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02 September 2011 @ 07:05 pm
A Conversation With Sarah Katherine Lewis continued  
Page 4

Drinking to Medicate Mental Illness

TSM And that makes me wonder if you are actually an alcoholic or you were simply using alcohol to temporarily self-medicate especially when you started doing the EMDR [Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, a therapy for PTSD] and that brought up a lot of stuff for you.

SKL You know my EMDR therapist in retrospect tried to prepare me the whole, you know Pandora’s box…but I was not adequately prepared, I mean I, she was like “Oh yeah you know sometimes it brings up intense emotions” I’m like “Yeah well, you know I’ve been having intense emotions”. One of the things that I would do is if someone else is doing EMDR I guess I would put more support into place because you can sort of intellectually say “Oh well this might stir up a whole bunch of stuff” but my thinking was I probably should’ve been hospitalized for it, because I was not able to take care of myself….during it…and I don’t think that that means EMDR is bad, I think it means that it’s really strong.

TSM Really powerful, yeah.

SKL it was much stronger that I expected…and, I think that’s a good thing but I…I think that people may be go into it and they think “Oh la la la that might bring up strong feelings blah blah blah” and then when they have kind of a breakdown or kind of a crisis, you know, umm, they’re not expecting it I mean I certainly wasn’t …

TSM Yeah, and it seems like you were trying to use alcohol as an off switch, like ‘turn this off I can’t deal with this right now’ you know

SKL God yeah! Oh for sure but at the same time I mean who’s to say who’s a real alcoholic? I mean, what is being an alcoholic? Is there a time-limit? You know is there a certain amount of years you have to drink heavily before you get to be a real alcoholic? I think part of it is that by definition alcoholism is different for everyone, so maybe I was a real alcoholic, maybe that’s just me being a real alcoholic…but, what does it mean if I’m not a real alcoholic? I mean, does that change anything? Does that mean I’m going to run out and like have a glass of wine? Nah, I don’t think so.

TSM No, I wouldn’t suggest that because it seems like it wasn’t a good place for you to be in, but I’m just saying that there are people who have episodes of drinking to to medicate some form of psychiatric disorder or depression or whatever…and they’re not getting adequate or effective treatment for that
SKL Right

TSM --and when you’re desperate to do something about feelings that are completely overwhelming you, alcohol is readily available and a sort of tried-and-true method.

SKL Right, and you know I think in some cases alcohol can actually save your life because …I mean if the choice is, I either kill myself or I can drink until I pass out, it seems to me the harm-reductive viewpoint is drink until you pass out. Don’t kill yourself. You know?

TSM Right …yeah. In the moment and I mean some people would say that if you keep doing that eventually the alcohol will do it for you in a slower manner.

SKL Yeah, but I mean they say the same thing about eating too many saturated fats. I don’t know, I think the whole issue of substance use is way bigger than any of the 12-step programs reflect. I feel like it’s hard to sort of reduce it down to fit into their box when there’s so much more to it.

TSM I do know somebody who died from alcohol-related illness at the age of 44, so I you know, I have a healthy respect to what a real excess of alcohol can do to you.

SKL I’ve heard about people who committed suicide in their early 20’s, and maybe they could have held on until their 50’s if they had had a viable, umm, a, you know, anodyne to go to, right?

TSM that’s possible but one of the things we were taught when we went through the training program to be on the suicide crisis line is that a lot of suicides are when they are drinking or doing drugs. In other words, that gives them the courage they need to finally go through with it. That lowers their inhibition.

SKL Sure. That’s an easy thing to count. What’s not so easy to count is how many times, you know, alcohol or drug use can save a life.

TSM That would be complex to study. I mean, you would have to get a bunch of people maybe self-reporting saying “Well, you know, if it weren’t for being able to turn to alcohol I’d be killing myself today”

SKL It’s possible

TSM I mean I think that is true for some people, but I think it’s problematic in that it can do so much harm as well.

SKL Yeah, and I really want to be careful and I want to be respectful because the last thing I want to do is be the poster child for boo on 12-steps – like12 step programs suck. I don’t want to be backed into a corner and come out swinging against 12 steps because ultimately, I might think it’s totally stupid or I might think it really doesn’t work for me or I might have all kinds of problems with it but it doesn’t matter. If that’s what helps someone and they feel better, then great.

continued