Let's Talk Recovery... Mental Health Disorders and Addiction

08/05/2015 06:33 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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I'm an addict -- wrong, right or indifferent, I will always be an addict. Yet what makes me understand my addiction more is that I suffer with a mental health disorder called depression. Together they are better known as a dual diagnosis or, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition DSM-5, they are now referred to as co-occurring disorders.

Since the untimely suicidal death of the actor Robin Williams, today many people with behavioral health issues such as anxiety, PTSD, bipolar, schizophrenia, addiction and other co-occurring related disorders are crying out and they are looking for answers. For many years I suffered and struggled alone. I longed for someone to hear me. I even long for death to take me away. See, truth be told, I am not the only one. There are so many people who suffer in silence just like myself with no one to understand the secret pains of trying to escape from being enslaved and in bondage. Once I accepted it was okay for me NOT to be okay, I took the necessary steps to begin my long road to recovery. I entered into psychiatric in-patient and outpatients wards and drug rehabilitation programs. I even gain insight from group therapy. That's when I began to write and encourage myself that everything was going to be all right. Then I realized words can be powerful, careful put together they are priceless and I began to write and ask myself why.

Mary, you are so beautiful, why you are using drugs? What happened in your life to make you an addict? What's wrong, Mary? Can you tell me why you like getting high? Well, since you asked me what's going on I will try to explain. I'm depressed, I'm hurting, I'm hearing voices, I'm lost, and I need to know -- can someone help me before it's too late? I find the only thing that keeps me in my right mind is having someone to let me know I'm not alone in how I'm feeling. Being depressed is like living in a black hole. There is no light in sight, just voices trying to point me the way out. Some good and some bad. So please, someone tell me or explain to me what's really going on? Why do you see the outside of me, yet you fail to see what's going on inside of me? All I want is help not to feel this way. All I want is a chance to be what the world calls normal. Yes, I'm an addict, but that's not my story. -- Chapter 1 Memoirs of an Addict: Fact or Fiction

I recall being asked a question in group counseling therapy: Can an addict ever be free? Or can a person with mental health disorders ever live a normal life? I was so sick into my co-occurring disorders, I could not truthfully answer the question. It took time for me to overcome my shame, and it took time to overcome the stigma to what others think about me.

Really, who wants to admit they are an addict? Better yet, who wants to admit they have any mental health disorders? Now, my road to freedom from co-occurring disorders has become my life long purpose to live. Today, I ponder the thought if I had to choose between a mental health disorder and an addiction which disorder would I chose?

According to U.S Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are approximately 8.9 million American adults who have co-occurring disorders -- 7.4 percent of individuals receive treatment for both disorders, while 55.8 percent receive no treatment at all.

On page three, a guide for mental health planning + advisory councils (SAMHSA) there is an estimated 600,000 people that are homeless and approximately half have co-occurring disorders.

The Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network has stated that there is a disturbing 43 percent of the youth receiving mental health services in America, many have co-occurring disorders.

The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) has stated that out of 450,000 Americans incarcerated 72 percent have co-occurring disorders.

Last but not finished: Tom Insel, M.D., the director of The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has also established that the monetary cost of mental illness and addiction will be more than cancer, diabetes and respiratory ailment.

It seems that there is a silent unaware epidemic of co-occurring disorders happening, but who would have thought. They say knowledge is power, I say it is time to educate, rewrite and advocate for change. My long recovery road to freedom is an every second, every minute, every hour and every day journey and yes, it has many challenges and many ups and downs. Maybe it's because recovery is a process and only I with the guidance of my Higher Power will win.

I'm grateful that I reached out for help and overcame the shame and stigma through the walls of the mental and behavioral health system. My experiences gave me insight and acceptance to what were the ROOT problems to what was really happening to me. I was educated on the benefits of understanding my disorders from a holistic, harm reduction, paradigm approach that allows me to appreciate the benefits of having one on one therapy to keep me grounded.

All I know is... there is no room for excuses and there is no option to give up on HOPE. For it was hope and survival how I found myself and it was HOPE to why I am no longer among the walking dead.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health disorders, addiction or suicidal ideation, please do not hesitate to get help from the Behavioral Health Department in your city, state or town.

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If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) forᅡᅠthe SAMHSA National Helpline.