry, mean, horrible waste of human life that hurt everyone in my path.  I was a lost cause.  

In January of 2007 I told meth to kiss my ass. It wasn’t the first time I’d tried to quit but it was the last. I was tired of the life. I knew what I was in store for: the withdrawals, the cravings, the bitchiness, and the emotions. All of it. And the worst part was that after two years of being divorced I was going to have to deal with my shit and face the pain and guilt and shame of what I did to lose my family.  I felt like someone had ripped my heart right out of my chest. There was a void in me that I had tried to replace with drugs. I needed to get control of my life again and fill that void with what was supposed to be there: my family

My addiction caused a huge strain on my relationship with my mom. For the most part I lived with her and my daughter after my divorce. Things did improve after I got clean from meth but after a while I did start drinking heavily. In 2011 the country club I worked for was sold to a land developer. As a result of this and my unhealthy choices I was under a lot of stress and became ill. In September of 2011 I was diagnosed with chronic cyclic vomiting syndrome.

For two years I was in and out of the hospital, sent to multiple doctors and specialists, and given insane amounts of medications. Some of these medications should not have been given to or taken by me, an addict. This was a toxic combination. And my health was not improving. If anything I was quickly deteriorating. By this point it was fall 2012 and I had lost 40 lbs due to my illness, I was in no physical shape to work nor would my primary care doctor release me to work. I was in a deep dark black hole of depression and I was at war once again with my mom. We had a long history of fighting over my sobriety. It was a pattern and her rules were simple: if I wanted to live under her roof I had to be sober and I wasn’t. I was abusing my medication. I was trying to kill myself. I was depressed. I felt worthless. I felt like a failure. So I did what I knew how to do best. I ran away from my problems. Or so I thought.

By this point I had very few friends and not many options for a place to stay. My friend Lou offered me his couch. Lou is a dear friend I’ve known for 20 years unfortunately Lou and his girlfriend are current meth users. He’s one of the few people from “that life” I’ve kept in touch with throughout the years. I stayed on their couch while behind a locked bedroom door they used. My willpower and strength were tested every day. And every day I proved to be stronger than my addiction. I made the decision years ago not to touch meth again. I know what’s on the other side. I know how fast meth destroys everything in its path. And I definitely wasn’t looking for anything to keep awake and aware of my hell on earth. I was stuck in the misery of my depression and I wanted to sleep for eternity.

I definitely needed to find a healthier environment to stay. So I called Dan. Dan has been a friend and a part of the family for many years. I explained my situation and not only did Dan open his home to me but he also encouraged me to seek treatment. For the first few months it was a rough start. I have no idea how I escaped my first appointment with my new therapist without being hospitalized. I remember thinking to myself ”I want to die and there’s no way in hell I’m going to tell you that because you’re NOT going to stop me.”

At this point in my life I always had a full bottle of sleeping pills on me at all times. I was ready to go when the time was right. But instead of ending my life I kept going to those appointments and something amazing was happening that at the time I didn’t realize, but now i will always treasure. I made a special connection with my therapist.

In August of 2013 I moved into a women’s HUD house. The first month or so was OK. To say the least it’s an adjustment living with five other women under one roof. We had weekly house meetings to reduce to conflict in the house. I remember one of my first house meetings looking around at a couple of the girls I had just gotten to know–girls who had a high sense of entitlement and very little motivation for bettering themselves and their lives–and thinking “I don’t want to be like these girls.” Each week in these house meetings we got advice on what it took to be successful to survive and move forward from the HUD house. Whether or not he knew it, I was listening. His best advice: “The best way to survive the HUD house is not be at the HUD house.” So since I wasn’t allowed to work due to my illness I became my new full time job. I became more involved in my treatment by doing one on one therapy sessions more frequently I started attending a depression and anxiety group, a healthy relationships group and on December 31, 2013 I made a huge commitment in my treatment plan and started Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

The goals I listed on my DBT application seemed unattainable and so far out of reach on that day in December. I wanted to work again. I wanted a real custody agreement with my kids. And I wanted to be able to coexist on the same planet with my mother. And of course I wanted to have my own place to live. In January of 2014 my 11 year old son was diagnosed as bipolar with suicidal tendencies. His dad thought that since I had mental health issues this was my fault and I should not be allowed to see my boys. For the first time in years I was doing better than I had since our divorce. And as Tyler’s mother I could support him with his mental health issues and not hurt him. So I went to my case manager and told her I was ready to address my custody issue. All I needed from her was moral support. In March I went to court and I was granted everything I asked for. Goal accomplished.

By the end of April I was working. I was originally hired at a country club to work 15-20 hours a week. This job was perfect for me. It was in an industry that was familiar to me and the hours were flexible enough that DBT could and would remain my first priority. In June, we lost an employee so I took over her position and hours. Although my hours more than doubled I was still able to keep DBT as my priority. I needed all the extra money I could get. One way or another I was getting the hell out of the HUD house and into my own apartment. And more importantly this job gave me the human connection I needed to introduce myself back to the world and get myself out of the shell I was hiding in. Goal accomplished

Not only were my mom and I able to coexist on the same planet but we actually started to spend some quality time together. She would invite me over to spend the weekends with her so I could get a break from the house. She saw the improvement and the change in me and our relationship began to grow with that change. And I know she was finally proud of me. On October 8, two days before I signed the lease on my apartment, my mom passed away. This was the first tragic event I faced without the aid of drugs. And I survived. Goals accomplished  

DBT taught me so many amazing skills that are automatic to me now. I’m confident in my ability to make wise decisions and not react based on my emotions. These skills, my amazing therapist, my case manager, the HUD house manager, my lawyer and the rest of my A team have helped me start a beautiful new beginning instead of hitting rock bottom.   

Today I have a wonderful relationship with my three amazing kids, a job where I have been blessed to meet some very kind-hearted and truly wonderful people and I now have my own apartment. I’ve learned so much about myself through this journey. I used to think of myself as a scared little girl. I’m the strongest person I know. I’m kind. I’m courageous. I’m strong. I’m independent. And I love my life.


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